Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MadCity 100K Recap

This race each year turns out to be the litmus test of my winter fitness, or I like to think that's how it is going to be.

Last year I went into the race with zero expectations and still pulled out a decent performance with a nasty cold and limited training, so this year in all aspects should be better.

This year I had a decent amount of anxiety that coincided with the build up to the race. I was in the healthiest in a long time, if not ever relationship and to have it end before the race, but in an honest and open way, was actual very cathartic. A conversation between two adults who knew what they wanted and had enough respect for each other to say so. A relationship that I thought could have had some long term potential but had just ended very maturely and without incident, oddly enough put me into a really great position for the race. I think this was the calmest and most focused race I've gone into in awhile. It was the period before the race where the anxiety lay.

I didn't look at the weather because on Monday it was 70, and then we had snow, rain, and crazy wind mid-week. I know better by living in Wisconsin that the only weather you can pay attention to is the day itself. 

Before: Picked up my packet and got to meet some fellow 100K'ers, all from out of town. I went to dinner with my girl Hannah and her son Uriah for fish. That is almost always my night before race food. I packed my drop bags and my after the race bag. I then spent time researching the competition. Being a competitive person I wanted to see the women that I would be running against and the reality of my performance in comparison.

Race Morning: I wake up at 4:30am, let the dog out and make my coffee. I take one last look at the weather and decide what I am going to wear. As I pack up my breakfast, gear, and coffee I start to think about what goals I want to achieve. I set some light goals knowing that I wasn't fully recovered from my Run Across WI yet, and really don't know where I'm at. Set a new PR, and come in in at least the top 3.

I arrive at the race start about 5:30am, grab my back tag and meet some of the other 100K runners.
Do all the pre-race things, get my bibs on, place my fuel at the designated area, and meet up with my friend Allison. She came to the start to see if I needed any help getting situated.

Weather wasn't too bad, I believe 30ish at the start. I wore shorts knowing it would get warmer over the next 8 hours. A long sleeve wool base layer, my Suunto long sleeve singlet and my Patagonia Houdini jacket for a wind-block. Also hat and gloves.

Start: Its very jovial, we are all commenting on the weather and how some people are from down south and not ready for the cold snap. Timo gives us a nice countdown and we are off! For the first 10K loop Caroline and Ryan and I run together talking about where we are from, what we do, etc. I give them a little course info since they have never seen it or run it before. As we finish the first loop, I stop at my aid to grab sunglasses and eat. They take off. I knew the pace was faster than I wanted to hold right out of the gate and decided to hold back a bit and groove it out for awhile.

The next few loops sort of blur together. I take off my outer layer as its warming up now that the sun is shining. I decide not to carry water or food. I have food at both aid stations and they are about 3 miles apart, so taking in food and water there seems like the logical choice rather than to carry it.

It was such a nice boost to see friends at the start/finish area willing to help and give me encouraging words and hugs! There is a 50K relay that happens during the 100K, so it was perfect for friends to do both! My friend Hannah came with her son Uriah, and that was definitely a highlight in the middle loops. But, honestly I don't mind running alone.

As loop 7 comes, I feel good. My legs have been heavy the whole day and that hasn't changed. I start to walk some of the hills and I have come to the conclusion that I'll place second. I had accepted it and kept my even pace going.

At the end of the 8th loop, I was told by the officials that "she" was right ahead of me. What does that mean? How far? Close enough to catch? What shape is she in? At this point my brother shows up and I have to use the porta potty, bad! In and out and ready to tackle the loop. I pass a 100k guy with about a mile to go, he didn't look in the best shape, but I continued on.

At the beginning of the 9th loop the same guy comes out of nowhere, I make the comment of "well you rallied well." We stayed together until the aid station inside the arb. We both ate, but I was ready to go while he sat down and as I left I made the comment "Come catch me."

Coming into the start/finish to begin my bell lap, I try to eat as much as I can, because I don't want to stop again. I knew I'd be close to a PR and I wanted it. I had no idea how far back third was. Here though, I was told that "she" was only 7 minutes ahead. It's now or never. I thought about this, 7 minutes over 6.2 miles is a lot of time to make up after already running 58 miles. On the other hand, I told myself that I needed to push this race and see what I could do, I know I'd never forgive myself if I just settled. So I went for it. I pushed to catch her. Low and behold I stop at the midway aid station for some nutter butters and water and Francis blows by me, stating "You told me to catch you." You can guarantee that I left that aid station in a hurry to catch him, I didn't end up catching him, but it gave me an extra fire.

About 2 miles left I round a corner and I see her, her bright pink shirt and I start to choke up. Holy, shit I could win this?! I can't believe I am going to catch her! Then I start to think: What shape is she in? Is she bonking, and if she is when I pass her now will she be able to keep up? Is she just cruising and dogging it waiting for me to catch her? So do I wait and hold back a little so our sprint is shorter? Do I come up now and try to get the lead and see what happens?

I decide to go for it, just as I am coming up on her at the 1 mile to go mark, my friend Kristen is on her bike and shouts some words of encouragement, she sees this take place. I pass her on the right and say good job, I kick it up a little more and wouldn't you know it, she sticks to my left shoulder. Fuck. Here we go.

