Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Born to Run Ultramarathons 50K 2013 Race Report

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Balancing a wooden bowl of avocados, a folded lawn chair and a Solo cup full of margarita in my arms, I followed my good friend Caity and her two kids toward the center of the campground, where folks were selling stuff and Luis Escobar was up on a bandstand announcing contenders for the next round of ball races. I stopped on the way to chat with Pat Sweeney. Little Guadajuko, the ghost dog of the Sierra Madres, walked by us behind his mistress, the one and only Maria Walton.

I remember wondering how this could even be real. The series of events in one’s life are often entwined and complicated, but my route to this place was so linear that it seems almost fictional. It was probably true for most of us here at this 2013 Born to Run Ultramarathons event. One day, for whatever personal reason, we all picked up this book written by a NY Times journalist, entitled Born to Run. We read it, we fell in love with the story of Micah True and his Raramuri, and then we fell in love with the idea of running an ultramarathon someday. Many of us actually ended up running them, too. For me, that book placed a pivot point in my life so deep and strong that in three years time I’d ended up finally following my longtime dream to live on the west coast, wearing a pair of Luna Sandals, running a 50K race with a tribe of wild, beautiful, like-minded human beings and creating friendships with my own personal superheroes. And I credit that book, most of which I read during vacation on a beach in Bermuda, for the entire succession of events that brought me to that very moment, and that bowl of avocados.

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Before that moment, I hadn’t done anything that could be considered camping since I was probably fifteen years old. So, to make a 5-6 hour solo drive up the California coast and pitch my own tent on a ranch with no shower outbuildings or running water of any kind…well, that was kind of a stretch for me. And as this fact arose in full-color about a week prior to the event, I almost decided not to show up at all. A big part of me was intimidated by the “ick” factor caused by not showering for three days, and the knowledge that, as compared to the rest of the runners attending, I am totally a “city girl.”

And let’s talk about my training. Yeah, exactly: what training? A bunch of hill runs, a solo-ten miler here and there and a couple half marathons is probably not what most of these ultra runners would consider a good 50K training plan. But I went anyway, and I’m really freaking glad I did because I learned a shitload of important things about myself.

What did I learn? Well one of the things I learned is that I don’t need to train my head off to complete a 50K race, and in fact it’s probably a bad idea. I learned that finishing this kind of distance is 30% about adequate fueling, 10% about training and 60% about mental fortitude and a good attitude. Last year I spent 6 months running long in preparation for my first 50K. I suffered and toiled and even though I finished, I was mentally exhausted and totally over running even before I crossed the starting line. I didn’t eat enough all day, I indulged in negative thoughts, I whined, I cried, and I almost quit twice. And then afterward, I didn’t even feel like running again for a solid 8 months. All that training? It did jack shit for me on race day.

For this ultra I didn’t “train” at all. And that wasn’t even a strategic thing, really…I just didn’t feel up to it so I didn’t do it. Instead I joined a local hashing group and stopped taking running seriously. I ran gnarly technical trails on crazy steep hills with a bunch of insane beer drinkers, I ran several days in a row without fretting about it, skipped several days in a row if I felt I needed it, ran as slow as I wanted to and ran as fast as I could when the mood came over me. I signed up for a couple of half marathons for the hell of it, and really I just enjoyed myself. I even stopped wearing my Garmin watch because I didn’t care how fast I ran or whether the run was 4.0 or 4.2 miles long.  That is the attitude I brought with me to the starting line of the Born to Run 50K, and it’s the attitude that carried me, with much fewer tears this time, down the finisher’s chute.

And speaking of the start, this was the most unique one I’ve ever been to.

cows2

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Three gunshots pierced the quiet morning in quick succession, followed by the most exuberant mariachi music you’ll ever imagine wanting (or not wanting) to hear at 4:15am. In my damp tent on the hard, cow-pie spotted soil of the ranch, it barely felt I had slept a wink all night. I took a moment to release myself from my margarita-and-dancing-induced fog. By the time I managed to unfurl from the warm sleeping bag and meander over to the porta-johns, there was a line four people deep, all toting their own roll of toilet paper…you know, just in case. It was still dark and everyone moved like slow mutants, a strange contrast to the upbeat yipping of the mariachi singers.

