Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Life is an ultramarathon.

Don’t miss any cutoffs sitting in the aid station.

Those of you who know me well or have been around this blog for a while know that I am an ultramarathon runner. I seek out trails and races well beyond the 26.2 mile marathon distance. While this may seem out of reach, I am learning that seeking a finish of a long race isn’t much different than seeking satisfaction, growth and happiness in life. Therefore to me, living life, loving my people, learning and growing and reaching for personal goals is really just its own ultramarathon.

This came to a head for me recently when I was really struggling personally. I texted a friend who knows me well and knows ultramarathons well. The following exchange took place:

There is a documentary (one of many) that documents the journey of running a 100-mile race. There is a scene where the man running is sitting in the aid station tired and torn. Exhausted. Pushed beyond his current ability. His people are rallying around him giving him aid and working to build his spirits. He is unsure he can go on. Then he says:

“Just give me 60 seconds to feel sorry for myself.”

His friends surround him, encouraging him, keeping their eye on the clock and are ready for him to get back up and finish the race when he's ready.

The draw of an ultramarathon is the unknown. It’s the idea that we train for months for a distance that seems so incredibly out of reach that while we hope it is possible, we know there are so many factors that can derail any well prepared for race. We get to that start line anyway, because the excitement of finishing something big and bold is bigger than the risk of not finishing. The chance we might fail is the draw that keeps us curious about how far we can go.

The draw of life is similar. There is the unknown. There is the ever present fact that life is fleeting and no matter what we do, we and everyone we love are going to die. It is a fact that as much as we may try to escape it, is hard truth. Why would anyone even bother then, right? Maybe because the excitement of having a life that is beautiful and meaningful is worth the risk of pain that ultimately comes when you put your heart out into the world.

We know the world is a terrifying place, yet we explore it and try to understand it and make friends and go places and get into cars and fly on planes knowing that at any moment we could experience some kind of accident, be in the wrong place at the wrong time or be diagnosed with a horrible disease. All of this could be enough to make us want to stay locked up in our homes, missing out on life. But we don’t. We know the chance we might fail is the draw that keeps us going to see how far in life we can go.

Occasionally though, life throws us something truly painful. We are going along in our world living life and something happens that stops us in our tracks. A loved one gets sick. A friend dies. An innocent animal is targeted for an unknown reason. The world becomes too heavy.

Sometimes in a race, there is an injury. Nutrition is off and fatigue sets in. The weather doesn’t cooperate. The course is more difficult than you thought it would be. 

In either case, we seek aid. We sit on our friend’s couch or call our person or cry to our partner. We make it to the aid station and believe we cannot go on. We stop moving forward and are frozen in our grief. We have a choice. We can get up and keep going, or we can sit in that comfortable place and stop. 

Life is an ultramarathon.

A few months ago, someone in my neighborhood shot my cat with a .22 caliber weapon. That same week, a childhood friend died from ALS, leaving behind 4 children and a loving wife. Also in that same week, a key member of our team at work left to pursue a fabulous new opportunity for her and her little family. It was all just so heavy, and I was so incredibly sad. For my cat, for this world we live in, for my own capacity at work and ultimately for the understanding that this world we live in is heavy and hard and full of so much pain. It was more than I could take. I needed aid.

My friend sent that text to me in response to my desire to “just feel sorry for myself for a little while longer”. I knew I wouldn’t be there for long, but I wasn’t ready to get up yet. It is safe and comfortable there in that aid station. Sitting still and feeling all the things and wanting to hide from all of the pain in this broken world. But my friend knows me and knows I cannot stay there forever. He reminded me not to miss any cutoffs sitting in the aid station. Don’t avoid the aid stations, they are there for a reason, but don’t stay there too long either, if we do we will certainly miss out on something beautiful that life has in store for us.

I had a virtual happy hour with a group of amazing women about a month after that text exchange with my friend. I mentioned that I stopped listening to podcasts, I stopped going to my new therapist and just stopped moving forward. I wasn’t depressed, I was resting. One of these amazing friends mentioned gently that I seemed to be sort of stagnant. That I was retreating into my safe place and maybe that’s okay for a while but I probably shouldn’t stay there too long. It reminded me of the text my friend sent me. I shared the words with my girls and they were so taken back by the profound meaning in those words, they said it should be my mantra.

Life is an ultramarathon. Go out there and run it. Get dirty, get hurt, get out in the world and see what happens. Get aid when you need it, just don’t miss any cutoffs while sitting in the aid station.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Running 100 Miles: Take One

Spoiler alert, I didn’t finish 100 miles during my first attempt. I experienced some pretty severe knee pain that took me out at mile 65. Nevertheless, the 21 hours I spent on the beautiful Lake Ouachita Vista Trail are filled with big and tiny moments alike, all of which made this experience one of the most unforgettable of my life. 

So grab a glass of wine or a nice cup of hot tea, put your feet up and get ready to hear the stories that go along with when I almost ran 100 miles.

The trip really began the week leading up to the race when all of the scouting and timing and planning of the aid stations took place. If you imagine how much goes into planning weekend away or a weekend of camping, planning for 34 hours in the woods with everything I might need in a Rubbermaid box, it definitely takes some planning.

