Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Looking Forward

This time of year is always important for me. It's a time for spiritual renewal, for looking back over the past year's events, and looking forward to the unopened gifts of the coming year. With the dark, cold and snow it gets quiet outside, I have the cool air and gray skies to myself, people have mostly gone indoors, and it's a time for introspection, reflection, and quiet planning for what's ahead.

Solstice is when the light returns and I always think of January 1st as the first day of spring. This year we are lucky to have a blue moon. December 31 is the second full moon this month.

Since Across the Years is not happening this year it is important to carry out my tradition, which is to run in the new year. I will miss my running companions but they will be with me in spirit, in various places around the planet, doing the same.

I'm going to spend 12 hours of the holiday being upright and moving forward into the new year. No goal for miles, just move forward for 12 hours, listen to music, meditate, and celebrate being alive, the return of the light, give thanks for all the good in my life, and give thanks for all the difficulties which have really been opportunities for change and growth.

The way I always prepare for this is to make my list of meditations for the run. Things I want to focus on, things I want to change, and always in a spirit of gratitude. I am not sure where I'll run yet, I am so used to running in circles while I do this, but I'll find the right place, with a view of the big sky and the mountains.

Anyone can join me, on their own, in any place, at any time during the two days of December 31 and January 1. Run in circles, run a straight road, trail or path, or run on a treadmill. Just go. Move from one year to the next, with the energy and motion of being alive. If you do, write me a note and tell me what you did, and more importantly, what you learned.

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Global Warming?


Scientists have determined that the global warming phenomenon is caused by all the baby boomers who have finally reached menopause.

11 miles Thursday, then 20 miles with Catharine Friday on the bike path, 3 1/2 hours and change. Stopped once for a dry bra and shirt/jacket change, plus drinks and a few shot blocks. Ran the whole way. It was 18 degrees on our way out but the sun went behind the clouds and it felt cooler by the end of the run. Or maybe we were just tired and depleted.

I have been feeling a lot better the past week, each week is an improvement over the last. I started lifting weights again last week and as much as I don't like doing it, I know it will help me rebuild the upper body strength I need to get me through the long ultras again.

I'm working on rebuilding my health in all areas of my life, since August I've been in a hole and I have now crawled out of it, trying to find my way up here on the surface. I lost my way for a while there. Now I'm out of the vortex that was taking me down and I'm taking care of my needs in the present, which is allowing me to focus ahead so I can make the necessary changes to restore my well-being.

I needed to get back to running because it is my guide and my compass. There are a couple of major changes in the works in the near future. I have to fix the parts that are broken so I can fully pursue what I want. I've had some disappointment and frustration recently that have caused quite a bit of stress and I am ready to move forward and beyond.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results. When you have to constantly deal with insanity as the status quo, it can drive you insane.

All of this plus the stress of a sick family member, the difficulty sleeping, fatigue as a result of all this stress that throws my concentration off, along with the hormonal changes I'm going through. It's been a difficult time, but in a way it has been a gift to rearange priorities and get myself to realize I need to address things that are detrimental to my health and focus clearly on what's important.

We got a foot of snow and I took the Buffaloes out snowshoeing last Sunday. They loved it. Dennis and I are planning a trip to the Keys in May, we will relax on the beach after the race. It was 15 below earlier this week but in the coming week the temperature should hit the 50s. In Colorado it's always a surprise, from week to week.

The Fort Collins Running Club Tortoise & Hare 8K got changed to a 4K on the 6th, the morning of the Avogadro's breakfast. It was absolutely horrendous running conditions, blowing snow, a fierce wind chill, and frozen temperatures. I could feel my face freezing the whole time running in the east direction. About 20 poeple braved the cold, though, which was a nice turnout.

We've been cooking indoors more now that the weather is cold, and the girls have been enjoying the opportunity to participate, using their expertise in mashed potato tasting.

Crank up the heat and stay warm!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bright Side of Insomnia

This morning we woke up to this...

which expedited my Keys 100 entry into the mailbox!

The past week or two things have started to improve around here. Between working part-time now, a fun Thanksgiving day with running friends, and finally getting my butt out the door for a 24.5 mile run on Sunday after Thanksgiving, I am starting to feel like there is hope again.

The one thing that has not changed, and has gotten worse, is my insomnia. I love sleep, I love to sleep, I worship sleep. A little help for my low mood, brain fog, and irritability in the form of an SSRI over the past 2 weeks has been a huge help but it has made my sleep even worse. I figure if I am going to be sleep deprived, at least I am not feeling hopeless on top of it.