We stay neck and neck almost all the way, until about 300 yards til the finish and she just had more in her at the time. Mind you I pushed the last 5 miles to catch her. That last mile was the fastest of the day. 20 sec she beat me by. 20 sec and I could have been a National Champ. She broke the tape right in front of me. Am I upset I didn't break the tape, sure. But, I'm not mad. I did what I set out to do. I placed higher, I PR'd, I ran with all I had.

When we both finished the excitement from the officials was so awesome! I was fatigued, but not trashed in that 100 mile waddle way. They said they could see us across the lake, saw when I caught her and the battle that was happening, very rarely in a 100K road race do you see a sprint finish. It was pretty cool, even though I didn't get the W.

I have to give special thanks to all of those who came to cheer and support me: Wisconsin Volee, Kelly Terrell, Allison Gallipeau, Dani Grothus, Jessa Victor, Kristin Korvec, Kally Bishop, my brother Stan Grimm, Hannah and Uriah, and the countless others who cheered and shouted words of encouragement.

To my sponsors Suunto, Kanberra Sport, Nuun, SaltStick, Oofos, 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Run Across WI

Part I: The Why.
One of the most asked questions over the past few days has been: "How did you choose to run across WI?" There isn't a concrete answer for that, it really was as simple as, no one had done that before in the way I wanted and during the time of year I was going to. So, why not?
I have realized that many of the the things that I say yes to have that connotation of "Why not." I mean, really think about the reason you do the extraordinary things you do, yes we want to achieve our goal. But what is the reason that you started thinking about it in the first place? Or the things that you have thought about but haven't done yet. Life is short and opportunities get less and less, so Why Not choose to say yes?!

While growing up, both sides of my family had things we didn't talk about and people who were no longer with us for one reason or another. Something as a child you don't understand. As I grew older those secrets came to light and it was quite clear the struggles that plagued our family were not unique to us. But as I was in the midst of forming my own adult life with a small child, I thought I had escaped this fate that seemed to loom over each of us. I took so much pride that I was able to keep my shit together and always keep moving forward.

Until the spring. It was a year since my mom passed, 6 months since my friend died. My dog got hit by a car, I found a lump. The relationship with my daughter was strained, my training was lacking. I was alone. Now, the feeling of being overwhelmed was an understatement, having many things to deal with on my plate is not new to me. This time everything was different. This thing that I didn't know I was waiting for with anxious curiosity finally came around the corner and snuck up on me. I was deep in the abyss before I even knew what hit me. As I climbed out of the deep end after trying to swim for a few months, did I realize what was weighing me down. Fuck man, I was depressed.

2018 was a big year for me in terms of personal growth. Acknowleging, accepting, and moving forward.
When fall approached I was beginning to entertain the idea of running across WI. This would be about 75 more miles than I have run at one time. On the roads. In February, in one of the worst winters we have had in some time. But none of that mattered, it was about the cause and people that I could help by doing this. My grandmothers charity Riverway Communities of Hope, was already doing grand things but I knew we could do better.

Part II: The Run
At the start in Kenosha with the light of the moon
Thursday: Packing for 175 miles in the winter on the road seemed to take up much less space than a 100 miler across the country in the summer. Cody, my dear friend and training partner was my crew chief. How I actually got him to say yes to this is a mystery. We left Madison about 7:40pm heading to Kenosha and our starting area. A couple stops for water and some last minute first aid "just in case" items and we were there.

10pm and it's go time. The original start was midnight, but we decided that we would be up anyway and why prolong the inevitable, so we moved it up a couple hours. This course was pretty straight forward and flat to start. Basically once I started heading west, I just kept going. Cody drove ahead to each turn as I made my way through Kenosha ensuring I wouldn't get lost. The plan was to go about an hour ahead or about 6 miles and I would meet him to eat and drink so that way I wouldn't have to carry anything. Also for the first 35 miles I would be solo through the night, so this way it would break up any monotony.

Salt is important even in cold
and when you cant feel your hands
Friday 2:20am: This is the first time I sit down and take more than a minute or two break. I was over 25 miles in and I was really cold. Unbeknownst to me, it had gotten down to 8F when I was dressed for 20F. I was having a hard time keeping my hands warm, even with my tried and true gloves. Neither Cody or I knew it was going to be that cold, but the wind was at my back so that was a plus.

Jackson: Pacer #1
I change my shoes, apply the lube Kanberra to my toes which has menthol in it making it very soothing. Eat some more food, take in some salt and stash a bit of food in my jacket. Also, my first pacer is a bit early so the plan was to meet him in the next 6 miles. All in all this stop took me about 10 minutes. My headlamp had died twice from the cold, so we swapped out for Cody's rechargable one.

