Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Bench

I wiped the sweat from my brow as I reached the final switchback.  A minute more and I had reached the clearing, 5.5 miles and 3500’ from the place I’d started, but still a long way from where I wanted to be.

I walked over to the bench to sit for a moment.  It was a brilliant, sunny afternoon here on the last day of summer in Southern California – the kind of day that makes you so happy to just be here, that I decided I’d do just that.  Just be here for a few more moments.  I fought back the tears once… twice… and then it was no use.

It had been exactly seven weeks, and oh, say, 12 hours since I’d been here last.  It was dark then, and the city lights twinkled below.  Like today, it had been quiet and still, and a soft breeze might blow every now and again.  It had been a point of coming to a certain peace and understanding about what was to come.  But unfortunately, that was not an understanding I was too thrilled to receive.

On that evening, I had pulled myself up and continued on the trail to the toll road and then down to the mile 85 aid station of the Angeles Crest 100, where I’d drop from the race.  Drop, as in, not finish.  I’d done everything I could in preparation for that day, and was more confident in myself and my training than ever before.  But looking back, regardless of the circumstances that eventually brought about the DNF, did I really believe in myself?  Well… I don’t know.  But I do know that confidence is not belief.  Belief is a whole other animal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of believing, largely due to a beer-fueled conversation I had with the winner of said Angeles Crest 100 and new women’s course record holder, Angela Shartel.  She told me definitively that the real difference between past races and this now present “race of her life” was not her training, preparation, nutrition, insert any idea you may have here.  It was simply the fact that for the first time in her life, she really believed she could do it.

Naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching in the past month plus since the race, and have considered this theme often.  DO I BELIEVE IN MYSELF?  Do I believe I can do a certain thing?  Specifically, right now, do I believe that I can run 24-26 hours at The Bear 100 this Friday, as I’ve arbitrarily stated is my goal.  Well, if I could run up that climb just now and it felt easy – that’s all I’ll have to do repetitively for the duration of the 100 mile course.  That seems reasonable, so yes, I think I can do it.


Well, I had a really good base going into AC, I recovered well, and I’ve put in some 10-11 hour days in the Sierras.  My mileage hasn’t been as high as my 100-130 mile weeks for AC, but I’ve been running by feel and think I’m in decent shape.  I’m not injured, so I’ve got that going for me, I’ve been just fine at higher altitudes than Bear will be at, and holy shit this is my exact problem.

The only way I’m going to believe in myself is if I have proof.

There, on the Bench of Understanding, I received my second and final dose of clarity for the summer of 2013.  I didn’t truly believe in myself, because I needed proof to do that.  And how can you have proof of something you haven’t yet experienced?  My perfect race, my defining moment was my Santa Claus. 

Mind you, I stopped believing in Santa when I was in kindergarten.  KINDERGARTEN.  Jenni Dawson said her mom told her he didn’t exist and that was all that I needed to hear.  There would be no convincing by my heartbroken parents – it was all too plausible to my feeble mind that they did really love me enough to by me all those presents.  If they bought a house and a car, they could certainly buy me a Nintendo.

Likewise, there are way too many things that could go wrong and way too many better runners to ever allow me to be the fastest or first.  Just as I needed to see Santa’s jolly ass in my fireplace to believe he really delivered a sleigh full of presents to the entire world in one night; I’ve been searching for that thing that will prove I can run at a level to which I am satisfied.  Only problem is, that “thing” isn’t really as tangible as a fat man in red in my living room.  And the “level to which I am satisfied” isn’t a question of existence.  It’s more of a general feeling of worth and contentment.

Ahhh, we’re talking about greater themes here then, aren’t we?  Perhaps this was less like elves and the Easter Bunny and a hell of a lot more serious.  How do we have faith in each other in our daily relationships?  How do we believe in our gods?  I can KNOW how I was created and born, because I have scientific evidence.  Proof.  Therefore I am fully confident I arrived via uterus rather than a stork, in the same way I am confident I am physically able to run 100 miles in the mountains based on the concrete facts of the work I have put in.  But to believe in my ability to perform at my very best, to transcend both the physical and mental that will allow me to truly reach that sort of runner’s nirvana, well that’s like believing in a god I’ve never seen.  Sometimes there is no proof.  And that’s exactly why belief creates so much power.