I spoke with one of the pulmonologists I work with who specializes in sleep disorders. He told me that he sees lots of women around my age in his office, and really hormones are the most effective thing. I am not a sleeping pill enthusiast and that would only be a quick fix. Since hormones will not be an option for me, I will have to work around it some other way.

He gave me some ideas for improving my sleep, like not going to bed so early, not lying in bed awake if I can't go back to sleep right away, and so on. I am considering getting a set of running clothes ready and going out with the Buffaloes for a middle of the night run if all else fails.

After my 24 1/2 mile run I felt like I am going to be okay to train for a 100 in the spring. I felt great, ran steady the whole way, very little walking at all. I ran up on the hills at Horsetooth and up and down in the foothills trails, and to and from home on the bike path.

I feel like I passed through the portal and I am on the other side of something, I can see daylight again. If I can improve on my sleep that would make things look so much brighter. But I will do what I have to do, I'll work with the body I have, and I'll make it work. Maybe I can finally get the motivation to work out with weights again, in the middle of the night. Maybe I'll write a few books, train for night ultras, clean out my closet, organize my life. The possibilities are endless...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back to Running

I ran two races over the past week. In the midst of feeling so bad lately, I have decided to make a goal run for the spring. I've all but decided on the Keys 100 in Florida in mid-May. November 1st is the beginning of training. Most years January 1st is the first day of spring for me when it comes to training. I needed a head start this year!

Sunday I ran the Tortoise & Hare 5K, a local Ft. Collins Running Club event, and felt horrible. The Tortoise & Hare running series is a handicap event, so everyone starts based on their predicted time, which results in everyone finishing close together. My predicted time for the series is based on what I was running 3 years ago. Not much comparison at all. This time I ran 27:26, which I think is my slowest time ever, for any 5K. As I dragged myself across the finish line, a good 2 minutes behind everyone else, I felt like for sure there is something wrong with me.

Monday through Wednesday I worked three days in a row, which I never do, and was completely exhausted by the third day, which turned into a 14 hour day, and had major brain fog and no energy for two days afterwards. I finally dragged myself out for a run with Cat Friday and we went slow.

Saturday morning I was signed up for the Heart Center of the Rockies half marathon, that finishes at Boyd Lake. I hoped it was a fluke that I ran so slow last Sunday and I felt like I should at least be able to manage that pace for a half marathon. I figured I could finish the half in less than 2 hours, and if I didn't, then I'd know for sure I am toast. Two years ago I ran it in 1:37. I didn't expect to be anywhere close to that time now.

I started the race with a co-worker who was running in his first race in many years. He used to run and compete in college and is about eight years younger than me. Last summer when he told me he wanted to sign up for the race I encouraged him to run it. He had been training well this fall until he hurt his foot and got the flu like so many other people. He hadn't run more than about 8 miles leading up to the race, and he was thinking around two hours for a finishing time.

He asked if I minded if he started with me, and I said sure, run with me as long as you like. I figured at some point he would get way ahead of me. We ran together the first 5 miles and I told him I was going to drop back because I needed to slow the pace down so I'd have something left in the last few miles. We started far back from the starting line, it took us 20 seconds to get to the actual start line, and two miles to get through the crowds of people so we could run with our normal strides.

He was running about 8 minute miles comfortably and I felt better at about 8:30 pace. I could see him ahead of me the whole time from 5 miles on, and he got quite a lead on me by about 9 miles. But then as we headed uphill after 9 miles, I could see I was gaining on him again and I passed him soon after 11 miles. I stuck with him for a short time, trying to encourage him to stay with me, but he was fading. Around 12 miles I took off ahead and ended up finishing a couple of minutes ahead of him.

I thought he did awesome, I'm not sure how he felt about his run but I was very impressed, considering he chose this as a first race. He could have picked something like a 5K. I know that if he had more training, I wouldn't be anywhere close to him. Great job, Eric!

I finished in 1:51. About 8:30 pace overall, but I felt better and ran faster the second half. Around 7 miles was when I felt myself starting to pick it up. And I ran the last 5K two minutes faster than last week's abysmal 5K, so that must have been a fluke.

It's good to have a baseline so you can measure your progress. A 1:51 half-marathon is my baseline. I have some work to do.