Insert Jackson my first pacer, whew I was glad to see him. I was enjoying the solo miles, but I knew the sun would be coming up in a few hours and he had just ran Black Canyon 60K and I was excited to hear about his race and just listen for a bit. At some point in the first hour and half together Cody comes up behind us informing us that we had missed a turn to head west. With a little navigation we were able to head west at the next intersection. Which meant down the road I would need to head north to hit the road I was supposed to be on to head west from there. Thankfully this was the only wrong turn throughout the entire thing. In the end, it added an extra 8 miles. Jackson stayed with me for about 3 hours and left just as the sun was coming up. I would be alone for the next 7 miles until I hit Walworth to pick up Kate.
Friday's sunrise

Friday 7amish and over 50 miles in. I take some tylenol, eat a bunch and pick up Kate. I was starting to feel my pace and the lack of walking. For the first 25 miles it was flat and therefore I didn't walk. With Jackson there was a little bit of rolling hills, but still not much to "make" me want to powerhike. So once I grabbed Kate I told her that we should do some run/walk intervals from light pole to light pole. If you have never been to this part of the state, let me paint a picture for you. A flat country road as far as you can see and pasture or fields flanking you on both sides with a view all the way to the horizon. This is it's own right is beautiful and can offer a certain type of solace. This was not one of those times, it was a little daunting and boring. The run/walk intervals were fairing decently enough, but the walking was hurting more than the running. The bottoms of my feet were starting to get the "tender foot" that I was dreading. We opted then to run the rest.
Picking up Kate in Walworth

After the next 7 mile stretch with Kate, it was time for me to change shoes again and tackle the next few hours until I got into Clinton to pick up Adam.

That next stretch was probably the best I felt the entire run. The sun was out, the temps were mid 30's and I had a smile on my face. I felt like I was flying. It was about mile 70. I knew that when I got to Clinton I had a welcome wagon. A husband and wife who were the parents of a person who reached out on instagram, were there to offer aid. Ultra running is truly remarkable in that way where it brings strangers together. After fueling with homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit, changing my base layers and tending to chafing on my armpits, I was ready.
Eating is so important
Friday 10am: As Adam and I work our way into Beloit the hills are starting to make their way into the route. Adam and I are no strangers to running long distances, even together. We met in November during the Worlds Longest Turkey Trot, where we ran from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL totaling just over 100 miles.
One stop along the way where I took a little time to change shoes, take some ibuprofen, eat and lube up.

Once we got to Beloit about noon at over 88 miles in I picked up another pacer, Todd. It was 18 miles to the next big aid station where I would be picking up my night pacers. At the beginning of Todd and I's journey together we found ourselves on hwy 81 which was fairly busy and basically downhill. When I changed shoes last I had put on my Hokas which helped to curb the tender foot issue, but was causing some knee pain. That factored in with all the downhill was quite frustrating. I knew by the time that Todd was done I would hit my 100 mile mark and I was going to crush my previous time. Todd ran the next 10 miles with me getting me to the 100 mile mark and providing some light-hearted conversation keeping my mind off of my knees.
Thanks Todd

I came into 100 miles at 17:25:20 besting my previous time by 3 hours and 44 minutes. That next mile was excruciating though. This was some cruel joke that my body wanted to play on me. Literally mile 101 and my knees said no more. For the next 8 miles I walked rolling hills, shuffling trying to run. I called my daughter and told her I passed 100 miles and she asked if I was done. When I said I had 75 more miles, she asked if I could do it since I had never run that far before. With the way my knees were feeling, I wasn't so sure.

First real break 100+ miles in
During that walk, I updated twitter, hit up social media, and checked in with a few important people. I also ate Papa Johns pizza and chugged some coffee. ok, I even snapchatted a bit. I knew when I got to the next stop that I needed to change shoes again, back to the original ones and take a small break. A couple miles to the meeting point my next pacer showed up, Tara. I have never met her and she is from Indiana, she is a friend of my client/friend Mary and wanted to be a apart of this journey. We walked it in to the meeting spot where I laid in the back of Cody's car with the Normatec boots on and asked for a 6 min nap, I couldn't fall asleep so I asked for another 6 min. No luck. So, same story. Eat, Change shoes, lube, drink, take pain relievers. Off I left with Jessa and Dan about 5pm.

Dan stuck with us for about 2 miles and then headed back to the car. Jessa and I were slotted to spend the next 25 miles together. This is where things all mash together, it got dark quick and we entered the land of small and short rolling hills. My knees were getting worse and the wind was picking up. We did however run with our headlamps off when the moon was out and talked about how small and insignificant we felt amongst all those stars. A dog came up behind us and decided it was going to run with us, very friendly and happy. We witnessed this dog not 50 yards ahead of us get fully sprayed by a skunk. If you have never smelled fresh skunk, it will make you puke. This dog stayed with us for the next 8 miles, all the while us trying not to touch it. The police finally came and picked him up, only after we almost witnessed him getting hit by car right in front of us.
Dan, Tara, Jessa ready to get me to the next stop

My knees were getting to the point where I had to walk the downhills backwards, walk the flat, but I could decently power up the uphill, but that then put the strain on my feet=tender foot. Closing in on 11:30pm, Jessa had to bail and changing of the crew guard was coming up. I was in need of a rest. I took a 45 min sleep in the back of the car, resting my knees. When I woke, my brother was there, I had to go to the bathroom, and my new pacer and crew had arrived.

