Monday, September 19, 2016

Inspirational Quotes

Guys, I’m not one for quotes. I just want to get it out of the way now that I personally believe that basing an entire work of writing upon someone else’s quote is, while effective, usually pretty lazy, and it’s not a literary device that I like to rely on. Don’t get me wrong – I love me a piece of perfectly written prose, and I’ll occasionally pepper one into my writing or display one in a prominent position for inspiration, such as this brilliance above my monitor at work:

The point is, I’m more of a fan of dissecting inspirational quotes and poking holes in them, versus posting them in a pretty font on Instagram. Let's take the phrase, “you are limitless,” for example. I mean, that sounds fantastic, and it’s certainly a great mindset for the arbitrary boundaries we place upon ourselves. But is it true? No, I’m sorry to report, but you are, in fact, “limited.” By genetics. And by a huge variety of outside circumstances. I’ve come to believe that a blind faith in one’s limitless potential can be absolutely bone crushing when results don’t echo effort level. Completely ignoring the reality of boundaries creates an atmosphere of expectation and entitlement. For me, recognizing and accepting limits is crucial to taking a more realistic approach to everything I do and being more satisfied with the effort itself, regardless of the outcome. In this case, a more reasonable approach might be to recognize the boundaries and then try to overcome them anyway. So how I’d change the quote to be more inspirational for my personal mindset is this:

I swear, if I see someone posting this on Instagram out of context...
While this practice of destroying everyone’s favorite quotes may seem a bit cynical, I’ve actually found it to be pretty therapeutic in trying to focus my own mindset with regards to both running and life. It’s helping me transition from a place where more is always better, and everything is all in, all the time. If that sounds fucking exhausting, let me assure you, it is. And that’s where I find myself these days. But the imperative thing is that I’ve noticed it, and I’m taking active steps to get my brain in control before I destroy myself. Checking myself before I begin wrecking myself, if you will. That’s a quote in which there are no holes to poke.

So there’s this Bukowski one that I see all the time, and it goes: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” It’s usually attached to the context of pursuing one’s greatest passion, and it’s really a lovely way to express obsession, to be honest. But what if what is killing you isn’t actually the “thing” itself, but all the other things that go into it? Like blind faith, his cousin, blind ambition, can be extremely dangerous. Nothing is ever singular in focus, and when we refuse to not only recognize but give attention to the myriad of connections that make a certain event happen, (good or bad,) we’re operating in a state of disservice to self and surroundings.

‘Ole Bukowski certainly did love a lot of things – his work, his drink, his women – and he definitely pursued all with a fervor that could have killed him. But what I find most intriguing about his oft-quoted quote, is that in the sequel on his gravestone, he simply says, “don’t try.”  So how in the hell do you do something with such a passion that it could kill you, but give no fucks in the process? That is precisely what I’m trying to do here.

 Gosh, that sounds like an overly deep and dramatic reason for deciding not to run a race next week. Bukowski? Really?! But don’t worry, it gets way deeper than that.

So, I had two 100-milers planned this year: the Hardrock Hundred in July and The Bear 100 in September. I won’t be starting either of them, and neither for the typical reasons, nor any reasons I’ve ever encountered. Hardrock was my dream race, and Bear was to be a redemption run*. I entered the year excited to train hard and achieve shit. It was a good place to be.
*I dropped at mile 75 from hypothermia in 2013.

By Spring, I found myself fully in the throes of planning and crafting my own wedding, working 15+ hour days, but still training, training, training. Admittedly not as many miles as I’d hoped, but I became a hero in my own mind for how well I was “balancing” it all. This balance was not achieved by giving 33.333333333333% equally across items, but rather with 110% effort to each. Which if you are saying is statistically impossible, I KNOW. AND THEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM.

When I finally arrived in Silverton, two-and-a-half weeks out from The Big One, the overwhelming emotion prevailing was not excitement or readiness.  It was relief. I had somehow gotten through it all, and not just survived, but thrived. Everyone had a wonderful time at our wedding and appreciated each of my time-sucking details*. I had a new TV spot on air and a desk full of shiny advertising awards. My quads looked like I had been climbing straight up mountains for a few months, because I had been climbing straight up mountains for a few months. Hardrock was to be my reward for putting my head down and getting it all done. Somewhere along the way, I had decided that running Hardrock was the singular thing that made it all worth it.
*For an example detail, I handmade a unique gift for each of our guests. We had over 100 guests. There were many steps involved.

