I’m a lot of things. I am a: Runner Paralegal Peanut butter enthusiast 90s and early 2000s rap/hip hop fan Knitter Giant weirdo Crazy dog lady Queso addict Big fan of that crazy Tiffany blue color (looks kinda like toothpaste, but better)
What I’m not, is a writer. I don’t know why I’m starting this whole thing other than I have a story to tell. Some of the stories are funny. Some are deeply personal and will probably cause me to have a panic attack when I mash that ‘publish’ button. What I do know is that sharing these stories with people around me has been healing for me. For others, it’s been somewhere between funny and a warning sign (i.e. Don’t sign up for an ultra unless you’re prepared to hear the phrase “chafed my ass meat” in polite conversation.)
Picking an ultra this year had a couple more factors than it has before. Miles and I wanted to plan a trip back East to visit his family and friends (and catch a Red Sox game and eat lobster in Maine).
At first, I had picked Indiana Trail 100. It’s in northern Indiana and we could go straight to Chicago and fly in to Boston. Then, I stumbled upon the Beast of Burden 100 in Lockport, New York. We’d fly into Buffalo and then start our great driving tour of New England while I healed.
Unlike any other ultra I’ve done, this was a fast, flat course that was run as four out and backs along the Erie Canal. My training was done mostly on road to get my body ready for the pounding of a flat race. I know flat sounds ideal, but I live in the mountains, y’all! I can’t find flat unless I hit a treadmill. I’d spend time on Benton Crossing Road (known locally as Green Church Road) to get as many flat-ish miles as I could. I also mixed up my training this year with a lot of ski touring. Solid decision. Instead of just two long runs on the weekend, I’d have one long run, then a ski and another long run the next day. Not only did this break up the mileage, but it made me so much stronger. (And it was fun!)
I felt really good about my training. I also gave up added sugar and all booze during this period. I felt my body recover faster. I slept really damn well. I’ll talk more about this in a later post, but it’s become something that I’ll carry through my training from now on.
We flew from Las Vegas to Buffalo. Grabbed a tasty burger. Hit the hotel for a fantastic nights sleep. Everyone on the Beast of Burden facebook page was kind and open with information about the area. This is a small, hometown race with a lot of charm and lovely people.
The next day, we went to Niagara Falls with Miles’s old friend/coworker. Peter gave us a wonderful tour of the area. He’s from the area and a history buff, so this was next level. That afternoon I told Miles that I had to get back to the hotel and get off my feet.
I’m usually so excited the night before a race that I can’t sleep. But, I slept. I felt great. The race didn’t start until 10am because the RD won’t wake up early (The website says so). After a diner waffle and loads of coffee, we headed to the start. Super chill atmosphere. The start/finish is at a dock. The course runs down about a mile to a bridge, crosses the Erie Canal, continues 12.5 miles to another bridge, crosses the canal again, and the turn around point is just on the other side.
The aid stations were well stocked with all the standards as well as pizza, soup, pancakes… really anything you could want. It was warm and humid, but not intolerable. The course was actually really lovely. I had set the bar in my mind quite low for a flat course. The participants were all friendly and encouraging. High fives and “you’re looking strong” were all over that trail.
Feeling good at the halfway mark, the night was creeping in. At 62.5 miles, I started to feel it. I’m tired. I need coffee. My phone is dying and I need music. I need coffee. My feet feel like they’re blistering. I need coffee.
Miles ran out and found me a giant iced coffee. Shoved food into my mouth. Rubbed my legs. Smiled at me and told me I was doing great. I needed all the love I could get. He read text messages and facebook comments from friends and family. Knowing that everyone was watching, waiting, and cheering me on from afar brought me tears of joy. I know a facebook comment of heart emojis and “Go Jenny” seems like a silly thing to get all misty over, but there I was. Sweaty as hell, stinking like a rotting yak, and wiping away tears. Friends, you’ll never know how much you truly motivate me to push myself.
One of the other racers told me that the last lap runs itself. He couldn’t have been more wrong. I hobbled into the 87.5 mile aid station and told Miles that my legs were gone. He walked with me as the sun came up for at least a mile…in flip flops. I’ll never stop being overwhelmed with gratitude for that. He told me I had to finish strong. He’d be at the finish and we could start our grand New England vacation when I got there.