I was so overwhelmed by my pace and how long the next 50 miles was going to take, but I made a rule. I didn't want to know what time of day it was or how long it took to go from point to point. We also decided that Kelly and James would go ahead 4 miles, that seemed more manageable with the way my knees were feeling. Running with Angela was just what I needed. She has seen me in this state before. She was my pacer for the Leadville 100(my first 100 miler), running the last 50 miles with me. I feel I fueled well and was actually able to run the flats and didn't need to run backwards down the downhill. Until it started to sleet and hail. The road conditions were getting worse. James would ride his fatbike up to us asking what I needed, so that way by the time we got to the car, Kelly would have it ready for me. What a system!

Angela and I made it 12 miles together before the weather became too much. I was ready to stick it out, I knew I would feel even better once it got light. We were under a severe winter weather advisory with ice building .25 inch each hour with no temp increase or relief in sight. For the safety of the crew vehicle, my pacer, and myself we made a collective decision to pull the plug at 4:21am Saturday.

As much as I wanted to get all the way there, having someone get hurt in that endeavor would have been awful. I am at peace with my decision. I ran further than I ever have, I set a new 100 mile PR, I met some amazing people, we raised money, we brought light to a hard often overlooked issue.
Home. Safe and sound. Thanks Kelly and James!

Thank you so much to my sponsors and people making this possible: Suunto for believing in me and having me be a part of your team, 608threads for providing the last minute cold weather gear, SaltStick for keeping me in check even in the coldest of temps, The Gearwell for always coming in clutch with my late in the race food container options, Dermatone for keeping my face protected from sun, wind, and cold, PickyBars: I ate so much Picky oats on this run, Rumpl for keeping me warm and cozy in a crazy situation, Smartwool for providing wool sock and baselayers that kept me dry and comfortable.

To all who sent kind words of encouragement along the way!
To everyone who donated to the cause.
To the people who showed up physically: Cody, Jackson, Kate, Adam, Bob & Ginny, Jessa, Dan, Tara, Jenn, Jay, Kelly, James, Angela, Stan and Abbie.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A bittersweet beginning

As I sit here almost a week after my 35th birthday, I can't help but to smile. In doing so I almost feel guilty. There is no secret that last year was a rough go for me in many aspects of my life. I was challenged mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Within those challenges I found myself. I found who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish. I set boundaries. It wasn't easy and it didn't come without work.

I fostered new relationships. I hung with my ladies. I rekindled old friendships that had been lost for years. My racing was stellar even though it was few and far between, I surprised myself setting new PR's across the board with minimal training. I ran on a contract for the first time and became a part of a team.

I came into the last few months of 2018 with a fire burning inside. A switch was flipped and I finally felt like I was ready to work again. I race planned I made decisions that would be long lasting.

I decided that I would finally put my dream of running for my grandmothers charity to the forefront and make it happen. A little larger scale than originally planned though. I am running across Wisconsin to raise awareness and money for Riverway Communities of Hope. 175 miles of rural roads in the southern most part of the state, in February.

I am going into this run knowing full well that it will be hard. But, I think about the reason behind it all. This charity and the work my grandma is doing to help our youth can't go unnoticed. Mental Health and Addiction is a real part of many peoples lives either directly and indirectly. My family is no exception. If we could give someone the opportunity to better their odds when the deck is stacked against them, why wouldn't we? If something like this was around when I was growing up, maybe things wouldn't have been as challenging. Maybe I wouldn't be the person I am today.

So many people help shape you into the person you become. We lost one of those people a few weeks into the new year. A man, that if you were lucky to know, touched your life even with a single interaction. My maternal grandfather. He was the kindest, most gentle man. This man who married my Nonna with five small daughters and no hesitation. This man who was always teaching the people around him. This is the man who developed dementia a few years ago and was fading fast, the man we once knew was now slipping way.

His actual death happened very quickly. Within a few days aunts, cousins, siblings, and friends had now congregated in the midwest from all over the country to witness the recounting of an extraordinary man. Not only were we gathering to celebrate a brilliant man, we were also experiencing the re-opening of a wound of another. Just 20 months previous we were all gathered in the same place to say goodbye to my mother.

There is a certain level of comfort being with your family in a time like this that you cannot replicate anywhere. You all have certain memories of the same person but in so many different ways. You are all connected in this deep way that you cannot explain. And yet, all families have stuff. All families have traits and things that make them unique. I come from a family of very strong women. We don't quit, we move forward, we find a way, there is no other choice. In doing so, we found a way to compartmentalize our lives. I've said it before, I excel in this area. I believe that is what makes me a good ultrarunner.

I found myself reflecting as I was getting prepared for what laid ahead. Why is it that getting ready for a funeral service is so strangely similar to getting ready for a date or a wedding? I mean, why?
Is it because its a celebration of the person who you are now going forward in your life without? Is it because you know you will see people you haven't seen in years maybe decades? I've really been thinking about that contradiction and I still have no answer.

So here I sit almost a month into 2019 trying to reflect on how 2018 changed me. I remember those few months of difficulty with so much clarity. But, there was so much good, so many laughs, so, so much self discovery. Here in the new year I carry the fire that I built in late 2018 for my personal athletic goals. This new year started with a death, followed by an anniversary of another death of a great man in the family. A milestone birthday and a forgotten anniversary that once meant everything, to Roubaix turning six and a polar vortex.

As each year passes I understand more and more why I gravitated to ultra running. It makes so much sense to me. The rawness, the pushing beyond limits that were just an illusion to start with. The pain. It really is just an extension of everyday life compressed and magnified.

