Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm a Selfish Bitch and You're an Amazing Friend: The Unspoken Fallout of Pandora's Race

How does a person come to the idea to run 100 miles?

Wait. You've done this before?

And the conversation just kind of goes downhill from there.

But the reality is, these are in fact, very good questions that I would very much like to answer. The only trouble being, I think you'll find the summation of my response to be wholly and dreadfully uninspired. 

I heard about it. 
Someone told me it was possible.  
I did it. 
I liked it. 
I did it again.

If only it were indeed that cut and dry. But the truth is, that while simple, the whole thing was kind of life altering, and I'm not exaggerating in the slightest bit.  Anyone who knows me now would tend to define me by my running and my "outdoor lifestyle."  Define me.  Woah.  Those are heavy words we're playing with.  And anyone who knew me then would likely say I've become obsessed.  Interesting concepts.  Let's explore, shall we?

To start, a bit of background on how I "got into" ultrarunning:  
Way back in vintage 2006, I was looking for trail races and stumbled across a 50 mile run in Montana requiring you to carry a can of bear mace.  At this time, I didn't even carry a water bottle, so this seemed pretty wild.  Officially intrigued, I then learned that a 50 mile race was part of this subsect of things they called ultramarathons, which also included races of 100 miles and even 135 miles through Death Valley.  Death F*ing Valley. I jokingly wrote a blog on my MySpace page, and that was that.

Fast forward to a few years later, when a 21-year-old kid began working at the running store where I spent my weekends shlepping Brooks Beasts.  I was subsidizing my life as a single woman in LA on a junior advertising creative's salary, so working 7 days a week was all the rage.  Anyway, this freaking kid had just run 50 kilometers, was about to run 50 miles, and would be running 100 miles the following month.  His ultimate goal was to run the Badwater Ultramarathon.  That freaking Death Valley race.  Who did he think he was, anyway?

Well, turns out his name was Dom Grossman. And it turns out he'd eventually steal my heart, but that's a different story.  Actually, not entirely.  You see, Dom and I met at a transitory time in both of our lives.  A time where we went from whatever it was we used to be to what we are now, which is dirty, trail loving, vertical obsessed mountain ultra runners who constantly battle life in the big city with life on the run and can't imagine our world any other way.  I'll let him tell his story, but for me, that involved a major shift in priorities and lifestyle.  Now, here's the thing: it wasn't like I woke up one day and said, I'm going to stop doing things A and B and start doing thing C instead.  It was a semi but not really gradual process and actually, a quite natural transition.  Because after all, (and I'd of had no way of knowing this at the time,) my "think I'll try this" activity was about to become an all encompassing ordeal.  The ripples it created were the things that now make me the most happy.

At some point along the six month journey from deciding I may as well run a 50k to completing my first 100 miler, I remember taking a good look around and being left with the general sense of woah.  I mean, I hardly recognized my own Facebook page.  I constantly caught myself bringing up some sort of adventure in conversations, kind of like how you always seem to have a story that involves that boy you like.  Events and activities that used to excite me greatly were now boring or skipped entirely.  I wondered if people were annoyed.

No doubt, certain folks were.  My newfound and honest unwillingness for "nightlife" and hanging out was first seen as personal, and then the invites just kind of stopped entirely.  I didn't notice it then, but I haven't talked to most of the people I associated with on a daily basis in 2009 since, well, 2009.  So, was I becoming a hermit and replacing all my free time with running?  Hardly!  I found a great community of trail runners on the Westside of LA which only expanded with each event I ran, crewed or volunteered at.  I soon found that I had more in common with a 53-year-old woman from British Columbia who I might see once a year than people I had known my whole life.  It was weird, and it was kind of awesome.

Now, back to that Facebook thing I casually mentioned.  While I may not have noticed how my life was changing, here before me was a perfectly visual, time stamped log of my world from then to now.  My previous witty and often self-deprecating posts were replaced with training questions to the masses, race updates on friends, and the photos... my God, the photos.  

Fall of '08, right when #MyLife began to change. Also, I left my credit card at the bar.
(Sidenote: these amazing women are all still very DEAR friends of mine, even though all of our Facebook feeds have changed to include things like mom stuff, being a showgirl in Vegas stuff, new friends and new cities stuff and running 100 milers stuff.)