Once the spikey tune of Voodoo Child started to ring through the camp, I was back in my tent dressing for the race. It was about 45 degrees and overcast so I chose capri pants, a long sleeve shirt and a handheld. Then I shoved as many calories as I could down my gullet: a banana, a pre-made protein smoothie, and some iced coffee to stave off the caffeine withdrawals. Krista Cavender, Jacobus Degroot, Caity McCardell and Tracey Longacre got themselves ready in their own camps all around me.

At 6:00 Luis gathered up the 400-person crew of 10-mile, 50K, 100K and 100-mile runners, went over the course markings, and made us repeat Caballo Blanco’s famous pre-race oath:

“If I get lost, hurt or die…it’s my own damn fault.”

With that done, another gunshot cracked through the air and we were off. Just like that. Excited runners whooped, hollered and yipped back and forth across the pack for the whole first mile. Unlike every road race I’ve ever participated in, where the runners are separated by race distance, lined up according to pace, and the fastest ones elbow each other for room behind a straight line drawn on the pavement, this was just a jumble of happy people all starting together as one, worrying not who was in front, running with dirt on their feet and huge fucking grins on their faces. The feeling of the crowd was wild, colorful and raw, and I felt completely at home in it. I was living inside my own poem that was written for Caballo. This was his world, and what a world it is!

Dust ascends on the horizon
A deep, rumbling thunder without rain
The sound of rampant hearts, a legion
Earthly, feral and unconstrained

Crista1Photo courtesy of Crista Anna Scott.

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The first ten mile loop flew by, and I finished it pretty quickly. I don’t even know what I can say about that first 1/3 of the course, except that it just felt great. I had to wait out the first four miles until my body warmed up and got with the program, typical for me, but after that I was fine. The chilly air kept me comfortable, the two dozen or so runners around kept me company, and all my months spent on the hills of SoCal made the inclines on this first loop barely noticeable.

The ranch was wide and hilly with gorgeous, leaning oak trees spotting the gold-colored fields.  I chatted, laughed, heck I even sang: I ran by a chick who was singing a tune from the Muppet Show and I just had to join in. At this point I didn’t actually plan to finish the entire race, but I wasn’t worried about it yet. I just ran, and I smiled. When I finished the first loop I went back to my tent to change into lighter clothing, drink some Gatorade and eat something.  And to my surprise I noticed I still had so much energy left that it was as if I hadn’t even been running yet. What a wonder proper fueling does! So when I was done changing into my INKnBURN skirt and cotton tank, I just got up and started the second loop. Easy-peasy.

By mile 12 the racers had spread out enough that I was running solo, and I found myself a little off course. I backtracked for a bit and then saw a girl running up the road toward me. In my relief I yelled out, “Oh good, I’m still on course!” right about the same time she was asking me, “is this the right way?” There were a dozen cows standing on the trail and blocking the markers, but when they heard us talking they shifted away. We found the markers and continued on together. I expected her to fly on past me but we were running at the same pace, so we started chatting. Turns out that she was the same girl singing the Muppet Show song back at loop one, and we didn’t know it yet but we were going to be each other’s motivation for the remainder of the 50K.

Evy-Lynn1The famous Barbie Aid Station. Photo courtesy of Evy Lynn

Her name is Crista Anna Scott, and she’s from Ventura California. She writes a blog called Run, Eat, Create, Repeat and she had just received her Master’s Degree the day before the race. She wrote her thesis on ultra running, and this was her first 50K. And, she didn’t really “train” for this race either. I mean, it couldn’t have been a more perfect match-up. We spent the entire second loop running, exchanging stories, laughing, missing turns (oops) and backtracking, being halted by cow stampedes, and pondering the invaluable glory of downing Coca-Cola during a long race. We didn’t really notice that we were tired, we didn’t care if we were slow (we totally were), and we didn’t even talk about the steepness of the hills we were climbing. If I believed in that sort of thing, I would say the universe sent me a buddy to reflect back to me all the positivity that I wanted to have about this race. Whatever it was, I couldn’t be more grateful, especially during the third and final loop.