I created this pace chart to help with timing…

…and put all of the food for each aid station in zip lock bags like this.

A lot of this is setting up my crew to be able to help me get what I need at the aid stations and get out as quickly as possible.

I share this mostly to show the planning that goes into a race like this. It should be noted, I did not enjoy this part of the race experience. We got to Arkansas on Thursday evening since the race started at 5pm on Friday. Most of the day Friday I spent actively trying to relax. Everything was packed and ready, Nate knew the plan, my friends were ready with their plans and while I was definitely nervous about the day, I also knew that as soon as I got to the trail everything will be fine.

And of course that is exactly what happened. My friend and I who trained together planned to run most if not all of the race together. We took off for the race and were full of smiles and ready to embark on 100 miles.

The first 10 miles were kind of tough. My buddy and I didn’t say too much and finally when we did, we shared that we just couldn’t get into a rhythm. I wondered if I was eating too much. I rarely start a run at 5pm, so slamming 200-300 calories/hour after a full day of eating seemed to be causing some trouble. I backed off the eating and switched to water and it really helped.

We got to the first aid station way ahead of schedule, and it was great to see Nate and the boys. It was a quick turnaround and back out we went. It was nice to settle into a groove and the next 10 miles went by pretty well. But the nearly 2 days of straight rain, the insane amount of creek crossings, the ridiculous elevation and the constant mist made these overnight miles really challenging.

The next 20 miles were more of the same. If I learned anything from this experience of long slow miles it is that everything is temporary. If something hurt or when I struggled, it is so easy to quickly go to thoughts of wait I am only 25 miles in, how am I going to make it 90+ if I am already having this problem? But then before I know it, that thing has passed and I’m feeling strong. Everything is temporary, so you have to ride the roller coaster and enjoy when things are going well knowing it won’t last, and when things are hard, just keep going. Because that probably won’t last long either.

One thing I couldn’t seem to shake were my sore feet. I decided at mile 40 or so that I was going to change my socks and shoes at the next stop. I wanted my shoes with a little more cushion and the socks were constantly soaked from so many creek crossings. I love a good rainy run but man, without the opportunity to dry out my feet were really getting sore.

We got to a section that was 2 miles straight up, and 2 miles straight down. This was one of the toughest sections and was really challenging especially in the dark. This course was an out and back and while I tried to stay present and not go too far into the future, I have to admit it felt daunting to imagine doing that section again at mile 87.

At mile 42 I got fresh socks and shoes and felt a million times better. I was like a new woman! For three whole miles until we came to another creek. I stood there with my head down ready to cross and just really didn’t want to get my feet wet again. But I did. There really wasn’t another option.

As things were tough through the night, all I kept thinking was how amazing it was going to be when the sun came up, and I was right. There was a moment right around dawn when I stopped and looked around and took it all in. The mist, the rising sun, relishing in the absolute beauty that is in the forest. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I had been awake for almost 22 hours by this point and was maybe 45 miles into the race. 

Nate had the job of bringing me my hot tea at the morning aid station, which was at mile 47. I’m not sure I can put into words how wonderful that cup of tea was! I was surprised by how good I felt given the fact we had been running all night. My mental game was so strong. I had moments of doubt when my foot would twinge or when I let myself go too far into the future, but as long as I was able to stay present and deal with the bit of trail that was in front of me, I was golden.

Leaving that station would lead into the biggest stretch of miles between aid stations, and I knew I wouldn’t see Nate and the boys again until mile 58. I was still feeling strong and ready to take on this section that we expected to be the most runnable of the course.

I’m not exactly sure when it started to happen, but sometime shortly after a no-crew aid station at mile 50, my knee started to hurt. It was my left knee too, which unlike my right knee has never given me any problems. The pain came on fast and strong, and I tried all of my tricks that used to work on my right knee to no avail. 

This is pain I know well. It is pain that I know will not go away. My friend tried hard to stay positive and give me tips to turn it around but I knew there was no way I could run. We power hiked and were making pretty good time but these were the miles that we were supposed to be making up for lost time on, and that just wasn’t happening.

He suggested I listen to music so I did, then we stopped on this bench and laughed because the fog was so thick we couldn’t enjoy what we knew was a beautiful view hiding in the dense fog. Shortly after he and I agreed that he needed to take off ahead of me to ensure he wouldn’t fall too far behind and miss cutoffs. I succumbed to the truth that I was likely not going to finish this race.

I got to Nate and the boys at the mile 58 aid station limping from a painful knee and blistered heels. I had fully convinced myself I was going to stop after 100k (62 miles), but when I saw the boys and decided to pick up my pacer, they talked me into going back out there and seeing what happens. It was nice to have some hope that maybe things would turnaround. 

When I was sitting at the station I took off my socks and saw two nasty blisters on my heels. I taped one up and the other needed to be popped. My pacer said something about finding something to pop it with and I said no, I got it, and proceeded to tear a hole in the blister with my fingernail. I taped it up, put my socks and shoes back on, grabbed my trekking poles and hit the trail with an avocado sandwich in hand a my pacer by my side.

