Sunday, July 13, 2014

Freedom in forgiveness

Then Peter came and said to Him, 
"Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Matthew 18:22 

It's the classic country western song:  "Don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart...." 
Because we are human, we've all been hurt. 

Lies scar....
We feel betrayed. 

Words bruise
We are inadequate.

Death torments-
We are left alone. 

And  the irony of our chore in this pain and affliction?    
Its laughable at its best and unimaginable at its worst.   

In this day and age forgiving seems unnatural, a weakness of sorts.  But Lewis Smede says "forgiving is loves power to break natures rule. It's loves toughest work and loves biggest risk." 
To forgive is to love.  To love is to be vulnerable.  All the good shit happens in vulnerability.  

Forgiving someone doesn't mean that what happened was ok, or even that you need to allow that person back in your life.  Forgiveness is simply making peace with the pain, and choosing to let go. 

I'm all about breaking the rules in the name of love.  
Time to let go.   Freedom awaits.   


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Powerful Beyond Belief. WS 100 Race Report

"So when you're searching for that rainbow
I will help you find it
And when a mountain stands before you
I will help you climb it
Just follow where I lead
I'll give you what you need
A love that's always true
And someone who believes in you."
Air Supply

I don't belong here.
It's the thought that won't go away, and standing at the starting line of the Western States 100 with several of the worlds finest ultra runners, it nags me like a fly buzzing in my ear.  I try to shoo it aside because the clock is counting down, and here we go.......

Miles 0-16 
"Courage Dear Heart" 
CS Lewis
As we start the 2,550 vertical foot climb into Emigrant Pass, a quiet and nervous energy embraces us.  Blessed to be breathing 40 degree mountain air, I remember to look back and watch the tangerine sun rise over Lake Tahoe.  I am lucky to be here,  because Western States is a very hard race to get in to.  First, you must do a qualifying race.  Then there is the lottery process.  The probability of being selected is a function of the number of applicant names in the hat versus the number of slots available to be filled. For example, the number of entrants in the 2013 hat was 2295, with a total ticket count of 3555. Based on an expected draw of 270, the probability of being selected with a single name in the hat was 7.9%.  I would have had 4 tickets.  But still.

My friend Libby Jones was a race sponsor this year, and I was blessed to be asked to represent The Active Joe  as a qualified race participant.  But do I really belong here?

Everyone warned me to take this first climb easy, so I settle in behind the infamous Gordon Ainsleigh (race founder and trail god) listening to his stories of why he chose California as the place to hang his hat- something about Utah being too cold and Texas having too many snakes.   The hardest climbs always produce the best scenery, and I cheer seeing my friend Dave Carder at the summit.  I give him a big hug (maybe too big) and start to head down.  My legs feel great.  Misson #1 accomplished.  I really enjoy the rolling terrain, breathtaking scenery and the community of my tribe during this part of the race, and as I stroll into Lyons Ridge, my friend (Tahoe Rim race director) Squirrel is waiting for me.  There is just something about seeing people you love out on the race course that makes your whole body smile.  George helps me refill my  pack and reminds me to "be smart out there."  Yes.  I assure him that I am, but as I look at my watch for the first time I see that I am 10 minutes behind the 30 hour cut off time.  I try not to panic, as I took that climb slowly on purpose.....but there is that thought again.  I don't belong here.  I shake it off and keep running to the next aid station at Red Star Ridge.  Now 5 minutes behind.

Miles 16-30
"You have to leave the city of your comfort, and go into the the wilderness of your intuition."
Alan Alda
This is usually the best part of the race for me, the time when I sit back and enjoy the ride, but I am starting to worry.  I haven't seen this part of the course and it is much harder than I imagined it would be.  The climbs are tough and the downhill is rocky and slippery- much of it unrunnable for a mortal like me.  I slide down into Duncan Canyon, now 5 minutes behind.  It's starting to get hot, and the climb out of there is a son of a bitch.  I reach Robinson Flat to see my crew right on time.  Dammit.  I cannot get ahead, and now with all of the changing socks, eating and trying to get it together at this aid station, I am 8 minutes behind, and visibly pissed.  My crew is patient and calm, and Chris Knodel tells me to "stop worrying about the 30 hours and just continue making the cutoffs.  90% of the people who make it to Forest Hill will finish the race."  This seemed like something I could actually wrap my head around.  So I got out of that chair and headed onward to Miller's Defeat.

