Happy Lost

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I smell of campfire and salt air.  Sand sprinkles on the bathroom floor as I shed clothing. My skin, red from the sun, tingles alive under the shower. Three days of sweat and pollen washes down the drain.

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Camping wakes me up again after days, weeks, months asleep. Too much time spent huddled over computer, wrapped in winter clothes kills off the instinct to breathe deep, take slow walks, laugh hard and go barefoot. I do not tolerate a cage. Give me the woods, a trail, a bike, running shoes and I am lost. Happy lost.

{note:  unveiling a trail ultra new to Central VA very soon. Stay tuned!}

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Flowers and Food

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My friend’s sixteen year old niece died yesterday after finishing the Virginia Beach Shamrock Half Marathon. I called Clair as soon as I found out and listened to the reality of the situation. “It’s as horrible as you could possibly imagine…and then far worse”, she said.

Today I bought her flowers and made food. I didn’t know what to do, doers never do. Instead we bake, clean, work, yell, cry.

I offered to look after the dogs, shuttle kids, anything but that’s not really what my friend needs.

It came to my mind what the fox said. No, not the one in that silly viral video I never watched because just listening to my daughter sing the song was enough to make me grit my teeth. I mean the fox, the one in “The Little Prince”. He said, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” And later, “it is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

I thought about that for a long time.

Tonight I will hug my daughter even on her 57th trip downstairs to report she cannot sleep. I will go to my son’s games when at the 500th one I want to say “this, again?”. I will (patiently) teach my middle child to completely destroy the kitchen bake and encourage her as she plays piano. I will hold hands with my husband as we fall asleep and hope to be able to do it all over again tomorrow. And I will deliver flowers and food and listen for as long as it takes.

On Surrender

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When it snowed more than I wanted it to,

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I watched the sun come up.

When it rained,

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I watched the kids sled down the back steps on the ice.

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With the dogs.

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For a very long time.

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They left me piles of wet clothes.

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When the weather wasn’t right for my mountain bike I knitted instead.

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And when I couldn’t get up the gumption to run in the rain and snow I made bread. And let it rise by the woodstove.

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As my stomach hasn’t decided to start churning again, I’ve resorted to a pureed life. Sweet potatoes, carrots, applesauce, butternut squash…creativity and mixins are key.

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Sushi and tea are definitely the way to go these days. As always. (if you have to buy the grocery store version I recommend Whole Foods)

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Less running and biking means a return to meditation and yoga. Life could definitely be worse.

Organizing an Ultramarathon

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When planning an ultramarathon it helps to have (hopefully) a spectacular location steeped in history, beauty, nature and a little mystery.  It’s an added bonus to be escorted about such a place by a nun…in a pickup.

While still very much in planning infancy, I can envision a race here, through the enchanted-looking forest with moss underfoot,

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past the old stone wall that dammed up water where they stored ice for two African American high schools on the property in the late 1800s, over several stream crossings and along the river and creek.

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There are over a thousand acres here, crowned with two mansions set high atop hills overlooking the James River just west of Richmond, VA.  The buildings are separated by Deep Creek.  There is farmland, peace and quiet, deer, birds, the tree of skulls. This could be the perfect location.  I didn’t want to leave.

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We hiked what could be part of the course, more like I trotted just to keep up with Sister Jean and my friend Maureen.  She doesn’t know it but I think Sister Jean could walk the ultra faster than some runners run it, that lady can move.

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And lock the hubs and put her into four-wheel-drive baby.

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I felt like I was in a movie.  This is the stuff of the Hunger Games or the Lord of the Rings. My mind wandered as we walked past the moat dug by slaves and the stone wall also built by slaves that encircles the old girls’ school (now vacant) and it felt eerie and a bit overwhelming.  Maybe it’s just me and what happens when I step away from the real world into the real world or perhaps the spirituality and history of this place is undeniable.  You have to be here to feel it.  You’ll have to come.

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The sisters live and work here now.  They’re doing everything they can to preserve and maintain the land and buildings but funds are stretched thin.  Anything helps, even the proceeds from a small, as yet unknown trail run.