He turned back and I limped on. “You didn’t come this far to walk it in. Pick up your feet. Go.” It came back slowly. Run a mile, walk a bit, run a half mile, walk a little less. With 6 miles to go, I got it back. I refused to walk for the last 4. At mile 98, the finish line came into view. I could see Miles on the other side of the canal and just wanted to jump in and swim to him. But, I pressed on. With a few hundred feet to go, I looked around and didn’t see him. Panic. Oh, good god. Where could he have gone. Kidding. There he is. Camera in one hand, phone in the other. He runs a bit with me, taking a video. I smile. I’m happy. I’m so genuinely happy. I’m here. At the finish. With him.
I would have liked to break 24 hours, but I’ll take this. I’ll wear it proudly.
I sat on a folding metal chair with my shoes off and food in my hand that I couldn’t bring myself to eat. The RD is passing around moonshine he made. I politely decline. Miles does not. Drink up, babe. You worked so damn hard for me to be here.
Nobody else has crossed the finish line and my results are still up on the race director’s computer. (On an out and back course, it’s hard to tell (or care for that matter) what place you’re in. )
“Hey can I see my splits”?
“yeah, come here”
I don’t remember what he said exactly but “Second place lady” was in there somewhere. Disbelief.
This photo is from that exact moment. Damn you, Miles. You’ve done it again.
I actually didn’t believe it for a couple of days. I was so shocked that I could place in a 100 miler that I didn’t even want to look at the official results when they came out, fearing they had corrected this error. But, it was true. I took second place.
I had a shower (there were showers at the finish!!!) and we got in the car. Miles found a place that would stuff mac n cheese in a burger and we got a couple to go. I ate about half, fell asleep, woke up and at the rest. We were on the road to my future mother-in-law’s house and on our way to a fantastic vacation.
Beast of Burden is an incredible race. If you’re looking for a quality 25, 50, or 100 miler in the east, do it. I can’t say enough about the incredible people. The aid station was stocked with truly wonderful humans. If we didn’t have a wedding to save for, I’d be registering again. Buy the ticket, take the ride. You won’t regret it.
I scaled back the racing this year. Way back. I had only planned on two races, and they couldn’t have been more different.
First up: Winter Ezakimak
Ezakimak is a 5K. But like anything we do in Mammoth, its not just a normal 5K
-Ending at 11,053 feet
Participants can run, fat bike, cross country ski, or snowshoe from Main Lodge to the summit of Mammoth Mountain. I love this race. I look forward to this every year. My history with this race goes back to the first winter running in 2015. I entered the running division and wore microspikes. My friend Mackenzie Long and I nervously looked around at the start and I believe her words were “This is going to hurt” said with a huge smile. A high five and we were off. Somehow we ended up on the podium with Deena Kastor. This is one of the moments that made me fall in love with racing.
After that year, they started offering a cash prize for King and Queen of the mountain and it drew quite the crowd. That’s fine. I was happy just to be doing the race.
Then a couple of years ago I got a pair of running snowshoes. Oh hello, new nerdy hobby. I was in love.
Last year (2018)I ran with a man named Michael and we stayed together the whole race. Encouraging each other and suffering together. We both took first place in our division.
This year, we met at the starting line and hugged. He told me he’d been nursing a hamstring injury and probably wouldn’t be able to keep pace. I told him if I got to the finish first, I’d be there cheering for him when he did get there.
We took off, and I can honestly say that I don’t remember much of that race. Lungs burning, wind blowing, sloppy snow. It had been warm the week before and the snow was super soft. The bikers had probably the most trouble of anyone. I ran by so many people pushing their bikes and taking their skis off. “Well, snowshoe was the right choice” I thought.
The final push always feel like it’s in slow motion. Coming up over the last hill, there are lights along the ground and the wind is ALWAYS blowing. The music is playing and the crowd is cheering. “Oh finally”. When I ran by Miles he said he hadn’t seen any other snowshoers yet. Turns out, he was right. I crossed the line first in the snowshoe division.
