Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Running 50 miles while in a Cocoon of Self-Preservation

Sunrise on the river the morning of my first 50 mile run

Back in February I had just finished running with a friend and told him I was thinking of running the marathon distance of an upcoming trail marathon/50 mile race. Without hesitation, my friend said I should just run the 50. This is a friend who has no problem telling me when I am doing something really dumb. Do you have a friend like that? If you do, you’re so lucky. If you have a friend who’s not afraid to tell you that you’re about to do something really stupid then you know you can trust them when they tell you there is something you are absolutely ready to do. Even if it feels huge.

So I did it, I signed up for the 50 mile race that was scheduled to happen on May 16th, 2020. I was training and not really feeling strong, but I was getting some long runs done.

Then enters COVID-19. On March 15th St. Louis County shut down. We were on a mini vacation in Branson, MO and decided to avoid the large crowded areas but to continue our trip. It was a nice and relaxing trip and when we returned home, the whole city was sheltering in place. While we navigated through the next few weeks, all events were cancelling, one after another. Including my 50 mile race.

I continued to run, not really with a plan but more with just a lighthearted sense of doing something I really love. As we all began to define what social distancing meant for us, I made the decision to run alone and to not run with anyone at all. Deciding whether to run alone or with a group put many people in the running community at odds with one another. Friendships ended over this. It was sad to watch. I genuinely believe all of us were and are doing the best we can to cope with the situation in which we find ourselves.

What was best for me was running alone. And before I knew it, I was hammering out more miles than ever before.

Another part of this is that I was and still am spending more time with my beloved little family than I ever have. Being home with my family, and seeing them all day everyday allows me the flexibility to be guilt free about spending more time than usual on the weekend on the trails. So that’s exactly what I did.

I spent most of my time training on the trails in Weldon Spring, MO. They are some of my favorite trails and hold thousands of memories of races we put on, of hikes I’ve done with my little family, peaceful sunrises along the river and nighttime miles with friends. Those of us with a special connection with this group of trails say there is magic out there, and I truly believe there is.

I had been running about 35-40 miles each week, with back to back runs on the weekend of 13-16 miles each. One day it was extra crowded when I finished my first of two 8-mile loops, so I decided to cross over to the other side of the highway to add on some miles where there were fewer people. I got to a split where I could either turn right and land at a 20 mile run, or turn left and land around 15. I stood there for a minute, and decided to do the 20.

I had only run 20 miles alone once, and it was nearly two years ago. I’ve done that distance many times in races or with friends, but only once on my own. Finishing that 20 mile day feeling strong, knowing that it was me and me alone who set out to run it, left me feeling so incredibly strong.

That run was a game changer. With my 50 mile race cancelled I am not really sure what I was planning, all I knew was that I was feeling stronger than ever before in my running, and I was doing it for me and for me alone.

The same friend who encouraged me to sign up for the 50 reached out and complimented my solo 20 miler, as did many other friends on social media. I’m telling you, there is something about 20 miles solo. A couple of weeks later, a week before what would have been my first 50 mile race, I hit 50 miles in one week for the first time. I told the same friend that I felt great and wondered what I should do with all of these miles and this fitness. He said:

“I think you should run 50 miles”

Then he gave me probably the best advice possible. He told me I should hammer out two weekends worth of back to back 20 mile runs before I try to do the 50. This would give me more strength and more confidence rather than rushing to run the 50 mile run just a week after my first 50 mile week. This put 50 mile run day on May 30th. The date and training was set.

So the next two weekends I ran back to back 20 mile runs. My friend joined me for some of the miles but I did most of the miles alone. I spent the first year of my running life running alone. Slowly over time I opened up and started running with groups. Then I started hosting group runs. Then I ran with a group of the same friends nearly every weekend. While all of that was certainly enjoyable, running alone has proven to be what I need at this point in my life to reach my goals.

I want to talk about that for a minute. I am an empath and spend my life deeply feeling and understanding the feelings of others, particularly their pain. It is not something I have chosen, and I truly cannot help absorbing the feelings of those around me. When COVID-19 first hit our community, many people around me were drastically divided in their approaches to group running, social distancing, mask wearing, media believing, etc. I worked hard to try and keep friendships strong and to keep harmony amongst everyone.  

