Grilled Cheese, Pickle Soup and Friendship: What Ultra Girls are Made Of

I am often asked how or why I run the distances I do. These ultras I undertake are by no means standard fare for the average person’s fitness goals. Out there for hours and hours in varying conditions, the longer ultras are a test of willpower and mental stamina more than strength or speed. Sure, any marathoner can gut out a 50k, and with some technical trail work they may even be fast. But little of that matters 10-12-14 hours plus on the trail. Speed will only get you so far.

I am by no means fast on trail. I am careful, calculated. I don’t bomb descents, technical terrain slows me more than many others. I can power hike up a steep incline with the best of them, and hit a good clip on runnable terrain. But what carries me through isn’t my blazing fast splits, it is the simple determination not to quit. I know when I go into a race, I will keep moving forward in all circumstances until I either miss a cutoff, or am in so much pain that I physically cannot continue at the pace required to stay ahead of cutoffs. There is no escape hatch for me, no giving up. I am all in.

This post examines how I run an ultra. I give all the gritty details: what I ate and drank, how I paced, how I passed the time, how I managed the terrain, how I pushed through lows. I am not alone in how I handle these challenges, every ultra-runner does. We each have our own style, our own tricks that work for us. And we are each an experiment of one, as I have heard it called, constantly trying new things and analyzing the results to see how to improve over time. For a while now I have written a “race report” like this after every ultra I do, putting in writing the wins and the struggles from each race. Writing out the race helps me process the lessons learned, but also gives me somewhere to look back and see how far I’ve come, to pull confidence from the times I overcame and pushed through in all circumstances. Usually, I just share this with my coach, my husband, or a few close ultra-running friends. I guess I thought that no one from the “real” world would care to read of the exploits of an average ultra-runner.

Yet recently, I have had people ask me about the hows and whys, I thought maybe this post could be intriguing to some. So if you would like to hear the exploits of my latest adventure, please read on! If you find the details boring, that’s ok too…

I’ll write something more interesting soon.

(As a side note, I tried to explain trail running lingo where appropriate. But if you have questions, please ask!)

******************************************************

I went into the Tinajas 100k on March 3rd, unsure about my training and my mileage, but determined to be smart, pace appropriately, have fun, and learn a lot. I wasn’t really nervous. I knew there was nothing more I could do training wise. I did the most I could while trying to rehab my Achilles, which were still bothering me from the Yeti 100 Mile. My mileage was lower than I have ever had it be going into an ultra. Both my back to back long runs and my single long run efforts were shorter in time and distance than I have previously reached. But my weekly mileage was reasonable given the increase in hiking and weighted vest fast walking that I had incorporated this training cycle. My elevation training was actually on point, as I found hiking vertical didn’t bother me as much as running flats, and I had actively sought out inclines whenever I could. I knew my Achilles were strong from the daily eccentric heel drop routine that I had incorporated in December. And the core and hip strength work I had been doing near daily meant I felt stronger than I have ever felt when hitting my higher mileage weeks. I had also focused the last several months on running by heartrate (HR) almost exclusively. At first it was a way to keep myself in check as I recovered from Yeti, but I found that I liked just switching my watch to HR and letting pace fall where it may. I found that as my body adapted, my HR for easy runs got lower at the same pace, and that when I kept my HR low my Achilles didn’t bother me as much.

I knew going into Tinajas that I would need to keep my effort easy if I hoped to cover the distance smartly. So I decided that I would leave HR on my Garmin for the race. This would most likely drain the battery faster than putting the watch in UltraTrac mode, but I wanted to be able to monitor my effort for the first 50k so that I didn’t go to fast, and then if the watch died in the second half I would be so tired I wouldn’t be pushing the pace anyway.

Tinajas is an unsupported trail race put on by Tejas Trails in the beautiful Colorado Bend State Park. Unsupported meant that I needed to plan what I would eat and drink and space it between my drop bags and the aid stations (AS) where my crew could access me. The race itself would only provide water and ice, no food or volunteers at the aid stations. I talked a lot with a runner who had completed the race the year before to learn about water crossings and where to stash dry shoes and socks. My coach knows that I understand my fuel needs by now, and he pretty much let me plan my drop bags and aid station needs on my own.

I would have 2 crew during the race. Fiona (Fi) would crew me from the start, navigating to aid stations during the day and pacing me 20 miles at night. Cathy would join her in the afternoon on Saturday, continue to crew both Fi and I through Fiona’s 20 night miles, and then would pace me the last 7 miles to the finish. My crew was very experienced, having crewed and paced me at previous races. I knew I could depend on them, and I knew I had packed and planned for every contingency I could imagine. I came into race week enjoying taper, excited about the race, not the least bit nervous. I had done all I could and what would happen would happen.

Fiona and I drove down Friday afternoon in time to get my bib and place my drop bags at the aid stations before the race briefing at 6. After the briefing, we went into Lampasas to settle into our hotel and get dinner. I spent the evening rolling and taping my calves, and was in bed watching TV by 10:30. Although it took me a little while to get to sleep, I was easily asleep before midnight and got a full 5.5 hours of sleep before my alarm on Saturday. I woke up feeling good and ready to play on the trail.

I tried a new breakfast for this race of refrigerator oatmeal (oatmeal, applesauce, cinnamon, Nutzo Power Fuel nut butter, and water in a mason jar). It worked quite well paired with some of the cold brew that I had brought for later in the race. I topped off with a bottle of 3Fuel (a carb, protein, and fat drink made for endurance athletes) mixed with some extra BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) 30 minutes before I started running. When we headed downstairs to the hotel lobby, we found that the staff had started the breakfast bar early for the runners, so we grabbed a few egg and cheese burritos to stash in the cooler for later.

Me at the start

The solo 100k runners were the last to start the race. Due to a course miscalculation, the race director (RD) had added a short out and back section the day before, to get the mileage dialed in just right. In order to avoid traffic jams, he had the 50k and relay 100k runners start at 7:30, while the solo 100k runners started at 7:45. This meant there were only about 25 or so runners milling around the start line when I arrived. A few last-minute reminders from the RD and we were off.

The one mile out and back was on perfectly flat dirt road. I focused on my HR and had to keep pulling myself back as others took off at the start. In under 11 minutes I was back at the Start crossing the timing mat and headed back out, this time for the actual course. After the half mile of flat again, we turned onto the trail which rose off to the right and immediately plunged into trees and rocks. A large part of the first 3 miles was runnable, but it was broken up with 9 river crossings and numerous scrambles that broke your stride and slowed you down. I kept it easy, letting others pass me, until I fell behind a young man named Brandon who seemed to be going a pace I could lock into. We ran the last 1.5 miles or more together, chatting until we came into the Lemon Ridge Aid Station (AS), where he got out faster. I took the time at Lemon Ridge to change socks (both my Injinji liners and my compression socks) and shoes. My feet were soaked from the water crossings, and I knew that the rest of the course was supposed to be dry, so I felt it was worth the time to start completely fresh. Fi managed to meet me at this AS, so she helped me restock and I headed out pretty quickly.