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The girls’ school.

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And from afar.

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Deep Creek.

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The boys’ school.

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An old granary, near the stables.  Oh yes there are horses, many- and more stories to tell and pictures to share.  Stay tuned and wish us luck, I hope this one pans out.

Wherein I Attempt to Convert to a Plant-Based Diet and End up Miserable

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Don’t let my smile fool you, I was starting week-of-the-horrific-abdomen #3 in the picture above, the smile is just a cover for my denial and utter stupidity.  My husband had a bad cold and was half dazed with medicine and saw the slopes through watering eyes that day.  Despite our depleted physical state we had an awesome time taking the kids skiing.  I went into it with little expectation that all three kids would love it but they did and I am thrilled.  This means a whole lot more skiing in the future.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the winter.

At times I am a sucker.  Lately I’ve been enticed by the idea of making a serious diet shift toward a more whole foods/plant-based regimen.  I’ve read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run and Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra and was hooked on both.  I watched Fat Sick and Nearly Dead followed by Forks over Knives and was wound up by what they were spinning.  I listen to Rich Roll’s podcast every weekend on headphones while cleaning the house.  I receive periodic emails from the guy at nomeatathlete.com.  I am a romantic idealist and am easily swept up by  stories of overcoming the odds, of finding one’s true self, of the underdog.  Who doesn’t love a Rudy, a Rookie?  I think it’s why millions of people watch shows like American Idol and The Biggest Loser, I could watch the latter every day and not tire of it.  I love witnessing personal transformations and good…winning.

I was ready to change, not that I considered myself to be too unhealthy to begin with but I didn’t see how increasing my intake of whole/natural foods and decreasing my intake of processed crap and sugar would hurt.  It was theoretically a sound idea.  At the time I had no intention of eliminating meat completely from my diet but also saw no adverse repercussions of minimizing it.  Approximately nine months ago I almost completely cut dairy from my diet and have seen nothing but positive results in the way I feel and in my athletic performance.  I won’t belabor the point that I witness on a daily basis the negative effects of terrible diets on the human body and how many of my patients are slowly killing themselves with food.  I wasn’t going to be one of those people.

So, I went forward with my plan.  I continued to make smoothies every morning, something I’d done for the past two years.  I use almond milk and recently switched to putting peanut butter or almond butter in them instead of protein powder–YUM is all I can say, you should try it.  I cut up fresh veggies and fruit, peeled oranges and stashed them in my lunch bag.  I ate almonds, sometimes brought green smoothies for lunch especially if I’d eaten steel cut oats for breakfast.  I ate seeds of different sorts, cut out white refined flour and switched to sprouted bread with nut butters spread on top also for lunch between patients.  I went “all in” as they say.  I was happy and on a roll (for a few days). I made healthy options for dinner inserting legumes and whole grains at dinner with meat options too and cut down on the processed stuff as I mentioned.  I didn’t find it difficult, it just required planning, creativity and some new cookbooks and helpful websites not to mention getting the family to buy in to the changes, something I planned to do very gradually and without force.

But things started to backfire quickly and I ignored the signs.  I had tried a gradual shift before, last November and had a sudden and violent revolt from my gut, not in the usual fashion, not how a normal person would react.  It led me to online research because I knew I had a problem I was choosing to ignore.  I have this little thing, caused by this other little thing that makes digesting fiber a feat of monumental proportions and if too much of it is consumed at once a near impossibility leading to some very serious problems.  Damn.  I reverted back to what I’d been eating, what I knew I could halfway tolerate (though finding the right combination of foods is a daily battle) and got on with my life.

Then I decided to give a plant based diet one more try.  If I just try harder and LONGER this time maybe it will work, I thought.  Diagnoses be damned.  How can something natural not work?  I was in complete denial.