After the race, Nate told me that he and the boys got in the car and my 9yo said “soooo, did anyone actually see mommy pop the blister?” Apparently the grittiness of the ultrarunning world was a little more than my sons expected 😆

There was an aid station at mile 62, which would have been the 100k mark and my new goal, but there was no crew access. So if I dropped there, someone would have to drive me to my family at another aid station. I looked at my crew when I realized this and I said with gusto “I’m not getting a fu*king ride off of the trail. I will make it to mile 65.”

The 4 miles from 58-62 were really difficult. My knee had completely blow up and I couldn’t run at all. The downhills were excruciating and each step was more and more painful. Mentally though, I felt great. I was smiling, I was chatting with my pacer and while I had been awake for nearly 30 hours or so I was out of it but not delirious…yet.

At about 12pm Saturday at the mile 62 aid station I sat down for only the third time since 5pm the night before. My pacer had convinced me to let the station folks k-tape my knee to see if it would help. They gave me a peace sign necklace and pin and sent me on my way.

We made our way down the dirt road and came to a road crossing. We saw a vehicle coming and paused. That vehicle slowed to let us cross and I waved to say thanks. The person driving rolled her window down and waved. I look intently thinking I recognized her but I’m in a forest in Arkansas and have been awake forever, so I don’t think much of it. 

Then the car door opened and she got out. So did the passenger. Suddenly I realized that it was two of my very dear friends and it clicked that they drove all the way to Arkansas to see me race. I was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. 

I wrapped my arms around one of them and then the other and cried. I know people love me. My brain knows it but in that moment I felt a level of friendship love in my heart that I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to feel before. 

These two women drove hours to get to me, to support me and to show me they believed in me. They told me how proud they were and I cried and said I didn’t think I was going to finish. They didn’t blink. They said it didn’t matter. They were miraculously in the absolutely perfect place at the absolutely perfect time. 

So many things had to happen to place us in the same place at that moment. They were on their way to a restaurant that said it was closed but they wanted to see for sure. At the last minute I decided at the last aid station to have them tape my knee to see if that would help. I didn’t know I needed those hugs from these women in that moment, and thinking back it still brings me to tears. They had been texting me all day from Arkansas, and I had no idea they were right there with me. The whole time.

I spent the next 2 miles having periods of crying over the craziness of seeing my girls in the middle of the forest. My buddy had taken off ahead of me and it was an out and back and I knew I would run into him eventually. When I did he was grinding up the hill toward us and I was so happy to see him looking so strong. I hugged him and said I was proud of him and wished him the best for the rest of his race. He was working so hard and looking so strong, I just knew he was going to finish.

It started to thunder and I really wanted to get to the aid station before it down poured but I just couldn’t move that quickly. I had slowed down to a 25-minute pace and couldn’t run at all. I made it to the mile 65 aid station about 45 minutes before cut-off. I would have to manage the next 35 miles at a 20-minute mile at a minimum to finish on time, and I couldn’t run. There was really nothing to consider. Stopping was the only option.

It took me a while for my head to catch up with the idea of stopping. My adrenaline was in full effect and my whole body minus my knee wanted to keep moving. It took hours for me to settle down.

We went back to the cabin and I showered and tried to relax. Friends had been sending me positive and uplifting messages all day, which was so incredibly wonderful. Each time a message showed up on my watch I felt the love. It really helped push me through. I updated friends that I had dropped and tried to rest. But I just couldn’t do it. Not with my friend still out there trying to grind out 100 miles.

I told Nate I really wanted to meet him at the next aid station so Nate helped me figure out what time we thought he would be there. I know I surprised him when I got there and it was so great to see how strong he looked. Plus I got to see the second best part of a race like this, the view from the crew. I have crewed this friend and others at long races and honestly it is just as much fun as racing. 

Also, my girls were in Arkansas! I called them and told them where to meet us at my friend’s mile 87. We hung out on the side of a highway in the misting rain for a while when he came and went through the station. I was having some serious bouts of delirium. Each time a car drove by the light would reflect in such a way that I thought a car was parked on the side of the road, then it was gone. None of this was scary and it was actually kind of cool. It was hard to tell what was real and what was my eyes playing tricks on me. My girls also got me the best little care package. Goodness I just love them so much 💗

He had 13 miles left and we knew it would be about 4 hours or so, so we went back to the cabin and I got a couple of hours of sleep. This was about 9pm on Saturday and I had been up since 8am or so on Friday. 

Nate’s alarm went off at 12:30am and he checked the tracker and saw my friend would finish around 1am. We drove to the finish line and got there with about 10 minutes to spare before he finished. Seeing him finish was a really great end to a pretty great day.

Sunday was to be our last day in Arkansas so we tried to make the most of it and drove to Hot Springs to see the sights and grab lunch. I was sore, but it was manageable. The blisters and sore knee was the worst but otherwise I felt pretty great considering I just ran 65 miles.

We ate the most incredible pizza, played mini golf, explored the town and made the most of our little mini vacation. I was feeling pretty good about the whole weekend and enjoyed this time with my little family.