The next section of trail was still fairly runnable, with some more rocky sections. I kept my watch on HR and just tried to run comfortably. It was during this section that I met Michael. He was keeping a steady, easy pace of running and hiking that fit well with my plans. We started chatting and stayed together for the next 10+ miles. We hit the Windmill AS between mile 8 and 9 together, where I introduced him to Fi and downed one of the egg burritos. We didn’t linger, and after refilling water, were back on the trail in no time. We kept a steady pace through the next very runnable dirt road section coming into Gorman Falls AS at mile 13ish. Michael had fallen into a run/walk that kept my HR low, but I was starting to pull ahead on the running segments. He was slowing. We came into Gorman Falls AS with me slightly ahead, but by the time I refilled my Nuun bottle and took some 3Fuel, he was ready to head out with me. We stayed together for maybe another half mile, but I kept looking back and seeing him drop farther behind. Eventually I decided I needed to run my own race. I waited until Michael was close enough to tell him I was going to go on and I’d see him later, and then I headed out truly on my own. I did see Michael several more times during the next 8 miles as we navigated the most technical sections of the course. I came into each of the points of interest (Colorado River overlook and Gorman Falls scramble) slightly ahead, but he was right behind me. I was ahead, but within eyesight of him coming into the Tinaja AS, one of two aid stations inaccessible to crew over the next 10 miles. He helped remind me to sign the book with my bib number (we had to sign in at every aid station and point of interest to prove we didn’t cut the course). He caught up to me again on one of the steeper rocky downhills (I’m still not a good downhiller in technical terrain). But I soon lost him on the climbs. By the time we reached the Conference Center AS around mile 21, where I paused a little longer to eat a few cookies, I was well ahead. I saw him for the last time as he came into the aid station while I ran out, and then I didn’t see him again for the rest of the race, even on the out and back sections. I know he must have slowed if I didn’t see him there.

The scramble down to Gorman Falls

The section from Tinaja AS to Conference Center AS is where I struggled the most mentally. It was getting warmer, I had been running for over 6 hours, it was the most technical section so far, and I hadn’t seen my crew since mile 13. And yet, I kept strong by thinking it’s ok to be feeling this way, it’s just a low and the low is justified given how long I’ve been running, the terrain, the heat, and the loneliness. That I just needed to keep moving and get to see Fi. That the next time I came through this area I would have someone with me. That this low would pass. Instead of bringing me down, I was able to work through it, accept it, and move on. It was a huge breakthrough for me!

Moving beyond Conference Center AS the trail opened up to some very runnable dirt single track along the Colorado River. It was beautiful along the river, with cliffs rising above us on one side. We could see fishermen and houses along the opposite bank. We crossed over the narrow rock jutting over Gorman Cave and then followed the single track to a sharp right turn up the climb to Cedar Chopper AS. The climb was not terribly steep, but consistent. It wasn’t as technical as the section we had just been through before Conference Center, but there were definitely rocks. After levelling out a few times, only to climb some more, this out and back section of the trail finally levelled off into a non-technical loop around the top of the hill, with the Cedar Chopper AS at mile 24ish about half way around the loop.

Running along cliffs toward Cedar Chopper AS

By the time I reached Cedar Chopper, I was fighting a mild headache. The day had stayed mostly overcast and humid. By no means hot, the low clouds were feeling warm as the sun peeked out briefly in the early afternoon. The humidity made it feel like a heavy blanket. I had been drinking water from my pack and refilling my front bottle with Nuun at every aid station, plus subbing in Base Salt. But by the time I reached Cedar Chopper, I think I was a little dehydrated. Fi made sure I took 3fuel and an Oral IV for hydration. She had a turkey sandwich for me to go. I signed in, knelt briefly to roll my calves a little, and then headed out, munching on the turkey and cheese. I would see Fi again at the Start/Finish where she would have grilled cheese and pickle soup.

The journey down from Cedar Chopper was much easier than up. Not as technical as the previous descents, I made better time, although some more confident runners still passed me. Once down from Cedar Chopper, we were dumped back on a dirt road where I was able to pass some of the runners who had passed me on the descent with an easy paced run/walk. I would run counting to 100 and then walk counting to 20 or 30 and repeat. It kept me engaged and gave me bite sized chunks of running to focus on. In the last couple of miles, we turned back up another rocky hill to Lemon Ridge. A 50k runner fell in behind me on the climb but seemed to like my pace and never tried to pass. I was feeling better as the sun had gone back behind the clouds and it was cooling slightly. We came into Lemon Ridge together, where I barely stopped to sign the book. Past Lemon Ridge AS we entered a short out and back section again before branching to the left on the last few miles into the Start/Finish. This last section was more technical and rocky again, with more descending, and the 50k runner passed me for good. I was tripping a lot more by now, and it frustrated me. This is when the cussing out rocks began, and I am sorry to stay it stayed around until the end. Finally, after several steep descents filled with rocks, I made it to the dirt road that led us back to the Start/Finish and 32 miles.

At the Start/Finish, it took me a little while to find Fi and Cathy at the car. They had the camp stove set up and were heating my pickle soup (it’s so good!) and cooking grilled cheese. I downed a fresh grilled cheese and sipped some soup while cussing about rocks. I told them my right foot had a hot spot under the toes, but I didn’t want to deal with it until Lemon Ridge AS, as I knew I was about to head back out through the 9 river crossings again. I also said I didn’t want to take my trekking poles until Gorman Falls AS, that I didn’t think the trail warranted them until we hit the tougher climbs and more technical sections. After we refilled my water and Nuun, I headed out.

I jogged the half mile back up to where the trail turned toward the creek crossings. The scrambles were slower this time, and for some reason the creek seemed higher. I am not sure if it was, or if I just chose my crossings more poorly. At one crossing I stepped wrong and sunk my entire right shoe and ankle into mud, with water almost to my knee. But nothing was too treacherous and I took it slowly. It was beginning to mist now, but the ground was still fairly dry. I had to hike more than run, even on the runnable sections, because my pinky toe on my right foot was killing me with every toe off. I knew I had to take care of it at Lemon Ridge AS and not put it off any longer. As I finished the last segment before Lemon Ridge, light was starting to dim, and I was glad I wouldn’t have much longer to the aid station as I had left the Start/Finish without my headlamp.

Cathy doctors a blister at Lemon Ridge

My stop at Lemon Ridge took even longer this time than the first loop. I changed into dry shoes and socks again, but we also took the time for Cathy to drain and bandage my blistered right pinky toe. I took my headlamp and a long sleeve, downed some 3fuel, and then Fi and I headed out for the trail. We made it to Windmill AS after dark, where we found Cathy waiting. I had another grilled cheese and some water. But in the dark I forgot that I was supposed to grab my jacket out of my drop bag and carry it with me. Since I saw Cathy at the aid station (which I hadn’t planned on), I didn’t think to go over to my drop bag. It was warm, and we headed out trying to make good time over the runnable dirt roads between Windmill AS and Gorman Falls AS. It was only days later that I remembered I was supposed to grab the jacket at Windmill and take it with me, giving it to my crew at Gorman Falls AS if I didn’t need it, as I was planning to leave my drop bags at the end of the race. Oh well, it was just a jacket.