"Blowups are never fun, but it's impossible to know your true potential if you're not willing to risk pushing too far from time to time."
~Tommy Rivers

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Skipping Rocks

Spending time with my siblings is almost always a good time. Today was no exception.

We had this day planned for months, a holiday weekend where my sister would visit from Minnesota, we would visit the farm together and then take a trip to a beautiful state park that borders on the Wisconsin River: Wyalusing. She would have my nieces and I would bring Amelia.

The day started as it should have, but Amelia had spent the night at a friends and wasn't awake in time for me to leave, so I went alone. On the hour and a half drive to the farm I had a lot to think about. I was feeling lonely and angry. When I walked into the farm instead of hugs and smiles, I met them with a cold stare. I stated "I'm in a bad mood and I need a minute to be alone." I didn't have a definate reason why, but the day needed no explanation. I picked up my 3 year old niece and hugged her tight and started to cry, she was wearing a purple dress and a cat ear headband.

After lunch we all drove separate to the state park with my oldest niece riding with me who just turned 10. We talked about her goals and what she wants to be when she grows up. I tried to ask any question that would take my mind off what we were there to do.

As we arrive to the park the five of us set off down the trail, Stan with his girls. Clementine the youngest with no fear running down this technical single track, bringing a smile to my face. Elizabeth falling about 200 yards in basically in slow motion. Madeline being careful and carrying a purple flower. Stan leading the way, map in hand. Myself taking in the trails wanting to be running them, but carrying precious cargo instead.

We reach our destination; the river. It's high and we realize we will need to remove our shoes and socks and move closer to the current to complete our task. Madeline the ever so helpful young lady was our documentor.  The three of us make our way to the edge of the water and move far enough out where it was still safe. Stan the baby went first, I handed him the bag. "Should we say something? What should we say?" We agreed that we would each say what we needed to to ourselves.

I began to cry again, watching Stan pause before he let the first our mothers ashes into the water. I cried as I watched them swirl together in an intricate dance before floating downstream. I was next. I thought about the things I wanted to say to her, how I was still confused about  my feelings and the grief that is still present. Elizabeth went last, I held onto my brother as I watched my sister meticulously empty the remainder and rinse the bag in the river.

That was it, we cried our silent tears and made as much peace as we each could. Stan taught the girls to skip rocks and we made our way out with a mile climb back to the top. Just as we reached the parking lot the rain started. This is exactly what she would have wanted, us kids going to a park that none of us have visited in our adult lives to hike to the river she requested she lay. With kids laughing, playing, wiping dirt on their face, being free.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Vermont 2018 race recap

This post has taken longer to write than others. I feel as though I have told the story 100 times already. I feel this race also sort of flew under the radar, in a storytelling sort of way. But, alas here I go.

I started my trip by going the opposite way and into another country. I went to Banff, Canada. I car camped, I tent camped, I ate good food, I ran up a mountain. Not just any mountain, a mountain that was seemingly untouched, a mountain that seemed to go on forever in a way you'd crane your neck looking so far up. I saw a Canadian glacier up close, and watched as a pair of loons as they taunted a dog. The views along with the air was something you can't explain. I will absolutely be going back there. I have no doubt that this trip before a goal race was the right decision.

Long before I set out to travel to Canada and Vermont I made a decision. A decision to run this race alone. Since I started racing I had a partner, a partner who spent his life in the competitive world of athletics and knew the importance of a good crew, especially in long endurance events. I went in blind, trusting, and taking it for granted. I relied heavily on him to be there for me in a way I couldn't for myself. Until one race day a few years ago at the Door County Fall 50. That had been my first ultra, and I had run it 5 years in a row, I love it. The last year I ran it, I signed up the night before and had clients who were running it for the first time. Needless to say I was alone. I held first place for the first 50K +, PR'd by 45 minutes and had a great race; alone. Something clicked in me in the same way something clicked as I started running and the urge to go further and faster had. I wanted to see how much hurt I could withstand, how much and far I could go without breaking. If you have read some of my other posts or listened to interviews, this is a reoccurring theme for me. I am searching for my breaking point, the place you go that you have to risk your metaphorical life to claw out of. 

So, I knew after Wasatch last year and the dissolve of my marriage, I knew I needed to do it this way. Solo. And I did it. Did I find what I was looking for? No. Did I have this epiphany about lifes meaning? No. What I did find though was pride and a sense of freedom. I consider myself a strong person, and most people would agree. But for some reason I have always had this hesitation to do things alone, not for the want or the belief that I could. I think for the reason that I can. I like people, I can fit into any crowd, I make friends easily. The more I think about it, I realize that I really like being alone also. Growing up so early and fast, and having to rely on myself for most of my life, I got really good at it, so the hesitation to translate that into my running I feel is foolish. They say having a good crew can make or break a race. Running solo, there is no one to blame but yourself. So I felt I had to do this.

Again, as I write this I feel so neutral about the whole thing. No crazy ups, no crazy downs. All in all it was a great race, I felt awesome for most of it. I went in with zero expectations, I didn't prep the way I usually do, I didn't have sharpied splits on my arm like usual. I knew two stats: the time it took to get to the first bag drop about 20 miles in, and my finish time from last year. I had multiple goals: A. sub 20, B. sub 22, C. beat last years time of 23:41, D. sub 24, and E. finish and get my Western States ticket. None of these however came with a plan.