Then Monday hit and everything changed. The deep disappointment set in. I had a really good hard cry in the shower and just felt so incredibly sad that the race didn’t go the way I hoped it would go. My head was positive and realistic and knew I had to quit and not finish, but my heart was so sad.

Like everything else about this experience, that feeling didn’t last long either. Bottom line is, it’s just running. We trail runners see a distance we want to try and cover and we sign up for the race. We toe the line with no idea how the whole thing is going to end up. It’s uncertain and unpredictable and no matter how hard you train you cannot be sure how it will end up. To me, that’s part of the draw. If we knew the outcome was certain, it would lose its desire.

The nearly unattainable is that much sweeter when it is attained. Or so I have heard 😊

If I learned anything on this adventure it is that the 100 mile distance is well within my reach. I’ll face it again later this year filled with more experience and more training and hopefully a buckle in hand. And maybe even a new-to-the-sport crew! Nate and my girls now have a new interest in crewing and pacing an ultra. I should have warned them that it is definitely addicting and contagious!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Am I ready to run 100 miles?


Here I am, heading into race week deep in the throes of the taper crazies and I have to ask myself … am I ready to run 100 miles?

Back in August of 2020, after weeks of talking and considering, my friend finally talked me into signing up to run 100 miles. As I signed in to UltraSignup, found the race and clicked through all of the prompts to register, I was filled with invigorating excitement to be reaching for something well outside of my comfort zone. It didn’t take much time though before I was met with an enormous amount of self-doubt.

You see, as a runner there is nothing quite like signing up for the next distance. As an ultrarunner, that often means the next stretch goal is pretty lofty. New runners often follow the route of 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon. An ultramarathon is anything beyond a full marathon or 26.2 miles.

By the time I was sitting there in my car with my phone in hand, with UltraSignup pulled up and ready to take the plunge I had completed a handful of 50k races and one 50 mile run. I suppose I could have signed up for a 100k race but I instead went right for the big one and signed up to run 100 miles in 34 hours.

When I first started trail running and would run with seasoned ultrarunners, I would hear them talk of their 100 mile race plans and adventures. I couldn’t even imagine what would make someone want to run 100 miles. It was so far away from anything I ever thought I would try to do. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t think I had ever believed I could do something so big and challenging. Sometimes it takes a friend to convince you that you are strong and that anything is possible if you commit and put in the work.

So that is what I have done. Miles upon miles of training. Hours and hours in the woods, grinding out intentional practice and training growing stronger and more confident at each mile.

It wasn’t all fun though. Deciding to try to do something I have never done before is a level of vulnerability that consistently made me question myself and my ability to really achieve this big stretch goal I was working toward. All these hours on the trail were hours away from my family. Hours squeezed in before a workday. When training ramped up there were plenty of times I cried on the trail, questioned my reasoning and made me wonder if all of this was worth it. Never once though did I think about stopping. 

Each time I questioned myself and my reasons behind running this distance, I was met with something that helped me center myself and appreciate what this journey means to me. I am learning that staying comfortable where success is certain and failure is unlikely is predictable but it sure isn’t very much fun. 

I listened to podcasts and audible books and sought out as much information as possible about dreaming big, preparing for the unexpected, living a life of intention and not only learning but really integrating the fact that everything we have ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

Between when I signed up for the race and today, I have ran over 1200 miles. Each mile was intentional with the long-term goal of 100 miles in mind. Some miles were easy and fun and lighthearted, and some were a full struggle ending with tears as I trudged back to my car. Running into friends on trails and keeping so many solo to avoid catching covid as I inched closer to race day. These 7ish months of training have been an adventure from the start. An intense journey to see what I am really capable of.

Some things I learned during the 1200 miles of training include:
  • Something always hurt. Yes, always. Thankfully it was never an injury so I just kept going.
  • My husband and my boys are always my biggest supporters and cheerleaders.
  • More than anything, I am so incredibly grateful for this body that continues to rise to what I expect of it.
  • I love trail running. I mean, I really love it. Running connects me to the world and the ground in a way that I never expected. You know how at the end of the movie Almost Famous when the bandaid tries to explain what it's like to love one tiny piece of music SO MUCH that it hurts? That is how much I love running in the woods. So much it hurts. Or maybe that's just because of that first point up there 😄
  • Fighting with a friend can actually strengthen a friendship, if it is built on trust and respect.
  • I love to eat lots and lots (and lots) of food. Especially Anna-safe pizza and Chipotle.
  • Gratitude is the antidote to pain. If something is painful, look for the gratitude, it's there. I promise. 
No matter how the race plays out, this journey to get to the starting line of my first 100 mile race has filled my heart with so much joy. Spending time working toward something I believe in, that builds me up and helps me grow as a person, a partner, a parent and as a friend will forever be one of the very best things I ever decided to do for myself. 

I’ve put in the work, now all I have to do is get in the arena and finish this damn thing.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Tenderness, Right Below the Surface

My friend J, who I have known for almost two years through my job, died from ALS about 2 weeks ago. I wrote most of what I am sharing shortly after he died, but I have been hesitant to share it here. For some reason I planned to sock it away and close this chapter quietly.