Headed out of Lemon Ridge with Fiona

Fi and I made decent time to Gorman Falls AS in the dark. I was still feeling pretty good, tired, but nothing out of the ordinary. I was able to hold a good run/walk pattern and we kept some miles at 15 minutes or less as we passed a few runners. The dirt trails were starting to saturate with the mist that had become increasingly heavy since Lemon Ridge, and at times the mud would build up on our shoes and then kick off. But usually it just made the ground tacky and our shoes didn’t become too heavy.

Coming into Gorman Falls AS, Cathy noticed my hands were significantly swollen. They had been swelling for a while, and now I could barely clench my fists. We decided I should cut back on Nuun and only drink to thirst, as I was probably overhydrating now in the cooler temperatures of night. I still hadn’t used my long sleeve, but I traded it in for my rain coat as it had been misting for hours. At times through the night the mist would be thick enough to almost look like fog. Since I was still quite warm, I tied the coat around my waist in case it started raining in earnest. I also picked up my trekking poles to use for the rest of the race (around 17 miles). I had some 3fuel and soup and stashed some snacks for the crew inaccessible 11 miles ahead of us. We took a little longer at Gorman Falls AS than we wanted to due to the confusion over an injured runner. One runner was telling us that there was an injured runner at the Conference Center AS up ahead. We couldn’t figure out what he wanted us to do about it as we were hours away from that Aid Station by foot. As we started to leave, a car came through asking us to move cones so they could get an ambulance up the fire road. Cathy shooed us on, saying she would take care of the cones. Halfway up the trail I remembered I wanted to trade my watch with Cathy so that I could have a fresh battery, as the hours of tracking HR had drained my watch to nearly nothing. We headed back, made the switch with the watches, and then finally got on our way.

It was as we headed out of Gorman Falls AS that I finally let myself calculate what pace I needed to keep to finish the race. I had a little under 17 miles, and over 10 hours to do it in. I knew I could finish if I just kept moving forward. Heading out from the Aid Station I knew we faced the most technical portion of the course, lots of rocks both loose and fixed, flat “tombstones” that were becoming slick with mist and mud, more climbing and descents, and the slippery smooth rock slide down to Gorman Falls. As we got closer and closer to Gorman Falls, I let my anxiety about the slippery rock descent play with my head. The trail seemed to stretch further and further, like the falls would never come. I should have stayed more focused in the moment, but I let my anxiety about making it down the rock run away with me for a while. In the end, the falls were not as bad as I had built them up in my head. The rock was slicker than during the day, but not overly so. I was moving slower, and holding the rope that ran along the rock kept me grounded. I made it down and up without incident.

We moved past the falls, and the Tinaja AS. I barely stopped at Tinaja other than to sit briefly. I wasn’t hungry and had slowed my drinking significantly so I didn’t need to reload. I noticed at Tinaja that my hands were much better, nearly normal size, which seemed to confirm that I was overhydrated earlier in the evening. I continued to drink by thirst through the rest of the race, and only take Nuun sparingly. My hands never swelled again. I ate only half of Fi’s energy bar at Tinaja since I wasn’t hungry, and we moved on to the technical trails to Conference Center.

The trails to Conference Center AS were even slower than the first loop. Less than a half mile out of Tinaja AS I felt my right Achilles hurting. The slipping and sliding over mist-slicked rocks and uneven footing seemed to have finally caught up with me. The Achilles combined with the technical climbing and descents through the hilliest part of the course slowed me to what was at times just under a 30 minute pace. And about halfway to the Conference Center I found that my half an energy bar had worn off. I was starving. But I insisted I could wait to the aid station as I thought we were close. The trail seemed to stretch on and on, and with each turn that didn’t lead to the aid station, I grew more and more angry. Fi just let me vent, but I know she probably wanted to knock me upside the head and tell me to just eat one of the cookies I had in my pack. She could tell when I felt good because I would make conversation, but when I fell down the rabbit hole I would either get quiet, or start cussing everything in sight. Fi has paced me enough that she knows this by now though. Finally we reached the Conference Center, where we took a little longer to sit and eat.

The flat “tombstone” rocks became increasingly slick through the night

I knew that after the Conference Center AS we had relatively flat, dirt single track until the climb to Cedar Chopper. My good spirits returned and we even ran a bit along the river as we made our way to the climb. I found I could run the flats without aggravating the Achilles, it was the slippery rocks that were bothering it. When we reached the climb, it didn’t seem as bad in the dark as it hard earlier in the day, maybe because we were moving so much slower. We made it up and around to Cedar Chopper AS, where I sat while Fi went to find Cathy at the car (she was napping until we arrived). It took Fi and Cathy longer than I expected, but I relished the ability to sit for a while. However, the wind was picking up outside the tent and the ever-present mist had turned into actual rain drops. I didn’t want to stay around too long if a storm was brewing. Another runner was in the aid station debating if he should continue. He had been throwing up bile and only covered 5 miles in 4 hours. I believe he decided to drop, but I am not sure. Fi and Cathy returned to the aid station tent with a grilled cheese for me and Cathy outfitted to run. I changed out my headlamp for a fresh one (my waist lamp had died hours ago and I didn’t want to trust my first headlamp to last much longer. As a side note, I need to get a better waist lamp). We headed out with me still eating the grilled cheese. I was anxious to get going and keep ahead of the storm.

Coming down from Cedar Chopper was slippery, as it was sprinkling. But the rain never progressed beyond that. By the time we reached the flat trail at the bottom the rain had tapered off to mist again, as it would stay for pretty much the rest of the run. We climbed slowly up to Lemon Ridge AS for the final time. My stomach turned in the miles between Cedar Chopper and Lemon Ridge and I had to make a few pit stops along the side of the trail. A mile out from Lemon Ridge I was out of wipes, and just trying to make it to the aid station before I had to stop again. We made it to the aid station, where I grabbed some more wipes and opted not to eat. I knew I only had 3 miles left. If it had been a 100 miler, I would have forced myself to take in some calories. But I knew I could make 3 miles. I had been well-fueled all day, eating 3 grilled cheese, a turkey sandwich, an egg burrito, numerous sweet potato cookies and gingersnaps, half a pouch of bacon jerky, half an energy bar, a gel, at least 1 honey stinger waffle, half a thermos of pickle soup, several cups of cold brew, 4-5 bottles of 3 fuel, and probably more that I don’t even remember. I had taken in and kept down more calories than any other ultra I have run. So I let myself trust my protesting gut and not eat anything for this last 3 mile push. My stomach settled, and I didn’t have any more pit stops.

The 3 miles to the Start/Finish with Cathy were my slowest yet. I think I averaged 30 minutes per mile. It was rocky again, and the heavier sprinkles from earlier returned at times. The path was slick and starting to get muddy. Not terrible mud that would build on your shoes, but enough that you had limited traction on rocks. My Achilles on both legs were complaining now, and I was walking very gingerly trying to avoid aggravating them any more than necessary. I knew there was a steeper descent before we levelled out to the final half mile, and every time we went downhill, I thought we were almost there. Cathy kept counting down the tenths of the mile, telling me we were not there yet. But I hoped against hope that she was wrong. She was always right.