Miles 30-55
"What is so great about life is that you are constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that."
Billy Crystal
From here on out I know what the course looks like, thanks to attending the training camp in May.  I remember how excited I was on that first day of camp, how amazing I felt being there on this course, on that day; and I decide to hit the reset button; to literally pretend that I am just starting today's run.  After all, I've run on tired legs hundreds of times in training, so here we go- day one of training camp.  I put on my music and forget for a while, sailing downhill to the last chance aid station.  I am (FINALLY) 5 minutes ahead of pace at this point and feeling more in control as I start to pass people.  I take it easy, even walking much of the screaming downhill to the river crossing to save my quads, and climb with purpose (mosquitoes can be a great motivator) into Devils Thumb.  Still passing people.  That's good.  Down again, up again into Michigan Bluff where I see Laura beaming.  "You're smiling!" she sang.   I'm ahead of cutoff.  Still in the game.
" I'm ok.  Let's be quick here so we can spend more time at Forest Hill." I tell her.  Libby hands me my flashlight, and we're off.

Miles 55- 80
"Don't let fatigue make a coward out of you."  
Steve Prefontaine
Laura is beautiful and sparkly.
I am haggard and worn out. 
She wants to talk.
I don't.
She runs ahead.   
I lag behind.
I lost my expensive and perfectly powerful LED Lenser flashlight earlier in the day, and am stuck with a dull cheap one, and a headlamp that keeps sliding down to my eyebrows.  I can't see shit which makes me grouchy once again.  Laura chats up German car engineering with a few of the guys we're walking with (she really is the bombdiggity) and I hang on to her skirt tail.  Up and down and down and up we make it to Forest Hill where I see my Facebook friend Jose.  "I've been waiting for you all day!" he exclaims.
 "Yeah.  I know."

I have mixed feelings about the time I spent at Forest Hill.  I ate, changed everything, and to Libby's disgust popped about 4 blood blisters and redressed them.  It seemed like I was spending forever there, but I knew that I needed to take care of myself going into the night, and that this was the place to do it.  Laura and I hobbled out of there, and as I choked down half a sandwich I wasn't sure how I would start running.    But once we hit the trail, I was able to shuffle off again.  My toes felt better, and I knew the time spent at the aid station was worth it.
Most of 63-80 is a complete blur to me.  I know I had some sections of good running coming out of Forest Hill.  I remember Laura pulling me.  I remember yelling at her (completely uncalled for and I owe her something in a blue Tiffany's box now ) when she could not tell me what mile we were on leaving Peachstone.  I remember a heartless climb somewhere around 73, and  saving another runner's ass from making a wrong turn there.  I remember looking for the illusive Rucky Chucky gate, finally reaching it, and the second river crossing.  Of course, right on freaking time.
Laura was so excited crossing the river, and on the other side a handsome volunteer (call me!) changed my wet shoes and socks (I love you!).  I changed clothes and ate again, preparing for the 2 mile climb out to Green Gate.
Where there is a river crossing, there is always a climb out.  

Miles 80-100.2
"When the train goes through the tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit and trust the engineer."  Corrie Ten Boom

Libby has a much more detailed account of this part of the race on her blog if you would like to read it, but this is where I am fighting hard.  1 minute ahead of the stupid cut off.  I don't belong here.  I can't get ahead.  Damn this is frustrating.  I have to keep running. 
I try run intervals, counting to 100 in my head and then taking a 30 second walk break.  I decided to put my music on instead and to zone out.  Libby is great, telling me "2 miles to the next aid station."
"Now one mile to the next aid station."  We come into Auburn Lake like clockwork and spend no time messing around as the warning horn blows.  We could hear the music as we headed into Browns Bar, but we couldn't see it.  I was finally going to be ahead of cut off?  Where was it?
We ran past the blaring music.  "Fuck!  That's just a speaker.  Where's the damn aid station?"  I lost it, and Libby lied and told me she could see it ahead to pacify me.
My delirium was averted a bit, though when a familiar face at Brown's Bar put his hand on my arm,  looked me in the eyes (cue the music!) and told me I was going to make it.  I nodded a weary (and somewhat dreamlike) yes and moved on. I reached deep in the hollows of my brain to try to decipher why that guy looked so familiar.
"Was that Hal Koerner? " I asked Libby.
"Yeah.   He wanted your autograph.....but we needed to keep moving."

The climb before HWY 49 was a real bitch.  I just put my head down and followed the feet in front of me.  It was hot.  It was hard.  Slippery.  Rocky.  My feet hurt.  Please shoot me and put an end to this misery.  But as we roll down into the aid station gorgeous Laura is there again to take care of us.  "You've got this." an aid station worker told me, and I burst into tears.  "What if I mess it all up now?  At mile 93?"  I say through sobs.
 (I don't belong here)

"Time to get going" Laura answers.  The three of us hug and Libby and I are climbing again. 
Passing people on the way to No Hands Bridge (and only passed by the girl in the Luna sandals- dammit ) my confidence begins to increase.  As exhausted as I am, I finally start to relax.  My friend Jose is there again waiting, and Libby tells me I have an hour to do a 5K.  For the first time I actually believe I'm going to make it.
Right here. 
At mile 97.