I am not sure why I am sharing it now. I love to write out my thoughts and I think it somehow creates closure for me to open up and share what I’m feeling. Perhaps sharing his story allows me to feel that others might know what an incredible person he was even though no one reading this knew him. Maybe sharing what’s on my heart will help carrying the weight of loss a little lighter. Maybe it’s all of these things for me. 

We can look at death as a relief or a tragedy, in depth or shallow, anticipated or a surprise and we can dive into what it means and how we should approach it and over complicate the whole conversation. Or we can say the simple and uncomplicated truth: my friend was here and now he is gone, and that makes me very sad. I honestly just miss my friend.

Right before his funeral, I read this article about end of life care. These two statements really stood out to me and spoke to why I feel so honored to be in the role I am in:

Providing end-of-life care is a privilege that is hard to choose. It is to choose to go down into the dark with another person, down into the deepest mysteries of the human experience. It is to share in the most difficult journey of a person’s life, a journey from which only one of you will return.

This is where all our work comes to its final fruition. This is where all the labels drop away, and we meet one another simply as humans, sharing the joy and grief, the gratitude and regret that is the common lot of mortals at their common end.

So here are some words about my friend, J.

Working with people who are dying is a privilege I hold very dear. When a person learns the news that they have a disease like ALS where there is no treatment and no cure, it is a traumatic experience. Relationships that begin in these types of situations can be very powerful. J and I connected immediately and had some of the deepest and most profound conversations about life, death, the meaning of it all and how end of life is for people. These are very deep and emotional conversations that made us close friends and confidants right from the beginning.

By the time I met J he had already lost enough use of his legs to need a power wheelchair, so I‘ve never actually seen him walk. He zipped around in that chair and still accessed all areas of his home thanks to his home-made ramps. During our first meeting we sat in his kitchen and looked out his back window at his large back yard, and as though we had known each other our whole lives, he began telling me the incredible loss he felt from no longer being able to do things like mow his lawn. He was so appreciative of his friends who showed up for him and completed tasks like this, but the loss he felt from no longer being able to do these things himself stung him to his core.

I remember having some preconceived notions about J. He was rough around the edges and seemed to take no bs from anyone. He was a construction worker type of man’s man with a hard outer core, so to see him so hurt by the loss of being able to care for things like his own lawn showed me a tenderness about him that I then saw every single time we visited. I feel so honored that he would share that part of himself with me.

It wasn’t long after that when I visited again that J was so excited to show me the adapted lawn mower he and his buddies designed. He said his friend took the racing seat right out of his car to make this lawn mower. I remember thinking how incredibly dangerous this contraption was. It didn’t matter though, once a person knows they are going to die, I mean we all know we are going to die eventually but once a person REALLY knows they are going to die, risk just has a different impact.

Another time I was at J’s house a buddy of his called collect from jail. He was on speaker phone so I heard most of their conversation, which wasn’t about anything in particular. When they hung up J said to me that he bets that was the first call I heard from jail. I laughed and said no and proceeded to tell him about two childhood friends who had also spent some time in the same city jail who used to call me collect regularly. I think he had some preconceived notions about me, too. And clearly I’ve always been drawn to those who, ahem, color outside the lines.

Earlier this year I visited with J when he was really sick. His significant other and I didn’t think he was going to make it through the weekend. He asked me what I thought happened to a person when they died. I told him that I wasn’t sure. I added that that every person I have ever been close to in my life who died, and there have been many, have visited me in a dream not long afterwards. Even my pets who I have lost visit me there. I told him I had no doubt that he would visit me too.

He pulled through that sickness and I was able to see him a few more times. One time, we were visiting at his kitchen table and his dad came to see him. I had never met his dad before so I was excited to hear some stories as we visited and J and his dad reminisced. J told a story about when he was a really little boy and he got angry with his brother about putting too much syrup on his waffles. Apparently J preferred lots of butter that fills all of the waffle squares and very little syrup. He was mad that his waffles had too much syrup and this somehow ended up with his brother convincing him to throw the waffle right at his mother’s face. He got in big trouble for that and sent to his room. His dad then came home and helped to ease the situation. It was a fun time hearing this story and I hope that his dad was able to enjoy the reminiscing, too.

I have worked with and met and counseled many people with ALS and they have impacted my life in many different ways. Knowing J has made an impact on me that I am having trouble putting into words. I think of him when I butter my waffles. I think of him when I talk with my other man’s man rough around the edges friends and wonder if their tenderness is right under the surface like J’s was. I think about the beautiful intimacy that developed between J and his significant other during quiet moments of caregiving that happened when no one else was around. I think about the joy and grief that go along with knowing I never would have met J if it weren’t for ALS, and knowing it was ALS that took him away from all of us who cared about him.

So for now I will be comforted by these memories and carry J’s spirit with me as I continue to fight to find a cure for this disease. I will wait patiently for him to visit me in that dream, where I will see him walking for the very first time, without the pain and loss that came along with ALS.