Somewhere in the haze of the last two miles we saw our only wildlife for the night, a huge jackrabbit, standing on its hind legs and looking right at us. In our headlamps the rabbit appeared white with glowing red eyes. He stared us down and the ran toward us before veering into the woods. I made the comment it must be Bunnicula, and Cathy laughed, catching my reference to a book from our youth. Finally, we reached the flat trail again. I thought about running, but I knew it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. At this point I could walk almost as fast as I could run on the flat ground, and my Achilles were not happy. So we power-walked to the lights of the finish line, which glittered through the trees looking deceptively near. Finally we could hear voices and clapping and see the timing clock. It didn’t register with me then, but it must have said 5:30ish as I passed.

I stopped  and stood just past the timing mat. They told me I had won 2nd female, and I was shocked. I knew it had taken me over 21 hours on the trail, much longer than I had hoped after my first loop before my Achilles started to hurt. But it seems while I may not have been fast, I didn’t stop, and that was what mattered that day. There were numerous DNF’s, and because I kept going while others turned in their timing chip, I came in second woman across the finish line, 5 hours after first place.

Celebrating my finish with my awesome crew/pacers

We sat for awhile in the tent with Brad, the RD. Then about 6 am we headed back to Lampasas for food and bed. Breakfast was being served when we arrived at the hotel, and we were famished. So we ate, showered, and then crashed for 3.5 hours before we had to check out of the room and head home. My feet had started to swell, as they usually do after that many hours on the trail, but I found I actually felt really good. Good enough to drive the 4 hours home.

I learned a lot from this experience. I fueled with more solid fuels than ever before, using 3fuel as more of a supplement rather than my main calorie source. This seemed to work well, as I took in more calories during the run and have not been famished in the days following the race. I also paced much better. Watching my HR in the early miles kept me honest and focused on the long effort. This meant I was running and running easily much later into the race than usual for me. I could have run longer than I did if my Achilles and ankles had not finally succumbed to the slick rock. My legs still felt strong. I also took the time to connect with other runners during the first portion of the race. I have the habit of zoning out into my own world if I don’t know anyone around me. I don’t make small talk. But connecting with runners and running with new friends helped the early miles breeze by, and it gave me someone to cheer for as I saw them in Aid Stations. I kept my mind out of dark holes better, at least until the deepest of night. I pulled myself out of a few lows by reminding myself things would get better, and by giving myself a carrot to keep moving toward. I also conquered the most technical ultra that I have undertaken to date. This race was so much more technical than Bryce, the previous king of this title. Bryce was sand, elevation and altitude, Tinajas was constant rocks which became increasingly slippery through the night. But I survived and finished well ahead of the cut off that was given. Although I will need to improve my ability to cover rocky terrain to have hopes at a less generous cutoff. I also need to find shoes better suited to slick rock. I had been warned that Speedcross, while good at most things, do not work well on wet rock. But I took the chance given they are my favorite shoe and I did not have the time to really break in the pair of Sense Ride’s that I had picked up a week before the race. I need to spend some more time working with the Sense Ride and exploring other shoes. Less slipping may have kept the Achilles happier. All in all, I truly had fun the first 50k, and survived the second. I am so happy I had the opportunity to run this race, and that I had these women to share it with. It really was an awesome girls weekend, in our sick and twisted kind of way!

Mud Pie Musings

There is a picture of me as a young child, making mud pies in my grandmother’s garden. I am two, maybe three, half nude and covered in mud, my face intent upon my creations. The sun shines brightly and I can still imagine how the warmth must have felt on my bare skin, how the mud stuck to my fingers and belly. I sit there, absorbed in my work, blissfully unaware that I should be wearing a shirt, that my hair is matted with my baking, that my tummy is round, most likely with handfuls of Mamo’s haystack cookies. At that age the idea that my body is inadequate, that I should feel any shame about how I look or what I eat has not yet entered my joyful, simple world. It is just me, the sun, and the mud, and the joy of a day making mud pies.

I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking differently about my body. It came in bits and pieces I guess. A magazine image here, a comment there, ill fitting styles that I “had” to wear, arbitrary sizes not based upon my height, or my earlier-than-others sprouting curves. I was taller than everyone else by 5th grade, it took years for the boys to catch up. The clothes other girls wore didn’t work on my sprouting hips and breasts. Bits and pieces, tearing down the innocent confidence of a girl as she too quickly became a woman.

I do remember being told I looked 3 months pregnant, I remember the exact weight I was at the time. I wasn’t heavy. Not that it matters, but I weigh more now than I did then. I was 12 or 13 years old and that was the first time I consciously started a diet.

Many other diets followed, eating lots of soup, filling up on puffed rice crisps, anything low fat, anything low calorie. Lying about how much I ate at lunch so that I could make excuses for how little I ate at dinner. I wasn’t a coordinated kid, so I avoided sports. But controlling what I ate gave me the outlet I wanted, it allowed me to be in control, and it carved my maturing body down to a younger shape. And when I came back from being very sick in 8th grade, and a teacher told me I was looking thin, I was thrilled. I hated that being well, having a normal appetite, might make me fill out again. There was a sick pleasure in looking 2 sizes too small, and I relished it.

At the time I didn’t see it, although now I look at those pictures and cringe. All knees and elbows, a too large shirt belted tightly into my shorts. Paired with my naturally thick hair, made thicker by early 90s bangs, I look like a bobble head. Gangly, where just a few years before there had been curves. I remember thinking I needed to loose just 5 more pounds, and then 5 more after that. I am not sure where the bottom would have been.

I don’t really know how I turned around. To this day I can’t pinpoint a specific change. I remember visiting the doctor and being aghast at the weight he said I should weigh. No one said anorexia, but I think we all knew. I remember my mom immediately buying me any food I would mention that I wanted, an ice cream shake, pizza. It was a fairly quick road back to a healthy weight, still thin, but healthy. And once I looked healthy, people stopped worrying, stopped pressing me to eat. They moved on, but I knew I wasn’t cured. It was a much longer path back to a healthy mindset.

Most of high school and college I ate, and I looked healthy. The physical effects of an eating disorder had subsided. But mentally I still struggled with disordered thoughts around food and my body. I obsessed about every calorie, I measured and calculated. I stressed about a pound gained or lost, my mind was constantly filled with food and restriction, weight and “goals.” I started running in college, but it was not joyful or stress release or a way to challenge myself. Running was a way to make up for last night’s binge, to punish myself for the second brownie, to maintain an ideal thin.

And I thought this was normal. Most girls I knew talked about food to the extreme. We all concentrated on eating “healthier,” which was code for loosing weight. We removed whole food groups. We lamented our poor self control, even as we devoured salads and baked potatoes to an extreme. I was normal, I thought.