It was getting really hot.  We would run, counting to 30, and then walk counting to 30 until we reached the last climb.  Sheer will pulled me up to Robie Point, knowing I would soon be on the road one mile from the finish.  This seems to be the longest road EVER, but my friend Jesus is there with a goofy smile, beer and camera in hand, telling us we have 4 turns to the finish line.

Something weird always happens to me in the last mile of an ultra,  and here that feeling is again as I run around the track at Placer High.  I don't want it to end.
Crossing the finish line with  17 minutes to spare was surreal.
I had found my brave.
 I had the buckle in my hand.
I belonged at that awards ceremony.

Do you even know how strong you are?  Do you know what you are capable of?   There is a collective universal energy that makes us powerful beyond belief.
I know that now as I read your many posts and well wishes sent along the way.

"I was tracking you all day and night."
"Come on Jenn, you're a fighter."
"We've been cheering for you from Dallas all day!"
"You're my inspiration."

Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.
I finished the Western States 100, finding the place where I belong.
Maybe Gordy and I will be neighbors someday. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You have to taper- so taper like you mean it!

“Rest and be thankful.”
William Wordsworth

I hear it all the time:
"I just can't taper, it makes me crazy."  
"I don't know what to do with myself if I can't run (ride, swim, workout)"
"Tapering is for sissies.  Who needs to taper?"  

I love the taper.  Damn- it reminds me that I actually have a life!
I sleep past 4 a.m. for shorter runs and replace that 2nd daily workout with a nap.
I cook rich foods and eat until I am full and satisfied.
I call and catch up with friends, or set out to the porch to finish those half-read books.
I watch bad "Teen Disney" movies and snuggle with my kids. 
I give the extra 30 minutes my massage therapist has been begging me for,
and allow my body to receive much needed repair time.
I write, and plan, and paint mental pictures for each mile.  

And when all of  that extra energy builds to a paramount climax -
the horse gets let out of the barn for an epic race day.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Get out and play! The Joy and Meaning List

"I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try"


I can't get enough of Brene Brown lately.  I think we must be soul sisters  because her books speak to me as if she were sitting across the table, chatting it up and drinking Merlot.

Recently, while reading her book The Gifts of Imperfection I was struck by this quote: 
"If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity of self worth."  

What does "cultivating sleep and play" look like?
Do you even know?
Renee suggests we make a "joy and meaning" list to answer this question.  When things are going really well in your life, what does that look like? 

My personal "joy and meaning" list looks like this:

More Free Time.
Time to savor my morning coffee, linger at the Farmer's Market, run that extra mile or take an afternoon nap

More Connection
Pancake Breakfasts with my kids.  Happy hour with co-workers.  Meditating alone or group workouts.

More Travel
Mountain climbing, waterfalls, barefoot walks on the beach and winery tours.
Snow, sunsets, visiting old cemeteries and river rafting.

More time outside
Sunshine on your shoulders.   Maniacal downhills on your bike.  Swimming in lakes where you can't see shit. Exploring that cave.

More smiling
Silliness.  Laughing.  Kissing. Singing.

What does your list look like?  Are you willing to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol?
Live wholeheartedly.  Get out and play.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bring it on darlin'!

"Life is a headlong rush into the unknown.  
We can hunker down and hope that nothing hits us 
or we can lean into the wind and say 'Bring it on darlin', 
and don't be stingy with the jalapenos.'" 
Red Spicer

Here I go again clinging to the edge of the unknown.  This time I am hooked to another human who I completely trust will pull the chute that will keep me from plummeting to my death from 13,500 ft in the air.
But lets start from the beginning. :)

I signed the waiver.

Being single and 43 I had no expectations for anyone to throw me a birthday party, so I decided to create my own epic adventure.  Committed to my "get out and play" summer,  I put it out on Facebook that  I was going to go skydiving for my birthday- on Friday, June 13th.   My ex-husband John thought I was nuts, being that 15 years ago I was the girl who wouldn't even go close to the railing when we visited the Empire State Building.
But as you know, a lot has changed since then.

Blessed to have adventurous  running friends who wanted in on the excitement,  we soon found ourselves in a box of a room watching a video on how to do your first tandem jump.  Nervous energy permeated the air, and we giggled like teenagers as the sexual innuendos flew on how we should arch and bend while strapped to another human being.