*If you do this race, heed my warning. The top is cold. You will be sweaty. Put a full change of clothes, puffy jacket, *socks*, and big giant gloves in your checked bag. It’s a full party atmosphere at the top with beer, hot chocolate, a DJ, and awesome people crossing the finish line. You will not want to stop cheering and dancing to go inside and warm up. The podium is also outside, so plan accordingly.*
Below is a video from the first year. Views for days in this race! At the end you get a glimpse of that very special moment where I get to stand on the podium and fall head over heels in love with this sport.
I know. It’s adorable. It’s catchy. It looks good on coffee mugs.
“Running burns off the crazy”
“Running…it’s cheaper than therapy”
It’s also a full load of crap. Don’t get me wrong, running puts me in a better mood, makes me feel strong, gives me the good feels. It’s a temporary high. It’s designed that way. To quote Elle Woods “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”
Before we get into why these little phrases make me want to poke out my eardrums with a q-tip, let me tell you a little about the place I found myself in post-race season.
After the trash fire life lesson that was the Bakersfield Marathon, I told myself I’d take a break and “live a little”. This translated to cookies, fudge, champagne, and sleeping in. I’m still making it a point to enjoy these things, but in moderation. Or at least, as much moderation as is kicking around during the holiday season.
I happily went skiing, spent Thanksgiving in Portland with my fiancé’s family, climbed, did laundry (shocking). I felt good. I was going to the gym and staying active.
It crept up slowly.
Like a cloud coming over the mountains.
Those paranoid thoughts. The vague feeling of unease. The “I’m going to bed at 7:30 and pretending that I’m really tired, but I really just can’t deal with my brain anymore today”. I’ve been here before. Crying over nothing into my partner’s shirt. Miles says, “When’s the last time you saw Judy”? Judy is my therapist. Judy is (and I say this with ZERO exaggeration) a lifesaver. My squirming, uncomfortable reply “It’s been a little while”. It’s uncomfortable dealing with your issues, “I know what’s wrong. I’m not training right now. I’m happier when I’m training. I have a purpose. ” But that’s not the real problem now, is it?
The issue is that I fell off my therapy routine. I tried to replace professional help with mileage and cross training. I focused on a restrictive diet instead of feeding my soul.
This brings us back to my original point: there is no substitute for therapy. Saying that people just need to be more active or go outside is an insult to anyone that lives for outdoor recreation and still can’t get out of bed sometimes.
Would you ever look at someone with a broken leg and tell them they really just need more sunshine in their life? Hell no. So stop sharing those goddamn articles on facebook from some quack website saying most therapy could be avoided if people just went for a hike once and a while. This makes it so hard for people to seek help. We blame ourselves for not getting outside, drinking enough water, or injecting the proper essential oils into our eyeball….you get my point.
Yes, get outside. Go for a run. Meditate. Pet your dog. But, call your therapist. It’s sometimes difficult, but it always helps.
“Be brave enough to suck at something new”-Some inspirational internet quote
(This blog will jump around a bit. My last entry was from the start of my racing. This one is about last weekend.)
After Beast of Burden 100 miler, I got bored quick. I mean, I was looking for my next race on the flight home. There’s a lie I tell myself after every race. I’m taking a break after this. It took all of a week before I was running again. Or at least trying.
When Coach Kastor saw me running a week after I got back, he slowed the track club van and rolled down the window “Is this a good idea”? I had heard the exact same thing at home from Miles. Maybe Miles put him up to this.
The question of “What’s next” hung in the air with every interaction I had immediately after my second place finish at Beast of Burden. I actually just got sick of not having an answer for people. In the back of my mind, I knew what I wanted.