Eventually, this completely wore me down. I retreated into what I have been referring to as a cocoon of self-preservation. I retreated from anything or anyone that would need anything from me besides my little family. I said no to any run invitations. I declined facetime calls. I silenced social media accounts that I didn’t want to see. I retreated so far into myself that I began to be able to be exactly what I needed to be to myself and to my family. My cocoon of self-preservation allows me to truly care for myself and deny giving anything more than the bare minimum to anyone else. This might be the first time in my life that I have ever protected myself in this way. It is the biggest boundary wall I have ever built. And it is strong.

So in this place, where my relationship with my husband and my boys has grown so incredible strong, so has my running. I just run. I don’t think about pace, I don’t think about anyone else. It is me and the trail and my goal to run 50 miles. On one long run my knee began to hurt, so I practiced power hiking and didn’t stress over it. The next day my knee was fine. All the signs were pointing to the fact that I was ready to run 50 miles.

The two weekends of back to back 20 mile runs were nearly perfect. There was sunshine, rain and mud, perfect weather, cold weather, insane heat and humidity too. I was trained for whatever came on 50 mile run day.

The week leading up to the run wasn’t too stressful. Keeping in my cocoon of self-preservation, only my little family, my friend who had been coaching me along who would be pacing me, and 1-2 random friends knew I was going to do this. I didn’t want to tell anyone. This was about me vs. me vs. the trail. I wanted to keep it private and know that if I really needed to, I could stop and do the run another day. Anyone who knows me knows how damn stubborn I am and knows that I would have walked all night long to finish what I started, but having the option to quit if I wanted was some pressure relief one doesn’t find at a race.

The run was as perfect as I could have expected. The weather was gorgeous, my first loop alone was a little faster than I intended and the second loop running with my friend was smooth and fun. At one point, as I talked about how much I was enjoying myself, he said something that basically gave me permission to complain if I wanted to. But I had nothing to complain about.

I am so grateful for the fact that life has put me here in this place where I can and want to run 50 miles on beautiful trails. So many people do not do this. They either don’t want to, don’t believe they can, or maybe want to but their health or circumstances don’t allow for it. Here I am in this place and time where everything has come together for me to spend 12 hours on my favorite trails, with a really good friend with me and my beloved husband and boys waiting for me to finish. I cannot think of anything that would make this situation anything but beautiful. I am so grateful.

The route I took ended with a 5-mile loop from my car, so I grabbed my handheld and took off down the trail I have probably run a thousand times. That’s when it hit me that I was actually going to run 50 miles. I texted Nate to let him know the timeline and we managed to run a lot of that last loop. My legs felt strong and were it not for a nasty blister on the bottom of my foot, I would have been nearly pain free. Tired yes, but certainly not miserable. Absolutely grateful.

So 50 miles is done and I feel amazing. I’m not sure what is next, but I do know I am not interested in slowing down. 

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Way Life Should Be

I work with people who have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The people I work with day in and day out, are dying from a disease that has no cure and no known cause. ALS impacts the way a person’s brain send messages to its muscles, and as the messages become more infrequent, the person loses the ability to use their hands, their arms, to walk, often to speak and ultimately to breathe. ALS is sometimes a long and slow process of watching a once active and vibrant person lose all body control and function.

While this disease is awful, I love what I do. Every single person I meet has a story to tell, and I am always so appreciative to be in a position to share some of the most intimate moments that come along with end of life with another human. The reality a person must face when they are dying brings with it fear, uncertainly and often clarity. With each person with ALS that I meet and each new way I see someone coping with this hand they have been dealt, the more I learn about the strength of the human spirit, and the differences in how people react to trauma and tragedy.

It is May of 2020 and we are deep in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been working mostly from home since March 13th with a much unknown end faintly in sight. Our boys’ schools are shut down, summer camps are cancelled, the misinformation is flying all about and the level of uncertainly of what our future will bring continues to deepen. My mood shifts from being ever so grateful for this beautiful time of slowing down and deeply appreciating this extra time with my family to being so stressed by the uncertainly of the future that it feels difficult to even get out of bed. 

