Pure Joy

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A week of nothing very exciting, yet every where I turn, something little and joyful. About two feet of snow fell in the valley this week.  Somehow three days of shoveling for an hour at a time wore me out only enough to make enjoying hot tea and a fire very relaxing.  I am absolutely amazed that it is the end of December already, and that I’ve also been in Utah for about five years. The amount of snow reminds me of what sucked us into moving here to begin with.

Let it snow!

Throw back, to Tele, swimming in the powder, 2011

The week of joy has been filled with the notion of not needing to drive anywhere at all for the excitement. A ski “tour” in the park, just a block from my house.  Riding my mountain bike to work.  And snow angels, because you can.  IMG_0002 2It’s been a week where lots of pieces are finally pulling together.  I feel confident about decisions to stay in Salt Lake, to make this community my home and to plan a future here.  Pure joy seems to be appearing around the corner in many directions, from celebrating with friends, trail “running” in knee deep powder, and exploring the possibilities of where my career will take me. There is something really special about engaging in laughter and talks  and knowing a smile on an old friend’s face and having holiday celebrations with new friends and knowing their excitement and smiles as well.  I didn’t need the snow to make my week, but it seems to have arrived to serve as the nicely piled bow which punctuates a gift. So my friends, while the holidays are stressful, see if you can give yourself the gift of pure joy.  Because, it is, simply where you find it, and where you make it.

Judgement and Flow

If you had told me ten years ago what my life would look like today, I doubt I would have believed you.  Strangely, I also don’t know that I would have been able to pin point why I’m shocked where I am.  It is different, yet strangely not surprising in the least, that I am where I am.  And I am absorbing all of that, it is both freeing and confining at the same time.  I made the comment the other night that a lab, is a lab, is a lab, about Tele always trying to look cute and want dinner.  Aren’t we inherently the same, no matter how much we change?23269019565_bb12e6e87e_o

I have reached a point where friends are going through divorces.  It is bewildering, eye opening and heart breaking all at once.  I’ve long since made the claim that you must be true to yourself, because you’re the only one you’ll ever be able to rely on, yet internally I’ve held out hope that someone can prove that wrong.  Maybe we’re of a generation where these illusions become victim to self awareness and selfishness.  I am also at a point where I am recognizing how much I fail myself in terms of some of the external things I wanted in an attempt to not compromise on myself as a whole.  When do we get it all?  I think by definition I have it, yet I want more.  I want to be more and do more; I have been too fortunate not to give more.

I am going to start seemingly small though, at the source of some of my biggest personal failures.  I am asking myself and others to focus on removing judgement.  The world has enough hatred and judgement to go around these days, isn’t that the least we can do? There are parts of my life which have held lots of judgement, about me, sadly likely from me, and much from places that I doubt, you as an on-looker, would expect.  It pinned me into a hole, I pinned myself into a hole.  This, I realized was embodied in daily actions and physical presence, say for example by moving my bed into a nook.   Somehow, I had decided that the geometry of the bedroom, just wouldn’t work any other way.  This was after 2 months of electricians re-wiring my house and then a week of having flooring installed.  I did shorthanded judgmental measurement and decided it and that was that.  A year after struggling with the flow, and getting up every morning with awkward geometry I couldn’t even remember why I had been so decisive.  I rearranged everything and the flow was wide open.  I instantly was waking up on the “right side of the bed.”  At the risk of sounding hipster-y and part of the new fangled mindful culture cult,  I had literally spent a year pinning myself into a hole, and it feels, often, that many other things, both given and received had been pinned there as well.  As I read this week, trying to plan some kitchen changes: “If you create an unobstructed home with good flow, it will reflect on your everyday mood. Not having to confront barriers on a daily basis in your house will inevitably change the way you feel about your space in a positive way.”  I have removed myself and my physical space from that obstructed start to my day and feel immensely (broken rib aside… but that’s another story all it’s own) better and more free to give every where else I go.  If we can be willing to remove judgement and obstacles and it creates the space and openness to look into someone else’s shoes, that is true empathy, and I think it will change the way we all interact in a positive way.

Now, I am making  concerted effort to be better, to remove the judgement, to remove the obstacles in friendships, and paths in life.  I also ask, you, to do the same.  Even if I am going to be the same as I ever was, there may still be new opportunities to grow without compromising the self.

Creating Space

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I have come full circle recently, back to the battle I experienced leaving San Diego, a battle of two spaces, one of the space I wish to live in, another of the life I wish to live with.  There are two circular paths that can very well never intersect, yet I have had a fleeting glimpse of that intersection.  Does it become foolish to hold out hope that it will come?

