Scatter my ashes here...

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Square Peg, meet Round Hole"

This post is about my philosophy of running*, but it is also my own personal philosophy on life, because running is such a major part of my life and who I am. I wrote a blogpost a little over 10 years ago here which described my philosophy of running at that point, in 2008, when I was 44, and just starting multiday running.

You'll have to read the whole post below in order to grasp my philosophy, because I don't really sum it up until the end. The in-between and getting there is sort of like an ultra.

My philosophical outlook hasn’t changed dramatically, but it has expanded as a result of a rich array of running and life experiences I have had since then, and I have moved into a different phase of my running life, career, obsession, or whatever you want to call it.

If you want a glimpse into what makes me run- my brain, my thought process, how I navigate the world, and how I see it, read on. This post has turned out to be a short book, don’t feel you have to read it in one sitting. Disclaimer: I’m sure you’ll be offended at some point. If you are, call the WAAAH-MBULANCE. I’m off duty.

What keeps me going forward?

Running and sport is a microcosm of the world we live in, with all its imperfections and exhilaration, joy and pain, nice people and assholes. It’s as much a part of my life as sleeping, eating, and breathing.

Running gives me a chance to do two opposing things- 1. to clear my mind and lose my concerns and worries, and 2. solve problems, think clearly, create, and examine things from different angles.

Running doesn’t change who I am, but it fits perfectly with my personality and what drives me. It contributes to creativity of expression through writing and in painting, though the painting has fallen off the cliff over the past decade.

First, a brief look back at highlights

As of January 2019, I have been a runner for 35 years, 28 of which I have been an ultrarunner.

I have accomplished a few good performances in my lifetime. I’m not superfast, but I’ve had some performances that I worked very hard for and I am happy about them and proud of my efforts and results. I am probably past the days where I’ll win races or set PRs again, but that is not why I run, so I find new ways to challenge myself and find satisfaction in my running.

My most memorable races include some where I performed well, and others where the conditions or presence of other people made the experience. I’ll list them here and why:

1992 Set Colorado State record for road 100Km at the Colorado Springs 100K. It was a USATF certified course, too, a packed dirt urban trail. I ran 9:37:25, and I don’t know if that’s ever been surpassed- it might still be a record. And it wasn’t a fluke…had consistency as in 1994 I ran within 6 minutes of that time on the same course, 9:43:04.

2007-2008 Across the Years 48 hour run first getting to know my friend Lisa Stranc Bliss. She's someone I love and admire, and I value her wisdom and kindness.

Badwater 2008- a fun experience where I learned to seriously run through foot pain and emerge from the puke free zone and finish the race.

2010 Keys 100- I love the ocean and turquoise water, and this was 100 miles of it. So pretty you don’t even notice you’re on the road, except for when you step on retread chunks during the night and think you stepped on a gator. My friend Mike Melton crewed me and my friend Bob Becker was race director. One of my most fun, memorable runs. And I met my friend Beth McCurdy there for the first time. I love her.

2010 Lean Horse 100- That was the most beautiful night ever, the stars were bright under the long shadows of ponderosa pine, and I ran for a long time with Fuzz McPherson and we had a great conversation, and my friends Doug and Marji Nash did a fantastic job of crewing for me. I can remember listening to music, feeling like dancing under the night sky and it was a truly magical experience.

2011 Lake Okeechobee 118- I actually DNFed at 114 miles because it was taking me so long- I had diarrhea from something I ate, my electrolytes were way off and I couldn’t move without cramping. Plus I had to catch my flight the next morning and we might not have made it back to Ft. Lauderdale in time at the rate I was moving. Plus I would have been gator bait. Bob Becker and Phil Rosenstein crewed me, and Mike Melton was race director. Thanks to Bob, I learned about Preparation H wipes- no runner should race without them- and how to recognize gator eyes on the water in the middle of the night.

Badwater Road Double 2011- the crew made it. My crew was amazing. That was so fun. Every. Single. Step. Again, phenomenal nighttime running and blow-your-mind vistas during the day.

2012 Mickelson Trail 1.5 not a race- it was a 5 day adventure run with my friend Ed Green. We ended being self-supported at the last minute and toughed it out and finding burgers and beer along the way helped immensely.

2013 Spring North Coast 24 hour-the weather was horrendous- snow blowing sideways, the cold wind coming off Lake Erie, freezing one side of your face and then the other, the course being overrun with sand, and then missing 100 miles by one mile but still winning. There’s nothing quite like running 99 miles in 24 hours.

2014 Fall North Coast 24 hour nationals- the weather was horrendous but hiding out from the storm in the portapotties with Andy Lovy in the middle of the night and laughing about it. And having such horrible blisters that I only made 80 miles. I hung out with Beth McCurdy, we shared a hotel room, and we both dropped in the middle of the night because we were trashed.

Cornbelt 24 hour 2014- Running a 24 hour PR of 112.3 miles at age 50. I was very happy about it- I trained hard.

There are many, many more fun experiences I’ve had and with many people in my running circles. But those are the ones that stand out. Pretty much every Across the Years run has been over the top enjoyable and fun, and the people made it that way. I’d have to say that is my favorite of all.

Badwater was also a big part of my life for many years, and the runners and staff had a huge influence on my experiences there, I met many great human beings there, and a few unsavory ones! The years of crewing and pacing and working on the medical team were equally fun and great learning experiences.

I might be missing a few, which will come to me, I’m sure, after I finish this post.

But running is so much bigger than a few experiences or fast performances. Those are not what make you, it is the whole, the total of the experience, which for me is about the outdoors, the environment, the challenge, the people, the learning, the growth, and the healing.

Round Peg, meet Square Hole

My basic philosophy of life is that everyday is an adventure. I was originally born and raised in an environment of mostly Eastern European and Russian Jewish descendants and on the mid-Atlantic east coast of the United States. Which means I naturally tend to point out things in a deprecating way that is intended to be humorous. A lot of people don’t get that type of humor unless they grew up in the northeast U.S. or have spent a lot of time around people who are from there.