Twenty miles in, I was getting tired. But it was really only a half-marathon kind of tired, so I was still a bit bouncy. Back at the tent I refilled my water bottle, grabbed a Luna bar and stuffed a bunch of gels into the pockets of my skirt. I met up with Crista and her friend Alexis (who decided to join us for the last lap) and we continued on together. We ran for probably two miles but then slowed to a comfortable, speedy walk. I had been ignoring it successfully for the last few miles, but my IT band was now starting to give me some real pain. And I knew exactly what it was: too much slouching early on in the race (likely during the aforementioned first four mile shuffle) had me over-striding for long enough to cause inflammation that was slowly getting worse as I continued on. It was too late to fix it with a form change, so my only choice was to walk for a large portion of the last loop and hopefully finish without causing any lasting injury. I was a little peeved because I had fixed my IT band issues over a year ago and I should have known better than to cause it to come back again – but for the most part I didn’t let the disappointment bring me down.

It was tough to walk. Every other body party was still on board to run. My feet were tired but okay. My hips were sore, but they liked running better than walking. However my knee only had a little left in her so I decided to save it for the last push at the end. I think Crista wanted to run more, too. But she refused to go on without me so we resorted to speed-walking through the fields as the sun grew hot in the clear, cerulean-colored sky.  We avoided the subject of our physical struggles and instead passed the time by singing. Rather loudly and badly, too. We covered Disney tunes, The Beatles, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson and the Steve Miller Band, and the wind passed our noise to the racers walking behind us, who laughed amiably whenever a voice cracked or we all forgot the words at the same time. Eventually we arrived back at the Muppet Show song (“mahna-mahna”), and by then we’d been dancing around on the trail like fools and had forgotten all about our sore feet for nearly an hour. And now we only had about four miles left to go.

The power of music, indeed. Someone should write a master’s thesis on that.

The last four miles were long, and my knee was starting to hurt significantly, but at this point I only remember the pain intellectually. Emotionally, I was all-in. Before, I had all but planned to drop out of this race, but while it was happening I didn’t spend a minute considering it. Each time I came back from a loop my mind was on fueling for the next one, instead of stopping or taking a nap. During the moments when I was the most tired, I was thinking about what I’ll do differently for my next 50k, instead of swearing off ultras for the remainder of my life. Rather than worrying over how exhausted I felt in the moment, I remembered one of my favorite things that my friend Vanessa wrote a while back in her blog, about ultra running: “One foot in front of the other, forever.”

amuletAmulet hand-made by Akabill. Mahalo!

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So the final thing I learned about myself during this race is that I’m stronger than I usually give myself credit for, and I’m more beautiful than my eyes let me believe. Sure, today I may be looking at photos of myself during the race and lamenting my recent failures at weight loss – the one thing that, if successful, would have helped me finish the race much faster – but my body, at its current weight and training level, still took me across the 50K finish line. And has done it twice. However much I complain about my round tummy or my flabby arms, my body is strong, and my will is even stronger. It’s unfortunate that my eyes have trouble seeing the beauty that my heart feels for these chunky legs that carried me for 31 miles, and it’s a dichotomy that troubles me every day – and possibly it even hinders my weight loss goals. But I sincerely hope that my motivation to run this race again (and do it better next time) will naturally help to reconcile this conflicting double-vision body image that I struggle with, and that next year I’ll come back with both kinder eyes and a lighter body. It’s probably about time those two made up, anyway.

mencrista Taken with Crista and “Skirt Dude” (who handed out all the medals) right after finishing the race.
Photo by Michelle Amber Evans.

Thank you to Luis Escobar for putting on a race that to me is the ultrarunning adventure Mecca: I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Thank you to Crista for your companionship: you were like my North Star! Thank you to Guadajuke for letting me pet you: your presence alone imploded my symbolism-loving mind. Thank you to my friends who made it to the race, new and otherwise: you continue to inspire me in ways I never see coming. Thank you to those who believe in me and especially to those who don’t: you give me strength beyond your understanding. Mahalo nui lo!

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Courage {Prompted}

The following post is part of a writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have undertaken together. We choose a weekly topic from a list of prompts found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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napolean-bonaparte

At first I thought this week’s topic pick “courage” was going to be the easiest topic ever. After all, I’m totally courageous! I possess so much courage that I….well I…I definitely did…

Wait.

Here I am, with this deliciously blank page in front of me, all ready to talk about the most courageous thing I have ever done. Certainly it was the act of picking up my life on the east coast and moving to California, right? I thought so. But the more I really consider it, the less courageous it seems. I mean, we left what basically amounted to a crappy life, for a really good life. Bad weather for good. A house that was a money pit to a home we love. A 9-to-5 commute to the office for a flexible-hours home office. Frozen peas for Farmers Markets.  You get the picture. We moved somewhere that basically made it easier for us to live. Big freaking whoop.

