Dumbest Parade Ever!

We started our day incredibly early. I woke up at 2:00 am to get some food in my stomach and all my gear for the race. Jeff showed up at 2:30 am, and we drove the one hour and fifteen minutes to the bus pickup. It was another thirty-minute bus ride up the canyon to the starting line.

Fire pits were scattered in a pasture with a line of orange twenty port-o-potties. All the runners were huddled around the fire pits penguin style if it works in the Artic winds it works in the wee hours of the morning. Jeff and I chatted with other runners, used the bathroom repeatedly, and continued to hydrate. The sun slowly illuminated the surrounding mountains, pastures, and farmhouses.

“I am going to the bathroom one more time,” I told Jeff.  As I stood in line, yet again, I pulled off my sweats and shoved them into my gear bag, which volunteers hauled back to the starting line.

Jeff and I continued to turn like rotisserie chickens in front of the fire pit until one minute before the start. We shuffled over to the crowd and slipped in as the gun went off.

Farmhouses, pastures, barking dogs, and horses appeared long the sides of the road as we put one foot in front of the other. Every two miles there were aid stations with water and Gatorade.

“Need anything?” Jeff asked.  I shook my head, as I passed right through with my handheld water bottle secured to my right hand full of PowerAde Zero.

“I will need plain water later, but I’m good for now.”

After about six miles, we emerged from the farm town road and began our descent down Provo Canyon. We were hemmed in by green mountains, waterfalls, and sheer cliff faces. The wind picked up when we were about nine miles into the race, full on frontal assault by gusts threatening to steal your breath right from your lungs.

“I thought wind came down canyons?” I said.

“Not today,” Jeff laughed.

The wind made the downhill sections feel flat or even uphill at times. It made the uphill much more difficult. But, the wind also kept all of us runners cooler.

Jeff and I stopped at the orange port-o-potties at the half way mark. As we passed the half marathon starting line, a race volunteer called out, “Two hours.”  Not too bad, I thought.

The wind did not let up, and we became convinced we had been misled about this being a downhill race. As soon as we would hit the crest of a hill, we could see the next one taunting us. Other runners, who had run in prior years, kept telling us, “Three more hills,” “Two more,” and, “One more.”

Jeff and I grabbed handfuls of sliced oranges and shoveled them in our mouths as we ran through aid stations. The sweet citrus juice sprayed into my mouth as I bit down on one after another, tossing the peel into the garbage boxes we passed. The juice dripped down my chin and coated my gloves.

At mile twenty, we came out of the canyon. Only a 10k(6.2 miles) to go. Firefighters stood on a corner with a fire hose spraying runners. Spectators lined the streets with their signs. My favorite sign was held by a little girl of about seven, which read, “Dumbest parade ever.” I laughed and pointed it out to Jeff.  I had to agree with her, as far as parades go it was lame.

The wind finally let up around mile twenty-two.  My calves were starting to cramp since I had forgotten to bring salt tabs along with me (consequence of being a low carb runner). I knew I would be seriously unhappy once I stopped, but while I ran it was tolerable.

Jeff pointed out the LDS temple down the road. We could just see the golden angel Maroni above the treetops.

“That’s the finish line,” he said.

Jeff grabbed licorice and a popsicle, as we passed spectators who had put up their own aid stations.

A quarter mile out, we could see the royal blue finish line arch spread across the road. Crowds of people lined both sides of the fences set up for the run.

We passed beneath the arch and across the timing mat. The announcers called out our names and a volunteer placed a medal around our necks. This is what I live for, what a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

Jeff finished at 4:05 and I finished at 4:07 not bad for three days notice! Fifteen minutes faster than my last marathon in April.

My training plan listed fifteen miles for last Saturday and twelve miles for last Sunday. I figure doing 26.2 on Saturday gave me a little leeway to drop my miles to six on Sunday.

Other than my calves cramping up like an impossibly twisted slinky, I didn’t have any soreness on Sunday. I could have run farther, but I’m in no rush to increase my miles before they need to be.