I go to the grocery store on Monday or Tuesday nights to avoid the crowds. This week I was walking through the store and paused, looked around the store and saw everyone with masks and gloves, with people avoiding each other, food missing off shelves, paper product shelves stripped bare and I was overcome with sadness and thought, “this is not the way life should be”. 

Working with people with ALS I have seen two pretty distinct differences between people who seem to cope positively (for the most part) with the disease and those who struggle the most. The biggest difference I have seen is between people who can't seem to see past the way their life *should* be and those who seem to let go of what should be and embrace the way life is, ALS and all. 

This difference runs very, very deep. In the people I have seen, this difference is a fundamental difference of belief in life and living. The difference is truly astounding.

A man I became very close with following his diagnosis died earlier this year. He had ALS, but he did not die from ALS. I worked with him for about a year, and throughout that time we had many deep conversations about finding meaning in life. We talked about what he would be doing in life if it weren’t for ALS. He was active and vibrant and while he looked at others with the disease who seemed to be adjusting with awe, ultimately he knew he would never be able to cope with losing his function and dying from ALS. 

He wrote me and said just that, he had no desire to die from ALS and instead chose to travel out of the country to pursue a physician-assisted death. We said our goodbyes and I was sad beyond measure over the loss of my friend. I also understood and respected his unwillingness to let go of what life *should* have been like for him. He died peacefully surrounded by his loving wife and daughter. His service was filled with people telling stories about his incredible life and with each story I understood even better why he and I liked each other so much. He visited me in a dream a couple of weeks after his death and when I woke from that dream, I felt like I understood life just a little bit more. I am so grateful for him and that life allowed me to walk alongside him for a short while.

So when I say that there is this difference between people who seem to be more able to move past what life should be like and those who are not able to so, I don’t mean that one way is better than the other. We are all made up of so many interesting characteristics, it is unreasonable to think it is as simple as bad or good, right or wrong. I do know that my friend worked hard toward accepting his disease and ultimately decided not to. 

Working in a job where every person I am hoping to help is dying, I guess it is expected to also wonder how I might cope with a diagnosis or disease like ALS. My cancer diagnosis certainly tested my coping mechanisms and approach, but not to the extent something like ALS would. 

I am a positive person deep down to my core. I genuinely believe that the universe is a friendly place and that anything that happens in my life is happening for me, not to me. I am currently in a rough place though. The state of the world in the midst of COVID-19 is a difficult place to be. I hear myself saying what should be happening and wishing things were different. My son's missed starring role in theater, the other son's baseball season, pre-pubescent exploration with friends, summer camp, birthday parties and winery trips. My first 50-mile race. I notice it being more difficult to concentrate and am losing focus. I am sad about the ways things are and unmotivated to try and change them. It’s an unfamiliar place and it is not enjoyable.

As I began to write this blog I googled “the way life should be” assuming someone probably wrote something along these lines before and it could provide some guidance as I wrapped my head around what I wanted to say. I did find a couple of quotes from a book of this same title that I have never heard of:

“I have found that the biggest moments in life, the ones that change everything, usually catch you by surprise.” 

“Every decision I make is determined solely by the spark and limitations of my own perspective”

“It’s a longing for things to come, possibilities unfolding before me, the charged expectation of change.”

― Christina Baker Kline, The Way Life Should Be: A Novel

Those who know me well know I will probably never read the book since I have many unread (un-listened to?) books and unused credits on Audible, but these quotes hit home. As my days have blended together I have felt both desperate for certainty and bored by it beyond measure. It’s an interesting and frustrating dichotomy. I realized yesterday I needed to shake something up.

One thing that is on fire in my life right now is my running. I am pounding out the miles and feel so strong and trained. I am able to spend 2 long runs on trails on the weekends which is building my strength and confidence and helping me grow into a really strong long-distance runner. 

I decided to get up early today, drive to my favorite running spot and throw down some mid-week trail miles. This is very unusual for me and it felt like a really special treat. This last quote seems to positively accompany this photo I took today as the sun was rising over what has become one of my very favorite places to visit. 