I know friends will wonder if I am okay and I really am. I have been anticipating J's death since the moment I met him. It's just part of the job. It is what I signed up for and while some losses are harder than others, I absolutely love what I do. I will never regret being invited into this time with J. I will look back and feel grateful for having him in my life, and will feel sad when I think about never seeing him again. And such is life, right? Feeling all the feelings, taking it all in. Laughing the laughs and crying the tears, all with equal zest.

"If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special." ~Jim Valvano 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

On Becoming Untamed

Have you read Glennon Doyle's new book Untamed? If so, the rest of this blog will make sense. If not, and actually even if you have, check out this link to watch an animated video that accompanies the words of the intro to the book.

Like right now, go watch it. Seriously. It's only 5ish minutes and it will explain this idea of becoming untamed better than I can.


Amazing, right? Whew, I can sure relate to Tabitha. It makes me wonder...is my wild hiding under there somewhere?

I am going to spend this blog digging into some of what this book has done for me, and will share a few biggish things I have done so far on my journey to become untamed.

The timing of this book and of this idea is just perfect for me. Do I wish I had these thoughts earlier in my life? Sure, but I don't know if my 20-year-old self would have been able or willing to hear them. 

Before I even read the book, I was making some changes in my life that felt like I was moving past some of the rules I had made for myself and was pushing past some of the limitations I and the world had created. Some people looking in might see these changes as a mid-life crisis. Maybe a mid-life awakening? Or even better, a mid-life untaming.

Am I even in mid-life? When I was younger I never really pictured myself as getting older. I guess if I live to 80, turning 40 is my mid-mark so I think I’ll just go with it.

My almost 12-year-old son and I talk often about the idea of a mid-life crisis. I added a few tattoos to my body in the last year, and he asked me if this was evidence of my mid-life crisis. I never really thought much about it, but after recently turning 41, I have been thinking about this idea of a mid-life crisis. 

When I was younger and thought of people going through a mid-life crisis I pictured some variation of an older man in a convertible or a woman whose clothes looked too young. Basically anyone who appeared to be trying to desperately hold onto their quickly fleeting youth.

These are all stereotypes but it is what I envisioned, and is likely what my son is envisioning as well. 

When I turned 40, many people told me that I was entering the best decade yet. Sure I believed them, but I don’t think I really understood the level of development and self-exploration that would occur in such a quick time as what occurred in my 41st year. 

In my 20s, I remember feeling scared and desperate for an understanding of what life would be for me. Having never imagined myself living very long, I yearned for some predictability and knowledge about what life had in store. I’ve always had a sense of adventure, but at some point in my life, fear took over and I spent a lot of time afraid. Afraid to try new things, to travel too far, to explore the unknown and to even change a well established job. Luckily, I met a man who made me feel safe and encouraged me to explore. Without him, I don't know who I would be today.

In my 30s, our boys were little and dominated my life. It was a struggle to balance being a mom with big career goals. At age 34, I left a comfortable job for one with more challenges and took on running. Running, and more specifically trail running, opened a world to me that allowed me to be strong, and fit, and to forge friendships and go on adventures I never would have done otherwise. It took me three years of running before I would run on a trail by myself. THREE YEARS! I was chipping away at my desire for adventure, but was still very hidden under my fear.

On my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Nothing rocks a person’s world like an illness, particularly the big C. Going through that experience helped me understand the preciousness of life. It helped me to no longer take anything for granted. It helped me look at my own life and demand more from myself. More vulnerability, more risks, more opportunities to live and love in this world. I left a job and started the one that feels like my calling. It is difficult and challenging and keeps me always looking at what it is I am going to do with my one wild and precious life.

After I turned 40, many things just came together for me. I'm excelling in my running, I find my job challenging and fulfilling, I am growing into who I am meant to be. And, as if it was a part of some bigger plan, the book Untamed came into my life. Like her, I have spent my life shrinking and making myself small in order to keep others comfortable.

From the book: "Isn't it supposed to be more beautiful than this?"

I have a beautiful life. One that is filled with a husband who loves me and that I love back. With two young sons that challenge me and help me grow as I help them grow right along with me. I have adventures, and challenges and love and acceptance. I am happy, down to my core.

And...I also see the ways in which I have shrunk myself to keep others comfortable. I have abandoned myself in friendships and rooms and conversations to keep the peace. I have failed to fully embrace the parts of myself that might not be exactly what the world expects from a woman like me, and I am working toward changing that.

These are some things I have done so far on this journey of becoming untamed. Or what I have done so far in my mid-life crisis. It's likely one or the other. Or maybe both. It's probably all just semantics anyway 😊

I bought the Jeep.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to drive a Jeep Wrangler. Never did I ever consider actually buying one though. These were the messages in my head regarding purchasing anything outside of what I saw as “appropriate” for me. “Who do you think you are? Stay small. Drive something practical that doesn’t attract attention. Sure you have the money, but be smart. That is too flashy. That's irresponsible.”

As I thought through this option, and with the encouragement of all of my boys, I changed the narrative and bought the damn Jeep. I also answered those thoughts that were in my head. “Who do you think you are? I am a woman who does what the hell she wants. Drive what you want, lady. Spending the money is smart, you earned it, enjoy it. And for god's sake have some fun.”