So how does one begin to believe in a thing?  I guess the better question is, why?  The more I’ve considered it, the more I begin to think that it’s as simple as just wanting it bad enough.  Of course, no amount of wanting the sky to be green just because it is my favorite color is going to make me believe the blue sky has changed.  But that’s not exactly as crazy as it sounds.  Why does someone believe there is a deity that controls the sun? Why does someone believe that a man rose from the dead after three days in a tomb?   Why does someone believe they will be reincarnated? Why does someone believe that Elvis lives?  Because they need these things to be true.  Their very existence has come to depend on it.

By that token, maybe it has to be a truly meaningful and worthwhile thing to develop any belief in it.  For me, maybe time is just too arbitrary of a thing – maybe what stirs me deep down in my core isn’t a specific time, record or win.  In fact, I know it’s not.

So if it is not running 24-26 hours at The Bear this weekend, then what is it?  What is it that I truly WANT out of all this madness?  Upon closer examination, I’m realizing that all a 23:59:59 would bring me is more proof of something greater. So I peer closer.  All things considered and all weakness bared, I think the one thing that is honestly holding me back from the ability to run the race I want is a lack of ability to effectively manage the pain.  Sure, most would argue that I have a pretty high threshold based on some past events like, oh say, running 100 miles with a yucca spike in my knee.  But this is beyond that sort of physicality.  I’m talking about that kind of pain that ultimately shakes you to your core and makes you question everything.  The kind that can only come somewhere between mile 80-90 in a 100 mile ultramarathon. I don’t want to just survive that pain anymore.  I need to welcome it and happily bring more of it.

And what would that bring me?  Ultimately, strength.  True transcendence of the mind and body.  My religion.  My faith.  My connection with the world.  The same things most anyone else is looking for, really.   It’s just that I’ve never gone far enough over the edge to really, honestly have to believe I am strong enough to survive.  Perhaps we are all willing to go to a certain level to accept an un-provable truth.  And I guess I'm just one of those people who most often has to take things a little too far.

For a person like me, it would seem that true “belief” comes only when there is no other option.  When you have to do a certain thing so much that it becomes inconceivable that you will not.  And maybe THAT’S why I’m going to Utah on Friday.  To test my soul to the point where my only option is to believe.

Weakness bared.  Weakness beared.  I go.

So there I was, on the last day of summer, 3500’ above and a hell of a long way from the place I’d started.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Happened at Angeles Crest

I’ve read enough inspirational quotes to know that I am not defined by my failures. And therein lies my problem.

The 2013 Angeles Crest 100 was, by all accounts, to be my race.  And on and off for about 75 miles, by all accounts, it was.  I arrived to the starting line healthy, well trained and as calm as I’ve ever been before the inevitable storm that is running 100 miles through the mountains.  I flew, weightless, through the high country, memories of the countless miles I’d logged on these very trails rushing by me in a blur.  Through Guffy Campground, my weekend home, over Baden-Powell in one of my fastest splits ever, screaming down Williamson singing Fleetwood Mac at the top of my lungs – in a race, yes, nevertheless in a race with no one. 
Wrightwood 4:30am, 8/3/13: One of us will go on to win the race; the other will
do something else. You can hardly tell how this is going to pan out.
(photo: Ivan Buzik)

It's cool, I checked the Urban Outfitters catalog, and 90s Jurek
shirts are totally "in."
(photo: Mike Epler)
Inspiration Point mi 9.5. Mom and Pops on point.
(photo: Natalie Kintz)

Don't mind me, just having the race of my life here...
(photo: Natalie Kintz)
(photo: Kevin DeSplinter)
As I left Eagle’s Roost, I marveled at how poppy my legs felt on the road detour leading to Buckhorn.  Fresh.  Not like I’d just run a 6:30 50k at altitude up and over mountains in the beginning of a 100 mile race.  I was where I knew I could be, yet almost a full hour ahead of where I thought I’d likely be.  If you had offered me a lottery-free entry to Hardrock to wipe the smile off my face, I simply wouldn’t have been able.

Stomping up Baden-Powell in one of my fastest splits ever - including training runs where
there would not be an additional 75 to run after.
(photo: Jayme Burtis)
Williamson. 5:30 in; marathon complete.  BTW, this is not a marathon.
(photo: Jack Cheng)
Heading down into Cooper Canyon, my stomach began to feel a little sloshy, but nothing too weird.  I’d taken in a lot of liquid to account for the heat and was up on calories, so if I needed to chill on consumption for a bit, I would survive.  I alternated running and hiking when the air became heavy and stagnant and celebrated as I passed the point where I puked two years ago.  Perhaps that pissed the forest off, because maybe 20 minutes later, I was dry heaving into the bushes. #ACDontCare.  That continued on and off for the remainder of the section, only producing actual vomit once.  Even still, I figured I was getting through the worst of it, and after recharging at Cloudburst, I’d be on my merry way.