Going somewhere that’s easier for me to be happy might be considered efficacious, or even adventurous. But not courageous. A “courageous” move for me might have been driving to Alaska in January or relocating to a foreign country that speaks a different language. That would take some courage. And also some major survival skills that I don’t happen to possess. But I moved to the land of beaches and palm trees. I mean, come on. Easy-peasy.

So what’s so courageous about moving to California? The fact that we cashed in our life savings and drove across the country? Nah, we were lucky to have the money so readily available to us. Most people don’t have that. Besides, we both have jobs that we can do just about anywhere so there will always be more money.

Is it because we left all of our friends and family behind? In this hyper social-networking day and age when practically everyone you know is a text message, Skype call, Facebook post or nights-and-weekends phone call away, that’s hardly brave. Also, moving to a different state is pretty much as rare as a penny. And moving to California is even less rare…I mean, I can’t remember the last time I even met a native Californian. Everyone ends up here.

In all reality, this relocation wasn’t courageous, it was just the fulfillment of a longtime personal desire. Nothing a little gumption and some cash flow can’t handle.

So what makes me think I’m such a courageous person?

Am I courageous because of all the times I’ve spoken my mind instead of bowing down to people who have wronged me? Because I went to school for art instead of something “practical” or because I ended a bad relationship when I was scared to do it? Am I courageous because I’ve run an ultramarathon? Because I run even when people call me fat? Does it take courage to forgive and move on from your shitty childhood? A home you don’t want anymore? An unhealthy friendship?

What makes me assume that anything I do is so singularly amazing? I mean, I’m not exactly slaying dragons or saving kittens from burning buildings in my spare time, so what is so special and courageous about who I am and what I do with my life? What makes me such a fucking hero?

And why am I always questioning myself?

Well, maybe that’s just it: questioning. Maybe there’s something to be said about that guy saving kittens from burning buildings in his spare time. Most people would say that’s a courageous act, but when you call him a hero he’ll scoff and say he was just doing the right thing. Maybe courage isn’t something you recognize on a day to day basis. Maybe it’s not something you can see and pat yourself on the back for doing. Courageous people are the ones always asking themselves the important questions, and answering with honesty instead of bullshit. Maybe courage is about admitting that you’re not a hero just because you packed your shit into a car and moved, bought a house and raised 2.3 kids, or because you lived past 30 without bleaching your hair.

Courageous people do. They act. They think critically. They accept mountainous challenges. They problem solve. They don’t ask for help they could do without. They do things that are against the norm. Courageous people are the ones who just do what needs to get done. Not for accolades. Not for hero status. And the most courageous people will probably never consider themselves so, because they were just doing the right thing.

So I’ll just end by saying I’d love to be courageous someday. But I’ll probably never move to France, so if I were you I wouldn’t hold my breath.


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Review: Skora CORE

myfeet

I was exceptionally grateful for another chance to test some of Skora’s much-anticipated offerings this year. Last fall I tested the FORM. Overall, I liked the shoe, and I gave it a fairly good review. It was made of soft and pliable leather, which was unexpectedly comfortable, even without socks. I wore it to a few road races and I liked the extra bit of cushion in the sole, relative to my other road shoes. It was a bit narrow for my taste though, and I found it to be a little stuffy and not great at absorbing moisture. For these reasons, and admittedly because of the color (white – not my personal favorite) the Skora FORM shoe ended up hanging out in my closet a lot, while my other road shoes got more wear.

Well, this didn’t happen when it came to the CORE.

Good Looks and Inner Beauty

The CORE is just so easy to love, folks. The biggest reason why? This time around they adjusted the last so it’s on a much wider platform. Now we’re talking an exceptionally cozy, slipper-like fit, similar to what VIVOBAREFOOT is famous for, though maybe not quite as wide. The CORE is also made of the same super-soft goat’s leather as the FORM but with much larger vent holes in the upper, as well as an inner layer of absorbent mesh (i.e. no more cow skin sticking to my foot), which is enough to keep my piggies from overheating.

sideview

I love the CORE shoe because it fits exactly how you want a shoe to fit: like it belongs on your foot. The first time I put it on, the CORE felt like it had been broken in for months. No bull. (Is that a goat-leather joke? I can’t tell). And that, my friends, is the beauty of  – and quite possibly the best reason for – a running shoe upper made of leather. You just don’t get that same feeling with athletic mesh.