So, if you’re not from those parts, don’t think I’m a grumbling negative person, because if I was, I would never have survived as an ultrarunner, or done the things I have done in my life. People from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia get it. I point shit out in a critical voice, but I’m also seeing the positives and humor in that shit!

People are awesome, but they suck, too. We’re all in this crazy world together and we haven’t done a very good job of supporting each other to navigate this life with less difficulty. We really do make it harder on each other than it needs to be.

Over the years I’ve been called irreverent, immature, insane, idealistic, impossible. Perhaps some of that is all true. Meanwhile I have learned, through the school of hard knocks, not to associate myself with those with bad intentions, those who are mean or self-hating, and people who have ineffectual responses to the world because of their own shortcomings (lack of empathy, lack of self-examination, being in denial, unwillingness to laugh at themselves, or irrational fear of losing something they think they are entitled to) which manifest in stealth or overt attacks on others.

I can fit in some places, but I never fit quite right, and I have no desire to expand into those tightly fitting corners that would restrict my movement. I can never fill all the expectations and I sure as hell don’t want to! There’s always room to move around. I like it that way. I declare myself a round peg in a square hole. I can get out when I need to. It’s better than the other way around-the proverbial square peg getting stuck in a round hole.

In pretty much every aspect of my life, I've never fit squarely in a category, even though I may appear to be, on the surface. Being different, that alone makes you question shit, makes you smarter, and thinking about your survival. And it can be dangerous for the person who is different, physically, mentally, emotionally, and in other ways too- mostly because you appear to be dangerous- a lot of very insecure people get very scared when you start challenging their assumptions.

I refuse to be a drone, or a Stepford person, or a deferential, acquiescent, watered down version of myself just to minimize strife and keep other people happy and undisturbed in their comfortable place, which often serves them poorly as they enable the predators in this world who rely on their deference. It is in the interest of those who want to maintain their power, privilege, status, and wealth to oppress everyone else so they don’t take away even a tiny piece of that power, privilege, status and wealth.

I don’t put up with people who suck the energy and life out of me. I don’t put up with toxic people. I have cut them out of my life. When I encounter them, I no longer pursue interactions or relationships. It’s not worth the suffering. It’s not my responsibility- I am not a charity organization for people with poor social skills. I refuse to coddle or enable.

I derive motivation from the things that piss me off, the things that drive me to persist, be different than the mainstream, and stick to my ways even when occasionally they are so at odds with the way the world works, that they can be painful.

That’s me. Want to know what drives me in running? Fasten your seatbelts and helmets for the long ride, and bring a snack.

What drives me to run?

I love moving forward on my feet. There is something rhythmical, musical, and magical that appeals to my brain and the neurotransmitters that are involved in pleasure. It might be the same phenomenon that results in a dog hanging its head out the window, enjoying the feeling of the air blowing by?

I used to be competitive at times, but not all the time. When I decided to be serious about training, I would put the effort in, but not for every event. I enjoyed running races for fun as much as the ones where I wanted to compete. Part of my inconsistency when I was younger was trying to figure out what was going on with my body, before I knew I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. But even after I got that worked out, I was an occasional competitor. I ran hard when I felt like it.

When I wanted to perform well or had a goal, I viewed the race as a job. I’d go into it with the attitude of, “I have a job to do.” That’s what I would focus on. It usually worked.

Looking back, I realize that I had potential that I never lived up to- when I was running my fastest, I would have been potentially able to compete at a much higher level, but it was not something I worried about at the time- I had other things on my mind, I was in graduate school, starting a career, and it wasn’t an obsession. I think it would have been interesting to see, for example, how many miles I could have run in 24 hours around age 30, when I was at my fastest. But that train has left the station.

Running appeals to me because it helps me get outside, escape, see beautiful places, enjoy solitude, and be either inside or outside of my own head, depending on what I need at the moment. There was a thrill and personal reward in running PRs and even winning races, but it wasn’t what I truly sought from running.

I so didn’t care, that there were many times when I was close to winning a race, but I never bothered to look at the stats or find out how close my competitors were. With a little extra effort I could have improved my standing, sometimes enough to be in first place, but it didn’t cross my mind. I was having too much fun in the moment. At a couple of times, I have driven some of my more competitive friends and crew members crazy from that.

I have often avoided people who like to talk shop- runners who love to obsess about statistics and who are the fastest runners, and who set records, and so on. I just don’t care to fill my mind with that. One of my longtime, best running friends does that all the time and I love her but I just can’t focus on those conversations.

I really don’t care what the fastest runners are doing- what they wear, how they train, what they eat, and over the years, I’ve observed that more often than not, they disappear from the scene as fast as they show up. Intense training leads to quick burnout, injuries, or a fast return to whatever dysfunctional compulsion got them into running in the first place.

The competitive, winner-take-all, first place is everything, traditional (and male, I might say) sporting world view misses out on so much. The depth of experiences and stories of individuals are lost. So much history escapes ever being known. The idolatry disappears everyone else into the mist. That’s why women’s experiences and accomplishments in sport were lost for so many years, and still are shortchanged- because of that worship of the biggest, fastest, richest, winningest, egotisticalest…

As far as my own future in competition, I realize that my days of setting PRs and winning races are largely over. That’s fine. The thing I am struggling with is how to move forward with running ultras when I can no longer put the time and energy into running that I used to. There are too many other things in life that are enjoyable and I’m not willing to make training feel like a full-time job anymore, even for short periods of time.

I don’t have a bucket list of races I want to do. I have done all the ones I wanted to, with one exception- I still want to do a 6 day race, preferably at Across the Years, among friends. I want to do it without destroying my feet, so that I can enjoy the time out there. I know my feet will hurt, but I need to make sure the skin is intact enough for 6 days that I can stay upright on them.