3 mile road detour. Thanks, frogs.
Sure enough, 13 minutes at Cloudburst seemed to have done the trick.  I floated down the trail to Three Points, stomach still sour, but just trying to focus on using my amazing feeling legs to get me back on track for my sub-24 hour finish.  That defining moment I was so desperately seeking.

Right before the aid station, I grabbed a tree to pee and saw stars.  The liquid coming out was a dark reddish-amber and my whole body cramped as I forced it out.  I downed the rest of my water right then and there and came in committed to ingesting more.  I thought I had been drinking enough, but I was clearly dehydrated.  We’d need a change of plans.

We're talking Culture Amber Ale status - third from the left, and also delicious.
I left with a bottle of ice water for help, a bottle of Sprite for calories and a sparkle in my eye – for I was going to turn this race right back around and get that silver buckle.  I did not doubt that for one single second.  Had I really expected that this day would go off without a hitch?  Did I now expect that there would not be more difficult obstacles to overcome through the night?  For chrissakes, my legs still felt brand new and that was a freaking GIFT.  It was time for comeback of the century.*
*SPOILER ALERT: Jamil Coury’s 2013 Hardrock Performance is still safe. 

I bottomed out on the trail section and began climbing the gradual road up Mt. Hilyer.  Not feeling as if I needed to walk, I resolved that I’d relieve my full bladder and then push to the top.  I could make up a lot of time here and easily be back on track by Chilao, stomach be damned.  However, as I bent down by a bush, my vision darkened and my knees buckled.  A sharp pain shot through my abdomen and up through my chest – nothing came from my bladder.  I took a deep breath and tried again, as I have never felt such a strong urge to urinate in my life.  This time, I fell over, shorts around my ankles, tears in my eyes.  I panicked.

Not knowing what else to do, I began walking up the hill, counting down the twists and turns to the aid station.  I had to get there, and someone had to help me.  Looking down, I discovered a horribly distended stomach, which at least in part explained the lack of urination and dehydration.  I was fueling and hydrating, but I wasn’t processing.  Why?

Lucky for me, Marisol Martinez was swiftly moving up behind me and as she caught up, could instantly sense my current state of terror.  She gave me some sort of fizzing tablet, citing that it was Mexican and I shouldn’t worry about it.  Taking Mexican drugs seemed like a reasonable decision at this point, so I took it down and enjoyed her heartfelt hug.  As I watched her hike off ahead, I marveled at her instantaneous willingness to slow down for a few minutes to help me.  Her kindness would be repeated, but unparalleled as the day wore on, even once contrasted.  A single smile was drawn as I lie in trouble at the aid station. I only mention that unfortunate moment to heighten just how important it was what Marisol did for me and how special the lot of ultrarunners are.  You see, it is human nature to be excited for any chance to succeed, to move up a place, to be closer to the best, and hence, I do not blame the smiler.  Instead, I celebrate the honest empathy that was shown to me, even by those who were battling their own problems.  Enter: the puking H’ard Cohen.  And just as the empathy is taketh, the empathy is giveth.

The volunteers ushered me into the Mt. Hilyer aid station, as I choked back some pretzels and tears of disappointment.  There were no medical personnel there, but they got on the radio to Chilao for some advice.  My first task was to try and pee in a cup, which after blacking out on Mt. Hilyer, I was obviously wildly excited about.  The good news is that it wasn’t as dark as before, but the bad news was that it still hurt like hell.  However, they asked me if I could still get myself to Chilao and that was definitely affirmative.  Hell, I didn’t even have to walk – my legs could RUN. 

I resolved to get to Chilao as quickly as possible, as I had now been sitting at Mt. Hilyer for a half hour.  Sub-24 was now a wash, but if I could get my system back to processing, I could still salvage a 25-26 hour finish, which I’d be more than okay with.   I ran the entire way feeling like my bladder would explode, but didn’t dare squat down and deal with the dizziness and shanking of the stomach.  Per radio’ed orders, I downed at least 20 ounces of water in the 50 minutes it took me to get there.  Bowman was waiting for me at the trail and I began filling him in on the madness and insisted that he look at the Honey Boo Boo situation that was happening above my shorts.  I knew Adam had been there before – legs feeling great, mind resolved, but stuck with a system that would not process for an unbeknownst reason. Also, he went to KU, so he can likely relate to Miss Boo's family activities and education level.  We decided that I would simply sit at Chilao for as long as it took to get my shit together, and then I would continue on.  I would come around.  I could still make a comeback and run a decent time.