Skora made a few other updates to this shoe, one of them being a drastic improvement on the asymmetrical lacing system (which is found on both of the new models, CORE and PHASE). By widening the lacing significantly and then totally reversing it so the tongue “burrito” faces inward rather than out, the pinky-toe-rubbing that I experienced with the corner seams (and with all shoes that use a similar tongue design) has vanished. Dig it. They put a lot more reflective material on this shoe too, which is really a plus for night runs when you forget to wear a brightly colored outfit. The available colorways are rad, too – very wearable. I really dig the bluish-charcoal-gray, teal and purple in my pair. I didn’t get to test the PHASE, but this time around the non-leather option is looking a lot more like the leather one, with three bright and fantastic colorways, but with mesh fabric and sold for a slightly lower price.

backs

Performance

I think it’s pertinent to point out here the thing I noticed most about this shoe while running in it: and that would be nothing. Absolutely, gloriously nothing. In my personal experience, any running shoe that lets me completely forget about its presence is the best kind of running shoe there is. After all, that’s sort of the point, right? Or at least it should be. This shoe fits my foot rather perfectly, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a road shoe I’ve tried that I like better. That’s right, I said it.

bottoms

The CORE is just absolutely my favorite road shoe right now. It balances lightness, comfort and road protection exceptionally well. The shoe weighs almost the same as the old FORM, but seems  a lot lighter because of the more lightweight leather/mesh combo upper. The stack height is 2mm lower in the new CORE as well, making the sole roughly 1000x more flexible. (Sidenote: even more flexible with the insole taken out, which I always do – I found the extra cushioning unnecessary and would rather the extra foot space without them.) The more open-width design really makes this shoe great for me. I’ve loved it so much that it’s gone with me for many miles, and it’s been my choice for recent road half marathons and training.

front

I’ve even taken the CORE out to a few trail runs because…well, just because. The CORE works fine over easy packed-dirt trails and protects my feet pretty well on the rockier ones, but I find it slides too much on the steeper hills I often find myself running on. The soles are just too flat and not grippy enough. But I know this shoe is made for roads. I’m definitely looking forward to Skora coming out with something more trail-friendly for the tougher terrain.

The Goldilocks Effect

So final note on the new CORE versus the original FORM. My first thought after reveling in the happy roomy fit of the CORE was this: so the last is nice and wide, but is it too wide? The thing is, I write all my reviews from the standpoint of someone whose feet are naturally wider than average and have only gotten wider since taking up minimalist running. I’m biased. In my world, every running shoe should be made with an insanely wide last so that my toes can move around and not feel bound up by my shoe. But a lot of people have average to narrow feet and that can mean the opposite problem: a shoe that’s too wide and feels huge. Personally, I think that the CORE is the Goldilocks of minimalist shoe lasts: it’s not too narrow (think NB Minimus Road 00) and not extremely wide (think VIVO Lucy Lite).

comparison

This photo shows the 0.15″ width difference between last year’s FORM and this year’s CORE, which has made all the difference.

That said, I would probably recommend that if you normally find your feet are quite long and narrow, the FORM may be a better shoe for you. Although I’ve illustrated several differences between the two models, I believe the fundamentals are still similar enough that going with the earlier model won’t have you missing out on a whole lot.

And for the rest of you, I can’t think of any reason not to love the FORM, except maybe that you’ll find them so beautiful you’ll have a hard time wearing them somewhere dirty. No worries though, they’re actually just as machine washable as your regular mesh running shoes – and they’ll probably last even longer. Happy Running!


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Regret {Prompted}

The following post is part of a writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have undertaken together. We choose a weekly topic from a list of prompts found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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nerds
I hear it all the time, all over the meme-sphere: live your life with no regrets. I have no regrets in my life…blah blah blah. I call bullshit. I have regrets. And I’m glad for them, too. If I never regretted my shittiest moments, I’d be a total asshole today.

I regret my 4th grade antics of pulling Angela Kershner’s hair until she stopped being my best friend. It taught me about respect.

I regret trying to be like other people. It taught me the importance of individuality.

I regret relying on people who kept letting me down. It taught me about self-sufficiency.

I regret calling my elementary school friends “nerds,” to earn respect from the popular girls. It taught me the value of loyalty.

