A Little Bit of Dignity

You don’t see anything out of the ordinary when you look out my window, but take a few minutes to listen to my story. I’ve been looking out my window across the way a few times a day searching for a man.

Last Wednesday, I step out of my building to meet my nephew. While I wait, I witness a young man (no more than maybe 20 years old) running down the street with a full garbage bag in his arms. In pursuit is an older Asian man yelling at him to stop. By the time I realize what was happening, the young man throws the bag (filled with empty cans) against a tree and proceeds to casually walk across the street and down the walkway to his destination, as though nothing had happened. The older man catching his breath gets down on his hands and knees to pick up the cans that have fallen out of the bag after it had burst from the impact. All I could do was walk over, help him collect his cans, and ask if he was ok. He thanked me, and I proceeded to meet my nephew.

I came back into my home a few minutes later, shocked and appalled at what I had witnessed. I looked out the window and the older man was stacking his collection of empty cans and started down the road. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, so I went through my recycling as fast as I could to collect any bottles or cans I had. I threw them into a bag and ran out the door to find this man. He was gone.

So everyday, I look out my window several times a day to see if I can find him so I can add to his collection. People don’t necessarily choose their circumstances, but they can choose the path by which they thrive and survive in life. The least we can do as human beings is show them some respect and dignity. I am so deeply saddened by this, and I hope I get to properly meet this man sooner than later.

Death by Paper Cuts

Healdsburg Running Company

Tucked in the heart of the Russian River area is a quaint little town called Healdsburg.  If you find yourself stumbling around what I can only call Downtown Healdsburg and you’re a runner at heart, your feet will walk you through the doors of the Healdsburg Running Company.  There may be tents outside with people in trucker hats milling around and chatting.  There may be a family fun run about to happen.  There may also be a Salomon Demo Fleet.  Above all else, what you will definitely find is a gentleman by the name of Skip whose warm, fun smile fills his face and whose voice captivates and fills the room.  You’ll be greeted with the familiarity of a regular, and brought into conversations as though you were there from the beginning. HRC isn’t a large store, but it’s the cornerstone of the local running community. In the 30ish minutes we were there, we were given about 10 things we could do and about 10 restaurants, tasting rooms, and breweries to visit. It was like walking into a family friend’s home.

 

Goals

Asking goal times is a commonality among friends when a race is thrown into the conversation, and with this one, I did and I didn’t.  My last race, Squamish 50, was highly unsuccessful, suffering from nausea for most of the day. Lake Sonoma had 2 purposes:
  1. Erase the emotional scar of Squamish 50, and complete a race the way I know how: 100% physical effort and 0% stomach issues.  Time-wise, anywhere between 10:30-12:00 would be reasonable.
  2. To witness a really great friend, Elaine, cross the finish line of her first 50 miler.  We trained together, until the last 6 weeks before the race when she encountered a foot injury.  She was smart during those 6 weeks and didn’t push her recovery too soon.  The main thing I told her was that she would go in under trained a little bit, but she’ll finish.

Death by Paper Cuts

Drive about 20 mins outside of Healdsburg on April 9th to the South Lake Trail around 6am and you’ll find almost 400 runners ready to toe the line at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile ultramarathon. The field is deep, as this race is a Golden Ticket race for Western States. As I made my way to the portapotty line, I couldn’t help but overhear 2 runners ahead of me chatting about, surprisingly, running! Way Too Cool 50k was a month prior so stories were shared, and then they moved onto the impending race. One talked of how they’ve consistently done a positive split of an hour on the course, even though they thought they were going out conservative. Then, “Death by Paper Cuts” was how it was described. What an odd and unpleasant way to describe the next 50 miles we were about to run.

 

Without giving it too much thought, we proceeded to go through the morning pre-race motions and got ready for race start. I told Tav that my goal was to hit the halfway mark at 5.5 hours feeling good. So, let’s see how the day would unfold…

 

There was no California sun that day with rain in the forecast, so I was geared up with a tank top, arm warmers, and a jacket, and off I went. The first couple of miles were on undulating road and Elaine and I were quickly separated. I tried to balance my road instincts with my ultra brain (READ: Don’t run too fast ahead). We then jumped into the trails and it was, again, undulating. I didn’t go into this race with a pace in mind because, as anyone who has ever run an ultra before will tell you, there’s no way to run “a pace” the whole way.  My watch auto-beeps every mile so it gives me a gauge of some average based on whether the last mile was more uphill or downhill.  Seeing the times that were coming through, I felt like I was doing well at being conservative – almost a bit too conservative, BUT, I’ve never actually run a race conservative, so there’s always a first.  I was tempted, and even gave in on occasion, to pick up the pace though, because you gotta have a little fun!