"This is what I'm gonna show the judges."  i.e. the medical team.
As I was ushered onto the scale, I was convinced that everyone would see how much weight I was holding in my distended stomach, but instead, I was down three pounds.  Very strange.  Then, as if it weren’t enough for the medical director to get a radio description of my pee, I had to do it again so he could see for himself.  Again, blinding pain, and again only a drizzle of liquid.  But again, it was a little less dark than before and actually, not of concern to medical.  Despite the full bladder and pain both in my abdomen and back, they saw no reason why I should not go on if I could deal with the pain.  The theory was that I had stressed out my system and the tube connecting my bladder to my kidneys was inflamed.  This would create both pain in the kidney area and the inability to pee, as the hole to relief was now very small due to the inflammation.  The blood in my urine likely came from when I was dehydrated after puking and then my bladder walls were rubbing together.

Something you'll likely never see again
in your lifetime.
(photo: Kevin DeSplinter, against his
better judgement & at risk of familial
This actually made a whole hell of a lot of sense to me, as I’ve been suffering from kidney problems on and off for the entire last year (more on that some other time).  When my kidneys are jacked, my entire body is jacked – mentally fuzzy, dizzy and legs completely fried – basically dead man walking.  In this case, I still felt amazing.  No sir, no way it could be my kidneys.  Also, accepting this reality meant that I could leave the aid station and keep running.  So, inflamed tube thingy it was!  In full disclosure, there was no part of me whatsoever that wanted to stop the race, but I also was not willing to risk serious kidney damage for a buckle.  As I told the medical director, dialysis is expensive.

Now, the best part about actually leaving Chilao was that my dad was going to be pacing me for this section. Honestly, not getting to run with him might have been the hardest part had I been pulled from the race.  We headed off into the golden light of the late afternoon sun and set about getting things back in order.  I had been reluctant to take an ibuprofen at the advice of medical, having never taken it during a race and still not fully convinced my kidneys were entirely unaffected, but I have to admit, it definitely dulled the sharp pains in my abdomen and back.  The downhill jarring was no longer excruciating and I must note that I ran this next section faster than Dom. He might have been having some breathing issues, but facts are facts.

M-I-Z ....  P-E-E  (please.)
(photo: Joan DeSplinter)
Mentally was a bit of a different story.  I was fully engaged and committed, no doubt, but I’ll tell you here what I told him then.  I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around continuing to push as hard as I would for the goal, when the goal was no longer attainable.  Had I been tired or had my legs been blown out from running too hard, I’d have had to accept that I had simply pushed beyond my ability.  No shame in that.  But this.  This was some freak system shutdown thing that I had done everything to prevent and then correct.  I was playing by the rules, but the powers that be certainly were not.  What had I done to deserve this?  I’d worked so hard for this day.  I’d been through enough “learning experience” races already.  I deserved to have my day.  My defining moment.  And I had long before decided that was going to be TODAY.

Ah, but then the sky turned pink and the clouds turned purple and I could feel the beautiful light dancing on my cheeks.  I was still here.  In the stillness of remembering what you had… What you lost…, Stevie Nicks persisted.  All morning I had repeated the mantra, “stay in the moment. Just stay in the moment.”  If I could do that now, perhaps I could be happy. What you had... What you lost...

By Shortcut, I had promised both to my dad and to myself that I was just going to have fun with the rest of this race.  I had friends to run with and since my legs felt so great, we’d have a grand old time catching other runners and flying along the trails.  I’d likely look back on the race with a twinge of sadness, but for now I was going to be okay with it and just keep moving forward.  Free life lessons, folks.

Elan was stoked to accompany me for the next 16 miles, and I was actually quite excited that we could have a good run together, rather than a “Katie ran too hard and blew up” suffer-fest at mile 60.  Sure enough, we dug into the 5 mile fireroad descent that is normally the bane of my existence with fervor.  I opened my stride as we talked the entire way down to the river, completely forgetting about the race and my disappointment.  And miracle of all miracles – I started peeing!  I was back on pale ale status, perhaps even approaching blonde and I wasn’t blacking out when trying to squeeze it out.  Improvements.

Newcombs (mi 69) came and went – now that I wasn’t pushing a time goal, I was okay with taking a few minutes to sit, get some soup and crackers in and try to keep my system relaxed.  I talked to my parents and Monica on the screen they had set up and they filled me in on the drama that was Ruperto catching Dom at Chantry and the ensuing battle royale for the win.  At least I wasn’t dealing with that shit.