I regret leaving in the middle of high school cheering tryouts Sophomore year. It taught me about courage.

I regret objectifying myself so much to win attention from boys in college. It taught me about dignity.

I regret smoking. It taught me to respect my body.

I regret staying in the wrong relationship for too long. It taught me about moving on.

I regret apologizing too much. It taught me about standing my ground.

I regret taking part in some of my biggest, stupidest arguments. They taught me about resignation.

I regret becoming a homeowner five years ago. It taught me about my need for freedom.

I regret being a complainer. It taught me about appreciation.

I regret being oblivious to the beauty of nature most of my life. It taught me about humility.

I don’t regret all of my mistakes – sometimes it’s true, the thing itself is the lesson and therefore not really a mistake. But other times, regret is the quiet apology to yourself, the one that happens inside your head, late at night when things are quiet. Regret is a little nugget of wisdom for next time around. You can learn a lot from the positive moments in your life, for sure. But if you fail to gain the knowledge from your worst moments too, the ones you so very much wish never had happened, then you’ll always remain oblivious to the deepest lessons life is giving you.


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Protect {Prompted}

The following post is part of what I hope will be an ongoing writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have decided to undertake together. We are currently choosing topics from a list of prompts that can be found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. Therefore many of these posts may not look anything like the rest of the stuff I write on this blog. I’m okay with that, if you are. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us! But if you’re not into it that’s okay too. I’ll title these posts differently so they are easy to skip past if you wish to do so. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Protect. Protection.

Protection can mean so many different things. Have so many connotations. It can be real or imagined. It can be beneficial
or it can be detrimental. It all depends on how you picture it.

peachtree

Protection can mean a way to stay safe from inclement weather.

sunscreen

Or even good weather.

parents1

Too much protection can sometimes make you soft.

parents2

Or keep you from enjoying life.

runningshoes

Sometimes protection is an illusion.

monsanto1

Or a down-right lie.

health insurance

And all too often, protection costs a lot more than it’s worth.

gun-8

The illusion of protection can sometimes even cost you your life.

condoms

Protection can assist you with your best (and worst) life decisions.

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill

Some protections are considered your right.

monsando

Some protections take away your rights.

police

Usually, your protectors are the good guys.

mafia1

But they can be bad guys, too.

guard dog

But more often than not, your best friend is the greatest protection you’ll ever have.


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If You Can’t Beat Your PR, then Kick a Pacer’s Ass: La Jolla Half Marathon

la-jolla-half-marathon

You know that quote “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Well, that’s a really great excuse for the person who actually plans accordingly for distance races. Clearly, that person is not me.

I signed up for the La Jolla Half Marathon because I ran the Carlsbad Half Marathon back in January. I realize that makes no sense yet, bear with me. The Carlsbad Half Marathon is race #1 of a Triple Crown series, so I decided to just do the whole thing and earn the extra medal (yes, I got suckered in to running three races just for a damn medal, get over it). And considering the fact that a two month running hiatus prior to Carlsbad yielded my worst half marathon finish time ever (even though I had a ridiculously great time running it), I promised myself that I would prepare, train and most importantly of all, plan for La Jolla. I even promised myself a half marathon PR, since it’s probably about time I work a little harder and start breaking 2:30.

Makes sense, right? So what is it that they say about the best laid promises of mice and men?

lajolla2

You probably don’t have to strain much to guess that I didn’t train for this race, and that I didn’t PR, either.  As much as I have been tearing up the trails and climbing insane hills for the past several months with some great people, my distance training has gone completely awry. And by awry I mean that between Carlsbad and La Jolla, I only ran three long runs, ever. Okay, two. And by long runs I mean only one of them was over ten miles. And it was barely squeezed in between breakfast plans and a visit to the Safari Park (which, honestly, was way more fun), just two weeks before the race.

Aside from the non-existent training, I planned my route to this point-to-point logistical nightmare of a race only two days beforehand. I sent a friend to pick up my bib. I drank almost no water the day before, and sat in the sun all afternoon. I picked my race outfit by smelling what was clean rather than washing what I actually wanted to wear. I invited myself to stay at my friend Laura’s house the night before, with exceptionally short notice. I forgot to buy gels and bananas for pre- and during-race fuel. I didn’t eat any breakfast, even though I’d managed to pack a granola bar. On the morning of the race, surrounded by four bright-eyed and well-organized racing buddies, I was the most unprepared. None of those things made me feel nervous or guilty however, and that may be the worst part of it all. But I figure that maybe by admitting all of this to you in a super-adorable way, my lack of motivation will somehow become more forgivable.