 

Every ultra I do, I do want to make sure I take the time to enjoy what I see and experience so I always carry a camera. Today was no exception. Along the way, there was a view of the lake and I stopped to take a shot or two. A runner (Oscar!) came up behind me and told me to hand over my camera. It caught me off guard, but I did what I was told. He took my camera, went past me, and then turned around to take a couple of photos of me. “Smiles before miles” was what he said. So very true, and a great reminder.
Smiles before Miles!
I knew the first aid station I would see my crew was at 11.6 miles (Warm Springs) so it would be quite a while. There was a small water-only aid station before that and it came and went – a little earlier than expected – but this is trail and distances are generally approximate. Next thing I know, I’m rolling into the aid station where my crew was, with jacket and arm warmers in hand. No sun, but high humidity had me stripping down layers after the 2nd mile. I looked at my watch. 9 miles.  Something’s not right. But, not something I can do anything about, so I grabbed what I needed and continued on.

 

The course continued to undulate, with varying grades. Reviewing the elevation profile before the race, I knew there were a couple of bigger hills I’d have to deal with at the midpoint, but it didn’t worry me too much because that just meant bigger downhills – my favourite. What I FAILED to see in the elevation map was the lack of flat sections to recover from all the climbing or descending. I hit the aid station at Madrone Point (18.8 miles on the course, not according to my watch though) and my crew was nowhere to be found. I remember Tav mentioning about missing the aid station somewhere but I was sure he was supposed to be here. So I had a drink and a 1/4 peanut butter & jelly sandwich and waited. And waited. And then I decided to just go. The climb out of that aid station seemed long. I asked some people at the aid station if crews were coming from where I was going to be going and they said yes, so I was hopeful. I climbed up the steep hill and at the top of that hill were the familiar faces of Tav and Sean (Elaine’s husband). I was relieved. Tav checked my fuel and fluids, said Elaine looked good, and then sent me on my way. But I was getting tired, and my legs hurt and I knew what was coming. This was a big downhill, then a big uphill to the midpoint aid station, and then turn around to redo what I just did, backwards.

 

My mind was all over the place. I tried to stay as focused as possible, but my legs and back were hurting a lot more than I was expecting. When I finally got to the halfway aid station (appropriately named No Name), I was so relieved. At halfway, here was a rundown on me:
  • My watch read 19 miles.  I don’t know what was happening with it.  I don’t use my watch necessarily to tell me to go faster or slower, but I do want to know how far I am.  My watch turned into an annoying stop watch at this point.  The distance between aid stations became a guesstimate on what my watch would ACTUALLY read when I got there.
  • My legs.  Oh, my legs.  My quads were hurting from the downhill.  My hammies were hurting from the climbing, which aggravated my back and sciatic.

 

At this point, I knew I was going to have to fight hard to finish. It wouldn’t be a strong finish, and I anticipated a big fade, but I knew I would finish. And it would hurt. A lot.

 

Leaving the halfway aid station, it would be a big downhill and then a big climb. The downhill turned into awesome, to ok, to tolerable, to sharp shooting pains in my quads. The uphill teetered between a slow jog, to a strong hike, to a stroll mixed in with aching hammies and stabbing pains in my lower back.
I finally made it to the top of that hill where I saw the guys earlier, about 1/2 km before the next aid station (Madrone Point). I was hoping for a bit of comfort, but I was rushed forward. All day, they kept saying that I was right on pace with the fastest time on my chart so I knew they just wanted me to maintain momentum. What they didn’t know was that my legs were done. But that’s what your crew is for – to keep you moving forward. So there I go, flying down the hill to the aid station, and exhausted from pain when I arrived. Another PB&J sandwich, and I continued onwards. It would be 7 miles before I saw my crew and it would feel like forever. Each step chipped away at what was left in my legs, assuming I still had something in them. But each step forward proved there was more. It would just take more of me mentally.
Finally, the last crew aid station. Warm Springs. 38 miles. Watch: 29 miles. I had 12 miles. Somehow, at this point in the race, I was STILL on pace with almost the fastest time on the pace chart I gave my crew. I have no idea how that happened, but I prepared them for a BIG fade. I told them that I was done and then overdone. I was in a lot of pain. And there would be no hope in hell of me doing the next 12 miles in 2.5 hours. Probably not even 3 hours. But, they are my crew and they are here to not let those doubts seep in too deep. So we parted ways and the next time I would see them would be when I was allowed to stop.