Let me explain.  Basically I am a loose person.  Everything is loosey-goosey.  Joints, skin, vasculature, entire digestive tract which I only found out when I had massive issues with it in my early thirties.  I like to think of it like this:  let’s say the normal person’s stomach is kind of like a rubber ball, the kind you’d buy in the $2 bin at Wal-Mart.  Their intestines are like a curvy garden hose.  Drop a marble (food) into such a setup and after many twists and turns it rolls right through.  My stomach is like a deflated balloon.  My intestines are like nude L’eggs pantyhose I used to buy in a plastic egg at the local dime store as a kid.  Remember those?  Drop a marble in that set up and it sits there. The denser the food the harder it falls and then a whole host of complications cascade like an avalanche.  Put fiber in the normal person and it acts like a laxative (the marble rolls faster), put it in me and it’s like throwing a stick in bicycle spokes (or maybe the pantyhose twist and knot or worse).  Food=pain.

I won’t give you all the horrific details but let’s just say after switching back to a diet I could eat without teeth I’m feeling a little bit better.  Aided by internet help sites and very specific food lists I think I’m on my way to hopefully feeling better than ever.  I have more ultras to run after all, more mountain biking to do, races to plan, ski trips to take, rock climbing with the family and yoga weekends with the girls on tap.  I’m in no place to be moaning in the car feeling like my insides are being slowly roto-rootered by a 1″ drill bit combined with a kicked-in-the-gut feeling and pain and nausea up to my chest and jaw that doesn’t go away.

Ironically diet counseling is not something I was ever offered, just pills.  Pills that made me shake uncontrollably.  Sometimes the condition doesn’t go away after the pills are stopped, luckily in my case they did.  But I’m not much into pills anyway and prefer finding what works naturally.  Exercise helps, so do probiotics.  These two I would find out after much trial and error on my own when frustration with the medical establishment led me to rebellion and missed appointments.  But I’d been let down, shrugged at, misdiagnosed and in short not many of the experts I saw didn’t know what to do with me.  It’s complicated.  So I forged out on my own. The trick is and has always been getting enough good in when good can backfire.  Next I think I’ll try a juicer.  If it doesn’t work one of my friends is gonna get lucky with a shiny slightly used kitchen gadget.

On Inspiration

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I began 2014 following my husband on a mountain bike up steep hills, through mud puddles and creek crossings, over footbridges and roots and rocks and fallen trees.  I’ve been mountain biking for about a year now and it has been an incredible addition to my life thanks to the friends and my husband who have taught me how.

Running too is a fairly new pursuit.  Before 2013 I’d only run 6 miles and before the year ended I wound up running a 50K.  Don’t underestimate yourself.  If I, a nerdy, bookwormish, former band geek and poor-to-mediocre tennis player can run a 50k then so can you.

It all comes down to finding the desire, the motivation and inspiration within to do whatever it is you want to do.  You may even wind up doing something you had no idea you wanted to do.

For me accomplishing something big (going to school, new job, knitting a sweater, biking up a mountain, running an ultra) boils down to a few things:  the idea–either generated on my own or a suggestion (you wanna?) from another, encouragement–you can do it!  I believe in you!, and hard work, determination, perseverance.  If I had to give each a percentage I’d say perseverance ranks at about 90% and the idea 1% and encouragement 9%.

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I think about this a lot in my daily work as a physical therapist where I am charged with motivating the unmotivated.  Many people I see are living the consequences of choices they make and have made for many years (aren’t we all?).  The choice to be highly sedentary, to overfeed, over-drink, drug, smoke, fight, stress and live lives in denial, blame and lacking accountability (I’ve been here too!).  I am to wave my magic PT wand and in short order fix a lifetime of ills with absolutely no work or effort on the part of the patient.  I tell them it doesn’t work that way.

I field the derogatory comments almost daily about my (healthy) weight and fitness level and chuckle inside at the irony.  Let’s move on, I say and wonder what I can do to help.

I give them the idea:  if you want to get better at sitting in a chair then sit in a chair, if you want to get better at walking then you have to walk, walk, walk.  Then I tell them they can do it if they try.  Then we talk about hard work, perseverance, daily practice, repetition and in the end I am sure most find me terribly annoying.  People will only change if they want to and most do NOT want to be told how and definitely not by me.