The greatest challenge seems to be the paradox of looking at your dreams far down the road, yet not getting caught up, limited and fixated on what is five miles ahead, being able to enjoy the mile you are in, the immediate space you live in. Working for those things that you want though the process of achieving them forces you into a mold which you cannot fit.  The challenge of learning to deeply listen to yourself and create space in your life for those things you simply cannot compromise on.

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“the unexpected action of deep listening can create a space of transformation capable of shattering complacency and despair.” – Terry Tempest Williams

There are no pictures.

While running with a friend this morning, change and Zen came into discussion.  In short there was a race recap and a discussion that change is a constant, as neither of us were certainly the same runners we were a few years back.  The transition went on to our attempts, as humans, to harness energy, of a river which is constantly changing, but in those attempts to do so we lose the energy, and thus all we have is just a bucket of water.  All we have is an attempt to grasp that which will slip through our fingers. I believe this is Alan Watts, whose books I have not yet read.  What strikes me as more interesting, after the fact, is that my race recap to this friend, was just a snapshot, which does not capture the energy from that race in the past, but more a snapshot of where my mind wandered post-processing in the two weeks after the fact.

It likely follows, that each my race recaps to any single person over the past two weeks, have also been representative of one specific thing one my mind at that instant.  I have have been inadequate in describing it as a whole, as it is these experiences which become fleeting snapshots.  Similar to the few photos I took, they failed to come close to capturing anything more than a glimpse into the energy, the spirit and the entirety of what was my Bear 100.  I am going to attempt a recap, with words, hoping that I can begin to paint it out loud, partially as an exercise to do it justice and partially to share how amazing these events are (to me).

A bit ironic, I suppose, that I have the intent of not sharing photos because I signed up for this race nine and a half months ago based solely on photos.  Social media porn galore, photos of fall colors at their finest, reds, yellows, and lush soft dirt, later tossed together with images of the torrential rains and slip’n’slide mud shows that were the end descriptors of the 2014 event.  Two years prior, this race had snow on the course and reported overnight lows in the high 20’s.  If you know me at all, you’ll know these are almost my most favorable running conditions.  Desperation to either rewind time or escape the looming reality of my everyday world at that point made it far too easy to click “add to cart” and “submit”.  Temporarily ignoring the fact that I had jumped into the lotteries for two more of the country’s most epic 100 mile trail races, made for a short amount of time, the possibility of three 100’s over the summer was present.  Potentially epic exhaustion, suffering and beauty from running in the mountains?  I’m all in.

I spent the first half of the summer living life, training while still enjoying all of the reasons I moved to Utah, despite a small bobble and a hamstring injury I felt in great shape.  Yet, I was mentally non-commital to this race and told the most supportive people in my life that they shouldn’t count on me running and thanked them for gracious offers to travel out here for it.  Fast forward through a few mental and physical roadblocks in July, and said hamstring crankiness re-appeared. A taper filled with lots of driving, flying, a last ditch bike ride and impromptu bike trail reconnaissance run had me doubtful at best, optimistic at worst.  The Monday before the race, I was not even sure I would start.  Wednesday rolled around and I realized I should probably pack drop bags.  Thursday, I was in Logan  and picked up my number.

The race was one hundred miles (actually 99.7 by someone else’s GPS estimates).  I completed it in 26 hours and 18 minutes.  While that is barely a day and relatively short in a lifespan, it really is almost a million years and yet a few short minutes at the same time.  I can barely summarize it by telling you how spectacular this area is.  The colors, the sun rising to reveal single track beneath your feet swapped by screaming yellow aspen.  The blue sky; deep, cliffed out canyon walls with muddled oranges and bright red maples.  Up one canyon down the next, it became up for 4-10 miles, down for 4-10 miles. Meandering creeks and open high alpine valleys would have convinced you that you were in the Unitas or West Yellowstone, yet portions of the side-hill traverses and scrub oak had the familiarity of the Wasatch. Hero dirt descents and nasty, rutted, steep dirt bike trails under a full moon and sky free from light pollution.  And the stars!  “For I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream!” (V.V.G.) I ran faster, or slower, than expected, both exceeding my expectations and disappointing myself at the same time.  I ran with a friend, but yet wanted to be all alone (not to discredit company in any manner).  I spent a great portion of the time both loving the immediate space I was in and yet wanting to ride my bike there, or get out of the damn sun, all at once.  A bit paradoxical contrast to your mental love of this space, this challenge and yet the immediate physical desire to either run faster (yelling “wheeeeeeeeee!”) or get out of that spot.  This is that proverbial bucket of water that I can’t fully capture.