 

The next 12 miles were not pretty. I could still run the downhills, passing many people, but the uphills were literally just a slow stroll. I had no strength in my step, and I was getting a strange pain in my right foot. I resolved to the reality that this would be the rhythm for the next 3ish hours, with a sitting break at one brief sadistically placed aid station (Island View Camp – 45.5 miles), a 400m out and back section, to stretch my back and legs. I’m going to take a moment to describe this aid station. The 400m was downhill. You can’t access it by car so the crew takes a boat in with the supplies. Think about that. That means, we are at the lowest point possible. The lowest. But I digress, because I have a race to finish.

 

Finish Line
The moment I heard the sound of cheering in the distance, I was filled with happiness and relief. But I still had to move forward. So, forward I moved. One step at a time, until the trail finally ended and it was a straightaway to the finish line. I stepped across the line, high fived the race director, and took a huge sigh of relief into the arms of Tav. It was over. Finally.

 

Watch, I hate you.
Legs, you hate me.
Body, you hate me.
Stomach, you’re hungry but we did it.
11:17:59.  30mins on flat according to my data.

 

Death by paper cuts.  Spot on.

 

Note: 30 minutes after I was done (a pattern throughout the day), Elaine and I shared our finish line hug.  I couldn’t have been thrilled and proud of her!!
hugs

Saying Good-Bye

In less than a week, I’ll be saying good-bye.

I’ve had long hair for 25 years, and I’ve always said that I would only cut it if I was going to donate it.  Well, now’s the time.  So, in less than a week, I will be saying good-bye to at least 10 inches of hair.  But, that hair symbolizes more than just hair.  I’ll be saying good-bye to part of my youth, a piece of my identity, a security blanket.

BUT, to that, I say:
  • to my youth: I’m only as old as I feel and I may be 40, but I feel young!
  • to my identity: As each day goes by, I am more sure of who I am and the way I see myself is not directly related to the length of my hair.  I am a life partner to the best man I know.  I am a fierce and loyal friend to people who enrich my life beyond my expectations.  I am a community connector.  I am a runner.  I am forever grateful for what I have, and will strive to be more.
  • to my security blanket: Along the journey to the place where I currently plant my feet, I stopped needing you.  So it’s time for YOU to be free of me.

NOW, since I’m #DiggingInto40, I’m turning the tables on an action that once scared me.  I am filled with anticipation and excitement.  And, to extend my passion for giving back, I am raising funds for charity.  The charity I have chosen is Wigs for Kids BC, a 100% volunteer-run program out of BC Children’s Hospital that provides wigs to children with cancer and other serious illnesses at no charge, as well as essential drugs and feeding supplies not covered by MSP.

I WILL raise at least $3000 – the cost to create a wig. The labour alone costs $800. I WILL be a zero cost to this charity to improve the quality of life for 1 child.

I’m matching the first $1,000 so if you can spare a few dollars, I’d really appreciate it. It’s for the kids (truly!).

Yours in gratitude,
Linda

#DiggingInto40

DiggingInto40

As I enter my 41st year – first, hold up… how did I get to 40 so quick?? – but I digress .. as I enter my 41st year, it’s given me the space to reflect.  I reflect on my past, take inventory of my present, and point my internal compass to a place that continually excites and inspires me.

Being 40 isn’t really scary or sad or daunting.  What I’m moreso aware of are the things relative to me at and come with being 40 years old.
  • It’s been 19 years since my mom’s been around, but I think about and miss her to my core every single day.
  • If I’m 40, then my siblings are nearing 50 and my father’s nearing 80 – although those are the realities that I accept, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are easy to grasp.
  • The number of white hairs on my head are growing exponentially – it’s an uphill battle that I may have to give up on soon.
  • Certain health tests and risks are now a routine concern, such as mammograms, early onset menopause, osteoporosis, etc!
  • All the things “Anti-aging” are now necessary.
But, given all this, I know I’m also lucky in life, and am full of gratitude:
  • There is laughter in my home every day.
  • I am surrounded by unconditional love.
  • Not only have I been given opportunities, I have created opportunities.
  • I have a thirst to learn.
  • I am connected to those communities about which I am most passionate.
  • For whatever reason, people show up for me and the space I’ve created.
  • I’m ever curious and absolute in my desire to grow.
  • The things I value in my life are purer than gold, shine brighter than diamonds, and more valuable than adamantium (see what I did there?).

When they say 40 is just a number, it really is.  It’s not what people in their 40s say.  Ok, it’s not JUST what people in their 40s say.  Take a minute now.  Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  How do you feel?  I sure as hell don’t feel 40, whatever that means.  Age is just something that quantifies years of memories and experiences, the events that took place to have you land where you are today, the decisions that shaped how you currently process information and emotions, the perspective you have when you see the world.  All the while, you have a calm understanding of the vastness around you and the opportunity that lies ahead.

I’m flipping 40 on its head and I am more adamant than ever to create memories and relationships that will enrich my life, and be the person I aspire to be.  I’m not going to ignore 40.  I’m #DiggingInto40.  Watch out for me.