That is the problem I currently need to solve- I need to figure out how to make this work, to get ready for a 6-day without suffering through it, but not spending all my time training. I don’t really need to perform at any level. I can do whatever I want. I can run one mile a day if I want. I just need to fully come to terms with that and find what satisfies me and then I’ll do it. I can tell you right now I ‘m not going to be satisfied with one mile a day. I’m thinking more like 50 or so a day. Not sure if that’s even realistic at this point, but if running 270 miles in 5 days in Death Valley in July was possible, I think 300 miles on the flats might be.

What I’ve learned in the past decade

Over the past 10 years I feel like I have gained a deeper appreciation of my ultra experiences and what they've taught me. When I talk to runners younger than me in races, I hear them struggling with the same thoughts and questions that I have answered for myself over the years. They will find their answers, too. It’s a never-ending cycle of discovery and learning.

Ultrarunning as a sport has changed dramatically since 30 years ago. It’s good that it’s become a more well-known, accepted and recognized sport. More laypeople understand what the term “ultra” means if you use it in casual conversation, we don’t end up having to explain the whole “a marathon is 26 miles and an ultra is anything longer” followed by the shock and awe of the idea landing, quite as often as we used to.

Now there are so many people in the sport, and so many ultras! Still, certain ones remain extremely popular and “lottery” entries have replaced just sending in your application and entry fee. Many of the lotteries are highly secretive and are not true lotteries, allowing a large number of preferred entrants- for various reasons- into the race. Some of the ultra entry fees have gotten expensive, too.

I no longer enjoy the big races. The long-established ultra races seem to have deteriorated into circuses. There is a lot of money, sponsorship, and publicity and other intangibles that go along with these events. These days it feels like you’re at a major urban marathon with a huge race expo and you walk away with a bag full of little plastic trinkets with the race logo emblazoned on them, and all the sponsors.

I see people expecting to be served and given all the comforts, expecting to receive some material return for just existing or being there, the commercialization and materialism of many races and events. Remember Wayne’s World in the 80s, how they mocked corporate sponsors? That look- plastered with logos- has become the norm.

One of the nice things about ultras, even at the big ones, is the social scene around each race, a basic family atmosphere establishes itself and the runners come to rely on each others’ presence to maintain that. Newcomers are welcome, and after a couple of times they work into the fabric of the social network of the race.

When you have conversations with the runners and get to know them, and follow up year after year, it’s so fun. They become part of a family- your Across the Years family, Badwater family, Colorado family, whatever experience it is that you share. Social media has allowed us to stay in touch better when we are not at the events.

I love the personalities- gregarious and friendly, grumpy and curmudgeonly, the stories they share, and the depth of consideration and thought. Some of the best conversations occur on the ultra courses. It’s the shared humanity- you realize that there are other people who think deeply about things. Sometimes you wonder about people in the world- if they are as shallow as they seem. But I’ve hardly ever thought that about ultrarunners.

The physical, mental, planning and anticipatory challenges, the execution of your running plan and experience, and even afterward, make ultrarunning one of those things where you are constantly learning from experience, making mistakes and sometimes repeating them (the lessons will be repeated until they are learned) and mastering certain aspects of running. Old people keep going back to ultras because we forget how much it hurt last time!!! Actually, I think it hurts less in a lot of instances, the older and wiser you get.

Older runners at these races, who continue to challenge themselves, are the most inspirational of all. I don’t care how fast anybody is or what records they set, the most inspirational person at a race is the oldest one.

Some losses, some gains

When I say ultras are a microcosm of the world, the world outdoors is not the same as it was decades ago, when I started backpacking in high school or even in my early years of running trails and ultras. There are a lot more people using the outdoors and a lot more creative recreation opportunities, different types of toys, and a lot of people with a lot of disposable income to buy expensive, sometimes sophisticated, and destructive toys.

It seems that an environmental ethic of some sort has been lost among the newer converts to outdoor recreation- being quiet, having a minimum footprint, leaving the place the way you found it, being self-sufficient, all of those things seem to have slipped away in our rush to technology and comfort.

But we know more about the science of exercise, which is great. It allows us to perform, prepare, and recover better than in the past. A lot of old wisdom still gets passed down from older to newer runners, some of that is priceless.

I find that we’ve lost a reverence for the natural world- we are not protecting it, we are exploiting it more than ever. I am sad about that. It’s hard to go anywhere and not see people and their influence. I have to admit I curse under my breath some days when I’m on a run in my neighborhood on a trail around a lake, and there are other people there. I need some solitude, and I know it’s ridiculous to expect that in midtown, but it bugs me anyway.

The challenge is less, I think, when we do provide so many perks- and people have access to more sophisticated gear, clothing, food and drink, and technology. It all makes it more fun in some ways and enjoyable- I love having my phone that takes great pictures. I love my iPod and the tunes I can listen to. I love having warm clothing that wicks moisture away. I love having running bras that don’t cause me to chafe and bounce. I love that GPS can tell me how many miles, how much vertical, my pace each mile, and more. I don’t always use it, but it’s a nice thing to have when you want it.

I still believe in real food and drink though- some of those supplements, bars, and energy drinks and shit- I don’t understand why people think those are any better for them than real food. Maybe there is some nutritional benefit to some of them, but mostly I think they are a big waste of money. But suckers will buy them because some flash in the pan with a scraggly beard is hawking them.

I really hate those scraggly beards, by the way. They gross me out so bad. I can't wait 'til they are no longer popular. I just think about all the sweat and drool and boogers and leftover food scraps and who knows what else that settles in those birds’ nests.

What’s important now

These days I find myself focusing more on my work, my dogs, my home, my family. Having left the illusory stability of a regular job that was literally killing me, I’ve been trying to find my way back to some sort of balance and a source of income. I work a lot more hours for less money than I did in the hospital but it is much easier on my physical and mental health.