The place I was staying at was almost a 2 hour drive away. So after the race meeting and dinner Friday night, I get back and go to sleep about 8pm. I sleep til 1130ish, get dressed grab my race day and after race stuff and start the drive back to the start. I arrive about 1:30am and get about 1.5 more hours of sleep/rest before I check back in and get ready to start. I finally meet @vegasultraruner from instagram and line up at the start.

I knew the first big chunk would go by fast, I remember it being fast last year so I knew to expect it. I ran for a bit with a guy and we are chatting about races we've run etc. Come to find out we had just seen each other on social media because of this race. I think James has the luckiest time with Western, he was the last person off the waitlist in the 37th spot last year!! Running with James felt effortless, we had a great pace going, even being sub 20. Keep in mind this is in the first 20 miles of a 100 mile race. If you have run one or if you haven't there is so much race left and so much can happen. You take advantage of the times you feel good, and grind through the ones you don't.

At some point we got separated, probably at one of the aid stations, he had a stellar crew of his wife and 2 daughters. I was on my own. After hitting the first major station 5 minutes ahead of last year, I grabbed food, altred tabs, and tylenol out of my bag and left. The next few sort of blended together, I remember changing socks and shoes at the next major aid about mile 30. Steven(@vegasultrarunner) and I piggy backed a bit for awhile and ran together for a few miles in those early hours, I couldn't tell you when though.

I remember thinking to myself that there was alot more trail to the race than I remember. I was also so thankful that it was a dry year, there were places that my shoe literally got sucked off last year, that now was dry and completely runable. If you have read my other posts or ran with me and heard me talk about how much I hate meadow sections during the day, you know how much I loathe them. Well thank you Vermont for adding one into your 100 miler! This year however, I was faster than last, and the humidity was actually pretty manageable, and the sun still low. Psst: I didn't hate it!

Somewhere after the meadow or right before I met up with Brian and then Tim. The three of us hit it off well, sharing stories of what we've run before and whats coming up. Brian is in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, which has been my goal for 3 years given I get into Western States. Tim has run this race 7 or 8 times and this was going to be his longest run since last year when he ran it.

The next part of this race recap is going to go by quickly, it all runs together and is pretty boring I would say. For the next approximately 70 miles the 3 of us ran together. All of us were solo runners. We would go into an aid station do our own thing and meet up after the fact. We took turns in the lead and pulled when we felt strong. I remember leading and flying through the trail sections and smiling, I felt so good and so comfortable. They were probably sick of me saying "this is like what we have at home!" We ate popsicles and Tim ate enough Roctane gels for everyone! Coming out of Camp 10 Bear the second time about mile 70(where you picked up your pacer if you had one), we all did a clothes change out. I changed my singlet and sports bra, socks and shoes. I was wet and dirty from ice that I was using to cool myself in the heat of the day. I didn't want to go into the night with wet clothes.

There is a point where you almost don't believe the pace you are seeing or if it's possible or accurate. But we came out into this one stretch of the road and I remember last year being on it with Jana and I had her turn off her headlamp and take in the sky full of stars. It was so beautiful. This year we still had a few hours of daylight left, and that was a little turning point in my head. My competitiveness was now awake.

Even though we ran together for majority of the race, we were alone with our thoughts and in our own head. We would go miles without talking especially later on. We laughed, and settled into the pain cave. Those last 10 miles were the worst for me, we had fallen off our sub 20 pace, but maybe sub 21 was close. The tricky part with this race, is there is no respite. It is 100 miles of hill repeats. So if you aren't power hiking up, you are trying to make up time on the way down, and that starts to take its toll. Just the act of starting and stopping was painful.

Polly's is the last major aid station before the finish, you have about 5 miles left. They lure you in with belgian waffles and warm Vermont maple syrup. I made the mistake of sitting, eating a waffle with so much syrup, I even had one person at the aid station pour syrup in my mouth. When I got up though, I was cold. Shivering, teeth chattering cold. It wasn't that cold out, 60 maybe,  but the effort of running all day and at this point it was about midnight. It took me about a mile to warm up. We all knew we just had to make it the next 2.5 miles to the water only spot. Then 2.5 to the finish.

This last section sticks out most in my mind because I had a low spot, I was feeling overwhelmed. I was hurting, I was tired, but I was also happy. I was doing it, I was going to PR. But, as we all know you CANNOT celebrate early in an ultra. So many things may still happen. So with about a mile to go, Tim tells us to go. I lead, and I shut it all down. Every pain receptor that I have firing is distinguished. I go. This single track of smooth dirt seemed to just barely touch my feet. The glowing milk jugs leading the way to the finish, a left turn and a slight uphill and under the banner I came. 21:09:22. Almost a 2.5 hour PR. Brian and Tim shortly thereafter.

I am proud of myself. I am happy I met those guys, all of them on the trail.