The Keys 100 will be hot and humid, and it's all asphalt, with little elevation gain and loss except for bridges. It goes from Key Largo to Key West. I'll have to prepare for the humidity by training in the steam room. Perfect for getting things primed for another run at Badwater the following year.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not Just LIKE An Ultra, This IS One...

And the gun must have gone off while I was having brain fog. This is my brain on wacked-out hormones. And this is how my brain feels during the day lately, most days.

This is Alene, emotions on speakerphone, these days feeling like she's losing her mind, her faculties, and her sanity. This is Alene who should buy stock in Kleenex. This is Alene approaching menopause, squarely in the thick of what's called perimenopause and the worst part of it.

Menopause is an ultra.

This blog is supposed to be about running, and running ultras. Women who read this will "get it" immediately. So I'm going to say a fast little apology to the male readers of this blog, just for a second, a quick whisper of "sorry" but guys, I'm not all that sorry, because it's relevant for you, too, if you have any women in your lives who are important to you.



Lately readers of this blog have noticed I've strayed from the topic of running. It's been difficult terrain for me for over a year, and worse the past two months. I've been struggling not only in running but all areas of my life and there's a reason.

I'm struggling to remember things. I have to write things down right away or they're gone. I can't multitask worth crap. I can't seem to process complex information coming at me in any form. I tried to sign up online for a class the other day and I was looking at the instructions on the screen, I stared at it, I knew it was in English and laid out in steps, 1,2,3,4, etc. but my mind could not make sense of it.

I'm overemotional about everything. And everything makes me cry. EVERYTHING. On the other side of that, I occasionally feel rage. Like I'm going to tear into something, scratch someone's eyes out, scream until my lungs blow out. Dennis made a joke about hiding all the knives in the house.

I feel transparent, like everyone can see me in all my emotions, naked and exposed to the world.

All of my buttons are visible and able to be pushed by the slightest breeze. And anyone in my life who intentionally tries to push my buttons gets a SUPERCHARGED response, usually preceded and followed by crying. And yes, there is at least one willing and eager button pusher out there.

My endocrinologist in Arizona warned me long ago that when I did hit perimenopause I would struggle. She said most women with thyroid problems have a harder time with the hormonal shifts of menopause. And that thyroid could be harder to manage during that time. Before I was diagnosed with Hashimotos one of the first things they thought was that it was early menopause.

While originally trying to get my thyroid regulated I can remember having horrible fatigue and brain fog, depression, mood swings, and feeling like I had someone else's brain. My original high-functioning, sharp version was temporarily dumbed down to something that couldn't even read an ordinary newspaper or magazine article, because by the time got to the last sentence of a paragraph, I couldn't remember what the first sentence said. I put off entering nursing school for several years until my thyroid was regulated with medication because I felt I couldn't learn. Fortunately once I got things back on track I was fine.

I've been shifting into this new gear for some time now, probably a couple of years, but there weren't any definite or consistent signs. Feeling brain fogged and having a hard time concentrating, I've also experienced with thyroid. Not sleeping well, that happens occasionally. Last fall I went through a few months of sleep problems and night sweats but they went away after I ran Across the Years. Strangely I slept better during that race and in the months afterward than I have in a while.

But at the end of this summer I started getting night sweats with a vengeance. Now it's almost every night. And then I got my first daytime hot flash a few weeks ago. And my menstrual cycle is all but impossible to predict. The best way to predict it? Sign up for a race. A big one, one that I train really hard for.

Time doesn't wait for you to feel better. You can't call into work because you didn't get enough sleep. You could once or twice, but you can't do that when it's happening every day. I work in a female-dominated profession and many of them don't even get it. Most of them are not there yet. Most of them will probably not be working at the bedside by the time they hit this phase of their lives.

One of the nurses I work with who is older than me has a magnet on her locker that says "I'm on my last nerve and you're getting on it!"

She gets it.

Another coworker said to me that she thinks I'm depressed. Well I'm not. It can get depressing when you feel like crap all the time from sleep deprivation and I do still (thankfully) have the presence of mind to understand that my brain's neurotransmitters are probably all screwed up due to sleep deprivation and low estrogen and all the other things going on in my body.

But I know what depression feels like and this is not it. It's not that I have lost my enthusiasm or interest, it's not that I want to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out. I am enjoying the company of my friends more than ever, things in my life are basically good, and I'm not in despair. I know there's a light at the end of this tunnel, there's a finish line, but it's a long way off.

I have the support of my husband. He's been so patient and understanding and his sense of humor gets me through the rough moments at home. The girls are perceptive enough to know when mom is crying or upset and they stare at me until I notice, then they come over and give me hugs, without my having to ask!