I think the desire to do these things is best explained similarly to the way people describe addictions, I don’t know why, there is just a physical, emotional and mental pull that comes with them.  That is rarely replaced over the course of a five hour run.  I do know why, and my best attempt at description of that, is that I ultimately crave being alone in this head space.  26 hours, relatively alone in your head to turn the world around so many times, to solve problems, and deconstruct and rebuild life, and yet at the same time empty space to not think at all.  To just move, and breath in the surroundings around you, and just be.   If you know me at all this is why I “run”.  I have offended a few friends this past year by not sharing my runs with them.  It has been really hard on me to begin to explain that, my run is extremely personal, emotional, joyous and can be frustrating, if I share one, it is a big deal.  I don’t always want to let people in to that headspace, but I love when I can share it with others.  It is important to me.  From my perspective.  I hope it is important to you.

The recap I gave this morning, is something I am still mulling over.  I left Bear, exhausted, exhillirated, and frustrated.  Depending on when you spoke to me, you may have gotten any part of that.  Two weeks post-partum, I am left with the realization that despite having run my fastest 100 ever, I didn’t push myself that hard (I am fully aware that this may sound pompous).  I ran conservatively, for many reasons.  It is hard to gauge and turn off your limiter in these races, I played it safe and exceeded time expectations.  It has been the more recent thought bubble that I don’t take risks in these “races” anymore though that has plagued me, I haven’t redlined a race in a long time.  I do this for a living, and in so many aspects of my life, that the overanalyzed conservative bet is how you should roll.  The last risk I took, I lost big; maybe the immediate frustration is feeling that I don’t know how take risks anymore?  I look forward to the next race where, at least physically, I can experiment with going for broke.

Well, I l’ve lied to you. There is one picture. The second sunrise, with seven miles to go, on the ridge overlooking Bear Lake. No words really exist to describe this space, but with that I can leave you to begin to imagine…

perpetually seeking sunrise.

Wasatch Part 1. In Search of a Belt Buckle.

THE Buckle

I have to start this post by saying a huge Thank You! to everyone; not just my crew, but especially my crew, because without you, maybe I could have done it, but it would have been very disorganized and painful.  Also a huge thank you to so many friends and family who have always supported crazy dreams.  Because for me, this, these runs in the mountains and years ago, my 4:30 am cornfield runs in Champaign, became a lifestyle, a means of sanity, a way to see the world and something through which I have not only found myself, but met so many other wonderful people in my life.  So thank you, I finally have my belt buckle!

Grab a coffee or a beer, this one is long!

… It was approximately 5 am on Saturday morning, meaning I was 24 hours in to the race.  24 hours after I left East Mountain Wilderness Park in Kaysville staring up at the moon each time I had a second to glimpse away from the path in front of me.

“I need to get out of here.” I said, looking at my watch.  “I need to get moving.”

All of a sudden reality had set in, I had been in Brighton Lodge for 35 minutes, was in the middle of minor foot surgery and surrounded by my crew amidst noise and chaos that was drowning even my own thoughts. I became acutely aware that I shivering and approaching what they call “The Graveyard”.  If I sat there for too much longer, I might actually crash.  I was just over 75 miles in to my first 100 miler and all I had left to  do was get out the door.  If I could get out that door and 3 miles over the pass, then I could finish.

The next 15 minutes were a time period that seemed like forever, I couldn’t get out fast enough.  Brian finished re-taping my feet, we did a dance with the idea of taping my IT Bands and eventually dropped it.  I kept trying to finish choking down my ghetto coffee-mocha mix that B picked up on his way and sipping broth and ginger ale; the fact that I couldn’t really take in GU or sugar anymore was looming over my head.  I probably didn’t have enough calories, but at the risk of losing it, I couldn’t shove anything else in me.

Pacer Exchange: Trading Jenny for Eric

Finally I managed to get myself back together, trade Jenny in for Eric and get out that door.  At 5:15 am, Eric and I slowly walked up the hill towards Point Supreme.  Filled with a mix of being over heated, relieved, and nauseous, I kept my eyes on the dark trail and headed up.  Bit by bit, we very slowly picked off people who were clearly in worse shape than I, and slowly headed up.  Probably an hour later, I saw my second sunrise as we got up to Catherine’s pass.

Backing up to how I got to Brighton over 2 hours later than anticipated… Wasatch wasn’t going exactly as planned, but it’s 100 miles, there is plenty of time for things to go askew, I suppose it could have been worse.