Fall of '12, equally as sexy
I talked less and less about my job, going out, new outfits and new projects.  And I talked less and less with my real life friends and more and more with the trail running community.  I suddenly had nothing to say to someone I'd known my whole life and too much to fit in one wall post to a person I'd met once, at a race 5 months ago.  At first, I looked at it all and honestly felt bad about it.  Ashamed.  It was like that time in middle school where Caitlin and Jodi boycotted my birthday party because I'd invited a few "popular" girls, which clearly meant I was ditching my "real" friends.  I'd throw a cynical quip about life in there every now and again and I made damn sure to take a photo every time I had makeup on.  I tried to match mountain photos and baby bump photos like for like.  But it wasn't enough.  Ultrarunning had consumed my little sector of the internet.  Ultrarunning had consumed my life.

Next came the rebuttal and the comfort with it all being OK.  You see, we take photos of things we do and things we love.  Which is why you rarely see photos of people sitting at their desk in front of a computer, or tweets like "Killing it at the office today. #CorporateLife."  Unless someone actually works at an awesome place that they are proud of, in which case, I say congratulations. Or they're being really sarcastic.  Anyway, point being, that I don't post very many photos of myself out on a Friday night, because I don't go out on Friday nights.  I drive to the mountains and set up a tent and the lighting is not conducive for an iPhone.  I'm not hiding anything.  I'm just posting what I do, just like the other billion people on Facebook are.*  I can only assume that the concern derives from the fact that I used to participate more frequently in this typical lifestyle and perhaps it seems as if I've "given it up" on account of becoming obsessed with something else.  And I guess I kind of have.  But for me, this is no different than when someone begins tweeting nothing but kid stuff because their kid is clearly the most awesome kid that has ever lived.  No doubt they've given up a fair amount of their pre-kid lives, but I remain unconcerned because I can literally feel the happiness exuding from each and every post.  
*real stat. google it. 

Change is wonderful.

You post photos of this.
I post photos of this.

Ah yes, but I have admitted to feeling guilty.  I still do right now.  This all stems from the underlying reasons why my "personal advertisement site" has become what it is today.  You don't see me dressed up and drinking champagne at weddings, because I can't afford to travel to them on account of traveling to races.  You rarely see me at home with my family, because I use my vacation time for training and racing.  My only contribution to group shots of various gatherings of friends is a "wish I could've made it!" comment.  I feel torn, because these people are all still extremely important to me, and when something has to give, I often take advantage of their unconditional love and friendship.  The aforementioned whom have judged my transition and/or failed to connect with it, have long since faded away.  Those who understand without understanding, who are happy because I'm happy are the ones who I'm affecting.

And my career.  What happened to that?  The whole reason I moved to LA after college was to work at the top ad agencies in the world and climb my way to copywriting glory.  Superbowl ads, billboards in Times Square - I was destined for it!  But somewhere along the line of opportunities, I made a deliberate decision that shocked the shit out of myself.  I no longer wanted to work at the Chiats and Saatchis and Wiedens and Crispins.  I wanted to work at a small place where I could generally like what I do for 8 hours a day, and use my "enough" paycheck to fund my lifestyle of camping and racing. Somewhere this had become much more important than a Clio.  Do any of you outside the industry actually know what that is? ...No? Exactly.

And do any of you outside of ultrarunning know what the drop is on my NB1010s, why it matters or what the hell a NB1010 is in the first place?  Touché.  If you're not into ultrarunning, you're probably not reading this blog.  

Point of this, is that while I love my life and I love the focus and purpose running 100 mile races has given it, it is not without sacrifice.  As with anything.  My brother stays undoubtedly closer to my family, despite the fact he is in the Marine Corps. My niece looks remarkably different every time I see her, and my grandparents look older. I'm meeting my friends' kids when they're three, not when they're born. I don't know about that girl you're dating and chances are, you'll break up before I ever do. I won't be home for Thanksgiving. I'll never be anyone's Maid of Honor. I'm sorry, I can't make it.  God, I'm really, really sorry.


Because running ultras is selfish as fuck.

I know this. I struggle with this. And yet, I'm perfectly unwilling to change it. If you're doubting me and think that it can't be any more selfish than any other hobby or passion someone pursues, just take a look at any 100 mile race.  3 or 4 people dedicating 2-3 full days to cater to my every whim.  I'm too manic and fragile to make decisions the day before, so they'll also have to deal with that.  I'm running for a good 24 hours or so, and they just drive around for hours (no sleeping!), only to see me for 30 seconds and hand me a water bottle stuffed with gels.  They may even get sweaty clothes thrown at them.  Then, then one of these lucky individuals will get the pleasure of "running" 20-30 miles with me as I'm completely beat up and struggling through the darkest hours of the early morning.  I'll also probably yell at them or cry.  They will not receive a medal for running a marathon or longer. By contrast, I will be told how awesome I am for days and weeks to come, and they themselves will join in on this.