However, I was starting to find my way back, even then. When I moved to my first apartment, I experimented with cooking and baking. I still didn’t know much about nutrition other than calories, but I was preparing my own food and enjoying eating. As I graduated and moved into the adult world, I began to educate myself on carbs, protein, good fats, macro nutrients, and truly sustainable, healthy eating. I still counted calories, but I focused on fueling my body nutritious whole food within those calories, instead of calories alone. And yet, I still would be plagued with gnawing hunger, and guilt over being hungry when I had already eaten “enough.” I would hate my body for asking for more than I had decided it needed, and I would play my food choices over and over in my head.

It took years, but I slowly learned to stop counting calories, to trust my body, to eat until I was full. For so long I had eaten what my mind calculated I needed, not what my body asked for. It took a long time for me to trust my body to say when it needed food, and when it had enough. But as I learned to listen, I found the gnawing hunger that had followed me for most of my adult life faded into distant memory. And I found a satiety in good foods that I had never known growing up.

I read many books about nutrition and intuitive eating, I learned to love whole, natural foods and not fear fat. And by the time I started running again, I was well on my way to peace with food. This time when I ran, I ran for joy and the challenge, to see what I could do. And I ate to fuel my running and my recovery. I ate what I loved so I could do what I loved.

My body has changed as I let go of food control, but not as much as I feared. My curves returned, but now I love them. My weight stabilized at a natural set point. A point at which I can eat, and run, and be active, and just live without worrying about maintaining a certain physique. It fluctuates, 5-10 pounds up or down based upon my training. But never far. I am heavier than I was when I was told I looked pregnant as a young teen, but now I feel sexy and own it. On days when I feel sluggish and fluffy, I know it is hormones, anxiety, and stress, and not really my body or my looks that are bringing me down.

I wish I could say I never struggle with thoughts about food. That I never think about the calories in a meal, or that I never feel a twinge of guilt. I would be lying. I am lightyears beyond where I was 10 years ago. I try to make choices that will support my body through the miles I ask of it. I indulge, I splurge, probably more than most. But sometimes I still hear that little nag in the back of my mind, telling me I don’t deserve food, that I must earn what I eat. Telling me that I must control everything that goes into my mouth, that I must obsess, and count, and analyze, and weigh, and stress about food until the food controls me. And yet I’ve learned to recognize that voice for the liar that it is. That little voice may sound reasonable, seductive even. But I know that voice will only pull me down a rabbit hole of anxiety and self-harm. A place where the joy in life and love, family and friends, is tainted and discolored by a hazy filter of food obsession. And so I label that voice as a deceiver, not a friend, and I do my best to turn away, to trust my body, to trust my soul. To trust instead the quiet voice of the preschool mud pie maker, a voice growing ever clearer, whispering of a full belly… full heart… full life.

The Great American Novel

I used to dream of writing the great American novel. I remember one of the first dates with my husband, the one where you talk about your hopes and dreams, and where you see yourself in 10 years. I said I wanted to write, and at the time I meant fiction. I wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling. Creating characters that spoke to people and setting them on adventures that took my readers away from reality and yet somehow taught them how to really live. Rowling may be British, but I identified deeply with her personality and her writing. I wanted to speak to the human spirit through my prose, as she does. I wanted to become a part of American vernacular.

For years I started a chapter, then stopped. Massive writers block, deepening insecurity, and an utter lack of inspiration keeping me from ever getting past the first few pages. A sense of the magnitude of what I wished to write made it impossible to actually write anything. None of my characters felt “real,” none of their trials truly challenging, none of the plots lines were immersive or transportive. I took a few classes, and although I could arrange words on paper well enough, I could never find the inspiration to transform those words into another world filled with characters you could call friends. I waited and waited for my train ride inspiration, to be struck with an idea so strong, a story so important, that it was as if the boy wizard strode into my life fully formed, as Rowling reports he did so many years ago.  But that moment, that inspiration has never come.

And yet, over the years I have found that the writing I am drawn to is less and less fiction, and more biography, prose, and commentary on a well-lived life. Maybe it is the rise of an internet culture, where blogs and articles make up a majority of our interaction with words. Maybe it is my fascination with others who hold similar passions: runners and writers, women and mothers with a wry wit and a desire to explore all facets of themselves and life. The pull to not take life at face value, but to delve deeper into what it means to be human. And to find within ourselves stories as dark and deep, and as exciting and challenging, as we ever find in a novel. Maybe it is simply the consolidation of time, these days my reading is squeezed between drop off and pick up, laundry and meal prep, and the ever-changing demands of modern life. Balancing being a mom, wife, housemaker, runner, writer, and more,  leaves little time to get lost in an epic novel. I don’t have the luxury of reading into the wee hours for “just one more page.” It’s easier to consume my written material in bites and pieces read in the moments between. And yet in those moments I can find writers of all ages and all paths of life that write because it is who they are. And in their writing they are so much more.

I identify with these writers, whether they are speaking through a self-made blog or a published book. Their words ring true to me, and teach me that being a writer is more than the great American novel. There are more ways to contribute to a thought-driven, literary society. I may never create evocative and impactful fiction, but I can express myself in a way that explores the human spirit. I can write in a way that is meaningful to those around me. I can contribute to a written culture that extends back centuries and pushes forward into the digital age, changing its venue but staying true to the nature of word craft. I can still write, even if my words never appear on a printed page, bound between covers. And maybe someday, if I write well and often, what I write will be more than just a blog, more than just words written (hopefully) well. While I may never write the great American novel, or any novel for that matter, maybe my writing can still offer something to this world that no other writer before me has done. And in doing so, I can be a writer worth reading simply because she has something to say.

On Repeat

I have been listening to Ed Sheeran a lot recently. I became aware of him a while ago, Chris first introduced me to his music when we watched a recording of his performance at Wembley Stadium. When ÷ came out last year I immediately downloaded the entire album. I listened to a song here or there for a few weeks and then put it away. But then on my solitary trip to the Wild Hare 50k in November, I played the album on repeat throughout the 5 hour drive each way. The ebb and flow, the highs and lows, each song burned into my brain. And while some songs did not reach me at first, by the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with every nuance, every detail, every rise and fall, the journey of the album as a whole.

I am not the type of person who keeps music constant in the background. I am perfectly comfortable with silence. I write in silence, I work in silence, I run in silence, I cook and clean and go about life largely in silence. Silence is comforting to me, it is peaceful. And yet, sometimes the strongest form of silence is that in the middle of a crowd, tucked in the corner of a coffee shop as the hum of voices fades into nothing, soothed by the footfalls of others as we run stride for stride, words unspoken. These are the places I typically feel most at home. Silence outside to balance the noise inside my head.

I suppose that has been the largest challenge in parenting for me. The constant noise, the constant chatter, the inability to disappear into silence on my own terms. I love my son, I love hearing about his day, learning what is going on in his head, listening to the sweetness of his voice, memorizing the sound of his breath. But I cannot control the silence anymore, it is no longer mine to claim when I wish. It has gotten easier as he has aged, with school and activities taking large chunks of the day. He is busier, he is gone more, and I find my silence more readily, but still on his schedule. The crazy thing is now I have more access to my solace, my time alone, my quiet, I find I miss the baby, I miss the constant togetherness, I miss the noise. Such is the fleeting nature of life I guess, you can’t miss it until it’s gone.