I feel the real challenge was my sleep and travel. I will say that I am fortunate enough to be able to fall asleep anywhere. My lovely cousin and her boyfriend live in upstate NY, and came to Vermont for a little get away and it was a chance to see each other. Immediately following the race at 1am, I changed and got in the car to drive the 1.5 hours back to Stowe. We will nopt get into details on how that drive went, I am sure you can picture how awesome it was. I had to shower and had enough time to catch about 4.5 hours of sleep so i could pack and get on the road to be BACK at the race finish for the awards meeting at 11am. This is where my cousin came in clutch, her boyfriend then drove my car to the start so I could grab another hour of sleep!

Commence food and awards. This is where I find out that I came in 11th overall female, the competitive side of me was pissed. I came in 8th in the open female category which is under 40. No clue where I placed in the solo category. I then pep talked myself, 11th is higher than 17th last year, its almost 3 hours faster, and you had zero expectations. So stop being a baby, there is nothing you can do about it right now, and be happy with how the race went.

Fun Facts:
*I changed shoes 4 times, socks 5 times.
* I went in with little expectations
* I ate yogurt in the car 30 min before the race start
* I used my tattoo of the elevation for the race to figure out what we had left to climb in the race
* I ate so much more sugar than I normally eat, making me super bloated that I looked pregnant
* Following awards I had to drive another hour to the airport, where I slept for 2 hours waiting to board.

Thank you to Timex for having me on the team and taking a chance on this crazy thing as ultra running. Saltstick for keeping me in check along with hydration. Thank you to Alt Red for keeping me steady. I had so many betalins! Zealios for keeping me protected from the sun. Gearwell for making a stellar resealable pouch that allowed me to bring my own food in my drop bags. Oiselle for providing my race shorts and bra everytime! UltraAspire for my reusuable cup, whether it held flat coke, boiled potatoes, watermelon, or lunch meat. It worked great the entire time!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Let us get real

We all talk about being "real," we encourage each other to show our true selves, show the grit, the pain, the heartache. That's a bunch of bullshit. We say it like we are going to open up our shell. But, in reality we want to see it from others, so we can feel better about ourselves, make our shit that we hold close to the lapel seem not so shitty.

Within the past year or so, I've shown some real stuff. If you are close to me, you have seen some of it first hand. I feel as a woman, as a mother, as a runner, as a coach, as a friend, as a human. I owe that to myself and to anyone who may be watching; looking for some sort of common denominator, to feel less alone. I am not a bullshitter, I am not a sugar coater, I am a straighter shooter. I have walls that can't be repelled. I have a lifetime of compartmentalizing practice, and my name is a synonym for the word strong.

In that same time period I experienced some pretty fucking amazing firsts. I set goals for myself to travel solo, say yes, buy ridiculously expensive plane tickets on a whim. Surrounding myself with some of the best people I know, being uplifted by pure kindness and empathy.

I also ran one of the hardest races of my life, while losing life. I had lost my mom and hadn't dealt with it properly. My marriage had been over for sometime and we both knew it, and neither wanted to be the one to admit it. And that course was real hard. Shortly thereafter I lost my dear friend, who has been gone now for over 6 months and I can't think about him without crying. 

With the recent attention on people in the limelight with suicide, a friend recently posted something that really hit me in the feels. It simply said:  "Check on your strong friend."

For about 6 weeks prior I felt as though I had been hit by almost everything I think I could have taken. All at once. Right in the face. No warning. I was having a hard time dealing. I was then mad at myself for not sucking it up and moving on. This isn't me to wallow, or to cry, or to sleep all day and not run. Who the fuck was I? It wasn't me.
I had a friend recently tell me that she knew I needed help, but didn't know how or what, so she avoided. I do not blame her in the slightest, I was a fucking wreck. I would have backed off too. We talked about this in some depth. I thanked her for her honesty and courage. I explained to her that I thought I was strobe-lighting to everyone asking for help and I felt abandoned, not just by her, but by everyone. At one point I drove to her house unannounced for a simple hug and lost it. I was lacking physical touch in the sense of comfort, someone to hold me and tell me it would all be ok. See, people don't know what to do when the person they count on, the strong one, loses their shit. It is foreign and uncomfortable to everyone. It's easier to do nothing.

So my strobe-lighting that I thought was so obvious, was overlooked because I'm strong, and I'll be fine. Which I truly understand as that is my motto. "I'm fine, it's fine." For the first time in my life, I didn't know if I was going to be fine and I felt as though I had no one to turn to.

At some point in the year, I wrote down some words, some words that I remember almost threw themselves on the page:
" "I'm good." It's for the best, I'm fine, really. That seems to be about 85% of the time. Why am I crying on an airplane headed to a weekend of fun and laughter? How can I be so confident one moment and doubt everything the next? I'm lonely, I have been for much longer than it may seem. It is possible to be in a relationship, have a partner, and feel utterly alone. This is the hardest part of it all.  Almost the ultimate betrayal. Being lonely while still having a person to touch, even without the passion and the intimacy you crave. Physical touch in itself is an addiction. 
Stay busy they say, it will cover it up. Fuck that! If I stay busy I'm avoiding, I'm running away. I have to feel, I have to feel everything. I'm a little hollow right now, I feel gutted. That love and adornment I crave: I am scared is gone forever. I doubt my ability to be taken at face value and taken for what I offer and accepted with open arms. no judgement. Just acceptance and understanding. I will NEVER be lonely in someones company again."