Headlamp Trails: Start of the 2012 Wasatch 100 (Photo credit: Lori Burlison)

I fell in line with Mike and Adele by missing the official start of the race while in the porta potty.  No worries to be had, if a minute or two was going to ruin my race, then I would probably be in bigger trouble anyway.  The first 13 miles were flawless, smooth easy pace, occasionally fighting to get to a place in line that was “my pace”, but I had it pretty much sorted out by the time we jumped on to the Great Western Trail.  If you don’t know anything about the Wasatch course, or even if you do, now would be a great time to watch the flyover.  I didn’t take any pictures of the course, and I am more than certain that I’ll glaze over all the climbs as 1000 foot rollers, they flyover will give you a much better perspective.  From mile 4 to 10, it’s pretty much up, up, up and a really good time to take it easy.  Once up top, the sun was up and I fought my way over some of those big rollers on the ridge line.  I felt pretty great rolling into Grobben’s Corner around mile 13.6. From there we had 4 miles of fairly gentle downhill on fire road.  This part should have been easy.  This is where everything started to go awry.  I ran, fairly easy, and within a mile my right IT Band locked up; within another mile my left one went too.  The remainder of the way down into the Francis aid station I would run and stop and stretch with a little relief.

I could continue on and describe how the situation got progressively worse between there and Big Mountain, but the truth is that I was able to move at a pretty respectable pace until then.  While some of the nasty steep descents made me very conscious of a well known truth (once you wake up your IT Bands, the only place you can go is damage control), there was a large amount of beautiful mellow trail that I could run reasonably well on.  At that point the game became a balance of not blowing up but moving as fast as I could to minimize exposure; it was hot and things were certainly going to blow up later, might as well get as far as I could as fast as I could while I still could.  In the meantime, I let myself get lost in this section.  I took no photos of my own and the space out there was this personal section of joy.  I never really questioned my ability to get through it, I was simply just going to make it to Big Mountain and then everything was really going to start, so I just enjoyed the views, the emptiness and the open air.  Some photos of the course can be found here or here for perspective, but in short that section is a fantastic mix of alpine, aspen, scrub oak and high desert in what is probably a least traveled area of the Wasatch Front.    Every time I set foot out there, I continue to be amazed at what is just outside my back door.  I have a list of all these places I need to go to, just in a 6-8 hour radius from Salt Lake, but the list within the 1 hour local radius has grown immensely throughout the year I’ve lived here.

Entering Big Mountain AS

A little bit more than 10 hours into the race, I made it into Big Mountain.  Notice that I’m actually running at this point… yeah that’s the last time you’ll see me running (with two small exceptions) for 3 weeks.  This was the first time I saw my crew and they managed to feed me Jimmy Johns and give me a sponge bath and sunscreen application all at once.  Future crews take note, they’ve set the bar pretty high!

mmmmm…. Jimmy John’s (that was an excellent plan, btw)

A 15 minute stop there was well worth it, and I was glad to see my friends and see that they were, at the very least, pretending that they were enjoying themselves.  Lathered up in sunscreen, I headed out into what should have been a quick 13 miles with a net downhill but what turned out to be the most demoralizing section of the course.  If there was any hope of me running the rest of that course, the ridiculously steep and loose drop off Bald Mountain tore it to shreds, for the first time in the race I actually questioned at what point my knees would just lock up and stop moving.

Out of Alexander Ridge, as I phrased it “the Never Ending Road to Hell” we followed two-track next to an oil pipeline going the wrong direction for way too long.

Fortunately the Never Ending Road to Hell actually did end, and fed into some fun and pretty twisty trails through Aspens and over some creek beds and I had a brief resurgence in running before reaching Mile 53, my crew, my pacer and some warm clothes at Lambs Canyon.

After posing for an obligatory facebook photo…

Grabbing food and warm clothes…

Along with my super pacer!

We were off!

The section from Lambs to Brighton was the darkest of the race, literally and figuratively.  It’s post sunset, you’re tired, things are starting to fail, you’re cold and you start to think.  Getting up and over the pass into Millcreek was work, nothing felt good, I was naseous, I was tired, the uphill hurt, the downhill hurt… you get the picture.  3 hours later we made it to the Big Water trail head and I suddenly understood what the death zone of a hundred mile race looked like.  It was very cold and it sucked you in with the giant propane heaters. I looked around, drinking my hot chocolate and all of a sudden there were runners on cots with multiple sleeping bags over them, their sullen pacers gently telling them to get moving.  I looked at my watch, looked at Jenny and set a time limit.  I was not going to end there.  This next section all the way to the road into Brighton is by far some of my favorite trail in the Wasatch, so I did enjoy it.  The moon put on a nice show for us, and there’s something great about being on the Crest in the middle of the night.  The ups were hurting my left IT Band, the downs hurting my right… I didn’t have a win out of this one and seriously questioned my ability to make it.  I could make it to Brighton, the question was, would the descent kill me in the process?  Jenny kept me moving, often times telling me I was almost to the top of a hill when I wasn’t (and my brain kept muttering ‘um, yeah, nope’).  Thankfully Jenny and my knees proved my brain wrong and I was able to walk, at a decent clip all the way down to the Lodge.