How Bad Can It Be?

so, how bad can it be?

Those are my famous last words.
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Completing a 50miler is definitely a big accomplishment.  What they don’t tell you about are the raw unbridled tears at 3:30am on the bathroom floor, sobbing into a towel to keep from waking others, as you start to absorb the magnitude of the day you just had and what it took to cross the finish line.
IMG_4818As much as I’d love to curse Gary Robbins for designing a soul-crushing course at the Squamish 50 miler – in actual fact, I cursed him all day – the day unfolded the way it did.
The months leading up to race day were focused more on adventures with friends than regimented training plans.  I crested peaks, found and strengthened friendships, laughed immensely and rejuvenated my soul in the trails.  I filled a void that was missing and it healed something I didn’t realize was broken.
IMG_5250I toed the line a little less prepared, throwing a bit of caution to the wind, but in the company of good friends.  I ran a bit of the first 6mi with Jamie, who was running his first 50miler, but he soon peeled off and I was on my own.  I went through the first aid station at 6mi on target and handed my headlamp to Tav and Teppo (our house guest from Finland).  Onward to do the steady climb into the Alice Lake for Aid Station 2 at 12 miles, where I saw lots of familiar faces.  A little bit of chatting, a little bit of doddling, and then I got shooed out by Elaine – I prewarned her that I like hanging out at aid stations a bit too much.
I saw Tav quickly on the trail just leaving Aid Station 2 – we exchanged a quick peck and off I went to go through some rolling trails to meet up with my #RunRobson crew at Aid Station 3.  I rolled into the aid station and there was my crew running it like a well-oiled machine .. and playing Cheerleader, as I requested!  Kat filled me up and then I was off to do a 6mi loop til I hit their aid station again.  Just before I hit the aid station, things started to feel off.  My sciatic was starting to act up and things started to hurt from my lower back through my hips and down my legs. This isn’t necessarily new but it wasn’t encouraging only 3ish hours in.  As I continued through the 6mi loop, it started to get worse and my stomach didn’t feel quite right – well, not quite my stomach, but the connection between my stomach and my throat.  I’ve never had nausea on a run so I just continued to fuel the way I normally did and pressed on.
received_10155958921355564About 400m from the aid station, I caught my toe on a rock and superman’d myself into the service road and my left calf cramped immediately. It subsided and I looked down to assess the damage. My knee, which took the brunt of the fall, was covered in dust and dirt covered flaps resembling overly ignored dust bunnies, but those weren’t dust bunnies. Those were the remnants of my skin.  Ew. I wiped myself off a bit and headed into the aid station.  Kat met me again and made sure i was filled up and even wiped the dirt off my chin – something else I didn’t realize I hit.
IMG_5255I left Aid Station 3 for a 7mi jaunt up Galactic trail and down to Word of Mouth (Aid Station 4). I quickly messaged Tav and Elaine letting them know of my fall and sent them a nice little selfie of my bloody knee.  I needed a bit of comic relief plus I wanted to give them an update. The Galactic climb goes on for several miles and things started to get worse for me.  At points, I had to pull off to the side to collect myself.  The nausea in my throat was getting worse and I needed to just pause.  I remember Linda telling me to always eat if you felt nauseas so I kept trying to eat.  I chased every bite with a ginger candy.  After another 20 minutes and not feeling any better, I messaged Tav and Elaine again asking them for Advil and some Glory lemon ginger juice.  I thought the source of my issue was the pain from my sciatic.  It was a long and slow climb with many pauses but I finally made it to the top of Galactic and I made my descent to the Word of Mouth Aid Station and saw Kelly (btw, she makes the BEST gear bags).  It was the first time I verbalized how awful I was feeling.  Kelly was awesome – she’s had similar issues before so she gave me a bit of advice, a lot of sympathy, and encouragement to get to the next aid station.  It wasn’t far away – 3 miles.  I just wanted to get to Quest to see my crew and try to sort out what was wrong.
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So much nausea and so little fuel, but I dragged my body into Quest. I lacked my usual perk and it showed. I was a bit disoriented on what I needed – asking for things, then saying I didn’t need anything.  I swapped watches with Tav as mine were on its last legs, and I reluctantly left the aid station.  The nausea had to stop.  This has never happened before.  How much longer could it last?  Well, I was about to find out.  I left Quest about 8.5 hours into my run and I knew my goal was out the window.  I was in tentative survival mode.