Of course, by now you know that I didn’t actually get to run Hardrock.  In a historical first, drawn at #5 on the Never Started waitlist, I never got bumped to the list of entrants. And to make it all a little more dramatic, I was standing on the starting line, dressed out, ready to go when the clock struck 5:45am race morning. Someone hadn’t shown up and was given 30 seconds to check in. In what was arguably the cruelest twist of fate of all twists of fates ever, my dream died with 20 seconds to spare. I had sacrificed all my vacation days for this. I sacrificed a honeymoon. I sacrificed a week of tapering in the beautiful San Juans when I could have been running. I probably sacrificed a few things I shouldn’t have, and I felt pretty foolish, to be honest. I was finally standing on my most coveted starting line, prepared, ready and with pure adrenaline coursing through my veins. Just like the other runners. I was finally a part. But the reality was that in a mere second, the pack began the journey, and I remained still.

Fortunately, I was in a beautiful place, with my favorite people and there were still 147 other runners who were out there running, battling and altogether Hardrocking. So I dried my tears, and went out for a great time cheering on top of Grant Swamp, drinking beers in Ouray, pacing all night, drinking a few more beers, and watching finishers. As I have for the past 6 years at Hardrock, I had an amazing time. And before I knew it, I was back at my desk, working long hours and hoping I would just find my running spark again the next week so I could take advantage of my altitude training and get to work for The Bear. I thought I was fine, because while I went all in for Hardrock, I always knew that there was a chance I wouldn’t get to run. I had a backup plan with a September 100. And when it all went down, I never felt “crushed” or “devastated” or all the other words people tried to ascribe to my being. Just because I’ve been obsessed with the race for almost a decade doesn’t mean that I deserved to run it any more than anyone else. So while I was disappointed, I wasn’t angry. In fact, I was surprisingly optimistic.

If I had run Hardrock, I wouldn't have been doing this. And this was awesome.
photo: Gina Lucrezi

But the spark never really came. An unexpected opportunity arose to jump into the Angeles Crest 100, the only other race that has the same kind of power over me that Hardrock does. Although I was hesitant, Dom and I decided I should go for it. And I failed hard. My legs and lungs felt amazing, and I was running extremely well – but from the first gel, my stomach was unexplainably off. I ended up puking for many, many hours and finally dropped at mile 42. I was still puking, had started peeing blood and despite the heat, was absolutely freezing cold.* This just sent me deeper down the hole and grasping even harder to get out.
*Fun sidenote: I just discovered that I was using some protein powder that expired in 2014. I don’t know for sure that this is what did it, but at least I now know that protein powder can expire.

For my next trick, I decided that I was going to go run the entire High Sierra Trail, because I always said that if I didn’t get to run Hardrock that’s what I was going to do. It was awesome, but again (but unrelated), I ended up puking halfway through and didn’t keep any calories down for over 12 hours.* Somewhere in the middle of the Sierra backcountry, I sat down on a log and completely melted. I wasn’t going to run long anymore. No more races. No more adventures. Nothing. Of course, once I finally was able to keep food down, via a fortunate opening and dinner at Bearpaw Meadow, the “never” aspect of those statements was recanted. But there was still something true at the core of them.
*Another puking sidenote: I suspected that it might have been a yerba mate shot that did it. I took another yerba shot in a recent race and puked immediately. These things have been my liquid gold in races for years, so I am horribly disappointed.