I wear the bikini.

I remember vividly when I was 22 years old some friends and I went on a trip to Colorado to see a 3-night run of Widespread Panic shows. During one afternoon, a few girlfriends were swimming in the pool. They asked if I was going to swim and I told them I was not, and that I was not comfortable in a swimsuit. They asked “even around us?” Yes, even around these friends of mine I couldn’t get past my own body shame and self-consciousness to enjoy the pool with my friends. I just want to go back and hug that little 22-year-old girl. 

I am 41 years old and I wear a bikini to the pool every weekend. Even when I am bloated from too many carbs, or when I am feeling fat because we just feel that way sometimes. I wear a bikini because I like the feeling of the water and the sun on my stomach and because the ones that cover my stomach feel binding. I changed the imagined narrative of others from “who does she think she is” to “look at her, if she can do that so can I”.

I pissed someone off.

Oh man, this has been a hard one for me. I am a recovering people-pleaser. I have spent my life not only sensing what others are feeling, but often actually FEELING what others are feeling. So I can instantly tell when something I have said bothers a person. The body language, the change in eye contact, the way they hold their arms or shift their body. I can just tell. So in most conversations I can tell and adjust what I am saying to influence this. In a way, to control their reaction by adjusting mine. To say this is exhausting is an understatement. To say this is inauthentic should be obvious.

I managed to piss someone off so badly that I have been deleted and blocked from a trail running group with which I have participated in for many years. I clearly made the person in control of this group pretty angry. It’s funny, while getting and staying on someone’s bad side is an unfamiliar happenstance for me, knowing I stood up for something I believe in makes me feel incredibly strong. And a little feisty 😎

I got the tattoo(s).

When I was in college and about 18 years old, I went to a small head shop with some friends with plans to get a tattoo. I knew I wanted a sun/moon combination and saw one in a book of tattoo photos I liked. I told the artist that was the one I wanted. With an attitude I heard as shaming he told me that the one in the book was special for that person, so I needed to find something that was special for me and come back another time. Looking back this was actually pretty good advice, but as a scared and self-conscious 18-year-old, I heard this as shaming and was really embarrassed. I wanted tattoos so badly, but this artist’s voice echoed in my head and I just froze in indecision. This and the fact that my sister had many tattoos, which were mostly not accepted by those around me, I stuffed any desire for a tattoo deep down under a pile of shame and understanding that I needed to stay small, not flashy, and by all means keep those around me comfortable.

Over the years I got a tattoo here and there, but as I approached 40 through now at 41, I have had 5 tattoos added with more on the horizon. I found an artist who has taken the time to get to know me and understand me, who can take what I see and make it my own, so it isn’t copied off of someone in a book. I consider this artist a friend. One who sees me and embraces and understands my desire to add art to my body. Also, I get tattoos because I am a grown ass woman and I do what the hell I want.

The Sky Was Yellow and the Sun Was Blue

I signed up for the race {I am doing the thing that scares me}

I registered to run a 100 mile race. At first the decision whether or not to sign up was looming over my head and with my natural tendency to overthink everything, I was again frozen in indecision. What it comes down to is this: it’s just running. That's it. So much of what I was thinking and overthinking was excuse after excuse of why I thought I wouldn’t succeed. Ultimately, I think was scared of failing. Or actually, maybe I was thinking "who does she think she is to think that she can actually run 100 miles?"

The truth is I have no idea if I can finish a 100-mile race and I sure am excited to see if I can. I didn’t know if I could finish a 50k or a 50-miler but I did both and felt pretty incredible the whole time. That’s the thing, every time I have stretched myself beyond what I think I am capable of, I surprise myself. 

I have made a promise to never again abandon myself.

As a life-long perfectionist and empath, I have spent my life keenly aware of the emotions of those around me, and of my ability to manage the emotions of others. I have felt responsible for others' emotions, and put myself in a position to influence those emotions and to help others “feel better” often to my own detriment. I am so used to reading the room and adjusting myself and my needs to meet the needs of others, I usually do it without even noticing.

As the awareness of my tendency to do this became more apparent this past year I decided - no more. Glennon's book is a workbook for those of us who have been conditioned to shrink and fit in and to keep those around us comfortable even to our own detriment. This will always be a struggle for me, one that I am fully committing to.

I accept, deep to my core, that my life is fleeting and one day I will die.

Okay so I know we all know that we are going to die. But do you really know you are going to die? Do you think that this thing or that thing will never happen to you? To some extent I think we all have to push away the looming fact that we will die one day. Working with people who have a terminal illness is a constant reminder that not only is this my one wild and precious life, but it could very well end before I think it should. And when that happens, for the most part, the world will go on. Sure my small circle of people who love me will miss me, and as time goes on they will miss me less, and one day a person will say my name for the very last time.

This fact doesn't make me sad, it makes me want to be intentional. It makes me want to buy the car, to wear the bikini, to piss the person off, to never abandon myself, and to sign up for the goddamn race. 