The road out of Quest was a long uphill that took me up Climb trail.  As I continued up the relentless hill, my body started tingling, my hands started shaking, and I felt extremely light-headed.  I was worried.  The nausea hadn’t calmed down and I felt like I was going to pass out.  At one point, I messaged Tav that I wasn’t feeling well and even gave him my location in case something happened to me, but he just messaged back words of encouragement and that he was at the Farther Side Aid Station – #7.  I still needed to get to Aid Station 6 at Garibaldi Road first.  I was hitting a low point.  I had no way out.  So I continued to climb.  And pause.  And climb.  And pause.  Until I reached the top and I started to make my way down to the Aid Station.  At one point, the trail led to a platform with a steep ramp down and I had to stop.  The volunteer joked around and said I had to go down it but I told him that I was feeling faint and that I had to turn around, go back down and around.  I continued on not feeling any better, fighting back tears, fighting back feelings of despair and helplessness, and fighting the pangs of hunger… just fighting.  I was near panicking.  Somehow I calmed myself down somewhat and got into Aid Station 6.  The nausea still didn’t subside.  I could only take small mouthfuls of food at a time, and when I mean small, it would be about a teaspoon of food, chased with ginger candy, and a few sips of liquid.  Nothing else.  Nothing.
I stayed at the aid station for a while, contemplating my options – wondering if it was really safe for me to continue.  Tav and the rest of them were going to be at the next aid station which was 5 miles away.  I didn’t feel right so I sat down.  I never sit down at a race.  I always say once I sit, I won’t want to get up, but I just needed to think.  There was a medical staff beside me treating someone else.  I wanted to ask him to check me out.  To see if it was safe.  But I couldn’t find my voice.  I sat for a little while longer.  I fought back tears again.  Eventually, I got up from the chair, took a deep breath, and forged onward.  It was 5 miles.  I wasn’t confident I would make it but I suppose I would try.  About a mile in, a volunteer was at the entrance of a trail and directed me in.  I had to take another moment to collect myself.  It took 2 offers from the volunteer for his chair before I took it.  A few deep breaths and a few internal struggles, and I slowly got up and started on the rolling hills to make my way to the Farther Side Aid Station.
I made it to the service road that led to the aid station and saw Greg (best RMT EVER).  As soon as I saw him, I started walking.  We approached a bigger downhill and I let myself go.  Thankfully, despite all the nausea, I was still able to run downhill.  As soon as I hit the flat, I walked.  I had nothing in me.  No fuel.  No lift.  No life.
Tav and Teppo met me at the bottom of the hill that led to the aid station and all 4 of us walked up the hill where Kat and Leica were waiting.  I sat again as Greg checked out my legs.  I had some ginger ale.  I had some watermelon.  And my pack was refilled.  I didn’t want to leave.  I so wanted to stop, but again, I lost my voice.  As depleted as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to quit.  By then, it was too close.  I knew, from what Elaine had told me, what was ahead.  I had another climb.  I knew it was going to be awful.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat.  I knew the nausea would not go away.  Slowly and reluctantly, I left the aid station.  I had 7 miles left and what I did know is that I would be able to finish – even if I had to walk the whole thing.
IMG_5258Every climb required herculean strength.  Each step required a long pause.  At times, I would find bouts of energy on downhill or slightly flat runnable sections, but it would disappear as soon as I hit any sort of incline and be replaced by large waves of nausea and rapid short breaths.  There were a few false summits, and eventually I reached the large rock where a volunteer announced that I was finally at the top.  I just needed to make my way back down a few kms and then it was another few to the finish.  Just to be clear though – it was not all downhill on the way back down.  But, I did eventually reach the bottom and I was at the Bluffs. A few kms isn’t much, but it takes a long time to get there when my body isn’t fueling off anything.  It was somewhat runnable so I ran what I could.  I ran into John (he and I leap-frogged through the day) who was having a rough go so I offered him my ginger candies, my Tums, and some other ginger candies.  Apparently, I felt as though he needed them more than I did and that I was close enough to the end to give them away.  As soon as I left him, I regretted not keeping one ginger candy for myself.  Every encounter with a volunteer made the finish line seem closer but yet so far away.
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Finally, I made it to the final stretch down the road the finish line.  Tav was waiting and I gave him a fly-by kiss, which was more like a kick in the face (sorry babe – bad aim on my part) and as I approached the grassy patch towards the finish line, I was greeted by the most amazing receiving line of my #RunRobson crew.  I ran across the finish line and into Gary’s arms.  I was overwhelmed with familiar faces and hugs but lacked all energy for any sort of expressive emotion.