The point is, it's an ultra. If you're having a rough time, you have to at least consciously make a plan. Get from one aid station to the next, don't focus on anything else. Distract yourself. Be one with the pain.

This is a process. It's a long run, and there is a finish line. I will come out on the other side and I'll be better. While I'm in it, I need to keep moving forward, even though I'm uncertain, charting new terrain, and sometimes afraid. The finish line is out there, out of sight, but it is there. I keep moving toward it even if every step I take is such a small fraction of the distance I still need to cover. I know that many small steps make up a long ultra and will carry me there.

There aren't any quick fixes, and you can't drop out. I can try different things but there are no miracle cures and finding things that work won't happen overnight. People expect it to happen like that, but it doesn't. And there are few remedies other than hormone replacement therapy that have scientific evidence that they work to back them up. Black Cohosh, Estroven, Melatonin, Red Clover, say the alphabet, there are "cures" from A to Z and I could spend a ton of money and time trying them all. I will try a few. With my sister's history of breast cancer, I'm not going the HRT route.

Instead I am working on a plan. It's sketchy so far, imperfect, but it's evolving.

First, one day at a time. That's all I can do.

A few things I can look forward to: I'm looking forward to getting back on track with running and I just ordered a pair of snowshoes given our early winter dump of a foot of snow. I am enthusiastic about training for ultras again in 2010 and doing miles with my running friends. I signed up for the Old Pueblo 50 in Arizona in March.

Get back on a regular running and training schedule with a goal. No high mileage or performance goals here. Just get out and do it. Make myself go out every day I'm not at work doing a 12 hour shift, even if I don't feel like it.

Cut out unnecessary sources of stress and fatigue. Set limits with the button-pushers and energy-suckers.

Work on ways to relax and remove distracting thoughts like work and other stressors from my mind whenever I'm going to sleep or need to go back to sleep.

Take some supplements like calcium, vitamins, and omega 3 and take the time to cook healthy meals for us. I used to love to cook. Now I will have more time to do that. Try a few of the so-called natural remedies, one at a time, see if they help.

Work on creative pursuits, writing and painting, and other fun stuff that comes up. For example, I met a woman on the flight back from Sacramento who is a spoken word poet from Chicago. She reminded me, among other things, of how I used to dabble in writing poetry and a few of my poems were ideal for spoken word. I'll have to go back and see if any sparks can fly. To dramatize the words and express my emotions creatively in a safe place, might be good therapy for those really bad days.

Read some new books to open my mind to new and different ideas to get the ideas circulating through my brain.

Get together with friends on a regular basis for social purposes and to talk, other than running. A number of my friends are going through this too. We can help each other.

Until next time...

Friday, October 16, 2009

New & Improved, 33% More

Last week I hit bottom. It was a bad week all around, and we got a sudden cold snap with ice and snow that made all the leaves dry up and fall off the trees within a few days. Then the wind came and blew the remaining leaves around and now we have fall, without the beautiful lasting colors.

I didn't sleep through the night for about 2 weeks straight. Finally last night I slept 12 hours, straight through. I worried for a minute when I woke up, it was 8:30 and I thought I overslept or forgot an appointment. But I didn't.

Today I got out for a mid-day run with Cat, and we did run about an hour at lunchtime for stress relief. We are very excited about getting our entries in for the Old Pueblo 50 early next spring near Tucson. I haven't run that one since 2003 and it used to be one of my favorites.

My mileage hit bottom last week too, with just one 6 mile run for the entire week. My energy has been so poor lately, yesterday I got out with the intent to do 6 miles and after 2 I started walking back to my car. I couldn't do it, my insides felt so heavy. Taking The Buffaloes for walks has been a challenge, I feel like I'm carrying this big weight and no matter how much the girls pull me, it's not enough to go forward.

In another 3 weeks I will officially be working part-time and I hope that after a few months of that I will feel like I am recovering and my life has more balance. I can be a mom to The Buffaloes again. I'll be the New and Improved Mom of Buffaloes, 33% more Mom time. That will be awesome.

Rebuilding my running mileage, starting to lift weights again, and restoring my enthusiasm are just a few more things I look forward to.

Tomorrow is the run around Boulder Reservoir and I am tempted to do it, but not planning on it. Lately what I've been wanting to do is get out all day one day, and listen to my music, and move forward until late into the night. Maybe I can do that before the holidays.