72 miles across the High Sierra. We can just pick up and do something like this any weekend.
Life ain't so bad.
It sure is beautiful. But remember, it tried to kill me.
At this point, I knew that I was still very capable of running 100 miles. Even decently well. And I loved getting out for adventures on the weekends. But during the week, I just couldn’t get myself out of bed before work to train. I’d wake up to the alarm and immediately be paralyzed by the overwhelming thoughts of how much I had to do that day, and how there would be even more asked of me and I’d fall further and further behind and I still had nothing to show for it. (Besides a shiny new husband, but you know what I mean.) And so most days, I’d bury my head and hide until the very last minute I had to get out and head to work.  So it wasn’t really running that I was avoiding, per say. Once I was on my bike and on the way to the office, I always wished I could just ride to a trailhead then and there. And so I’d make a pact with myself that I’d go after work. This worked on occasion. But more often than not, I’d work too late, come home, crack a beer and go hide in my cave. I started reading a lot, not necessarily for enjoyment, but to distract me from the obligations of my own life. That’s when I realized I had a problem.

My friend and coworker Bob used to always tell me, “see Katie, the problem is that you tried.”  This was usually in reference to some piece of creative that I had spent an inordinate amount of time on, fought for and/or had completely decimated by someone else involved in the process. And while it seems all a bit dark and fatalist, there is an important bit of truth in it.  Often our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. And often we can’t recognize it, because it is usually serving us so well that we don’t see all the tiny ways it is simultaneously destroying us. Killing us. My husband is probably one of the most optimistic people I know and doesn’t have a cynical bone in his body, but expressed a similar sentiment to Bob. “Katie, the problem is that you just care so much.”

And it’s true. I do. About my goals. About my work. About my obligations. About every single person in my life and what they think of me and whether I am affecting them in a positive or negative way. About hand-making every single guest to our wedding a gift and stressing every day about how I still haven’t written thank-you notes and the internet says that is super rude of me and how it’s going to take forever because I can’t just write a scripted note to each person and sign it and I definitely can’t have Dom help because his handwriting is atrocious and that I know that I should let it go but I won’t because I secretly love writing letters. About how I’m perceived. About every word I speak. About my actions. About everything I’m doing. About everything I’m not doing.

And maybe, just maybe, I cared a little too much about Hardrock. Of course, that’s the rub, because caring is exactly what got me to the starting line, confident in my ability to complete the hardest challenge of my life. But what happens when the rug comes out from underneath? What happens when you don’t even get to try?

To be honest, I don’t think I ever really gave myself the chance to process what transpired and assess my own mental state. Usually when you either don’t start or don’t finish a race, there is some very tangible reason why. You overtrained, you undertrained, you got injured, a life event occurred, nature occurred, you had complications during the race, etc.  Someone saying “no” 15 minutes before your dream race is a very new experience.*
*For the record, Dale did not actually say no. He gave me a hug.

But I buried it. NEXT GOAL. Furthermore, I pretty much refused to talk about any of it, for fear of how I might come across. It is human nature to view things through our own perception. And by most people’s perception, I must be heartbroken about the whole thing, so it would only make sense that I speak from a place of anger and jealousy. I have spoken and posted very little about my experiences this summer, but even those drew weird, fruit-themed accusations of sour grapes and cherry picking. While these interactions were few and far between, they only made me feel even weirder and guiltier about the emotions I was experiencing about not getting to try at one goal and failing at the next. And the emotions about having emotions.  OF COURSE, I REALIZED IT WAS JUST A RACE. OF COURSE, I REALIZED THERE WERE WAY MORE IMPORTANT THINGS IN THE WORLD. OF COURSE, I WAS GRATEFUL FOR WHAT I HAVE. OF COURSE, IT WAS NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL.

But of course, it also wasn’t about running anymore, was it?  I’ve been fully aware of my tendency to overcommit and my seemingly inability to successfully balance the various aspects of my life for some time now. But I’ve also always, always been praised for it. Wow, you really do it all! And though it has always been a source of pride, it has also been a source of guilt. I joked about giving 110% to three different areas of my life, the the reality is that I wasn’t even giving each 33.33333%. I was giving each about 30% and there was a wasted 10% of sheer exhaustion. My wedding was a blast, but I felt tired and crappy the whole weekend. You can see it in my eyes in our photos. At my job, I’ve been putting in the work but haven’t been playing the game. You have to do both to have anything to show for it in the corporate world. Instead I just feel jaded.  I show my husband unconditional love every day, but I’m not doing a very good job of building a home with him. I have piles of old clothes and gear that I’ve been promising to get rid of for years. I own an old cabin with him that needs work. And I don’t have time for any of it. When it comes to running, well… we’ve already discussed how completely off-kilter I am there, so let’s not beat a dead horse, right?