It was over.  Finally over.  Official time was 14:49.  I battled through 11ish hours of nausea.  About 1,000 calories consumed.  I felt like a shadow of my true self.  But it was finally over.
That day took something out of me that I’ll never get back.  It took a bit of my heart and soul and beat me into submission.
I know it’ll take some time before I can truly feel as though I gained strength from this experience – or I may never feel that.  As I’m writing this, I’m already fighting back tears at how this 50miler broke me.
Again, I will say this over and over again – there is no one to blame.  I had a really really bad day.  It wasn’t Gary’s fault.  It wasn’t the course.  My body decided to punish me and make me suffer beyond anything else I’d ever experienced and at some point, I will have to make peace with that.
What I do have is an immense amount of gratitude to my community, my crew, and everyone who cheered me on from near and afar – those who had more confidence and faith in me than I had in myself.  I am truly and deeply humbled.

The Hills Are Alive!

Pirate's Cove Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama
Pirate’s Cove
Photo Credit Glenn Tachiyama

Did it really happen?  Some days I forget that I even did the 100k.  But if I think about the events of the day, I question how I could forget the way everything came together so perfectly.  Maybe it’s because it felt like it was too perfect…


The alarm offensively rang at 2:30am and, one by one, we got up to get ready for a long day – myself, Tav, and Greg.  By 4:15am, we were ready to roll out the door with everything in check.  After an extremely windy drive, which eventually gave Greg motion sickness, we arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Centre – the hub for this year’s Miwok 100k.  Race bib acquired and pinned.  Now, to find my partner in crime / training partner, Linda, to make up the Power of Linda^2.  With 15 minutes to race start, I spotted her and I was calmed.  For over a week, I was a huge bag of nerves..

Am i ready?  Did I train enough?  What if my sciatic rears its ugly head?  What if I can’t do it?  Am I in over my head?
The pep talks I got all week helped: Hoz offered good advice about the course, Tav was amazing in keeping me focused on the execution of the day, and Linda, who was there for so many of my long runs, gave me the confidence in my fitness that the finish line was more than attainable.  But even still, it was difficult not to let my mind race about all the negative potential possibilities.
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Linda^2 Power at the Start

So there we were, at the start, headlamps lit and ready to take on the next 100km.  I don’t remember if there was a gun, but a quick send off from the boys, and Linda and I were on our way.  The race started at 5am so the sun hadn’t risen yet, which meant it would just be a hike/trot until the single track line of over 400 runners started to spread out.  It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise.  There was no ‘going out too hard’.   The opposite, actually, and it gave Linda and I a chance to spend about an hour chatting, almost forgetting that there were runners around us.  I’m sure they were all entertained by our banter – at least that’s what we told ourselves.  I don’t know how to describe that first hour or so, but it really was something else.  Tav had described the scenery to me before that it was very ‘Sound of Music’esque’ — The Hills Are Alive!

Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama
Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama

There was a calming melodical tone to everyone’s footsteps and relaxed demeanour.  The time went by quick and the gap between Linda and I started growing.  I could feel my old road runner instincts wanting to kick in and dart forward to pass, but I had many voices in my head to hold back.  I did pull ahead, but bit by bit.  I was crossing a small road section as one trail ended to another trailhead, when I caught sight of the sunrise.  I took my camera out and snapped a quick photo.  The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was beautiful and so worth it.

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Running at Sunrise
Unfortunately, the ‘Sound of Music’ hills didn’t last forever, and I went right through Aid Station 1 (Bolinas Ridge – 6.3miles).  I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until Aid Station 2 (Randall Trail – 12.9miles) so I set my sights on that.  The trails between AS1 and AS2 were rolling and I found myself able to run more than I needed to walk.  My strategy for the day was to be conservative on the hills.  They weren’t my strength so I was better off hiking the uphills and using the downhills to my advantage, as that was where I excelled.  What I didn’t account for was the long downhill into AS2, but it was glorious.  I flew right into AS2 to meet Tav and Greg at almost a 14 hour finish time pace.  They grabbed my pack to fill it up as I went into the portapotty line up for a quick tinkle.  Little did I know that the line up would be longer than anticipated – almost 10 minutes.  As I was waiting in line, I hear.. “Honey…”.  I look over and Tav has pulled a near full bladder out of my pack.  Ooops… I guess I wasn’t that thirsty.
As I got ready to leave AS2, the boys told me that it would be close to 4 hours before I would see them – this was key information for me.  We did a quick check for fuel and I was on my way back to AS1 (doubled as AS3).  What goes down must go up, so that glorious downhill into AS2 became a grunt of hike.  About 5 minutes of climbing, I see Linda flying down and we hollered our hello’s.  For those that don’t know Linda, well, you should.  She has a smile and an energy about her that perks anyone up.
Again, I go right through AS3 (19.5miles) and on to AS4 (Cardiac – 26.5miles).  I tried to stay on top of my fluids and my fueling to avoid getting the evil eye again when I was renewed with my crew at AS5 (Muir Beach – 31.5miles).  During this time, my crew would grow by 1 as the boys met up with Soroush, a good friend who lived in the Bay area.  From Cardiac to Muir Beach, it was mostly downhill and it was fabulous.  There was also a small road section so I was able to maintain a fairly good pace.  In fact, with the downhill and road section, I surprised the boys by meeting them en route – them in the car, and me on foot.  They sped ahead to the aid station to get there before I reached it.  Apparently, it was close.  Mentally, I was still feeling good.
Stretching it Out
Stretching it Out