I had mourned my marriage emotionally previous to that writing and it wasn't entirely about that anyway. But that writing reminded me in that dark time not too long ago, why I suffered more than I had before. My primary love language is physical touch, with a close, almost tied second of words of affirmation. Have no idea what I am talking about? Take this quick quiz. The Five Love Languages. No, I have no affiliation to it whatsoever, but I am a cheerleader for it. I think it is beneficial in romantic, platonic, work, and friendships. Learning what you crave from others and how they receive it, I believe is crucial in any successful partnership.

So I guess the whole point of this is: Life is messy, it's hard, it sucks, people are cruel. Life is also amazing, it's beautiful, it's full of joy, people are extrodinary! Don't be afraid to show the spilt milk, the shirt you've been wearing insideout all day, the kid you took to school in their underwear, your tear-stained face, the fall before you get up. IT HAPPENS TO ALL OF US!! Seriously. 
Check on your strong friend, and check again, and again until they fess up. Remember, we are the strong ones, we can take it. We need it, almost more.

I get asked why I run ultras. This. All of this and how I got to this point. What made me strong and the path I took.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The sun is shining on a dark time

A year ago this day started like every other, it was Monday so it was an off day from running. I am sure I slept in and drank a few cups of coffee before heading into the bakery for my shift.

I am on my way to lead the beginning running group for the Dreambank here in town when I got a phone call. My godfather is calling me, that's weird. I should probably answer because he doesn't call me, Ever.

This is the call I knew would come. I didn't know when, but I knew it would. I knew it would end like this. Of course I can't remember the exact words he said to me, but I am pretty sure they were "she's gone." There needed to be no pre-text, I knew who and I knew how.        My mom was dead.

Addiction is real kids. She struggled her entire life. We had a brief few years when I was young where life was good, she wasn't using (or least not much), we went on vacations, she held a great job, we ate healthy, we actually weren't dirt poor, I remember being happy.

Like the cycle of addiction is, that didn't last. See my Dad is an alcoholic and drug addict as well, he however has about 27 years clean and works every day to stay sober. You can imagine how hard it was for him too. Being a mother of a teenager myself, it's rough. I know I wasn't the most pleasant daughter back then, but then having to become the parent puts a great deal of stress on a young person. I grew up real fast and have mastered the art of compartmentalization. 

No one will understand what that time in my life was like, and the one person who came close other than my siblings also passed away last year 5 months later.  I made a promise to myself that I would never make my children feel the way I felt during that time.

After I became a mother, yes I was young. 19 years old is too young in my opinion to have a baby, but I did it. You see, I have no choice. I take what life throws at me and clean it up. Sometimes I seem to make no progress, but in the end it stays clean at least for a little bit. My mom seemed to be stuck in a roundabout. She was able to be clean for a few years, then relapse, get clean, then use. When my daughter was about 3 I told my mom at her graduation out of another half way house program that this was the last time. If she relapsed again, we were done. I had to protect my daughter.

So for the next 8+ years we had an almost non-existent relationship. It did get to the point where I could be in the same room with her at holidays, but there wasn't much more than that. My sister tried really hard to keep contact but got fucked over too many times. My brother, the baby, always tried. They talked on the phone, he tried.

So you can see when I got this call a year ago today pulling into the parking lot to teach a bunch of runners, the surprise I had. Not at the call, but at my reaction to the call. I lost it. Shock that it finally happened, shock that I was having such a visceral reaction. But hey, you know what? That skill I have to tuck things away came in real handy that day. A smile was plastered and we went on like nothing happened.

Come to find out when I got that call, I was the third person to know. My aunt was literally in my moms apartment with her, she called my godfather and he called me. So now as the oldest I had to call my siblings. You can guess how that went.

By Friday we were having a service in Illinois. My siblings and I blared Carole King and everyone wore purple. I met so many people who knew me. Even though my mom wasn't 19 when she had me she was still a single mom. You rely on your friends and family to help out, so I spent my early years with essentially strangers to me.

Grief is a serious B. My reaction to her death has been very foreign to me. I am the strong one. I hold everyone else together. I am not the one who needs hand holding. I have been angry and relieved at the same time. It has followed me. My running suffered initially, every run was accompanied by overwhelming anxiety that seemed to come from nowhere. Lately its been more and more pronounced. Maybe because I knew the anniversary was coming, or because lilacs are in bloom and they were her favorite. Maybe with the death of my friend, maybe with the loss of my marriage.

My mom loved pictures, she took them all the time. So one of the things I now have are bins and bins of them. Not until about 2 weeks ago could I go through them. Let me tell you the 90's were not as cool as all the kids these days think they were!
But she was cool, my sister and I both said we probably would have been friends with her. My dad has a saying "I was cool before you were born."
Also being the first born there are about a gazillion pictures of me. The ones here I had never seen until the day of the service.

Her ashes sit on my bathroom floor waiting to be let free in the Wisconsin River per her request. Even though I was possibly cruel to her when I cut her off, I was doing what was right for me at the time. But I respect her enough to not put them in a storage unit to be forgotten.

My neighbors at the time gifted me a magnolia tree to be planted in her honor. Of course the flowers are purple.