I’ll give you some time to mull that over while I quit babbling on and talk about the actual race.

The La Jolla half marathon happened on a perfect day for SoCal racing. And I add the SoCal part because the perfect day of all for racing is about twenty degrees cooler than it ever gets in SoCal, so I’ll take 62 degrees and overcast. At least it wasn’t humid, as they say. And the gorgeous scenery: palm trees, sand and ocean views…forget about it. You can’t ask for better. I was just glad that this was only a half marathon race and not also a full, that way I didn’t have to feel like one of the jerks only putting in half the effort for the day. After waiting in stellar traffic to park and emptying our bladders in the even more stellar porta-johns, Laura and I lined up at the very back of the starting line with the old ladies in walkers while the other three girls we came with filtered in farther up. I love standing at the back of the start line, though, because there’s a greater chance of passing a few people on my way to the finish.

lajolla3

Me and my hash lady friends, taking photos at the porta-johns in order to take our minds off our screaming bladders.

A quick aside on the whole passing people thing. While I was running the race I was thinking about this. After passing 50-100 people over the first three miles or so, I started feeling bad. Like I was picking people off, using them to give myself the illusion of being faster. I would set my sights on someone’s back and decide I had to get past them. Hey, little pink shirt that says “12 in 2012”, eat my dust. You there, lady with the running skirt that keeps riding up, you’re next. But, kind of like with driving (you know, when you’re safe inside your vehicle and removed from real human contact), those people ahead of me aren’t really people. They’re improvised mini-goals. Like little moving pace markers, with faces. So the truth is that when I’m trying to pass people at a race, I’m not actually competing with them, I’m competing with myself and using their ever-changing speed as a point of reference. And at that realization is where I met my biggest improvised mini-goal of the day. That one might have been personal.

Because I didn’t drink enough water the day before the race, I freaked out and gulped down an entire bottle of water that morning. Naturally, the one pre-race porta-john stop was not sufficient so by mile 5 I was dying. Each pit stop on the course had two porta-johns and at least 8 people in line, so I waited until I came upon the public beach bathrooms that I knew would be open at the base of the Torrey Pines hill. There were a dozen stalls so I only waited a couple of minutes. By the time I was done my breath was all caught up and I had an easier than expected mile-long climb up Torrey. But once I arrived at the top I looked ahead, and to my horror I saw that my bathroom break had gotten me behind the 2:45 pacer! Frack. All that well-intentioned “I’m just having fun here” be damned, I’ve never taken 2:45 to finish a half marathon, and I wasn’t going to start today.

So I kicked my pace up a notch or two, which was really hard because it was mile 6 and miles 6 through 9 is often my dead zone during a half marathon, and it definitely was today. I was hungry and my legs were lead bricks. I was feeling every missed long run and every burpee I never did. It took me two miles just to pass that bastard 2:45 pacer, whom I was convinced was either running too fast (definitely running too fast) or downright mocking me. What an asshole.

And that’s when my stomach decided to have a say.

Now, I have some pretty irritable bowels. And I don’t mean a little gas here and some indigestion there. I’m talking a stomach full of gray-haired, bejowled and sour-faced old curmudgeons in ugly cardigans, who hate when I run for longer than 90 minutes and often don’t wait until the run is over to tell me so. Today was one of those days. Thankfully, the porta-johns were clear right before the 10 mile signs so I didn’t have to wait behind any other unfortunate pit-stoppers. Also thankfully, I had swiped two of the caffeinated gels from the volunteers and downed the second one just minutes earlier. So by the time I finished dealing with the curmudgeons, my legs were finally ready to run the damn race.

I always love the last few miles of a half marathon. I’m usually numb from the waist down by then, hopped up on various forms of sugar and artificial energy boosters, and I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And the great thing about this race is the last three miles are a direct payoff from the previous nine’s upward-bound hills. I flew past that 2:45 jackass again, this time for good (although it still worried me that I ever saw him – those pit stops were going to cost me dearly), and made up a shitload of time on all those downhills while everyone else hemmed and hawed about their bad knees. I crossed the finish line with a grin on my face (as always) and never even looked at the clock on my way by.