And that brings me back to Ed Sheeran. For such a relatively young singer, his lyrics hit so deep. I was shocked to learn I am more than 10 years his senior. How can someone so young write with such an old soul? The mix of pain and joy wound deep into his songs is overpowering at times. He is unapologetic in his truth and in his perceptions. And he touches upon the beauty that is bound to the trauma of life so inexplicably and so well. I have now listened to all his albums, cover to cover, if that is the correct term. And while individual songs stand out to me in + and X, ÷ resonates in its entirety. The album is a journey, from pain through love, to joy, and back again. The songs rise and fall, ebb and flow, never leaving you high or low for too long. But he starts and ends with pain, while the beauty falls between. You can hear he has grown in this album, he has found bits of himself he hadn’t known were lost. He returns to his roots openly in “Castle on the Hill,” but more quietly in songs about his grandparents and love. The anger in X has tempered, it is deeper in some ways, but more settled, a part of him, reforming him, and making him stronger and wiser. He is not the same now, and his songs are better for it.

Ed Sheeran still plays on repeat in my car. Mostly ÷, although sometimes a few of my favorites from earlier years. I know all the lyrics by heart, and as a visual learner who does not learn songs by ear easily, that tells you something. Life is beauty, but it is also pain. Raising a child, shaping a marriage, sorting out who you are and who you were meant to be, it all comes with a price. In the end, life isn’t about avoiding pain, it is about learning to find joy in the struggle. Ed Sheeran may not have known all the life experiences I have faced to date, and I may have skipped many of the paths he has traveled. But to me, his music paints the perfect ebb and flow, truly touching upon the poignant balance of pain and joy that makes up life. And so his songs play again, replacing the silence I used to crave, on repeat.

Anniversary Musings

Today is our anniversary. 14 years ago we committed to love and honor and cherish each other until death do us part. 14 years ago we celebrated with friends and family, buoyed on a sense of destiny and rightness. 14 years ago we set down the road of marital bliss, convinced we knew better than anyone else how this thing called love should work.

We, as a society, go into marriage with a sense of certainty: this person, this time, this place, all of it was meant to be. We see everything in life as leading up to that moment, spend entire paychecks on a ring, months or even years planning everything to perfection, and then celebrate with an ornate ceremony and massive party. But the everydayness of life is what makes a marriage. The ins and outs of each morning and night, the little kindnesses, the small moments, the tiny generosities of spirit that make up a happy life-long bond. The constant turning toward each other, choosing each other that keeps love alive through all the daily stresses that batter us down. As so many have said before, marriage is not a destination, it is a journey.

I am no novice to a journey. Really, an ultramarathon is just that, a journey. A journey that many find unfathomable, that’s true. But all it requires is one foot and then the other, over and over, moving as best as you can with as much energy and positivity as you can find in that moment, and not accepting a way out as the answer. And when you do reach the finish line, you find it wasn’t really about the destination all along.  It was always about the highs and lows, the times you felt you couldn’t continue one more step and somehow found a way, the times the struggle gave way to a euphoria so high it erased all pain, it was always about the transforming power of the journey.

14 years later we have journeyed far. We’ve changed jobs and houses, buried grandparents and watched our parents age. We have celebrated with friends as they married, and watched helpless as they drifted apart. We have travelled for work (too much) and for pleasure (never quite enough). We supported each other as we forged through graduate degrees, each in our turn. We struggled through 3 miscarriages, to find the euphoria of having our son. We faced my post-partum depression, to find the intimacy of a marriage rebuilt out of pain. We felt the lethargy of a relationship adrift in a sea of schedules and plans, goals and busyness and the disconnect of dreams not completely shared. We have experienced the passion of finding each other again, learning we were there for each other all along. At times it has felt too much, too hard to push forward. But we committed 14 years ago to never accept a way out. And so we continue, one foot in front of the other, together.

Marriage is a journey, and it has its highs and lows. It is not about the end destination, it is about the transformation we undergo as we move through life together. My husband and I have had our fights, we have had our times we pull away, when we wonder “if.” But 14 years ago we committed to love each other, no matter what. And so we turn toward each other again, we work our way back to each other. We give kindness, we find generosity. There is passion, oh yes. But at the end of the day, it is intimacy that keeps us strong. The intimacy of knowing a person sees you completely, all your faults and your strengths, and still loves you. The peace of knowing you can let down the armor your put on each day to face the world. The comfort of knowing no matter how ugly life gets, the other person will be there with you, beside you, holding your hand.

Marriage, like an ultramarathon, ebbs and flows. At times you don’t know how you will keep moving. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, the pain will fade, replaced by beauty and joy. You can never hang onto the highs, they will always fade to a new low. But if you keep moving forward, the highs will come again, and again, until you look back and see more beauty than pain.

Tomorrow we celebrate 14 years, years that have brought us more joy, and more pain, than I could have imagined in that church so long ago. But I still turn toward him, lean into him, love him, more today than the day before. Love him more because of the journey, not in spite of it. The journey has changed us, its true. We are neither one the person that the other married. We are transformed by our shared experiences. We have evolved through our struggles, our reaction to pain. We have turned away, only to come rushing back to each other, pushing ever forward, together. I know our years together are a drop in the bucket to some. That we will look back in another 14 years and see how much further we have come. But I also know that as long as we keep turning toward each other, moving forward together, choosing “us” together, we will find the joy is not in the destination. It is the journey.

Limbo

If you run long enough, you eventually meet the post race blues. That time when you find your goal race has come and gone, and regardless of how you did, you are left aimless, missing the purpose that drove you for so long. I imagine this is how Olympians feel, if not on a smaller scale. You pour so much of yourself into the training, every thought pushing toward your goal. If you succeed in your expectations, you ride the high of the race for days or weeks. If you fall behind your goals, you immediately second guess and analyze, and often seek redemption. Either way, eventually the intense emotions bound to the race ebb, and you are left with an emptiness that is hard to describe.

With more road races than I care to count, 2 marathons, and 6 ultras under my belt, I am not unfamiliar with the varying forms of depression or lethargy that creep in after a race. I always tell myself I will take time off after such and such race, relax, recharge, rebuild.  But after a few days to a week, I am picking a new goal, digging deep into training, pushing forward. Having a new goal on the horizon pushes away the blues, if only for the next training cycle, and then the next, and the next. Many runners prescribe a new race to put the blues behind you. There may be no harm in that, for a while. But eventually, no matter the race distance, you need an off season. After 6 years, I need an off season.

An off season, less running, more rest, less striving, more reconnecting. It sounds simple, but is much harder to execute. Without a goal on the horizon, I am at times lost, drifting. I have looked at a few races for next year, but am making no commitments. Leaving things up to time and how I feel. But not having concrete goals means not having an answer to my plans for the future. We prioritize fitness, activity, goal crushing, and busyness. Pulling away from those, even for a bit, seems traitorous.