Friday, October 9, 2009

When the wheels come off...

This blogpost is not exactly about running, but it is so much about running without actually running.

"You must unlearn what you have learned"
- Yoda

"Hell is other people"- Jean-Paul Sartre

When the wheels come off, follow your own compass.

And start driving a tank.

That's about the only way to describe my past week. It's been overloaded, and by Wednesday my wheels were coming off in a big way.

I have always followed my own inner compass, my own light, the thing that guides me. Some people call it God, whatever it is, I follow it. I try to keep my head screwed on straight and I try not to let other people's "stuff" influence me.

Somehow lately I've lost my way, I've been distracted by a bunch of things, I feel vulnerable, and I seem to have gotten way off course. I need to find my compass again!

No human is perfect and no one knows the answers. Anyone who thinks they know the answers is way more screwed up than any of us admittedly screwed up people.

I adore my friend Chris. He is an ultrarunner, a nurse, an absolutely amazing fantastic, compassionate, understanding, nonjudgmental, generous human being, and he has the guts to admit his own weaknesses while following his own compass. He got me through this week and helped me find the compass I dropped in the deep wet grass and leaves and new snow we've been having the past two days.

Actually, if I had been running all this time and was still putting energy into doing ultras, I would probably be much more centered and able to clearly focus on the direction my inner compass is pointing.

I can't really go into the specifics, and it has nothing to do with running. Someone I care for is hurting and I can't do anything about it, and I got lost in it, and I need to back off and do my own thing.

After losing your way, losing the feel for boundaries, getting wrapped up in things beyond a point where it's healthy, you need your most trusted friends to bounce things off of, and get their feedback, to help you get back on track. Everyone else can weigh in but pretty soon you get lost in the blah, blah, blah and everyone's opinions and prejudices.

And people can be downright harsh and judgmental especially when they feel the least bit threatened by something they don't understand at all. It's really amazing how people you would expect to have empathy can have so very little. I wanted to drown out their noise, stick my fingers in my ears like the crazies on the political talk shows do and go "lalalalalalalalalalala".

Instead I spoke with three people I trust to be nonjudgmental since yesterday, including Chris, and that was so helpful. And that's all. I'm on my way back with my compass, but I'm driving a tank. I'll need it for protection when I go back and have to be in the middle of all the blah, blah, blah...

In the midst of all this, I haven't run. I worked four out of five days, busy, stressful days, and between that and the emotional burden of all this "stuff", I have been unable to sleep well and haven't been able to face my running shoes.

So yesterday, when I needed a good think and a good cry and some time alone, I went over to the environmental learning center and walked on the trails, in my clogs, risking my ankles, but I needed it. No one else was around.

There were big, low, gray puffy clouds that were off and on dumping sleet down on me, and the reds and golds of the trees in the dry meadows of tall grass were all so brilliant against the sky, I couldn't breathe, taking it all in, the intensity of the colors and how I felt, and the cold breeze with the wet snow coming down, it was like a psychedelic trip with all my senses and feelings!

And somehow as I walked that little place in the back of my brain started to click and things started to unravel and become clear and my compass appeared again. And some of the kinks began to straighten out.

And without even trying, the knots continued to unravel today. Still no energy to run, but I'm doing better. Maybe I will sleep tonight. Maybe I will run tomorrow.

I will run tomorrow.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I went to Arizona last week and got back Tuesday. Things are okay, dad is doing well, he has a lot of information and lifestyle modifications to consider, but otherwise doing quite well. There isn't much new information, and there isn't much exciting happening here.

It was weird to be in Arizona again. I enjoyed the heat, but I ran on the Arizona canal every day and it's the same flat gravel hard surface, the view only changes if you change directions from west to east. I can't say I miss it. The weather gets nicer in the winter, but quality of life is so much better here.

I feel like I'm on a plateau now. Things have leveled out, there's a certain amount of "stuff" I'm dealing with, trying to get a balance back in my life somehow, dealing with the fatigue that hasn't left me. I can't say I'm depressed because I certainly don't feel despair, and I don't feel a lack of enthusiasm. I just don't have much energy and running feels very slow and stagnant.

I saw two runners today on the bike path, both moving along at a good pace, looking light on their feet, and I felt like a pile of clay, peeling my legs one at a time over and over off the concrete path. I wish I could feel lightweight like that again. I'm only doing 25 miles this week, down from 30 and 40 the previous two weeks. I want to run, but I don't have the energy. I feel like I'm carrying a huge weight but it's not a physical weight. It's that feeling of needing to let out a big sigh, that empty, weighted down feeling in your gut when things aren't right.