Next we met Alan, our strong and handsome (aka: dreamy) jump instructor who explained our three jobs.
1.  As you sit on the edge of the plane before the jump, put your head back on your jump partners shoulder, cross your arms and curl legs back on the plane.
2.  When we jump, arch your back.  Arms come out like wings at 90 degree angles and legs are bent at the knees. 
3.  During landing- GET YOUR FEET UP.  We will be landing on our butt.
Simple enough right?
We practiced these steps showing that we could indeed do the motions, gritting our teeth because as runners we all have the flexibility of a pole, but are too stubborn to admit it.  We all passed the test and got into groups of 3.  As birthday girl, I insisted I got to go first.  :)

Gordon, Abraham and I (in that order) along with our tandem jumpers packed ourselves like sardines in the small plane.  I gave my best fake smile to the camera and we were off, down the bumpy grass runway and into the sky.  I sat between Alan's legs; my nervous hands resting on his shins, my concentration on my breath as we climbed to 12,000 feet and they opened the latch door for "air."
Seeing the landscape below was both terrifying and awe-inspiring.  I snuggled in with serenity, focusing completely on this humbling moment and we climbed to 13,500 ft.
After making sure I was securely attached and a round of "Happy Birthday,"  it was our time to go.

We scooted to the edge of the open door.  I put my head back on Alan's shoulder and crossed my arms.  1... 2... 3....
We jumped. 

The first 10 seconds were fucking terrifying, mostly I think because my brain could not comprehend what falling 120 mph was supposed to feel like.  I forgot to do job #2, lifting my arms to 90 degree angle, but Alan pulled them up for me and I regained my senses.
What a CRAZY  rush!  Its like the runners high on speed (as I imagine).  The adrenaline surged through every part of my being as we fell to the earth at 120 mph.
 A feeling hard to put into words.
I tried to lift my head and smile at the camera, but all I really wanted to do was take in the world below me with complete mental focus.
Alan pulled the chute and there was a sudden quiet and calm.
A silent stillness I have never experienced before.  With complete peace and ultimate clarity I was humbled at the smallness of my existence.  "Holy shit."  I said.
Alan laughed.  "I love taking people on their first jump."

My feet came up for the perfect landing as I heard my friends cheering me on.  Honestly, when I landed I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience.  So many thoughts and emotions swirled through my being.
 And then I puked.
 Grounded again :) 

After we all jumped and still buzzing,  my friends and I agreed that the coolest part was that we shared this experience TOGETHER.
We toasted that "We said we were going to do it, and we did it."
Cheers to us!

Brene Brown says that "you have to be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs."
Today  Robert, Mike, Gordon, Abraham, Megan, Monica and I claimed a title beyond runner, parent, worker or friend. 
We are now badasses who jump out of freaking airplanes.
"Bring it on darlin', and don't be stingy with the jalapenos."   
Forever changed.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Get out and Play: Simple gifts

Its a gift to be simple, Its a gift to be free,
Its the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
Will be in the valley of love and delight. 

 Shaker Hymn

Adventure can be subtle. 
Trying that vegan recipe, meeting new people and exploring untrodden territory.
Punk Rock Music, hair shaking and snoopy dancing.
Sunburned cheeks, reunions and picnics.
Long conversations and spiritual connections. 
Sweaty hugs and perfect smiles .
Simple gifts of adventure are calling us everyday.
Your only risk is in the acknowledgement. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Feel again

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."   Friedrich Nietzsche

A hazy sunset settled in the horizon as my tribe and I gathered at the Boyscout camp trail head.   Armed with headlamps, hydration vests, flashlights and gels we stormed the trail; a train of adventure seekers ready to explore what this night had to offer.  

It is said that when a person loses a sense, their other four become heightened.  I believe that is one of the reasons that night running is such a thrill.  Because it is dark, you are forced to listen.  You get wind of the snake first, only to see it slithering away in the beam from your flashlight. What sounds like someone throwing a bowling ball in the shrubbery it is probably just an innocent armadillo, but  beware of the constant mocking sound of the frog.  It can be truly maddening
The ripe smell of the swamp becomes more pungent in the musty night, and my friend even announced at one point that many animals must be hanging out in the brush, as the stinging scent of urine blew in.

With your sight taken away, your dance with the trail becomes dependent on your intuition for foot placement, and the sensations of your body moving in that space. You must trust that your light, quick steps will not fail you, weaving in and out with your partner
You can't see the sweat, but you know its there, salty in your eyes and trickling down your legs; and  the bitter taste of the thick, humid air requires respect.  

At 1:30 a.m. with 4 miles left to go, a fog of fatigue sneaks in.  I take one last gel and choose to dance the last call, running as fast as my breath and the terrain will allow.  A smooth shot of adrenaline takes me home as the trail and I tango together with sweaty tempestuousness.

Coming into the finish, spent and satisfied- I am renewed.  For putting all of myself into the risks of this run has reminded me only of not of the true bad ass I am capable of being, but also what I am capable of FEELING if I chose to tune in and hear the music.