I wanted to qualify for Boston. During our trip back east we spent time in Boston. Miles grew up not too far away in Beverly. His father lives there and of course we HAD to go to a Red Sox game the day before we flew out. After the game, we had some time to ride rented bikes around the city, have dinner, and we went to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
I’ll be honest. No other road marathon has ever appealed to me. Boston has history. I’m not a city person by any stretch, but that place is beautiful. I took a photo at the finish line and made the goal of making it across that line in the actual race. Part of the draw of Boston is that you must qualify. I hadn’t run a road marathon in almost 4 years. I have to be stronger and faster and smarter than I was then, right? I wanted something before Thanksgiving so that I could enjoy that mythical “time off” I had been promising myself. I found the Bakersfield marathon was a week and a half before Thanksgiving. OH, perfect! I could train for 7 weeks and use it as a test. Where am I physically? How much do I need to shave off of that to get the BQ (Boston Qualifier)?
I jumped into training. I started going to the gym at 6am to do a half hour of low impact cardio (usually elliptical machine) and weights. I’d run during my lunch break. No booze. No sweets. Only one long run on weekend meant I could go hike and climb with my boyfriend (now fiance…we’ll get to that story another day).
I was eating up this training. I bought funny little split shorts. And captioned photos with #marathontraining.
Everything went well, right up until race day.
We stayed with Miles’s cousin Colby in Bakersfield the night before the race. I woke up with my alarm. Miles went and got me some coffee and I made my oatmeal. I ate what I could. I pooped twice! Things were lining up for a great day.
We showed up to the start and I decided jump into the 3:40 pace group. Wow. What an insanely bad idea. The pacer was wearing what I’m pretty sure what he thought was a kilt. He proceeded to talk non-stop for the first 4 miles. I honestly got so sick of listening to him that I ran ahead to the 3:35 group. I kept pace and then I realized my stomach was not going to hold out the next 22 miles. If I wanted to enjoy this run at all, I would need to stop at the next porta potty.
Fine, whatever. Just be quick. I was. But, by the time I got back out there the 4 hour group was quickly approaching. Okay, I’ll just break 4. Things were going reasonably well until around mile 13.
It was warming up quickly. I don’t do super well in heat. I actually wilt like a salad in a hot car. Approaching the aid station I heard someone say “electrolytes” and hold out a cup. Yes. That’s what I need.
Gulp. Oh, no. That was Gatorade. I’ve been off sugar for two months and I just put straight sugar water into my system. Maybe it won’t get me. Maybe I’ll be okay.
About a mile later, the nausea set in. The temptation to stop was so strong. But, I’ve never been okay with stopping. I paid for this. I will finish this damn thing.
The pace slowed. And slowed. And slowed. I was dumping water on myself at every aid station. My run had become a jog. I couldn’t drink water because my stomach was threatening to ruin my day. Well meaning volunteers told me how good I was doing. How close I was. How good I looked. Oh lady, you are high. But bless you.
The last half of the race was a mental battle. I could stop. I could call Miles and he’d pick me up and we’d still go out for lunch (I’ve already picked out a brewery!)and it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t finish. It wouldn’t matter to anyone but me. And I wasn’t having that.
Finally. Three miles to go. My phone died. No music. No tracking. Whatever. It’s a 5K, Jenny. Just finish. Approaching the finish line, I saw Miles jump out and start taking photos. He looks so proud. Smile. Don’t let anyone see how crushed you are. I crossed the finish line. Grabbed a bottle of water, my medal, and a patch of grass to collapse on.
4:24. It’s a far cry from the 3:35 I’ll need to qualify for Boston. And, since my first marathon was 4:05, I get to call this one a personal worst.
“Let’s get out of here” I walked to the parking lot (where my amazing partner told me to sit down and he’d bring the car to me) poured myself into the car and headed back to Colby’s house. I had a shower and a beer. I knew where things went wrong and I knew what I needed to fix. I just wanted to enjoy the fact that finished in spite of all that went wrong for me. I wanted that happy finish line feeling I’ve had so many times before. Where was it?
So, off to the brewery we went. Colby, his son Joe, Miles, and I had one of the most unexpectedly good meals. Tremblor Brewing in Bakersfield is totally legit. We drank beer, told stories, and laughed. Some random guy came to our table and gave Colby a hat. I felt great. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe I was letting myself enjoy the fact that I had just finished a marathon on 7 weeks of training.
We started the ride home and the clouds rolled in, metaphorically speaking. I was sad. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done better. I worked hard. I got up early. I stretched dammit. I spent the next couple of days trying to keep my head up.