After the forty-mile per hour head wind in the Salt flats 100 and the up-canyon wind for Utah Valley marathon, I have decided 2014 is the year of the wind.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Phoenix’s Hope

Like a coiled rattlesnake, Emilee sprang at her brother, Adam. A twisted mass of arms and legs crunched onto the concrete floor of an abandoned warehouse.

He never thinks before he acts, Emilee thought. Her arms and abs flexed as she forced Adam’s shoulders to the cold floor. She straddled his midsection, so he couldn’t do anything else stupid.

“What the heck?” he growled.

“That’s Morris, you dolt!” Emilee said, pushing down hard on his shoulders for emphasis. His eyes went wide.

“I’m sorry,” he stuttered, “I didn’t think—“

“Exactly. You didn’t think.” Emilee got to her feet and brushed the dust off her ripped and faded jeans.

Adam rolled onto his stomach and shimmied over to stare at the pile of ash on the floor.  Emilee walked over to a cardboard box, the size of a microwave, and picked it up. She turned back to Adam and the pile of ash. Adam was slowly reaching his stubby finger toward the pile.

“Adam,” Emilee snapped.

“You think he would come back with fewer tail feathers if some of the ash stuck to my finger?” A mischievous smile crept across Adam’s face, making his cherub cheeks blossom.  She kicked her kid brother’s leg as she walked by him and set the box over the pile.

“We made it back here by the skin of my sneakers before he burst into flames. We were following a solid lead on mom and lost track of time,” Emilee sighed.

“It’s been six months. We’re never going to find her,” Adam said, folding his legs Indian style and resting his elbows on his knees while cradling his face in his hands.

“Morris thinks we will,” she said. Her voice barely a whisper. “Go grab that wooden pallet, so we can put it on the box to protect Morris while we find dinner.”

Adam drug the pallet across the floor. It weighed as much as he did, scraping and grinding along the concrete. Together they set it on top of the box. Emilee ruffled Adam’s shaggy blond hair and put her arm around his slender shoulders. He was getting tall. She scooped up their backpack off the floor and headed for the door.

The sun had just ducked below the horizon shooting shards of yellow and orange into the sky. Emilee and Adam walked down the alley toward the main street. Adam ran ahead and kicked a plastic soda bottle. It was dark by the time they reached the congregation of fast food restaurants.

They stood on the sidewalk and looked both ways before heading to the back of the McDonalds where the dumpsters were. Emilee held open the hard plastic lid.

“In you go small fry.”

Adam placed both hands on the edge of the metal dumpster and hoisted himself up and swung his leg over. He was looking for chicken nuggets. They were his favorite.

“Score!”

“Hurry up, will you.”

He scrambled out of the dumpster and tossed two cheeseburgers and a twenty-piece Chicken McNugget into the open backpack in her hands.

Back at the warehouse, Emilee threw their solitary dingy blanket over the wooden pallet. She rolled two tires over to the makeshift table and set the box of nuggets on one side for Adam and taking the cheeseburgers for her.  Adam bounced on his tire, rolled it back and forth, and bounced some more as he popped  one nugget after another into his mouth.

Emillee piled several walnut brown flattened boxes on top of one another as a makeshift bed. Adam rolled up the backpack for his pillow, and she covered him with their dingy grey blanketed.

“How long until Morris is back?” Adam asked. His eyelids were sagging, and his words stretched out like a cat.

“You know it takes about twelve hours.”

“That’s forever.”

She shook her head at his impatience and smiled a crooked grin. His butt was sticking through the hole in the center of their blanket. She laid on her back next to him. There was nothing to do until Morris reformed. If they went to the police, they’d be separated in foster care. Maybe never see each other again. No way was she going to let that happen. She had promised their father, as he bled out in her arms, she would not leave Adam. She promised herself, she would find their mom. Whoever had buried five kitchen knives in their dad’s chest, had taken their mom. The Virginia license plate 473GHU was their only lead.

Adam sobbed in his sleep. His arms began flailing as if a swarm of wasps circled his head. His hand careened into Emilee’s nose. Sharpe pain and warmth let her know it was bleeding. She pinched it closed and tried to calm Adam with her left hand.  The blanket was knotted around his legs.