After running a faster split from Chilao to
Shortcut than Dom. I don't even know
what is happening anymore.
(photo: Joan DeSplinter)
Elan and I kept a good pace on the technical trail down Mt. Wilson – nothing remarkable, but definitely something I could be happy with considering my last bout with ‘ole Sturdevant.  Two years ago, I had been limping down to Chantry with my poor pal, Maruoka; basically rocking two kneecaps on my left knee. This was definitely better.  About a mile and a half from the aid station, we saw two headlamps coming towards us on the trail and soon discovered Chris Price and Josh Nordell.  Though I hadn’t noticed, Ashley was apparently on a cot up at Newcombs.  As we pushed on, my heart sank for her.  Here, I’d been so wrapped up in my own misfortune and deservedness of a good race that I’d failed to consider that others were dealing with the same or maybe worse.  Ashley is one of the most talented runners in the country, and I could only imagine her disappointment at having had to drop at Western States 6 weeks ago and now what seemed to be an inevitable drop here.  We’d also received word that Jorge Pacheco and Tommy Nielson were additional casualties down at Chantry – again, two runners who I respect the hell out of and personally know have put in a ton of hard work for this day.  This day that just wasn’t panning out for any of us.

One of my goals for AC is always to get through Chantry (mile 75) before Dom reaches the finish, but today I hoped that was not the case.  As I saw the lights ahead, I realized he’d need to beat me out of the aid station to break 19 hours and as such, this was the first thing I asked as I was ushered onto the scale.  But before I could get an answer, a little panic.  I was now up seven pounds.  If you remember correctly, less than 25 miles ago, I had been down 3 with a distended belly.  Now, I was peeing again, but had somehow gained a whopping TEN POUNDS in the last 5 ½ hours.  Sweet baby Jesus.

Now for some additional panic.  Apparently, Bowman (who was to be my pacer for the final no crew access 26 miles) had gotten cell service on the way to Chantry, only to discover his wife, Carol, was in the ER with a serious allergic reaction to some antibiotics.  Obviously, he’d needed to get over there. And obviously, I’ll take a pause from the story here to let you know she is perfectly alive and well – I saw her with my own two eyes and hugged her with my own two arms the very next day.  My mom informed me that Kevin would be my new pacer, and I became very concerned.  You see, Kevin is my dad’s name, and Kevin had already run 7 miles with me.  Kevin had been concerned about his ability to run 16, as it was in the mountains with a bit of elevation and he could not train properly for this feat of athletic prowess in St. Louis, Missouri.  While I was deeply touched at this selfless act Kevin was willing to subject himself to for his ailing daughter, I sincerely doubted Kevin’s ability to go an additional 26 miles over two more major mountains on technical trails in the dark. 

Fortunately for all, they were talking about Kevin Chan.

And so, after downing some soup, protein bar and Coke and hearing that Dom had not yet finished but had been lengthening the gap between him and Ruperto, we left the aid station, not doubting for a moment that I would see this thing through.  I ran where I could and hiked where I couldn’t – all was going as well as it possibly could be on a 3700’ climb at mile 76.  And then, it just wasn’t.  My stomach rose, I began dry heaving and the next thing I knew I was puking uncontrollably.  All the food and all the water I had been ingesting, sans processing– gone.

At first, there was elation.  My stomach was suddenly free from the confines of cramping and the rise and fall of what I can only assume was battery acid and warm, spoiled milk.  I ran the rest of the way to the turnoff for Upper Winter Creek, where I knew I’d need to immediately start replacing what I’d just lost.  I struggled with a gel, but got it down.  My stomach immediately wretched.  Drinking or eating anything was only making the situation worse, yet I knew I wouldn’t even make it to the next aid station, much less the finish, if I didn’t keep the calories coming.  I was beginning to get extremely sleepy as a result of the deficit, but was reluctant to take any real caffeine, lest it upset my stomach even worse.  Eventually however, I deemed that it really couldn’t get any worse, so I took down a yerba maté shot.  And I was clearly mistaken, as evidenced by a new episode of dry heaving.

The climb was slow going.  Every 10-20 minutes, I’d sit down on a log and choke down a gel in 4-5 parts, praying that it would process.  But none of them were.  Nothing was getting to my muscles, so my legs were glycogen-depleted and heavy.  Nothing was going to my brain, so I was dizzy, sleepy and increasingly hopeless. It was all just sitting there in my stomach and chest – it was honestly to the point where I was adding up the money I was wasting with performance food that wasn’t doing anything.  We eventually got to the bench and I sat down in a moment of true despair.  I wanted to cry, but I didn’t even have the strength for that.  So I just looked out over the city below, let the breeze blow across my face and began to let go.