One of the things I’m learning now is that I cannot rely on the healing and recovery abilities of my body the way I used to. That doesn’t mean I can’t run far and long, but it means I have to be smarter about how I train and prepare myself, and what I do afterward.

I have learned that I can get by on my base for quite some time. I don’t have to train nearly as hard or frequently or long as I used to. Now I have a group of women I run with- most of them are not ultrarunners, or maybe have run an ultra or two but that isn’t how they define themselves as runners.

I have learned to give my body and mind a break and to have confidence in my ability to cover the distances instead of having to constantly go out and run far in my training runs. I knew that a long time ago, but now that I’m older, it’s even more important.

I don’t have as many days of running where I feel fresh and able to dig into my reserves. I enjoy it when I feel good, but I don’t get disappointed when I’m not feeling it. The exception was recently when I went on statins for my cholesterol for a year and that screwed up my muscles and nearly destroyed my enjoyment of running. I stopped the statins and it took about 3 months to start feeling decent again.

Don’t take that as medical advice- it isn’t. If you need to be on statins to save your life, take your doctor’s advice. But everything- even medical advice- should be carefully considered and a fully informed, conscious decision made. When in doubt, second, even third opinions from reputable, knowledgeable, licensed, experienced, scientifically-informed sources, should be sought.

Growth through learning and insights from ultrarunners

You can learn something from everyone, I am convinced that there is something to be learned from nearly every person you encounter and nearly every experience. My life would be poorer if I had not met many of the people I have through ultrarunning, good and bad.

I feel I have grown to be more accepting of my own limitations, but also to not stop pushing the envelope to discover what is possible. Not pre-setting any limits on myself, instead, discovering my limits along the way. And of course, there are some limitations that can be overcome through using one’s brain and creative powers to be smarter about it.

Most of my creative endeavors, and anything I’ve accomplished as an adult, has had a component attributable to running. For example, studying for exams in graduate school and nursing school, I could make notes to carry in my pack while running and quiz myself on whatever it was that I needed to learn, then check my answers with the notes. Writing or any creative writing project could be imagined or developed or refined through running. Painting ideas came almost entirely from landscapes I ran through.

Any problem in life that needed to be solved became more doable while running, even if I didn’t focus on it consciously. Something about running loosened the screws- that limit the imagination. It allows the round peg to float freely, unencumbered by the corners of the square hole.

I think above all, ultrarunning has allowed me to be in an ongoing state of healing from the small and large insults and injuries of life. These are things that we all experience along the way and we have to figure out how to move forward and weather them when we feel beaten down, temporarily defeated, or lose hope. Psychological and physical injuries are both painful, but the psychological ones can often be longer lasting and more damaging.

Running allows a place to be real. It allows you to separate yourself from the outside world and deal with yourself. You don’t have to, some people are happily obstinate even though they run a lot of miles. But running allows for that safe space to hear yourself think, feel, experience, and reflect. It offers a safe place for healing from the everyday insults and injuries we experience by being human.

The Eyerolls of Life
I am not an angry girl, but it seems I’ve got everyone fooled, everytime I say something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear…” Ani deFranco

All runners get asked, “What do you do?” “Don’t you get bored?” “What do you think about while you’re running?”

Here are some things I think about while running, problems I’ve solved for myself, or issues that are in a state of ongoing resolution: a better name for this section might be: Shit I think about while running.

Healthcare and Nursing
I’ve talked a lot about healthcare on this blog, and nursing within a healthcare system that hates nurses, disrespects and undervalues them, and is slowly sucking the life and desire out of them to stay in the profession. When you go into nursing, you aren’t thinking about the dangers to yourself. You’re thinking about helping other people and are willing to sacrifice some of your own comfort in order to do that, for a reasonable amount of compensation. But quickly, you realize that it goes beyond sacrificing comfort. You’re sacrificing reason.

Healthcare is so awful to the people who work in it. It doesn’t allow them to be human. It requires crazy amounts of physically brutal and pathogen-exposed work on insane schedules, divides them into categories by status and overcompensating a few while undercompensating most, it doesn’t allow for natural rest periods or self-care, or worst of all, the ability to maintain or restore mental health when its workers are exposed constantly to the most stressful and vulnerable situations in life- other people’s life or death decisions and consequences or just plain bad luck.

Abuse is rampant at different levels of the industry and across different layers or status levels, as well as peer-to-peer, people are discouraged from caring for their own health when the consequences of not doing that impact the patients they are supposed to be helping. And those who run the industry talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying one thing to the consumer public and another to those who are working for them. In the long run, it amounts to the same thing: those in charge saying fuck you, I don't care, I want you to kill yourself for my benefit. All they want is a bonus. And it is enabled, sustained, and reinforced at every single level.

Among nurses are some of the kindest, most creative, smartest, caring, unselfish, and deeply committed people you’ll ever meet. And truly, more than a few nurses I’ve met are the meanest, nastiest creatures to ever walk the earth who hate themselves and want to make everyone else equally miserable. It comes down to being what they are-people, and nursing tends to attract certain personalities.

People remember how you made them feel, how they felt around you. It’s not my job to heal other people's emotional wounds and social awkwardness, but I don’t have to be a reminder of why they struggle with the world. I don’t have to contribute to their struggle, either. I remember how awful it felt to be around certain people who seemed hell-bent on making your life miserable.

Most of the people I’ve met through running have been extraordinary, truly nice, inspirational people. And then there have been very few assholes, narcissists, mean girls, and people who are just so socially awkward that they simply trip over themselves and get in their own way of being able to fully participate in the joys of this sport. That’s just how life is.

People skills are underrated. Some of the bosses I had in nursing, OMG who thought it was a good idea to put them in charge of anything, I’m not even sure they’d be competent to wipe their own buttholes, and yes, really, I mean that literally and sincerely.