“... I am halfway between two worlds, the known and the unknown. I feel as transparent as the wind, as if my spirit is hovering in the sky, waiting to land. I am driving toward a future I can't see, leaving behind a past that already feels distant. Nothing is clear - and yet the trees are sharp against the sky; I can see the hard outlines of everything.” ~ Christina Baker Kline

Cheers friends to accepting things as they are, while holding out hope they will soon return to the way we think they *should* be.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Vomit War of 2020

Alternately titled: That One Time the Stomach Flu Made My Son Shit His Pants and the Dog Run Away In the Middle of the Night.

There is a lot of chaos going on in the world right now. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is wreaking havoc on the world, our country, and my little community. I told this story on my trail run this morning and my friend said I should write a blog about it. I haven’t blogged in a while so I thought, why not? Let’s all have a common laugh over bodily fluids and midnight antics, shall we?

So N has been traveling a lot for work. He left Monday night and we did all the things on Monday and all the things on Tuesday. I fell asleep on the couch at like 8pm, so I woke up at 8:30pm to put the boys to bed. Bedtime is the best time in our house. We snuggled and goodnight kissed and I went straight to bed myself feeling sleepy from the long day. I was prepared for the full night of sleep I am accustomed to now that my boys are so much older.

Then, at about 11:30pm I got the nudge…”mommy, I threw up”

Ugh. “Okay buddy let’s go get cleaned up” We walked into the hallway, he went into the bathroom and I went into his room. I am not sure I was fully prepared for what I was about to see. I clicked on the light to see more vomit than I have ever seen. It was everywhere. The bed, the floor, on his books, on his carpet, on his slippers, under his bed. It was freaking everywhere.

I started cleaning it up not really knowing where to start. I got some cleaning going and walked back into the hallway to see him standing in the bathroom kind of frozen. I turned the light on to see that he had vomit all over his face and hands. He had been standing there for who knows how long, likely unsure of what the heck just happened to his body.

I helped him wash his hands and face and we decided a bath was in order. Then, he turned toward the toilet and vomit came flying out of his face again. At least he’s facing the toilet, I tell myself. Then I saw it. The splashing, so much splashing! The toilet seat was down. For the love.

I grabbed the trashcan to catch the rest but the damage was done. Vomit was everywhere. Again.

I started to help him take his clothes off when he said so quietly, “mommy, I think I pooped my pants.”

Poor little buddy. This virus was sending itself out of every possible hole it could in a massive attempt to escape his little body. I cleaned him up in the true pre-bath style and got him set up in the tub.

It was around this time that I saw the animals milling around his room and the vomit I had yet to clean up. I decided to let the dog outside since he was losing his mind about why we were all awake at this hour.

With the dog outside and the boy in the tub I knew what I had to do. Clean up as much vomit as possible so the boy and I could get back into his bed.

Towels, paper towels, strip the bed, wipe off the books, trash bag for the book casualties of the vomit war of 2020. Make the bed, add some towels, dry the boy off, get him a bowl, back in bed.

Oh crap, the dog!

Back when I thought he was a good dog.

It’s about 12:15am or so by now, so I go outside and the dog is…gone. Freaking gone. We don’t have a fenced yard but it is tree-lined and the dog usually stays in the yard. Not tonight though, of course.

I put a glowing collar on him at night and he is nowhere to be seen. I put my shoes on and start walking back toward the woods, whisper-yelling his name. I hear nothing. No crunching leaves, no other dogs barking. It is silent and he is freaking gone.

I go back inside to be sure the boy didn’t vomit in his bed again. I look outside to see if the dog came back. I look at the front door to see if he’s waiting. Nothing. Back outside, whisper-yelling his stupid name and asking myself, why do I love this dog??

About an hour goes by, yes an HOUR!! I wonder if I should go out and drive around to find him but decide a lost dog is better than repeating the great vomit war of 2020 because I wasn’t in the boy’s room to catch round 2. Finally I look out the front door and the dog is there, looking quite proud of himself likely because he found his way home from his big adventure.

I went back into the boy’s room and thankfully, there was no vomit yet. He would go on to vomit about every hour on the hour until 11:30am the next morning. Poor guy was so sick.

So there it is, friends. Just another Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in the Z house when N travels, LBZ has the barfs and the dog runs away.

The End.