I am in limbo, not sure what I want or where I am going. And that leaves me empty, lost, lethargic, apathetic.  Everything is brighter and duller at the same time. I told my husband the past few months since the 100 miler is the closest I have felt to depression since our son was born. Another moment in time when dreams culminated in an instant, leaving a void as life marched ever on. Once I recognized it for what it was, gave it a name, I realized I needed to sit here. Sit in this time and place, where I am. Pushing past it, forcing my way forward, only stalls its return. It’s not a cure. I need to sit in my sense of self, in this place of uncertainty, in this void, and be okay with it. I need to welcome these feelings, give them a place to expand, and tell them it’s okay to stay awhile. They are a part of me, and not something to be shoved aside by rushing into a new race or a new goal. Only by loving this place where I am can I truly move forward in a healthier way.

I’ve grown a little “fluffier” the past few months and for once in my life I am good with that. I still run, but forgo pace or miles for an easy heart rate and time on my feet. I stop for pictures, enjoy the views, and go off plan (sorry, not sorry, coach). I eat chocolate, lots of chocolate. These last two weeks, I have found joy on the trails that I haven’t known for a while. The euphoria of movement for movement’s sake. The lightness of running easily.  My body is not 100%, I still have lingering issues. But I am not pushing for anything right now, I am trying to be patient, take time, and let things unfold without a forced deadline.  This journey isn’t easy, in many ways, letting things be is harder than pushing forward. But here, for this moment in time, I have found peace.

A 100 Mile Journey

I don’t remember consciously deciding to run a 100 miler. I knew about them of course. I remember reading about Western States and Badwater 135 in a book years ago. Reading about people who run all day and night, only to keep running the next morning. People who forged rivers, ran up mountains, and crossed the desert in temperatures that could melt shoes.  I remember thinking those people were crazy.

Back then I ran, dabbling in 5ks to half marathons. Always looking for a faster pace, a new PR. I had my sights set on a someday marathon. Someday when running hurt less, someday when I was stronger, someday when I had more time, someday. Eventually, someday came and went and I ran my first marathon, not as strong or as fast or as perfect as I’d have liked, but raw and real.

Around the same time, I ran my first trail race, a 20k in the gorgeous Palo Duro Canyon. Trail racing was different than anything I had experienced on roads. Disconnected from time and pace, we ran free and fun, dancing over rocks and gliding along a stream. Aid stations were heaven, offering bacon, salted potatoes, pecan pie, and cookies, overflowing with coke and (unofficially) margaritas! What was this place? Where running was joy and food flowed freely. No gels or chews, no pace bands or looming mile splits. I ran through scenery that made me forget my tired legs, and I consumed way more calories than I burned. I was instantly in love.

A year later, I had worked my way up to 50ks, but I still mainly ran road. I hired a coach to train me for a road marathon. At the time, my goal was Boston. But while very competent at training road racers, my coach’s passion was trail and ultras. I watched in awe as he ran and finished the iconic Leadville Trail 100 the fall of 2016. The first seed was planted.

While training for my second 50k, I started running weekly trail long runs with a friend. A friend who had completed multiple 100 milers. She regaled me with her stories of adventure, taking me under her wing, running at what I now realize was a conservative pace for her, making me feel like I could do it too. Another seed.

I struggled through my marathon training. Even when paces came easy, it wasn’t fun. Mentally it drained me, physically it beat me up. My husband mentioned he preferred me when I trained for trail races, I was more relaxed, I had more fun. He hated marathon training. Another seed.

Somewhere along the way, an idea began to bloom, an idea that had once seemed so foreign, so impossible. I enjoyed trail running more than roads, I seemed to have a talent at staying upright on trails. My preference for running with intervals was perfectly suited to trails. I never found it defeating to walk or hike as did some. Maybe I could go farther, maybe I could go longer? Maybe 100 miles wasn’t as crazy as once thought?

I started to look at buckles. If I did run 100, I wanted an awesome buckle. I registered for my first 50 miler. I ran trails any chance I got and I played with training time frames, would a fall or spring race be best? When I found the Yeti 100 mile buckle, it was the most glorious thing I had seen. But the race was earlier than I had wanted. It would require heavy mileage in the heat of summer, when my schedule is already stretched thin.

And then over Thanksgiving, my friend from the trails texted me to say that the race was open, and selling fast. She had snagged a spot, but within minutes the race sold out. Not really thinking everything through, not understanding what I was undertaking, I signed up for the wait list. I didn’t have long to wait. Within hours I was in. I was running 100 miles in 2017.

Training for 100 miles is not really that much different in method than training for 50k. The difference is in numbers. You run, a lot. You work on strength and mobility. You roll and stretch. You sleep and eat. All so you can run, a lot. Your back to back long runs get longer, your weekday runs now hit miles previously seen as long runs. You race a few shorter (relatively speaking) distances. You experiment with running trail in the dark. You eat, you sleep, you stretch, you eat again. And you run, a lot.

As I trained, I tried to keep my head down, lost in the details. Each workout, each interval, that was all. I didn’t look up, didn’t stop to take it all in. Just kept plugging away. The weeks slid by, summer faded to fall (even though in Texas that means nothing). Taper, and the crazies it brings, set in.

The Yeti 100 mile was to be some sort of weird girl’s weekend, with 3 racers and their pacers and crew traveling by van half way across the nation. We arrived in Damascus, Virginia the Thursday before the race, in time to settle in and receive the last epic words of wisdom from the race director. Race morning came, as always, too soon, cool and clear. We huddled at White Top station, 34 miles from the town of Abingdon along the Virginia Creeper Trail. And then we were off, plunging down the first 17 miles to Damascus.

I’ve written and re-written versions of the next 28 hours and 41 minutes. Nothing really feels right. Detailing aid station by aid station my journey over 100 miles helped me process, but does not make for interesting reading. Events that seem integral to me personally, in actuality are only trivial tidbits strung together through the hours. I started too fast, ran well for 25 miles, began hurting and slowing for another 25. By mile 50 I slowed to a hike, and I continued to hike as the pain ebbed and flowed for the next 30ish miles. I rallied and ran off and on for another 10, before the pain reduced my run to a death-march to the finish. Somewhere between the pain and the constant motion, I found I could keep going, even when I wanted more than anything to sit down, to stop. 28 hours and 41 minutes later, my first 100 mile journey culminated in a hug and a buckle, and a long drive home. It was over and gone, somehow both too long and not long enough.

When you work so hard for something, dedicate so much time into the planning and the striving, the training and the sacrificing, it can be hard to move beyond it. So many months of my life were centered around running 100 miles. My training, my nutrition, my recovery, all of it so forefront for so long. Afterward, I have found a mixture of intense satisfaction and pride, and an immense sense of loss, a void once filled by the challenge, now left empty by uncertainty. I know I want to run 100 miles again. I do not think I am done with the distance, I have learned so much and have so much more I want to do. But I know the sacrifice this dream required of my family. And trying to find balance again with a life lived fully outside of training is a goal I am committed to for them and for me. For so long, running has been life. It’s time for life to be more than running.

Packing Away the Pumpkins

Last night was Halloween. The seventh Halloween to trick or treat with my son. I remember for the first several years, I had complete control over his costume. A baby monkey, Dobby the House Elf. It wasn’t until he was almost 3 that he had any opinion on the matter. I relished those years, orchestrating our costumes to fit my fantasies of a family Halloween. Even as he began to pick his costume, I still had sway: Super Why, X-Wing Pilot, Hiro, and a Pokemon trainer.