On Tuesday, I finally fell apart around 1pm. I realized I have to get my head out my ass. I’ve been pouting pretty hard. I thought about faking sick and staying home. I slept for 10 hours Monday night. Screw you, marathon. Or, thank you, marathon. I don’t know yet. I’m trying to look at the lessons learned and chalk it up to experience. It’s a difficult place to be. I haven’t experienced disappointment like this in my running before. It hits hard.
I’m realizing now, processing this is what I need. Not every race is the best day ever. You’re not going to feel like you’re floating during every run. Eventually, you hit a bump and the rose-colored glasses fall off.
I questioned it a lot tonight. Why am I so wrapped up in this? I finshed with a pretty respectable time. So, why does a non-elite athlete get so committed and subsequently, so crushed. I’ve talked so many friends through this process. Why am I so reluctant to give myself that same kindness? How many of us are guilty of not being as kind to ourselves as we are to others.
That’s what I’m doing now. I will sleep late. I will have a cookie. I will enjoy the fact that my racing year is over. I might even wear that adorable “Run Bakersfield” top to work tomorrow. I’ll run again. Not until my heart and legs are begging for it though.
I have a couple of other things to do. I’m really close to being able to lead a 5.10. The ski hill is open and it’s currently flurrying. I’m taking on a few more athletes to coach this winter. Time to refocus. Maybe it’s time to pr my 5K.
One last thing: The Bakersfield Marathon is a quality event. The medal is huge. The course is well marked. The aid stations are plentiful. Volunteers are amazingly cheerful and encouraging. Long sleeve shirt and a hat in the swag bag. Giant turkey at the expo.
One treadmill run turned into running every other day. Which quickly turned into running every day. I was still in a sling and doing physical therapy for my mangled (but healing) arm bone. I remember thinking ‘I need a goal’. This was something new and interesting for me. Usually the end goal of going to the gym was to suffer through it knowing I could eat mac n cheese upon my return home.
It was winter. I wasn’t going to find a race to do around here. Or will I?
I started feeling pretty good about how my fitness was progressing and saw that the winter triathlon (cross county skiing, fat tire biking, and shooting) in the next town over was being converted to a summer biathlon (running and shooting) due to lack of snow.
I’m a terrible shot. Just a mess. But I can run. Or at least, that’s what the treadmill has led me to believe. Confession: I hadn’t actually run outside since this whole thing began. I rounded up some coworkers and we registered, because really what the worst that could happen?
Race morning rolled around and I can honestly say that was the last time I wasn’t nervous about a race. I had no expectations and no real goals in mind. Finish. I’d like to finish this race and hit the brewery after. I found all my friends and we pinned our numbers to our bibs. We were given a short tutorial on how to use the laser guns. Yeah, that’s right. Lasers. It’s not nearly as cool as it sounds. It’s kind of like duck hunt without the little dog picking up your digital duck.
The staggered start was fun. One runner would start and a minute later another one would. This was done to keep congestion down at the shooting area. A rectangular box on one side of the tennis court held 5 small laser targets. We would run into the tennis courts, shoot, and run a penalty lap (about a tenth of a mile) if we missed any, and continue on for our next lap. Run, shoot, run, shoot, run. Total was about 5K of running if you didn’t miss any targets.
Saying I went the extra mile sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly what I did. I missed every single target. So, I ran a whole mile more than the course intended.
The course had a couple of little out and backs on the streets of June Lake. I loved it. My friends (and even some total strangers) high fived any time we passed each other. This really was the perfect first race for me. It kept everything super and casual. I couldn’t take myself too seriously because, like I said, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.
We all finished. High fives all around. I was ready to head to the brewery and grab some lunch when I was reminded that we HAD to stick around for the awards. “Why dammit? Did you not see that I missed EVERY SINGLE TARGET”
It was a small race. My friends and I were the bulk of the entrants. They started to announce the top females and we clapped for third. A coworker got second. When her name was announced she looked at me and said “Oh you bitch!” I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, they called my name. I WON! I was absolutely floored. The staggered start meant we weren’t coming into the finish line at the same time.