Hey, remember this girl?  Yeah, me neither.
(photo: Mike Epler, Islip, 50+ miles ago)
We continued up to the toll road, where I decided that if I could run, I could feasibly get myself to the finish line.  If I couldn’t, I could maybe still get there as well, but deep in my heart, I just wasn’t willing to do that.  I’d completed this race before, dragging a broken body to a 30+ hour finish.  There was nothing in me that possessed any desire to do that again and seriously mess up my body in the process, as I was legitimately scared about what was going on.  For the first time in my life, simply finishing would not be enough.  And I felt like a fucking coward.

I frantically tried to run to dispel these dissenting thoughts.  To prove to myself that I was the fighter everyone thought I was and that pride could never get the best of me.  But I’m not a hero.  My stomach wretched, my abdomen seized, my kidneys ached, my entire body was shutting down.  Running made everything remarkably worse.  More puking.  Oh God, please just let this end.

Right before the aid station, I discovered Dom and my names written in the dirt and the tears finally came.  Idlehour was run by friends and they were a) going to do everything in their power to get me to leave that aid station; and b) were going to be horribly disappointed in my having given up.  Sure enough, I was ushered into a chair, handed some warm salt water and Tums and told under no circumstances would my bracelet be cut.  I buried my head in the blanket and began to sob uncontrollably.

I sat for over an hour and soon thereafter a hint of light graced the sky.  I had been watching friends come and go and a few times tried to talk myself into getting up and walking it in.  To be courageous and tough like them. I thought about the other names in the dirt - the other friends who would have given anything to continue this race but had been cut off at a previous aid station.  I still had plenty of time.  I could drag my ass home.  I was so utterly confused.

The scene of the crime. Flanked by two finishers.
(photo: Jack Cheng)
Instantly, I could no longer stand to be here – still technically a part of this race.  I had to go somewhere, and my choices were either 5 miles down the toll road to the city or 7 to the next aid station.  I stood up, took a deep breath and that’s when it happened – the moment I knew everything in my body was officially over.

Guys, I shit myself. 

No joke. I had now lost control of my bladder, kidneys, stomach, legs, mind, eyesight and well… the one thing you never want to lose control of.  It was horrific.  And I knew I was done in the most epic way possible.

Luckily, my friends took extreme pity on me and gave me a ride down to the city (I sat on a garbage bag).  The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor of the shower listening to Dom recount his victorious race, unable to feel anything any longer.  It was almost as if I was in shock, unable to mentally process that I had really just DNF’d Angeles Crest at mile 85.  My race.  The race that was going so well until it wasn’t.

I cried a lot in the days after the event.  Disbelief turned to anger, anger turned to sadness and honestly, while sadness has greatly dissipated, it is still very much a part of my conscious.  While I was still peeing blood on Sunday, I was confident I had done the right thing, but once my body began feeling better, I was flooded with doubt.  What did I do wrong?  What could I have done differently?  Could I have safely kept going? 

Truth is, I don’t know and I physically can’t care anymore.  AC100 2013 is over.  In the wake of it all,  it's not so much the DNF that is bothering me, in as much as that I am still left searching and pushing and praying for that one magical day when it all comes together. You see, the failure itself did not define me.  But did I choose to fail when I felt like I already had? Am I not as tough as I thought I was?  And more importantly - am I still running and racing for the right reasons, or have I defined myself in a new category where it is acceptable to drop when you're not having a good race? I wasn't medically pulled. I wasn't even advised not to go on. The choice was all mine.  Sure, I pushed through some serious shit with a great attitude from mile 35 to mile 85, that much I know.  But mile 85 wasn't the finish. AND I'M NOT A QUITTER.

Or am I?


Regardless of outcome, I must thank a few folks for sharing the day with me:  
Mom, Dad & Bowman for a long weekend of crewing
Dad & Elan for some most excellent pacing
Momica for the endless support, no matter the outcome
New Balance (1010s and 890s)
Injinji (Trail 2.0. Blisters 0.0) 
Hal, Ken & the awesome volunteers
Tiffany & Trey for talking me through one of the harder moments of my life
and finally,
Kevin Chan - who did not sign up for that shit, and most assuredly had a less than idyllic Saturday night/Sunday Morning. I owe you, bro. Holy hell, do I owe you.