Plateaus are something that athletes experience in their training, they get stagnant from doing the same workout routine over and over again. They make their gains, and then they reach a point where progress is so slow it's imperceptible. That's when they need to change things.

I am actively searching for a change. It will lead me down off the plateau or up another mountain, I'm not sure which, but these days I need to take it one day at a time and keep my eyes and ears open. Eventually I'll come to the end of the plateau and I'll see something that looks more like this:

Monday, September 21, 2009

One Step at a Time

I'm headed back to Arizona again this week. I had not planned to go back so soon, not until the holidays, but some things have come up and I need to go.

The road is long and stretches out far ahead of you, but you never know what's around the next curve. I have said it before, life is an ultra, and sometimes you find yourself looking at this:

But there's always a way to climb over it.

I wrote earlier about how I'm looking forward to going part-time at my job, I've felt fatigued and it's been affecting my entire life. I got the news last week that my dad is facing some health challenges and I'm going to Arizona to support him and my stepmom. Dad has a type of chronic leukemia and he's most likely had it for some time, but just found out.

I always wondered why he got so many colds. He takes good care of himself, eats well, exercises frequently, works out with a personal trainer and runs about 30-40 miles a week on his treadmill, and is a young 67, just started a new business, and has more energy than I have most days.

What's scary about this is that he's vulnerable to infections. That's what worries me most, being the ICU nurse who sees all the septic patients who come through. I'm scared he'll end up in a hospital.

He's going to have to make some lifestyle changes, mostly with regards to stress reduction.

We could all learn from that.

People reach a point where they realize their parents are aging, and my dad has always seemed so young to me. I've thought about it before, but always brushed it aside. Now it's like a giant cliff that can be scaled but needs to be approached cautiously, and there's always the danger of falling, or losing ground in the sand.

Last week I made the mistake of going to work after getting this news, and not having time to process it. It was the day from hell. It was almost traumatizing to be there, ICU is not the place you want to be when you're trying deal with your own personal life-and-death issues! I ended up taking the next two days off, and I've been running trails in the foothills trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings.

My dad has always been there for me, even in my worst moments, someone to admire and look up to, someone who believes in what he is doing and works hard and spent years building the business he was so proud of. It wasn't always easy and we didn't always agree, but he never let me down. We have a lot in common, we are both driven, high energy, focused people. He's improved with age, become more sensitive, more empathetic, more aware of the value of differences between people. My stepmom has been a positive influence on his life and all of us.

I didn't know about this when I asked to cut my work hours back, but now I'm glad I did and I intend to use the time to make more frequent trips to Phoenix, regardless of my dad's health status, which I feel will take a positive turn as he takes steps to manage it. Knowledge is power.

It's an odd feeling, knowing this, like running through sand. Somehow it gives you strength, even though the footing isn't secure. Life is short, we are all mortal, love while you're here, give thanks for all of the gifts in your life, learn to recognize the gifts. Be kind at every opportunity, and forgive yourself when you're less than perfect, because none of us are perfect.

Keep moving forward, and you'll find a way over the cliff and down the other side, where the road resumes. I am reminded of the quote on the back of the Badwater 2003 race t-shirt.

"as I have always held it a crime to anticipate evils, I will believe it a good comfortable road until I am compelled to believe differently"
-Meriwether Lewis, May 26, 1805

Monday, September 14, 2009

Paatuwaqatsi Run

Water is life.

I run in reverence for all living things. In our prayers, may we always remember that water is life. That is the quote on the t-shirt for the Paatuwaqatsi Run.

Katy and I went to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona this past weekend to do this 50K run. The weekend, it was an ultra event in itself.

We drove nearly 15 hours each way. Katy and I have both been stressed and fatigued lately for various reasons, and I can't even count the number of times we looked at each other during the weekend and didn't have to say the thing that was running through both of our minds: "Are we insane?"

If we had been in our twenties, maybe it wouldn't have been hard to drive so far on either side of such a long, tough run. But we had no regrets. The only thing we both agreed we'd do differently if we came back to run it again, was that we'd take the time to split the driving up into at least 2 days each before and after the race.

Allow me to go off on a tangent here. Just last week I made a decision to go part-time at work as of November. I have been exhausted all the time, I don't recover between 12 hour shifts, I never get enough sleep, and it affects my entire life outside of work, because I'm so tired that everything I do on my days off feels like a chore. Including running.