A few weekends ago, I headed out to complete a route in the San Gabriels I’ve had my eye on for a long time. It involved cross-country travel, unknown, very seldom traveled areas, some Class 3 climbing, a ton of vert and represented a pretty bad idea. Nevertheless, I headed out into the morning with a friend to see what we could see. It was harder and slower than expected, but for the first time in a great long while, I really enjoyed every bit of it. Both the beauty and the suffering. I started to talk myself back into running 100 miles in a few weeks and told myself I’d book all the travel arrangements the next day while recovering. I was BACK, baby.

I mean, come ON. This view was going to leave me with the feeling of
invincibility, whether I liked it or not.

But then as I laid in the sun, completely covered in cuts, bruises, bites and the rashes of two different poisonous plants, I knew that it still didn’t feel right. I gave myself until Tuesday to decide, but I already knew my answer. While at Hardrock, I didn’t get to make the choice not to run, for The Bear, I still had the chance. For the first time in my life, I willfully took myself out of the race before it even started. Healing my compulsory behaviors isn’t going to come from one of the most compulsive activities on the planet. 

So for now, I’m going to work on finding a way to care enough but less; the proper amounts of fucks to give, if you will. On a macro level, I understand that it is all meaningless. What is running compared to REAL events and problems of the world, right? But on a micro level, it’s exactly how I deal with that horrifying fact. Running ultras is my feeble attempt to add meaning and structure to an otherwise chaotic and inconsequential existence. I realize how extremely dark and cynical that sounds, but it’s actually quite the opposite if you think about it. It’s how things matter to me, even when they don’t matter in the grand scheme. It’s how I get a glimpse into a feeling of connectivity with the world, when the scientific reality is that to the world, I am but a blip who will eventually return to dust. At my high school graduation, when I was but a wee na├»ve laddess, I spoke about how there is always a focus on finding the meaning OF life, when it seemed to me, like we should be focusing on just putting meaning IN our life.  I’m not sure that I really knew what in the hell I was talking about at 18 years of age, but I now see that I was on the brink of a deeper understanding on where I needed to keep my focus in order to stay generally happy in life. I mean, I royally fucked that up for some number of years in my 20s, but I think I’m coming back around to that idea now.

That’s why it’s so hard for me not to run The Bear. Running 100 miles is always a journey for both my body and mind, and I always feel fulfilled while and after doing so. No other distance can do it for me quite like that. It’s hard for me to say no to trying. Especially when there’s a good chance it could be a decent if not great race for me. It’s hard not to care, when caring is exactly what makes me feel whole. But the deal is, until I can get a goddamned grip, I have no business doing so. I know I’ll be better for it in the long run, and my running will stay as a positive addition to my life rather than an unsatisfied compulsion for feeling like I’m enough.  So I’m not running Bear 100, and instead I’m going to work on this cool thing I learned:

You don’t have to care so deeply that it defines you. This notion is romanticized, but if you do, it will fucking destroy you.

In other words (to keep this thing epigraphical), as my dad has been telling me for years - 

I should def start an Instagram of these things.

Here’s to a beautiful Fall of 50ks, adventures, a second wedding, fixing up our home, volunteering, loving my husband, and being ok with saying no.

ADDENDUM:  Guys, it’s working. I decided to go forth with a skyrace style 50k for which we already had travel booked, but truly approached it as a sightseeing adventure. It never once felt like a race, because deep in my heart, I didn’t want it to be. And as it turns out, it was probably one of my best efforts ever. (My goal is to write more on this in a separate post, because the awesomeness that was Ultra Santa Fe, and Santa Fe in general, deserves more than just a little mention.) This past weekend we erected some scaffolding at the cabin, and successfully built, wired and installed recessed lighting, plus we bought a wood pellet burning stove! While I won’t be running 100 miles at The Bear in a few days, I will, instead, be beginning a massive insulation project where I get to use power tools. Also, I have written two thank-you notes, it took way too much time, and I have no regrets.