Physically, my legs were a little fatigued but my back and hamstrings were starting to act up – a symptom of my sciatic issue.  I kept this in the back of my mind to ensure I didn’t do anything to aggravate it anymore.  You might, however, say that running ANOTHER 50km would be aggravating it.. you might.

The boys filled up my pack, loaded me up on my fuel and I was on my way.  I was still in good spirits and I was still having fun.  From here, it would be about an hour before I would see them again at the next Aid Station (Tennessee Valley – 36.5miles).  I can’t recall much about the trail, but I did spend some time hiking a big hill and chatting with someone from DC – an investment banker actually.  Unfortunately, he misread the instructions and thought his drop bag was being moved forward from each drop area and he didn’t have any of his gear until he reached the next AS, where he was planning on pulling out.  As soon as the trail started to go downhill, “we” decided to try running.  “We”, however, soon turned into just me.  I was feeling strong on the downhills and seemed to fly by a handful of runners, with some commenting that I seem to always pass them on the downhill.
I came into Tennessee Valley (AS6) a little more fatigued, a little more sore, but in ok spirits.  I had a little niggling pain in my soleus area and Greg checked it out.  There was really nothing to do except a little bit of extra compression with his magic hands.  I asked the boys how long til I saw them again as I knew they weren’t allowed at the next aid station (Bridge View/Rodeo Valley – 41.5 miles), but I was coming right back to Tennessee Valley (doubling as AS8 – 48.9miles).  Now, doing simple math, you would be able to deduce that the difference would be 12.3miles, but the day was long and charts can be confusing.  I heard 7.8miles and I would be back.  There was a sign at the aid station saying that it was 5 miles to AS7 so in my head, it would be a short 2.8miles back to my boys.  Then I would have a pacer to the end.
Spectacular Views
Spectacular Views

The trail from AS6 to AS7 was tough.  It was a climb.  A big climb.  And it was DAMN windy.  So windy that I was blown sideways into the railing.  But the view.  Amazing.  Clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I came into AS7 feeling a bit battered, tired, and was looking forward to a mere 2.8 miles til I saw my boys again.  And then I saw the sign.  7.3 miles to the next aid station.  My heart dropped.  This can’t be right.  But it was.  I took a minute to absorb what I was reading and struggled to think of what I needed to do, as it would be closer to 1.5 hours until I saw them again.  I took my pack off and refilled it.  I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I remember telling the volunteer that I should eat.  She agreed, but nothing on the table was appealing.  I may have grabbed something but I can’t remember.  I just wanted to go.. but I also wanted to stop.  I left the aid station and it was a good downhill to the bottom of the mountain, but that only meant one thing.  We had to climb back up to the top and then over to get back to the boys.  I started hiking and I was joined by a few of the guys that I had apparently been passing on the downhills.  We chatted a bit – they were all so nice.  Slowly, they pulled away from me, except for a guy (whose name I later found out to be Sascha) from Florida.  We climbed to the top together and then it was downhill to the boys at Tennessee Valley.

Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley
Choking back tears coming into Tennessee Valley

Greg met me along the downhill and tried to gauge how I felt.  “Garbage” was my response and I started to choke back tears.  I came into the aid station, gave them my pack, and went to the loo.  I came out and as soon as I saw Tav, the tears starting rolling.  All I could say was, “I don’t feel good.”  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Tav pulled me back together, somewhat, and tried to send me on my way.  Before I would leave, I swapped watches as mine died and I went to the aid station to grab something to eat.  The volunteer was so lovely and told me that my outfit was her favourite of the day.  I thanked her as more tears rolled down my face.

Tav wiped my face and looked me in the eyes.  All I had to do was do 5 miles with Soroush and then he would take me to the finish.  Just 5 miles.  I can do 5 miles.  So the 3 of them started to walk me out of the aid station.  After about half a km, Greg and Tav left and it was Soroush and I.  We started to climb and it was like someone flipped a switch.   Everything was fine.  I felt really bad for Soroush – he was so great to come out and he was excited to pace me, and here I was, a tearful mess.  But, everything was fine now.  I had my crew.
Soroush and I on our way
Soroush and I on our way

So Soroush and I went through the rolling 5 miles which had more downhill than uphill.  At one point, we bumped into Glenn Tachiyama – my favourite photographer with the most uplifting smile.  He had situated himself at Pirate’s Cove (~51miles?) and we continued on our way.  We flew down the hill into Muir Beach (AS9 – 53.7miles) and I was greeted by Tav and Greg.  I swapped pacers – Soroush for Tav, or as Soroush was saying, Stud Muffin 2 for Stud Muffin 1 – and we were on our way.  And everything was good – it felt like home.