I spend 2 days of my week recovering from doing my three 12 hour shifts, and I don't feel like I'm able to live my life the way I want to when I'm brain fogged and feel like a slug. Furthermore, I'm not getting paid to recover. I feel like I'm being used up in so many ways, it feels like I've aged 10 years in the past three. I can't continue to do this or I'll burn out, and I don't want to burn out on nursing. I went into it so I could do it for a long time, even if only part-time. After just 3 years, I'm there.

So last week I talked to my boss, and I am going to start doing just two 12 hour shifts a week, since there are no 8 hour shift options in my job.

Neither of us slept much the night before we left. Katy drove down from Cheyenne Friday morning and we left my house at 5:30 am. We kept each other awake, switched off driving, and eventually made it through the horrible roads in New Mexico and through the traffic jammed town of St. Michaels, Arizona, where we didn't realize that the 63rd annual Navajo Nation Fair was going on. The main highway through town was a parking lot with the streets lined with trucks and people setting up tents, selling mutton stew and Navajo tacos, and general chaos.

Eventually we reached the Hopi Cultural Center in Second Mesa where we stayed the night and did get a good night's sleep before the race.

To describe this run like a standard running report would diminish the uniqueness of this event. To say that it was a difficult, challenging course, one that took us nearly 9 hours to complete, that it was hot, that there were aid stations nearly every two miles, that there were people along the course not just in the villages but out in remote places, cheering us on, in their native language, that it was well marked to the point where we never once got lost or even questioned the route in 30 miles of remote, mostly single track trails or across the tops of mesas on slickrock, all that is not enough to describe the beauty and spirit of this run.

Most of the run was on soft, deep sand, on trails across high desert, pinon juniper forests, and over cliffs and mesas with rocky, narrow ledges and stone steps that have been around longer than any of our White ancestors have been on this continent.

Ruins of old stone buildings were on the edge of every cliff.

Thanks to the Hopi people for allowing us to run through these remote and sacred places, to see their ancient villages and springs.

"It is not a race," Bucky Preston reminded us as we stood at the unmarked starting line. There were a handful of runners doing the ultra, no more than 30, I'm guessing. Most people were running the relays of 5-10 mile legs.

Bucky has been a long distance runner for many years. He told us to remember that water is life, for all living things depend on it, and to pray for rain. He told us the meaning of what the Hopi men and women would say, which I cannot remember now. The men would say something that sounded like "Qua Que" and the women would say something that sounded like "Paa-Squal-e", that I think meant "go on, go on".

Note: According to Woofie, they were saying "KwaKway"..."It means thank you and many other things in Hopi. A man uses KwaKway, a woman Asquali." Thanks for the clarification, Woofie.

Before we started Bucky's father came to the starting line and said a prayer. The sunrise was pink and purple and we were in the shadow of the ancient village of Walpi, atop the cliffs, overlooking the village of Tewa, closest to where we started.

And we were off.

Katy and I had the unusual distinction of having runner numbers One and Two. How we got those, we have no idea. Maybe we were the first two to sign up? I pointed this out early in the run, as we stumbled across the first mile of deep sand and mud-caked stream crossings. I said, "Remember Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat?" I told her we look like Thing One and Thing Two, in our goofy running hats with our bulky packs, navigating our soon to be sunburned, tired bodies up and down the thousands of little sandy hills over the course.

We arrived at the first aid station at 4 miles in about 50 minutes and we knew it would be a long day, but we came for the scenery and the experience, and we didn't care how long it took. We figured at first that it shouldn't take us more than 7 hours.

We both had nearly a gallon of water and plenty of food, and rain jackets, we were told to carry everything we needed, and we had no idea what to expect out there on the course. It was 83 degrees when we arrived at 6 pm the previous day, so we knew it could get hot, and it was. There were no clouds in the sky until late in the day, we saw approaching thunderheads in the east, but they never got close.

As it turned out there were aid stations all over the course, some only a mile apart. They all had bottled water and snacks, and a few had cold water. I still drank everything I carried with me. It was hot in the afternoon, it might have hit 90, but there was usually a breeze when we were up on the mesas and it never felt bad to me, but then I feel better when it gets hot.

Don Meyer, one of the volunteers at Badwater who is an ultrarunner I know from Arizona and Across the Years, was there, volunteering at this event. We saw him at 6 miles and then several times later in the run. He was cheering for us as we approached the second aid station, and it was so great to see him. Every time I see Don, he is helping someone.