While running is a solitary experience in many ways, if you’re involved in the running community at all, or do group runs, join a club, or enter races or organized events, people are part of it. Sometimes I like people, sometimes I just want to stay completely the hell away from them. Ultrarunning allows for a nice balance.


I don’t even have to get into it here, you know where I stand. I am completely opposed to our current President and everyone associated with him and his criminal enterprise. I just don’t understand how people fell for this con man- what did they think they were getting?

If the birther hoax, pussy grabbing, Russia- if you’re listening, and his history of bankruptcies and affairs and charges of racism against his real estate business were not enough to raise a red flag, perhaps half the population of the country ought to have their eyes and hearing examined at the very least.

Regardless, I am happy about the new Congress and I am thrilled to see some of the new members of Congress like AOC diving in to call out the corruption and good ole rich white boy environment of our government that has existed for so long and has served to siphon all the wealth and resources away from the public, leaving us much worse off as a country. I truly look forward to restoring anti-trust laws, enforcing the RICO Act, and restoring a greater degree of wealth equity.

What this world needs is more B.I.T.C.H. power! Brazen Institutional Terrorists and Corporate Hellraisers. It’s time to disrupt and upend the top-down, winner take-all approach of power going to those with privilege and status and only valuing those with the most, fastest, biggest, whatever.

One of the complaints I hear about from my peers is about older women disappearing: you never hear about older women, once you pass reproductive age, you are no longer considered useful, because women are there for their looks and as sex toys, after a certain age, the only role for them is grandmother. Bullshit. I refuse to buy into that. I will be seen, and I will be heard! What I say to that is, I am not here for your visual gratification, I am not an ornament. And I'm not dead yet.

One of the things about nurses that pisses me off more than anything is their unwillingness to get off their asses and do something about their situation. For example, look no further than the freaking Republican party these days. They are going to silence themselves out of existence by enabling that orange freak. The longer you align yourself with something truly harmful, the more you become one with it. By being silent, nurses are part of the healthcare problem.

You just have to be unwilling to take it anymore. Lose your fear of saying no and stop the bullshit in its tracks, like Nancy Pelosi did with Trump. NO, you are not getting funding for your stupid wall.

I feel so much better about nursing since I got out of those oppressive conditions and got involved in advocacy and speaking out. Now my nursing peers are strong, determined, forceful, outspoken people.

Nurses need to strike, to protest, to sit down in front of the CEO’s office door, better yet, out on the sidewalk outside where they work so the entire public can see what's happening- to organize, advocate, litigate, and raise hell. Just STOP accepting the crappy work conditions. Stop it now. Say, "No, we nurses are not going to settle for heavier workloads, less safety, and more risk!"

No, we aging women will not allow you to make us invisible! No, we will not capitulate to sexism and an attitude of superiority among men! No, I am not going to allow you to catcall me while I’m running by! I am going to do something about it. Watch me. And then I do it.

Releasing what is no longer serving you is important. Healthcare has been driven too long by a paternalistic philosophy of men (doctors) know best, women (nurses) are just handmaidens and enablers. It’s not helping. It’s not useful anymore. It needs to be released. While there have been small improvements in the gender balance, it's not enough.

This bullshit hasn’t served us for a long time, if ever. We have lost the talent and ability and drive and efforts of a major and growing portion of our population by suppressing and oppressing them. And that goes far beyond women: non-white, non-straight, non-Christian...basically, nearly everybody who isn't Mike Pence. (I have a deep-seated hunch that he has a deep-seated secret though.)

Yes, this is what I think about on the run. In between not thinking, looking at scenery, listening to music, singing, dancing, and enjoying.

Moving forward- literally

I have a six day race in the back of my mind for the end of 2020 because it will take me that long to prepare my feet again. Why 6 days? Why not 10 or 30 or 1000 days?

First, beyond 6 days, I don’t have the desire or drive- I just don't want to run any longer right now. Also, I don't have the financial resources (which includes time, because I have to work) to do that. I might have all those things in the future, but I might not ever. And I don’t feel the need to do more. Right now, I enjoy the day after day just waking up and running when I feel like it. I don't have to have lofty, overachieving goals. Ha.

But a 6 day event like ATY that is organized and compact and challenging and comforting enough, that sounds like fun. Plus I know so many people there, and they are people I would choose to be around for days and nights on end.

My goal is simply to be able to spend 6 days moving forward on my feet, for about 50 miles a day, without having any major foot or other physical or biomechanical issues that keep me off my feet for a substantial amount of that time.

I am letting go of that competitive drive and allowing myself to just do, be, enjoy. I have nothing to prove. I’m not doing this to be a badass, simply to reach a state of fulfillment or satisfaction.

Even sitting down to write anymore is not what I often want to do. I spent a year of my life writing a book. Since then, it's been hard for me to write for pleasure, though I feel I'm starting to get my enjoyment back. That’s why I’ve struggled with the blog for a couple of years.

How I want to die

I am glad I am 55, not 25, and don’t have a super long, long time left to be on this planet. I figure if all goes well, barring some freak accident or aggressive illness, I might have another 25-30 years left. I really don’t want to be here much beyond 80 from what I see around me. I won't be afraid to take matters into my own hands if the laws don't change around euthanasia either.

I really don’t want to be here once my body and/or mind are no longer able to maintain my independence. And I sure as hell don’t want to be taken care of by nurses within a healthcare system that is so ugly to the people who work in it.

I don’t want anyone wiping my ass or feeding me. Just toss me outside so I can die of hypothermia under some ponderosa pine trees with needles whooshing in the wind. Or let me shrivel up like a prune from exposure in the heat of Devil’s Cornfield with F-16 fighter jets divebombing over me.

And leave me there. I like turkey vultures, they're my second favorite bird. Crows are my favorite, by the way.

To philosophy until it evolves further

I wonder sometimes if I had been born in a different time if I would be different. Probably not too much, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve managed to do a lot of things in my life on persistence. I don’t watch TV and I don’t have kids.  I don't put on makeup or do my hair, or worry about what to wear 99.99999 percent of the time. That’s all pretty freeing in itself.  I like to feel that if I die tomorrow it’s okay, I am satisfied with what I did while I was here.