Back to training for 2014. (sigh.)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Connection Isn't a Buzzword: The Lost Art of Respect (and Basic Humanity)

I am 29 years old, and that means a few things.

At one point, I seriously rocked shoulder pads. I have a profound respect for all things 1980. There was a time when Matchbox 20 was my favorite band.  I had to wait until 2006 to see the Cards win a World Championship. Unfortunately, I’ll be 30 in a month in a half.  

And most notably, I went through high school without a cell phone and college without Facebook.

Am I going to go on a rant here?  That is not the intention, but probably yes.  Will I seriously date myself in the process?  In that case, allow me to break out my rickety old man pants. 

This is a photo I took of Dom.
There is a definite situation at hand, and I’d like to sum it all up by stating that people don’t know how to treat people anymore.  And while ultrarunning certainly attracts the exception to that statement and comprise the majority of my friends and acquaintances associated with the sport, the whole thing is growing beyond anyone’s control.  People have actually heard of running 100 miles in the mountains.  People have actually seen pictures of Killian and Tony K or Ellie and Anna in magazines.  And people certainly have something to say about it.

Good. Great.  Awesome, actually!  Opinions are always welcome, different viewpoints are encouraged, and healthy debate is what drives us all towards progress.  But all too often, I encounter legitimate bashing, trashing and smashing, which always elicits the same response from me, “I mean, WHO SAYS THAT?!”

I myself have been a victim of backhanded trash talking online; I’ve been misrepresented, misquoted and misinterpreted.  And while it sucks, it’s nothing compared to what the real stars of our sport are going through.  Have you ever perused the comments on irunfar (before Bryon or Meghan get to them and enforce that shit)?  Worse yet, have you ever heard of letsrun?  It’s insane.  Absolutely insane.

You know what else is insane?  Having a coffee with someone whose nose is buried in their phone the entire time, and possibly even answers a phone call.

You know what else is insane?  Being more concerned about “checking in” to where you are, rather than checking it out.

You know what ELSE is insane?  Finding out your only brother is engaged on Facebook.

Here is my point:

What J Timbs and I are trying to say is, GET OFF YOUR ####ING iPHONE!  No, but what I’m really trying to say is: Ayo, I am a person who exists and has feelings and emotions and appreciates real human connection.  My Facebook contains images of me, not me.  My Twitter handle is only a very millifraction of the thoughts consuming my actual, tangible brain.  My blog is just some shit I wanted to remember and write about. Unless we have physically met, spoken and hugged, you don’t know me.  I don’t know you. But when we do, please realize that you are sharing a moment with me, in real physical form.  Please do not value a photo on Instagram over the minutes of my time I am giving you.  Please join me in living in the moment, rather than documenting it.  Please question me, get to know me, rather than think you have me all figured out based on one sentence you read somewhere online.  Please learn how to be human again.

In your speak, OMG I’m not LOLing here. U srsly need to stop.

Here’s my theory on this:
I am part of a very distinct nano-generation who has gone through the two periods of life most responsible for social development having to complete said development entirely face to face.  Computers weren’t even “a thing” until the end of middle school, and all I really remember about that is breaking a fucking axle when I was trying to ford the river EVERY. TIME.  The internet wasn’t really rocking until high school, and even that was dial-up and everyone knew the CD-Rom encyclopedia you got when you bought a Hewlett-Packard was better for research anyway.  My junior year, I bought a pager so that I could type 55378008 to my friends (hint: look at that upside down); although I soon realized it really just served as a tracking device for my parents.  I got a cell phone for Christmas my senior year, but don’t get too excited.  It’s greatest feature was “Snake.” 

Point is, if you wanted to meet with your friends, you had to get on the phone or (gasp!) walk to their houses and make legitimate plans.  You spent time together.  When you went out, you saved your photos preciously because you only had so many before the film ran out, and it cost money to develop.  You shared time together, rather than sharing the evidence.  You were only friends with people you had legitimately met and had contact with.

Furthermore, if you didn’t like someone, there was a whole host of things you could do to make their life miserable, including, but not limited to:  getting in a fight, TPing their house, passing notes making fun of them or making them sit alone at lunch.  All of these are terrible, no doubt, but the reach only went so far.  There was no, say, network of billions worldwide that could get in on “the fun.”  And if you wanted to say something, for all intents and purposes, you had to say it to their face… or at least to a face that would inevitably tell the intended face.  And you had to use YOUR name and YOUR likeness.  There was no sk8ergrl to hide behind.