We climbed up the mesa to the village of Walpi, on narrow stone steps with some exposed places, that had been there for hundreds of years, the village was built in the 1600s, and the old stone buildings are still there. The view from the top is amazing, over the buttes and mesas and toward the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

After we came down from Walpi, we hit the 8.5 mile aid station, and 2 hours and 35 minutes had gone by since the start. Katy and I looked at each other. It was going to be a LONG day.

We descended into the village of Wepo, and the course took an interesting little loop to Coyote Spring, the first of a half dozen or more sacred springs. I didn't include pictures of the springs or the village of Walpi because these are sacred places and generally White people do not go there, and photographs are discouraged in these places.

We climbed a long, hot, sandy ascent to the next mesa and descending the other side was scary and exposed. There was a narrow crack in the rocks and then a narrow ledge with a long drop-off below. We took off our packs to make it across the scary part. When we dropped down there was a White woman with an aid station, near a spring under the rocks. There was 8 foot tall grass, and people coming through. This was the start of a 9 mile loop on the course. The fastest runners were already coming through at 22 miles as we were getting there at 13 miles.

It was amazing to us how slow the pace was, because we were running. We found early in the run that it was much easier and faster to run through the sand instead of walking. But it was slow, and we were taking our time and taking pictures, too. We stopped four or five times to dump sand out of our shoes. I had lumps of sand underneath my toes and under the ball of my foot.

We got water at 13 miles, but it was only 2 miles until another major aid station, above an arroyo with old stone buildings. Don was there again, cheering for us. They had ice-cold water, pretzels, trail mix, gels, gatorade, potatoes, oranges, bananas, pretty much everything you could ever want at an aid station.

We climbed another mesa and saw an amazing spring up there, descended stone steps into it, and there were stone walls built around it. Many of the springs were like this, and a few were dry with only the steps and walls remaining. The water dripped from the ceiling of rock, like a cave. It formed a pool that was deep and full of green algae and plants.

Being out on the course, on those sandy trails, there was a feeling about the place, a calm and peace that I don't experience too often any more when I'm running, mostly because there is too much going on. There are other people, sounds of cars, airplanes, traffic, city noises, hunters, whatever it is. Out here at Hopi there was none of that. Except for the aid stations and the people greeting us along the way, we were out there and there was nothing else. It felt sacred. The Hopi people were thanking us along the way, but I was thanking them, for giving us the opportunity to be there.

We passed through the 20 mile aid station and got our last cold water, and then at 22 miles we met the woman at the loop again. This time we stopped to dump out our shoes and talked with her. Turns out she's a nurse at the Hopi Health Center and I talked with her about it. She loves it up there. I asked her what services they offer there, and what the Hopi people's greatest needs were, and she told me they were hiring! After we left, I told Katy, "I should have asked if they work 8 hour shifts!"

I have done my share of time living in remote places, and I don't want to live like that anymore, but I can understand the appeal of living there and doing that. One of those ideas to stick in the far corners of my mind.

We climbed up the mesa again and crossed the top for about 3 miles on slickrock. The views went forever. We could see a huge thunderhead with lightning off in the distance over the Navajo Reservation. But it was clear and dry and hot on the course.

When we reached the last aid station, they told us it was 5 miles to the end. We went by two more springs, but the last few miles were more sandy hills. We laughed at the last mile. Someone designed this course to be unrelenting. We descended the last mesa below Walpi and a woman yelled "Paa-Squal-E" to us several times, at the top of her lungs.

When we finished, it was about 8 hours and 45 mintues after we started. We sat down with Don, and we ate the delicious blue corn tamales and watermelon at the post-race meal. They gave us prizes, too, which we did not expect at all. Katy got a mug with a Hopi design on it. I got a glass box with another Hopi design.

We got in the car afterwards and headed to Gallup where we spent the night, and finished the final 10 hour drive on Sunday.

I don't know if I'll do the run again. It was certainly worth the experience. Even with the long torturous drive, it was well worth it. It was probably the toughest 50K run I'll ever do. Mile for mile it was a difficult as Badwater, for different reasons- because of the sand, climbs, heat, and carrying so much in the pack to be self-sufficient.

I might find myself wanting to go back by a year from now. But I'll decide then. I do know that this run was exactly what I needed at this time in my life. I am so glad I did it when I did, because this weekend I got even more validation that the decision I made about cutting back my work hours was the right thing to do. More about that later.