Now, that's the tangible effect, but what you aren't seeing are all the ways I've prioritized that race above other things in my life, many of which I've touched upon above. While my family is number one, taking the time to visit more than once or twice a year is not.  While my old friends are dear to me, taking the time to meet up for drinks isn't available.  While my boyfriend is both my rock and my joy, we go our separate ways to train each weekend and I'm too exhausted to make him dinner when he's also exhausted, so we eat frozen pizza.  I haven't entirely made peace with all this, and I don't know if I ever will.  But it all stems from the natural prioritization of my life since I started running ultramarathons.  I'm telling you this, because I am only able to live honestly, and this is honest.

Recently, this happened:
I received a message from someone I don't know, but apparently follows my Facebook feed.  He chastised me for being fake and suggested that I grow up and do something in life besides running.  Of course, my defenses ran through the list at the beginning of this post - I don't post about work because no one posts about work; I don't write about mundane things in life like shopping and eating, because I'm uninspired to bore you; I don't discuss politics, because I don't find online to be a suitable place;I don't  share things about my kids, because I don't have them yet; and I don't post photos of cats, because frankly, I'm not into cats.  And while, like you, I think this dude is a total douche and largely out of line, you can't blame a man for forming an opinion based on what he sees.  Sharing said opinion might not have been the best option, but nevertheless, perhaps more of the world does see me as a selfish poser who needs to use my college degree to get a bigger career and my healthy uterus to get a gaggle of babies, STAT.*  Perhaps to a lesser degree, folks that keep their opinions to themselves might agree that I'm throwing my life away and assigning my values incorrectly.  Perhaps even you runners out there think it's stupid to pursue something in which I may never be good enough to get to the point where my involvement is seen as acceptable (I'm talking pro shit here).  Probably, to some extent, you all are right.
*NOTE: I'm quite sure gaggle is the wrong word here. 

Or maybe it's even worse.  Maybe that selfish ultrarunner in me is assuming that you actually care.  Maybe I've just flaked, skipped or said no too many times and you no longer even consider me.  Maybe we've lost that connection we once had for good.  And it's all my fucking fault.

That said, I made a choice.  I decided to run 100 miles, and then I decided to do it again.  Every year, I'll sign up for another few and train harder.  I'll go to the mountains with Dom every weekend and we'll take a billion photos and likely post them online.  My profile picture will reflect this.  I might flake on that holiday party.  I'll probably miss your wedding.  I'll try to make up for the guilt I feel by volunteering, helping others and occasionally attending a reunion or meeting for birthday drinks. I'll do everything I can to be everything I can to you, my friends, my family, my love.  And this is the way it's going to be, because it's the only honest way I know.

I'm still your dear friend.
I'm still your loving daughter.
I'm still your devoted employee.

But I am an ultrarunner.  This is my plight.


You're welcome.

What Other 100 Mile Runners have to say about "Pandora's Race" and the evils it may bring:

Amy Sproston's Similar Experience

Dominic Grossman's Take on it

Jen Benna's Thoughts on the Matter

Jimmy Dean Freeman's Warning/Encouragement


  1. Well written, I enjoyed reading it Katie

  2. Very well put. I have felt similar guilt at how oddly lopsided (towards running) my life has become... I like it that way; can't change it, won't change it, but the guilt remains. I guess you do what you can... after all, it is ultimately a better life. Great post!

  3. Great blog, Katie! I have often been plagued by similar feelings...and then I got over it. I kind of like being the crazy running girl amongst my childhood friends. :) You 5 are all rockstars and I'm delighted to be in the same "cult" as you!

  4. Katie-
    All I can say is that I don't know you but you inspire the crap out of me. I aspire to run a 50miler again (I've only done it once for fun not a race) and some day maybe even a 100miler. The mountains and trails are a part of me: my love and my therapist. I also struggle with the selfish part but have somewhat come to terms with it in that if I give this up, I will not be the happy loveable individual I am now. You are very lucky to have a man that understands you for all this and loves you as you love and accept his selfish passions. Keep on keeping on:)

  5. Lovely writing, and you're so lovely, too. Keep being you.

  6. I must have restrained fist pumping several dozen times as I read, empathized, identified with and thought and felt the same types of doubt, selfishness, disdain for the word, "no" after having said it far too many times and all the while having completely understood what you've done so well to describe! See you on the trails and at upcoming races soon.

  7. There are those who do not appreciate the thrill of wilderness running. Although the birth of my daughters was the greatest mile marker of my life and I adore them like no other I feel the same euphoria when I crest the top of a mountain. It may be a small mountain but to me being in the wilderness is a passion than none of my peers can understand.

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