But as long as I stick around, I’ll keep disrupting, keep innovating, keep defying, keep raising hell. It’s the only way I know how to be.

For much of my early life, I felt that I was a square peg and all the holes are round. But it’s really just an illusion that the peg is square and the holes are round... dim lighting made it look like there were corners. When you’re round, you have the ability to flex, there are no mandatory corners. There’s room for everything. If the world could just learn that lesson, we would not be as terminally fucked up as we are. We humans really are our own worst enemies. We need to become better friends with each other, especially ourselves.

We need to stop self-limiting our natural intelligence (the cognitive and creative gifts we were all born with- which are unlimited in their potential, vary from person to person, and cannot be measured with any test or tool) and underestimating whatever physical abilities we have, and where they could take us.

In other words, stop worrying so damn much about what other people think.

You can move mountains, or they can move you
- Sherpa John Lacroix

*(remember the tiny asterisk in the first sentence way way back at the beginning?) The actual physical act of running- I should qualify this entire post- sometimes I am not doing what an observer might call running. I might be walking with varying amounts of effort. Usually I walk pretty hard, but not quite as hard as a powerwalk. Moving forward on my feet, whether it’s pure running, broken up with bouts of walking, or just going out for a walk, is running, as far as I’m concerned.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Let Me Tell You a Story…Stories Ultra 15 Hour

Cheyenne Mountain State Park
This weekend I tried something different. I signed up for a trail ultra, and I survived.

It’s been years since I ran a trail ultra. That’s pretty much all I did when I started doing ultras in the 1990s, there were almost no road ultras in Colorado back then. I enjoy trails, but I’m not that good at them, and I prefer to slow down so I can look at the scenery. Also, high altitude is not my friend, I discovered, after years of doing 14ers, four Leadville Trail 100 finishes in 29+ hours, and always struggling with my stomach and sleepwalking on rocky trails in the dark.

Then I started having ankle problems after a few good sprains, and had to avoid trails altogether for several years. Once I got my butt into physical therapy and rehabbed my ankles, I started doing easy trail runs, just the smooth, groomed or nontechnical trails I could find, and the Rock Repeats on the service road up Horsetooth Mountain which has just a few very short rocky sections.

It wasn’t anything I expected and I just happened to be on Facebook one evening and saw that one of our local Colorado race directors, Sherpa John Lacroix, was doing a live video so I tuned in and he was talking about his Human Potential running series of trail ultras in Colorado.  I’d seen something about his Silverheels 100 and the Fairplay races. When we had our cabin in Como we used to hike up Silverheels and on those trails back there between Fairplay, Como, and Breckenridge. Back in the day, I would have jumped all over that, but I hadn’t paid any attention to it since trail ultras simply haven’t been on my radar.

When I said hi to Sherpa John on the comment feed he greeted me and said, Alene, you should check out these races since you like fixed time events. So the next day I looked into it, the Stories Ultra 15 and 30 hour races were in February in the Colorado Springs area. I was pretty skeptical at first. The altitude wasn’t high- less than 8000 feet. But it was trail, and winter in Colorado, and I am a cold weather wimp. I can make myself do it, but I am truly a hot weather runner.

I needed a long training run in February, and the 15 hour option made it seem more doable in case the weather sucked. I signed up, and took the extra step of signing up for a membership to his series because I wanted to support his philosophy, of having runs for  the runners, not for the circus atmosphere, which all of the major trail races in Colorado have become.

The whole time approaching the race, I had my doubts about the weather, that was the one factor that I dreaded. Winter finally came to Colorado in February, subzero temperatures, our first real snowfall, and still we were the banana belt compared to the Midwest.

February has been a freaking weird month from the get go. During the month of January, I kept wondering if we were ever going to get winter, and at the very end of the month my friend Katy contacted me one day and suggested we run Horsetooth Rock together, something we used to do regularly but haven’t done in years. We did one single rock repeat and spent the time catching up.  It was the most vertical I’ve done in quite some time- my vertical has been limited to running the hills on the Bacon Strip and Horsetooth Reservoir roads, and not very much mileage.

I was sore the day after the run with Katy and I knew I had some vertical coming up in Stories- and realized that might be the factor that did me in instead of the weather. But I pushed those thoughts out of my mind. Then the really weird shit started happening. First, my buddy Sasquatch (aka Dale Perry aka Richard Cranium) who was also planning to run Stories, found out he needed an aortic valve replacement soon after Across the Years. 

Yes, this is the same Sasquatch who has myeloma and had a stem cell transplant two years ago and has still been running ultras through most of the ordeal. He fortunately got an appointment with a cardiothoracic surgeon I know, who I think is the best one in Northern Colorado, and also happens to be an athlete himself, and they scheduled his surgery for today. As I write this post, Dale is in surgery.

Since they have to cut him open- yes, crack his chest- he will be healing for quite some time and unable to do ultras for a while. He had a ton of things to do before he went in for surgery and to prepare for his down time after, so of course he wasn’t going to go down and run Stories. That was a bummer, Sasquatch is always fun to run with, but he had a lot of good reasons to get this surgery done now and he has every intention of being back to ultras as soon as possible. Knowing him, he won’t waste a minute.

Then the next weird thing happened. I am sure you heard about this, because it made international news as well as Stephen Colbert and SNL. Last Monday, on the Westridge Trail, which is adjacent to the Horsetooth Rock trail, just the other side of Horsetooth Rock itself, a local guy was running and was attacked by a mountain lion from behind

When this happens the mountain lion usually wins and they find the runners body half buried under some nearby trail debris, but this guy fought back and killed the lion with his bare hands! DUDE! It was a young lion and about 80 pounds, and probably starving because this is weird behavior but the whole incident speaks for itself…

They runner was injured and I am sure freaked out and traumatized but he did everything right and got himself down off the trail, drove to the hospital and reported it, and he’s going to be okay (at least physically- I can’t even imagine what that would do to your mind!).