I took that neon green Nokia, to which I’d glued little tiny rhinestones to the buttons, off to college with me and it was certainly helpful for making plans and calling home for free.  (Family Plan FTW).  Mind you, you still had to CALL me if you wanted to make plans.  Text messaging was like 20 cents per and there was no way I was paying for that shit.  While I eventually upgraded to a color screen flip variety, I never owned a phone with internet capabilities.  Besides, all I’d use that for would be to check game scores, but instead I just asked someone.  Anyone.  (Gasp!) a stranger.

By senior year, Gmail came out and I was beginning to use that a little more regularly for things beyond school, work and applying for jobs.  It became a legitimate way to inform people of happenings and I was part of many an “email chain.”  Here was born my disdain for the Reply All.  I believe it was this year that I also signed up for a MySpace account, although I had no idea why I was doing it and found the whole thing quite creepy.  Then when Facebook came out only a few months later, my mind was blown.  Why do I need all this shit? 

Subsequently, I went through what is arguably the most important “coming into one’s own” phase of my life, solely interacting with people face to face.  If I didn’t know the answer to something, I asked a person.  I had to leave my room if I wanted to “connect” and “make friends.”  I took a few photos here and there.  I documented things I wanted to remember by hand in a scrapbook.  And the rest of my time was spent living my life.  I never had a smartphone, I never texted, I found the new social networks to be creepy and Chat Rooms were for losers.

Sure, many folks my age have jumped head first into the new age of digital connection and have no qualms nor questions about how the way they behave as a fundamental human being has changed.  Many folks older have done the same.  But I am in a weird place.  On one hand, I love the way Facebook and Twitter and my iPhone and the likes have allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends.  I love the way it allows me to share my passion for ultrarunning with people all over the country.  I love how it helps me get my writing out to the masses.  I honestly have no idea how I ever survived without the Google Maps App.  I work at a digital ad agency, for chrissakes. But on the other hand, it deeply angers me when someone pays more attention to their phone than the person in front of them.  I hate being put on call waiting.  I have a limit on how far our conversation can go via text, and I’ll never understand why when I eventually just call you, you don’t answer and then send me a text asking why I called.  I honestly think about every single image and every single word I tweet, post or otherwise share.  Will someone possibly interpret it the wrong way?  Could it be hurtful or negatively affect someone else?  Is it my best grammar or is it the most effective way to say that?  Why am I even posting this anyway?  I honestly let every single letter and every little pixel sit in the queue before I hit send, and I often edit or delete entirely.  In short, I think about what I’m saying because I deeply understand that once I put it out there, I’m never fully getting it back.  And my reach is now further and deeper than I ever could have imagined. 

The sad part is, I honestly believe that Social Networking has become such an integral part of most of our lives that people don’t even think twice, and they certainly don’t analyze it all the way I have.  While I am appalled at groups of college girls around a table, all on their iPhones, they likely don’t find it rude because it’s just the way things are now.  While I find it horribly strange that the brother of mine shares news of engagement and arrival in St. Louis on Facebook (before calling my dad and I who were waiting at the airport to pick him up), he likely sees it as a great tool for communication.  And for all intents and purposes, it worked, and at the end of the day, my happiness at either situation was not adversely affected.  But my fear is that people are not taking the time to fully understand the implications of their opinions not being shared solely with the person.  When you write on a wall or leave a comment, it’s seen and interpreted by many others.  And it’s documented FOREVER.  If only the entire world had a Bryon and Meghan, but alas, it doesn’t. 

Act accordingly.


If you, yourself, believe that you may have lost a bit of touch with your humanity or need a refresher course on what it means to be a truly good person, I’d invite you to take 19 minutes of your day to listen to this.  It’s Bob Costas’s eulogy at Stan Musial’s funeral, who was not only one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, but considered one of the all time greatest men by those that knew him and the city that loved him deeply.  I love this, in particular:

“(Thanks to Stan) We understood that it’s more important to be appreciated than to be glorified; to be respected than to be celebrated; to be understood and loved than to be idolized; and that friendship is more important than fame.” –Bobby C

In this case, let’s stay in touch on Facebook, please tweet your race updates, we’ll all share beautiful, inspiring photos of mountains we should all climb.  I’ll continue to write this blog, you continue to write yours and comments are always welcome.  Text me, bro.  But for the love of all things holy, look up. 

Understand that it’s more important to be regarded than to be retweeted; to be legitimately well liked rather than “liked”; to go actually hang out than to go viral; and that friendship can never be truly formed by clicking a button.