For those of you who are curious, my final time was 2:41. My current PR (on a completely flat course) remains unmoved at 2:34, which is just about what I would have run if I hadn’t stopped at the bathrooms. I wish I could tell you that I’m embarrassed. I think fundamentally I am – a few of my friends set immense PRs that day – but in reality I didn’t expect much from the race, other than to complete it. I’ve been feeling that comfortable indifference a lot lately, and I think that’s just fine. Well, for now.

I believe there really are two completely different – and acceptable – ways to approach a race: for a PR performance or for fun. And lately I’ve just been choosing the fun route. I make a lot of jokes about being lazy and unmotivated, but in all honesty I have been putting in some good mileage over the past few months. I even broke a few weekly mileage PRs. But I actually have mindfully chosen to spend my miles elsewhere besides on the path toward the half marathon race. Or any race, really (I apologize in advance, Born to Run 50K). Instead I have been doing a great deal of group running (and beer drinking), and have come to love it so much more than running solo. I have also been spending a lot more time in the hills, which are often steep enough to require hiking, so running has sometimes taken a back seat to those amazing views of the mountains and the ocean from up above. I have rekindled my love for practicing yoga and skipped quite a few runs to hit up a class…or to recover from one. I have taken the opportunity that my new home and lifestyle has afforded me, to discover new things I love about running. And to seek out new ways to keep from burning out while keeping my mileage high enough to be able to wing a half marathon….you know…if the day ever called for it. I am most definitely enjoying this new more laid-back view of training running, no doubt about it.

But don’t worry, I’ve still promised myself that I’ll train harder and PR at the America’s Finest City half marathon. Why? Well, because I’ll never learn, that’s why. The curmudgeons in  my belly are already shaking their heads.


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Ice {Prompted}

The following post is part of what I hope will be an ongoing writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have decided to undertake together. We are currently choosing topics from a list of prompts that can be found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. Therefore many of these posts may not look anything like the rest of the stuff I write on this blog. I’m okay with that, if you are. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us! But if you’re not into it that’s okay too. I’ll title these posts differently so they are easy to skip past if you wish to do so. And as always, thanks for reading!

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ice

Ice is often portrayed in a negative light. You may have been compared to ice at some point in your life. You may have described someone else as having an “ice-cold heart,” or heard someone be criticized for giving an “icy” cold stare. Used in this way, ice is a metaphor for emotional detachment or unwelcoming. Ice also has an air of danger about it: electricity-halting ice storms, sheer walkways and sneaky black ice are side effects of winter in the cooler climates. You have likely slipped on the slick stuff at least once in your life, and learned to be wary of its presence on the roadways.

But you’ve forgotten that ice is an exceptionally beautiful phenomenon. At zero degrees Celsius, H2O molecules expand and form patterns that cease fluid movement…just like that. Ice crystals fall from the sky in ornate, unique arrangements. Slowly freezing water drips down off the edges of rocks and buildings to form those characteristic transparent stalactites that we all call icicles. Ice blankets the earth in sheer mirrors. It forms glaciers that move like slow creatures, carving giant canyons into the rock that formed our world.

Ice is incredibly patient, and it is incredibly strong. While water is highly penetrable, allowing anything at all to pass through it, pollute it and drain parts of it away, ice is impermeable. Ice is a barrier, a stronghold. Ice can preserve things inside its frigid core for centuries, until it melts or is discovered by some curious scientists. Ice expands things that are stronger than human hands can build. Ice is a silent rogue: it can cause movement, changes and even destruction one day, and then melt away on another, leaving not a single molecule of evidence behind.

Ice can be our frosty companion. It allows us the benefits of walking across lakes without falling in. Ice can shield us from the wind and it can even insulate us from the cold. Ice chills out our drinks, cools down our bodies, and preserves our precious food supply. Ice allows somebody in New Jersey to receive an organ transplant from California.

Ice is probably kinder than most people realize.  It tends to love in the harshest of ways, but it still cares. Ice is a mercurial companion, able to slice us and heal us at the same time. Like all of the most beautiful things in nature, ice is as placid as it is violent, as beautiful as it is dangerous. Ice is your cruelest friend and your most benevolent mother.

Smile the next time somebody calls you ice cold. A lukewarm bath has nothing on you.

  • Ice {Prompted} (riverramblings.wordpress.com)