The buzz in the running community has been everything from he’ll never have to buy another beer to people freaked out about running the trails to lots of jokes and eventually it gets old, but I know the entire Fort Collins running community is a bit freaked out. The park was closed so Colorado Parks & Wildlife could figure out what’s going on and if there are more lions and so on… not even sure it’s re-opened yet.

I tried not to think about the fact that I would be running in the foothills on trails at dawn and dusk, prime mountain lion dinnertime, the following weekend.

I went about my pre-race packing routine with help from my supervisors, and I made a poster to take for people to sign for Dale, thinking about how Dale handles adversity. “F&$% You!” I put that in my race pile and told Sherpa John, we decided to leave it out by the aid station so anyone who knew Dale could sign it.

The weather forecast wasn’t terrible- looked like a high of 40ish and low in the teens or 20s, and no precipitation expected- which isn’t bad at all. Sherpa John said we wouldn’t want it to get much out of the 30s or the trail would be a mess. He said we might need traction of a couple of the higher loops up in the trees where there could be slick spots. I packed my Kahtoolas, Yak Trax, and poles just in case.

Friday morning I was getting my act together, planning to leave town before 12:30 so I could make it through Denver before Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. I happened to glance at Facebook. First thing I saw was a post from Wheaties Boy’s other half, Megan, announcing that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I really love their family- Megan’s mom and dad live in Fort Collins, and I know them all well enough that it was pretty shocking to me, even though I deal with this all the time in my work. It’s true that it really is different when it’s someone in your family or close to you.

Anyway, I reacted exactly as I always caution people not to react- by sending them messages and offering my support-at a time when they are completely overwhelmed. I should have at least waited until next week. They all wrote back and it was fine- but I felt really bad for just giving them something extra to do- one more person to reply to- at a time when they have more than enough to deal with.

Megan’s mom has worked with people with cancer for many years, she’s a massage therapist and has worked specifically with cancer patients- and I know Megan has lots of support. Still…it felt like a punch in the gut to me- just hearing that.

I got on the road and headed south on I-25 and of course my mind was going crazy- between thinking about Megan and Sasquatch and my half-conscious uncertainty about doing this run- mountain lions and trail conditions and undertraining notwithstanding- and I was so distracted that I took a wrong turn at one point and got on a ramp taking me east on 270 and ended up in Commerce City on my way to Kansas. Oh shit. I had to correct that quickly, and traffic absolutely sucks. Then, Speer Boulevard and a few other spots on I-25 were parking lots. At 1:30 pm.

Eventually I got through Denver and it was better all the way to the Springs. I had made a reservation at the Doubletree, which is only a 10-minute drive from the race. I didn’t make a reservation for after the race because I didn’t know how I’d feel or if the hotel would be good. I figured after the race I could easily find a hotel room anywhere.

I checked into the hotel, took stuff up to my room and then drove out to the park to see how long it would take in the morning, and get a feel for the area. It reminded me a lot of southern Arizona, like the Old Pueblo 50 course. It was a nice day, cool but warmer than Fort Collins. I drove to the visitor center and walked around, then stopped at a restaurant for some food before going back to the hotel.

Later I found out Obama stayed at the Doubletree when he visited Colorado Springs. I wonder why they didn’t put him up at the Broadmoor. The hotel experience sort of sucked- the doors don’t fit very well and there’s a big gap under the door to the room so you can hear everything around you and people walking down the halls and a lot of light got in under the door. Plus, every time I went out an exit door, there were military guys standing around smoking.

Military guys are to be expected in Colorado Springs because the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson are both there. But there are a few things that go along with military culture- and yes, it’s the guys- not all of them, but enough of them- a major attitude from the macho testosterone-fueled culture of it. Anyway, it made for less than a pleasant experience walking through clouds of smoke and hearing their disgusting, sexist conversations. I felt like I was in Las Vegas. Honest, I don’t know how women in the military survive. Dude, I respect that you’re putting your life on the line for our country. Just have a little more respect for other people when you’re out in public.

I got in bed early and did some reading and turned off the light. I slept poorly, there was a lot of noise at all hours. What I didn’t realize was that outside the wind had picked up and slammed through the area, destroying some of the signs and start/finish line setup, ripping out the signage and flagging, and even driving a metal stake through the back window of Sherpa John’s rental van and shattering the glass.

When I woke up around 4, I checked my email and saw a 3:30 am message from Sherpa John telling everyone to be patient as they needed to put things back together, but assuring us that the race would go on.

By the time I drove up there to check in, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened, other than the shattered glass. It was windy as hell though, so I left Sasquatch’s sign in the car and figured I’d see how the day progressed. My friend Josh was volunteering at the check in and I picked up my number and race goodies, and visited with him. He also offered me a place to stay after the race and yelled at me for not letting him know ahead of time so I could stay with them instead of a hotel.

I went back to the shelter of my car to put on more layers before the pre-race briefing. I parked on the loop where the trail came through so it was easy for me to crew myself out of my car. It did result in me getting probably an extra tenth of a mile in between every loop- but who’s counting. It was nice to not have a table set up and worry about the wind.

We started precisely on time, and I had my headlamp. Sunrise wouldn’t happen for an hour, but you could see the lights of Colorado Springs to the east and the cloud formations were looking like a spectacular sunrise was in store for us.

The course consists of 4 different loops, each color coded red, green, blue, and purple. They get progressively longer and more challenging, with the final one as the “purple people eater loop”. In total, the 4 loop series is 19.61 miles long and has 2197 feet of elevation gain. Once you finish the series, you go out again and repeat it. At the end, for your final hour, they put you on a small 2/3 mile loop to keep you close by until you finish. That’s the “gold” loop.