I was hooked. Racing gave training meaning. And I got a sweet medal. I had an excuse to hang out with my friends. I still struggle with social anxiety, but a race environment is somewhere I’ve learned I will always feel at home. Just a bunch of nerds getting together for the purpose of seeing how hard they can go on that day.
Then, the phrase that will hang in the air well after it’s spoken was uttered, “What’s next?”
There I was, screaming in radiology when the suggestion of “Maybe we should get her some drugs” came up. I wasn’t supposed to be here, dammit. I was supposed to be on my way to Laguna Beach for the weekend. I had packed my things. I had picked out where to have dinner, and hot damn the weather was going to be perfect. I’d walk on the beach in a flowy skirt and sweater after a croissant from my favorite bakery. Well, all of those plans came to a screeching halt about the same time I did.
I’d agreed to go skiing with John, one of my supervising attorneys, that morning. “Just a few laps to start the day. I haven’t even skied yet this year”. There wasn’t a lot of snow yet, so I wasn’t in any huge hurry. But the novelty of skiing in the morning and walking on the beach that night was something I couldn’t resist.
We got about 5 runs in before we decided that responsibilities at the office were calling. “Okay, let’s head down to the car”, said John. We took off for the parking lot. ‘Wow. I missed this.’ I thought as my skis carved into the snow. And without really any warning, there was a tiny snowboarder right in front of me. Not wanting to kill the kid, I turned quickly. There was a bump. Then, I was airborne. Well, shit.
Either I closed my eyes for a little too long, or I blacked out momentarily. John recalls coming around the corner and seeing me on the ground. “Hey, are you okay?” “My arm really hurts” I managed to say through the pain. It was pinned under my head. I tried to move it and immediately regretted it. OH GOD! That’s bad. That’s really bad. Something is wrong. Very wrong.
Ski patrol showed up so quickly that I barely remember them not being there. What day is it? What’s your name? Who’s the current president? Sweet. Not concussed. The nice patroller attempted to stabilize my arm with some gause. At some point I must have said that I thought I was going to throw up. He called for oxygen. At this point, I had to laugh a little. It’s not altitude sickness, dude. I live here.
I’m so glad he did. The next patroller to show up on the scene was an old friend. Dave skied up and said “Jenny, what did you do?” with a smile. Oh good, now I can really start crying. For some reason the familiar face gave me enough comfort to stop being so tough. He put oxygen on me anyway, while reassuring me and patting my head. “It’s going to be okay”
If you’ve ever seen someone getting a toboggan ride to the bottom of the hill at a ski resort and thought “That looks like fun” let me reassure you, it’s not. It was by far the most terrifying part of the day.
John drove me to the hospital after calling one of his physician friends. “We’re not taking you to the emergency room” he said “Then where the hell are we going” “Family med. Trust me, this is better” I was still wearing ski boots in the waiting room, holding my arm, crying when they took me back. Getting my jacket off sucked pretty badly. The doctor looked at my arm. “It’s probably just dislocated. We’ll go x-ray you, confirm that, pop it back in right there, one more x-ray to make sure it’s all set properly and then sign you up for PT. No big deal” Pretty sure all the blood drained from my face.
The room was so cold. I just remember shivering and waiting for the kind x-ray tech to position me properly. WHOMP. Jesus, that thing was loud. The image started to load on the screen out of my view. I watched the doctors eyes widen. “It’s broken. Oh god, that’s really broken” I instantly lost it. BROKEN? “Come take a look” What was supposed to be one bone, was in about 8 pieces. Proximal humorous fracture. Now for the good news. Everything was in place, so no surgery was needed. So, I got a sling and a bucket of pain pills. Really, modern medicine? That’s all you’ve got for me?
A week of cookies, Netflix, and waking up screaming if I didn’t take my meds before bed later, I was getting pretty bored. I went back to work and managed fairly well. I went to the gym. The bike wasn’t giving me enough of a workout. The elliptical ( a true favorite of mine) was boring me to tears. Hmmm, screw it. I got onto the treadmill and tightened down my sling. A mile. That’s what I’ll start with. At an easy pace. No incline.