Of course, I whined a little more and Tav had to invoke the “tough love” strategy to get me to the next aid station – a 1300 ft climb to Cardiac (58.7miles). As I said, uphill is not my strength so the poor guy had to listen to me hyperventilate and stroll uphill as best I could.  He knew, though, that all he needed to do was get me to the top and I would be golden for the 3mile downhill to the finish.  We got into Cardiac, I did a quick pit stop to the portapotty, and we were on our way.
Coming into the finish
Coming into the finish

I was tired and sore and had been on my feet longer than I had ever been before, but I’m pretty sure I was flying on those downhills. We passed a number of people and all I could hear was Tav telling me that I was doing SO good, that he was SO proud of me, and to NOT look at my watch. He pushed me to keep going and as we came down the last set of stairs, we were joined by Greg and Soroush.  We turned right onto the road and there was the fire hall – the community centre where the finish was next to it.

Finish!
Finish!
As I started to make the last turn, Tav was yelling at me to get under 14:05 as I could see the clock reading 14:04 and 30 something seconds.  I dug deep and managed to actually pick it up until I crossed the finish line.
Tia, the Race Director, congratulated me and put the medal around my neck.  I turned and saw Greg and Tav.  Greg gave me a hug.  Soroush was behind him filming (see the video at the bottom of this post).  And then I turned to Tav and fell into him.  I was so overwhelmed .. physically and emotionally.  I did it.  I really did it.  I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I managed to cross that finish line.
And then I couldn’t move.  After sitting for a bit, I slowly made my way to the washrooms to change.  I must have been in there for 30 minutes as I was moving at the rate of snail snot.  I was also choking back tears.  Finally, I came out and was looking for Linda.  I soon found her and we had our big teary hug.
BEST Crew Ever.
BEST Crew Ever.

It’s been almost 2 weeks and I’m still absorbing the whole experience.  I get glimpses and flashes of pieces of the day, but I’m having a hard time stringing it together into one full day – into the fact that I did a full 100km ultra.  What keeps going through my head is that I had a pretty damn perfect day, with the absolute best crew, best training partner, best support from back home and my community.  I am truly a lucky girl – I don’t know how I got to be this way but I am ever so thankful.  It’s probably why thinking of the full experience still makes me cry.  damnit.


And, if all the support wasn’t enough, here’s a fantastic video that Soroush made of my day.

Live Audaciously.

20130824_132127_13Sometimes, in grief, there is clarity and good reminders of what I already know.

Ten days ago, I lost a dear friend.  Today was the funeral service.  And it was hard – DAMN hard.   I’m going to tell you a few things about my friend Doug.

  • When we met over 10 years ago and became friends, he questioned whether or not we would stay friends.  He said all of his friends have disappointed him at some point and it was just a fact of life.  I happily proved him wrong year after year and he realized that I was just going to stick around.
  • He was good for my self esteem.   You see, Doug was about 20 years older than I was.  This confused others, but neither of us cared.  He was a friend and friendships are ageless.  We shared many long talks and he often gave good advice.  If it was bad advice, I’d tell him because I knew I could.  🙂   So, many times, he boosted my confidence saying things like .. “if I was 20 years younger, I’d be asking you out on dates everyday.” (when i was moaning about not finding a good partner)  “if I could afford you to pay you what you were worth, i’d hire you in a heartbeat.”  (when i was job hunting)
  • He knew how to make me laugh.  Knowing that he was 20 years older than I was, he would pretend to be the creepy guy, but was never able to pull it off.  He’d answer the phone “Linda’s Massage Parlour – we never rub you the wrong way.”  And things of the sort.
  • We appreciated each other.  And would tell each other.
  • He lived a life that I admired.  He was fiercely in love with his wife on a daily basis.  He ran a good business.  He hired good people.  He admitted his shortcomings.   He invested in people he cared about.  He was often optimistic.  He was ever curious.  He loved his inner child.

Sadly, Doug was also sick and his life was cut short.  It sucks for him.  It sucks for everyone around him.    He was a gem.

So, with that, I leave you with two words:  Live Audaciously.

Forget the saying of “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” I say, keep your friends close and drop your enemies. They’re dead weight on your brazen path in life.  Shed those negative people in your life, like they’re the last 5lbs you wanted to lose.  And love the good people in your life passionately.