On each loop, you pass through the main staging area, so you’re never more than 7 miles from the aid station. They had a variety of food and drinks. I went for the fresh pineapple- it was amazing. I never thought to eat pineapple on a run before, I do like strawberries and melon sometimes on my runs- but this pineapple

tasted better than anything I’ve eaten at a race in a long time!

Once we got out there and it got light, the course was marked extremely well. Even the purple loop- which was confusing to describe and people cautioned us to pay attention- was well marked. There were flags and laminated signs that had clear instructions. I had no problem finding my way, even in the dark.

The trails were about 50% in perfect condition, 25% ice, and 25% mud on the first go-around. On my first purple loop I took it easy so I could pay attention to the turns, knowing I’d be doing that in the dark if I made it that far for the second round. None of hills were very steep or long, there were a few that were made more challenging because of the ice chutes that had formed from melting and freezing, and the deterioration over the day of ice and snow turning to mud and then muck.

As it turned out, I never used any of the traction devices I brought. Yes it was slow and slick and sloppy, but I found myself giggling as I surfed the mud and ice chutes. It was messy, but I managed to stay upright the whole time. 

I did happen to notice that the name of the trail on the upper purple loop was “Cougar’s Shadow” and found this bench which can only serve to pique an overactive mind with fresh thoughts of mountain lion attacks…but I didn’t want to think about it.


The other thing about Stories is that each runner’s number has a question written on the back of it, intended to give you something to think about during the race. After you complete 50K, Sherpa John gives you a chance to talk about your answer to the question for 10 minutes or so on his podcast. It’s optional, but I thought it was a really nice way to hear the voices of all the runners and get some insight into what goes through their minds. I haven’t heard the episode yet but I look forward to listening, and I’ll link it here when Sherpa John posts it.

As it turned out, I arrived at 50K before dark and Sherpa John was standing right there at the aid station so I took the opportunity to do my interview then. He had all his recording equipment set up in the van- yes, the same van that had the window smashed overnight and was now taped up with cardboard.

My question was, “Are you remaking the world, or yourself?” I can’t remember now what incoherent things I said, but they are recorded forever on the podcast, so you’ll be able to listen. I also talked about Dale and how I admire his attitude- not letting adversity get in his way and pushing forward, and how I wish more people would do that, instead of letting things defeat them.

After talking with Sherpa John I went back to my car to dress for night and get my headlamp and put more layers on. I slammed some Starbucks doubleshots to stay awake. I knew I’d have to pay attention to the markings on the purple loop. I texted Josh and took him up on his offer of a place to stay, knowing it would be about another 4 hours before I finished and I was already feeling a little sleepy.

I did put some music on and it helped a lot. By the time I got up to the really muddy section, it was getting cooler and already noticeably more solidified than earlier. It was still shoe sucking mud in some places but it was overall better footing than earlier. Everyone was spread apart on the course and I didn’t hear or see any voices or lights as I approached the climb to the top of the Cougar Shadow trail.

For a while, I’d stop every so often and shine my light around behind me to make sure I wasn’t being stalked. Finally I got over it and knew that the faster I got down off the loop the better, so I just sang out loud and hoped it would scare any lions and tigers and bears away. It worked, except for the gators.

I actually ended up negative splitting my second purple loop. Probably due to the footing, but the music helped me move faster, too.

I had time for at least two gold loops after I got back to the staging area. I did two of them, and might have been able to do a third if I pushed myself, but it was only 12 minutes to spare. I know better than to get greedy. I didn’t want to trip over any rocks in the dark and ruin what had been a perfect day by doing a faceplant. Plus I had over 40 miles, which was my ultimate goal- I would have been happy with just 50K- so I picked up Dale’s sign, said good-bye to Sherpa John and thanked him, and headed to Josh and Jeana’s.

By the end I got 40.5 miles (probably more like 42 with all my back and forths to the car and before the race!) and 4500 feet of vertical in 14 hours, 48 minutes and change. My legs felt surprisingly good. The vertical didn’t bother me, I had plenty of layers on and never got cold, there was enough shelter from the wind on much of the course that it wasn’t really an issue. And I didn’t get eaten by a mountain lion.

It was an exceptionally well-done race. Well-organized, well-marked, and the unexpected wind didn't seem to put a dent in anything from my perspective as a runner. The volunteers were super nice and the aid station was simple enough but well-stocked and all the basics were there. There was a nice t-shirt and you got a finisher's award and a water bottle, and it was well worth the entry fee and the effort to travel there. Not crowded, but with enough participants to make it fun and social. Best of all, no circus atmosphere. You just show up and run. 

I visited with Josh and Jeana for a while and then took a shower and crashed in the comfortable bed. In the morning, we talked briefly before I left- they were headed out to help in the final hours of the 30 hour race.

It was a beautiful, warm, clear morning in Colorado Springs. By the time I drove back to Fort Collins, it was overcast and 23 degrees. Ugh. So much for the banana belt- I was in it on Saturday.

So, now I’m home, I am not very sore, surprisingly. I can feel where I was slipping in the mud- some different muscles got used there, but other than that I feel unscathed. A little brain hangover, as usual, from sleep deprivation and cytokines the day after. I’m actually thinking about signing up for Sherpa John’s next fixed time trail race in May- the Tommyknocker 12 hour near Golden. I’ll give the idea a few days to settle.

Sasquatch is hopefully out of surgery by the time I finish this post and I will look forward to hearing from him as soon as they pull all the tubes out of him, the heavy drugs wear off, and he is coherent enough to communicate.

And I will give Megan some time then check back in with her. I know she will be well-cared for.

Gotta get back to the routine, which I am thankful for. Sometimes we don’t stop often enough to remember how fortunate we are- the daily grind that we take for granted, no matter how healthy and fit and diligent we are- things can happen. And it’s important to have that Sasquatch spirit- “$%@#!”

Enjoy your adventures- and your routines. They all make good stories.