This year the obsession has been Harry Potter, and I am delighted. I have hoped for the day when he would love the world of Hogwarts as much as me since I first saw his blip on the sonogram. Discovering the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling through his eyes is even more magical than reading the books for the first time myself. And ever marching to his own drum, my little man chose Ron Weasley, not the famous Harry, as his hero to emulate. With a robe, a wand and a rat, this Halloween promised to be the best yet.

Halloween usually drapes us in a family theme. My husband and I have been everything from super heroes to Pikachu and Charmander. At first, this year was no different. As Hermione in the flesh, my choice was a given, and one of our Master’s graduation robes would work sufficiently to transform Dad into a Hogwart’s professor. But as planning continued, my son made it quite clear that he wanted us to be the Weasley family. Specifically, he wanted his parents to be Arthur and Molly Weasley. I resisted, partly because I didn’t own anything remotely similar to Molly’s wardrobe and refused to spend a fortune on a costume I would wear once. But in all honesty, I was also questioning and confused by us playing such a large and rambunctious family, when our family is a relatively quiet and calm total of three. Why did he want us to be the Weasley’s? Does he long for a large family with many siblings? After several miscarriages and struggles both pre- and post-partum, my husband and I are content and happy with our small family. But does our decision mean that our son feels he is missing out? Is there a reason he is drawn to the goofy, youngest son of a family of 7 children, when he himself is largely immersed in the adult world of an only child? Or, more likely, am I reading too much into costume planning? Does he simply relish Ron’s sense of humor, and like that he doesn’t have to wear glasses?

Halloween night came, and I still had not committed to a costume. Much too late to plan a Weasley family outing, my husband and I chose comfort over fashion, while our little Ron eagerly raced around the house counting down the minutes until we would meet our friends for trick or treating. At the last second I remembered to pull out his plush pumpkin bag, embroidered with his name, that he has used since his very first candy gathering experience at 10 months old. After a mere six uses, it still looks perfectly new, but is filled with memories of all his past treating adventures. But seeing the bag, my son’s face freezes and then falls, a mixture of hesitation and disappointment. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t need to. I can see in his eyes this bag is too juvenile now, he doesn’t want to carry it when trick or treating with his friends. But he doesn’t want to disappointment me, and so says nothing. Achingly, I place the pumpkin back into storage, pulling out a plastic bucket he acquired somewhere last year. I don’t do the best job of hiding my tears, but we hug and move on. Within minutes he is running down the streets with friends, everything forgotten.

Such a simple thing, growing past a pumpkin. Such a small mark of childhood. But it leaves me reeling. He is growing up too fast, and he is the only. Time is moving and he is growing, and this is it. Each Halloween, each costume, I can’t get that back. I suppose you never can, no matter how many children you costume.  Holidays come and go, our heads buried in the execution of perfect memories. And yet, one day we look up from our plans and the childhood we strove to create is gone, a pumpkin bag packed away in a box of keepsakes.

My son is still young. We have many more Halloween’s to revel in. He started planning next year’s family costumes as soon as his head hit the pillow last night. We will have more trick or treating, more pumpkin carving, more candy highs. We may have packed away a small part of childhood, but so much remains. New adventures await. I know that.

And yet, today a little piece of my heart was packed in a box and placed on a shelf. A piece of childhood filed away, misted in memory. He left for school this morning, holding my hand, hugs, kisses, and ugga muggas. I hold each one in my mind, packing them away. Someday those too will be filed in the past. But not today.

Why?

Why?

I get that question a lot. Why do I run? Why trail? Why ultras? Why 30, 50, 100 miles? Why now, when running these distances takes me from my young family so much? Why, when pushing these limits can hurt so much? Why do I need to do these things kinder people call unfathomable and inspiring, but the more brutally honest term crazy, insane, and just plain stupid.

My husband asks this question frequently. He straddles the line between kind and honest. I know he is proud of me, but he does not doubt I am also crazy. But then I sometimes wonder myself if I am more crazy than most. Sometimes I don’t wonder, I know.

In general conversation, I quip that I started with the 5k and just kept going. I usually get a laugh, some shaking heads, and a quizzical look that sizes up my sanity. Most people ask a few questions about logistics: did I really run all night, do I stop at all, do I eat, do I sleep? And then they move on, bored or just dumbstruck by something they can’t actively understand. Only my closest confidants, my husband and a few friends, really want to hear about my adventures. Only a handful care to be regaled with the stories of the highs and the lows, the mental and physical struggles, the pain and the pleasure of moving when you thought you couldn’t move anymore.

Ultra-running is a lonely sport. Hours and hours on the trail, nothing but the squirrels and your own head to keep you company. Quiet and solitude. And when you return to the real world, you are still isolated and alone, standing among but not part of the crowd. No one fully understands what happens to you out there on the trail, and most people don’t even really care.

Even when you run with others, eventually the conversation wanes. Running for hours side by side will do that to you. And you are left with the camaraderie of bodies moving through the wilderness. A solitary togetherness.

To some this solitude is frightening. They cannot fathom the time spent in their own head. But I crave it. The time to let my mind float, wandering through thoughts like a dream. Thinking but not thinking at the same time. My thoughts and emotions move through me, not tethered to sentences or structure, not burdened by propriety. Out there on the trail as my body glides along single track, stumbling on roots, twisting over rocks, my mind is no longer confined by schedules, relationships, responsibilities, and rules. Slowly, the stresses of the day surface, and my mind, unencumbered by conscious thought, moves through them, putting each in their place. Moving past the day, words flow through me with my breath, forming and reforming in my head as I drift in and out of day dreams. My best writing happens then, on the run, my body as the words, the trail as the paper.  As the hours pass and my body tires, my mind quiets, everything fades to the background, everything becomes the run. My feet, my breath, the air, the trail. Nothing and Everything encapsulated in one eternal moment. And it is enough.

Hello world!

Hello World…

It sounds cliche. It looks cliche as I write it. But I have been running this blog through my head for several years, writing and rewriting bits and pieces, forgetting some and adding others. And yet none of it has ever made it onto my personal computer, much less into the great big world. I have changed themes and concepts for my blog as I found more bits and pieces of myself to explore: running, travel, cooking, parenthood. But I never took that leap to open my computer and start. It stayed locked away in my head, partly out of busy-ness, but in all honesty, mostly out of a fear that I didn’t really have anything to say. Or at least nothing to say that anyone would want to read.

And yet, these words still needed a place to live. As I’ve aged, I realize I turn to two activities whenever I need to process life. If I have big decisions, stark disappointments, immense joy, or everyday struggles. I process through running and writing. Until I write something out, I can’t move on. Until I run it all out, I can’t rest. Life has led me over and over again to these two truths. Running long distances is writing with my body. And writing with my head is letting my thoughts run.

And so here I am. Starting this blog just as I am. My words, my running, my life. No filters. I don’t really know where it will take me right now. But for now, that is enough. And so, I find these two words say everything about where I am in this journey so far.

Hello World!