Second Sunrise – I am on my way!

Back to that sunrise! We made it over the pass and boy, they are right, when the sun comes back up, there’s a whole new level of energy!  Once we dropped over that pass, I knew I was going to finish.  It was easier to finish the last 20 miles, steep drops and all than to climb back up out of Ant Knolls to Brighton.

Dropping Down Dry Fork into Ant Knolls AS

The morning alpenglow beautifully bounced off the canyon walls as we descended into Ant Knolls aid station.  The volunteers there were equally as awesome as all the ones prior, but they will hold a special place in my heart because they had pancakes and hashbrowns and coffee and camp fire.  Fantastic!  I ran into my friend Mike who regaled me with his story of somehow getting vomit in his eyes?!  That added for a nice distraction as we left and headed up one of the last (tough) climbs of the course.  (*In all honesty I like these better than the “little” stupid ones that never seem to go away).

Out from there, we gained more amazing trail, the Ridge Trail No. 157, which true to it’s name, bounces on and off the ridge, frolics through pine trees and aspens and gives amazing views of the Timp.  It was slow going for a run, but with Eric’s help and great attitude, I kept my sprits up and we made good time power hiking.  I’d try and run occasionally, only to take 4 or 5 steps and realize, that yes, it still hurt like hell.  By the time we got through Mill Peak and the nice trail, it was getting hot and I was ready to be DONE.

The Plunge… or something like that: the nasty loose steep stuff on the way to Pot Bottom

The really obnoxious section into Pot Bottom would be really pretty if it weren’t for the ridiculous pattern of nasty descending and steep climbing thrown in.  Each time I’ve done this, the section tries my patience and the race was no exception.  After telling Eric that we were really at the last part at least three times, we finally reached the next nasty drop into the aid station.  Well 7 miles to go!  That is 1.5ish miles of climbing followed by way too long of dropping down off-camber two track with giant loose rocks of “I can see the finish, now get me off this mountain!”


A bit of pleasant distraction on the way down

The thought of taking my shoes off and being in the shade became a very powerful motivator to move as fast as I could.  2 hour of that nonsense later, we dropped on to the road in Midway and shortly after, into the finish!

Wasatch 100 – 2012 Finisher 33:23:06

I think that was the most anti-climatic finish ever.  All of a sudden you go from wanting to be done, to being done.  No bells and whistles, friends and family just walking over to say congrats and then… then you don’t know what to do with yourself.  The thing I wanted most when I finished (no, it was not beer, or even coffee) was to take my shoes off.  That’s all I knew how to do.  I didn’t know how to jump up and down and cheer, or even what to do next, what to say, or what to think.  But I did know that my shoes needed to be off.  I think that’s where I left off, why it was so hard to think about the race, because I left my shoes off but didn’t know where the rest of it was and I didn’t start to figure it out until I put them back on last weekend.

Finish with Wonderful Friends and Family

In the post-race aftermath, I am running again.  The ankle, which proved to be the source of the IT Band madness, is better, the IT Bands themselves, seem better and the withdrawal is going away.  I’m still so overwhelmed at the wonderful support I got from friends, family, co-workers, everyone really, so thank you. Everyone except my dog, who is just now accepting me back into her life because we’re starting to run together again.  Before the race started I was telling everyone that I didn’t need to do a 100 again; I’m wondering how many bets were placed against that because everyone seemed to laugh “yeah, right.”  But I’ll stand by it.  Maybe later on, and if I did do it, I’d love to do Wasatch again, but right now I want to have my weekends back, go on runs with my puppy dog and pace Jenny when she does her first 100.  I’m guessing this will prove to be like Boston, I got my jacket there and don’t really need to go back; now I have my belt buckle and can put that one to bed. Although, despite my troubles on the course, I never puked, I never fell asleep… anywhere, I never had hallucinations, peed blood, or had any of the other woes that I think Adele assumed is par for the course in any ultra, so maybe I got gipped and need to do another (someday).  :-)