“Nothing quite brings out the zest for life in a person like the thought of their impending death” ~Jhonen Vasquez


This list is my own, and it sure has a way to go. I am only one year into the apparent best decade yet, and if the next nine years are anything like this past year has been, my untaming will really be something.

The messages I have received in my life are loud and clear. Stay small. Don't draw attention. Keep everyone comfortable. Tame the wild parts of yourself so you may be controlled and predictable. In her book Glennon describes the women who are held in the highest regard in our society as being completely selfless. So those of us who abandon ourselves for the sake of others are what society paints as the highest goal of attainment. I cannot say it better than she does:

“We weren’t born distrusting and fearing ourselves. That was part of our taming. We were taught to believe that who we are in our natural state is bad and dangerous. They convinced us to be afraid of ourselves. So we do not honor our own bodies, curiosity, hunger, judgment, experience, or ambition. Instead, we lock away our true selves. Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. Can you imagine? The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely. That is the end goal of every patriarchal culture. Because a very effective way to control women is to convince women to control themselves.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed #getuntamed

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Origin Story of My Nickname, Anna-Mae

It’s August 2020 and I don’t know about you, but Hamilton the musical has invaded our home and any time we say anything about a room it is followed with “where it happens”. As a huge fan of musicals, I am actually loving it. This line has captured my mind lately though:

“Who lives who dies who tells your story?”

My dad recently shared a beautiful story about his grandmother and it had me thinking; when his generation is gone, who will continue to tell her story? Who will ever say her name again? The story included the fact that she wrote in a journal every single day from 1954 through 1976. He has been reading her journals and it has connected him with her all over again, even though she has been gone for years.

That made me think about this blog. I wrote a lot when BBZ was little, wanting to capture everything he was doing and everything I was feeling as a new mom. As time has gone on I have shied away from blogging about the boys as I now feel protective of their stories and want them to be able to share what they choose about their lives, not what I feel like is worth sharing.

I have also been thinking about capturing some of my own stories that they may want to read one day. So here I am, ready to tell a story.

It’s a just a little one, but one that is meaningful to me nonetheless. It’s the origin story of my nickname, Anna-Mae. Many people have asked me if my middle name is Mae and it is not. There is a fun story behind it though that dates back to 2001-2002.

In college I worked part-time in a group home supporting people with developmental disabilities. I loved the work so much, I decided to stay within the state system and took a job as the manager of a group home where 8 men with developmental disabilities lived in St. Charles, MO.

The group home sat in a cul-de-sac not in a neighborhood but positioned near one, which was an attempt at de-institutionalization and at the time was a big deal. State hospitals were still open and this new semi-integrated setting was all the rage. The home had reopened after being closed for some time and the men who lived there along with the staff and me were new to group home #6.

In this home was a man named RRR. He was one of the kindest, most selfless, funny and positive people I have ever known. He also had a severe seizure disorder and a diagnosis of “profound mental retardation”, back when that term was used widely. I think he was in his mid-50s and used a manual wheelchair. One of his hands was contoured but he was able to wheel himself around his home independently. He and I had an immediate connection.

I imagine he lived all of his life in an institution, as parents of young men with his type of disabilities during his birth time period were often told that is what was best for their child. Knowing RRR though, with the right amount of support he could have easily lived anywhere he wanted, and was happy no matter where he lived. He was a light in this sometimes dark world. Thinking back, my little LBZ would have loved him. In all honesty though, everyone loved RRR.

One of my job responsibilities as the group home manager was ensuring the men in the home maintain their Medicaid status and keep their bank accounts at or below $999, a rule of Medicaid. RRR’s account was edging closer to this parameter and I asked him what he would like to spend some money on. He emphatically said he wanted to be able to listen to music.

So I worked with our accountant to purchase him a Walkman and some audio tapes. He had requested music form the 60s so I found him one with all 60s top hits. One of the songs was “Soul Man” and he would sit outside of my office, which was a hallway coat closet that had been turned into a makeshift office with a desk that I think was an old door that sat upon two file cabinets. There were no computers in offices back then, but the space did give me a private place to make phone calls and work on paperwork.

Anyway, RRR would sit outside of my office with his headphones on singing with more gusto than I can put into words:

“I’m a Soul Man!” (da da da da-da da-daaaa)

“I’m a Soul Man!”

In case you want to hear the song RRR enjoyed so much, check it out here.

I can still hear his sweet voice in my head all of these years later. The other staff in the home were so bothered by this, it would make them crazy! I loved it every single time. His little soul just screamed through that music and he was absolutely in love with life.

So this sweet man just started calling me Anna-Mae one day. I am not sure why. He never explained why and I never asked. He was one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. N met him a couple of times during his Special Olympic games and overheard him calling me Anna-Mae, so it has stuck. N still calls me this to this day, and it is all because of RRR.

RRR died a couple of years ago, as did any opportunity for him to create more stories. This one though, I will carry with me for as long as I can. The origin of the nickname he gave me that my husband carries on belongs to RRR and RRR alone. This story will continue with me and I hope it brings a kind smile to your face on this lovely summer evening.

Goodness knows memories of a sweet man named RRR who lived in a group home in St. Charles, MO certainly does that for me.

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