So, I go home and focus on what inspires me.  Lately, it’s watching my kids grow and change, seeing my husband venture into new things and the twinge of excitement in his eye.  I wait nervously with friends about to do big things and am excited for others who have made big changes (and inspired me to mountain bike in the first place!)  I look forward to 2014 and the progress and new adventures that will come.  I’ve been making changes as a result of reading two books in 2013:  Eat and Run by Scott Jurek and Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.  Incredibly inspiring, check them out.

And I always look forward to each and every run and any chance to get on my mountain bike and spend time in the woods.

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Seashore Nature Trail 50k

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A year ago I swore I’d never run in an organized race.  I’ve since eaten those words and then some. Saturday I finished the Seashore Nature Trail 50k in Virginia Beach, VA.  Never say never.

I was terrified in the weeks and days prior to the race, afraid of not finishing, feeling like a fool.  I’d never run a marathon and my feet were killing me after two twenty mile training runs.  Things came to a head the day before the race when school called and my youngest was throwing up.  It’d been a rough and emotional week at work as they sometimes are and this was the icing on the cake.  It meant my work day would run late and I’d have to scramble to get from central VA to the beach in time for packet pick up Friday night and on top of that my family would have to stay at home.  I didn’t think they’d mind but they surprised me and their disappointment made it especially hard to leave.  I ran down the stairs with my sick daughter bawling, “No! Don’t go! Take me with you!”  Not easy.

But I woke up to the sound of the ocean and watched the sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay and made up my mind that I would finish the race, my only goal.  I expected to walk some, to take time at the aid stations, to eat plenty, drink enough and pay attention to what my body needed.  This wasn’t an ordinary race.  I planned to be out for the duration, the better part of the day and to take my time and enjoy it.

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As luck had it, my husband and three kids made it in time for the halfway point in the race and then came back for the end.  It was a gorgeous, 70 degree day, December 21st.  Amazing.

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Apparently I wandered around a bit at the halfway point, nibbled on this sandwich forever and chatted it up.

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I restocked,

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and dug through my drop bag while my husband got a shot of this lady “rolling her butt” which the kids thought was hilarious.  Then she offered me her stick.  I declined.  They were rolling.

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I guess I had a little chuckle too.

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Then I made sure I was going the right way.  I think this guy was checking to make sure I wasn’t too confused to run.  He’s thinking, just turn around lady and run back the way you came.

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Still confused and eating that stupid sandwich.

That was a little over halfway I think.  I don’t wear a GPS watch on purpose because I think it’d mess with my mind.  Staying oblivious is part of my strategy.  If I know too much it can be a death march but when I’m pleasantly surprised at the passing of time it’s a huge mental boost.

So was this sign:

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From that point on things were a blur but I remember asking at one point how much farther it was and the volunteer said, 2.5 miles!  One more mile to the aid station and then it’s 1.5 miles from there.  I said, “I’m so psyched!” and kicked it into gear.  Then I walked through the next aid station.  Then I ran.  I hooked up with a couple of runners near the end who really helped me finish strong.  You can see them at the finish line with me.  One even lives not far away in Ashland.

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And the kids ran with me to the finish!  So great.

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Finally the finish line, and a pat on the back from the guy from Ashland.  I didn’t realize that in the blur.  I like the volunteer wearing the same shoes as me.

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So happy.

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Sweet relief!  I finished in 5:57, the twentieth woman and eleventh in the masters age group so I can’t complain.  The number one and two women were both 47 years old!  I love that.  I took it very slow, knowing that going out too fast can be the kiss of death especially with such a long distance.  Maybe one day I’ll race for time but at this point it’s not my goal.

This wouldn’t have been the same run without such great support from family and the few friends I told.  I doubted myself in anticipation of the race but their belief in me was pretty astounding and really helped motivate me to suck it up and run even when I thought my feet wouldn’t let me.  I feel good afterward too, my feet feel better than before the race which proves how much my nerves had a hold of my mind and how much I needed my friends and family.

I know running isn’t for everyone and running distances longer than a marathon isn’t for every runner but running and training has taught me more about myself than any of my other personal pursuits.  And so, I’ll be on the lookout for another race.