The cardboard box, with the pallet resting on top, trembled. Emilee swiveled her gaze to the box. It trembled more violently. She released her nose. Bright red crimson drops hit her knees and shoes as she ran over to uncover the ashes. She flipped the pallet off the box with both hands, splinters digging into her palms.

Rolling ember wings unraveled from around the small body blanketed in feathers the color of autumn leaves. Garnet eyes peer up into Emilee’s face from above a beak as bright as the sun. Morris spread his wings and gave them two tentative flaps before launching into the air and showering the floor with sparks from the flames rippling through his feathers.

Morris’s screeched waking Adam. He stared up at the soaring phoenix eyes wide with the wonder only a child can find in the world, even a child who has watched his father die.

The search for their mother would not end until they were both safely wrapped in her arms and breathing in her lavender scent. With Morris, they would not fail. Emilee’s smile widened resembling the crescent of the sun rising above the Appalachian Mountains.

Author’s Note: This story was written in response to a 1,000 word prompt to write a story that somehow tied into the legend or theme of a Phoenix.

This challenge is sponsored by Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds blog.

Surprise Marathon!

Today and Friday morphed into rest days since I will be running the Utah Valley Marathon (UVM) on Saturday. One of the rewards of being an ultrarunner, is your friends come to you and say, “I’m not going to be able to do this marathon. Do you want to run it in my place?”

And then you get to say, “Sure, I can run it for you. I’m sorry you can’t run. When is it?” Although your facial expression is sad (if you want them to be your friend), on the inside you are doing the Happy Feet dance.

“In three days,” your friend says, but you don’t care because you’re still doing the happy dance. Happy-Feet-Two-007

As an ultrarunner, they could ask you to run for them any day of the week and no matter how close the marathon is, you’ll say yes. Because your miles are high enough that you can just pick up a marathon, as if you were running to the store for milk. The only time you can’t, is the few days after a fifty or one hundred mile race.

That’s what happened to me this week. My friend Erin injured her foot, and it hasn’t healed enough for her to run. Tuesday she asked if I would run UVM, so that our other friend, Jeff, does not have to run it alone. I feel bad that Erin cannot run, but I am excited to be able to run the marathon. I’ve been aching for a race since Salt Flats 100 (April 26, 2014). I had considered running UVM, but didn’t have the money to register.

Since I didn’t go for my hill run this morning, I decided to look up the race course. I knew that it was primarily a downhill race, but I’ve never run this one before. I believe I’ve run about 15 marathons since I started racing in 2008. I’d have to dig all the medals out of a box in the basement to be sure.

Packet Pick up is Friday afternoon. Jeff is going to go pick them up since I have to work too late to be able to make it, which is good because I don’t have extra money for the expo that will be set up, and I can always find some running equipment I need to have. For example, when I walked out of Salt Lake City Marathon’s expo, I had a new jacket, a headband, a handheld bottle and some goodies for my friends.

The race begins up the Provo Canyon. All the marathon runners will ride a bus to the starting line. The last bus for the starting line leaves at 4:15 am. That means I have to leave my house at 2:50 am to make sure we get on that bus. I am hoping that we don’t end up standing around at the start, freezing our butts off, for an hour before the gun goes off. The starting time is 6:00 am.

The course is almost completely downhill. There are a few spots where there is an uphill, but no big climbs. The starting line is about 5100 feet above sea level and drops to 4500 feet above sea level over the 26.2 miles. You can see the course map and elevation here.

The course is USATF certified and is a Boston Qualifier, of course. Boston is the end all and be all in road marathon racing. I’ve tried to qualify once and missed it by three minutes in 2009. I was doing a lot of speed training then. I needed to get a 3:40:00 to qualify for Boston, but finished just over 3:43:00. Since then Boston has lowered their qualifying times and my running adventures turned to ultra-distances and trail running. In order to qualify for Boston at UVM, I would need to run a 3:35:00. (An 8 minute, 17 second mile pace) HA! That is not going to happen. To find out your qualifying time go here.

The UVM course closes at 12:30 pm, which means all runners must maintain a 13:44 pace. Now that, I can definitely do. I ran Salt Lake City Marathon on April 17, 2014 in 4:22, since it was a week before my 100-mile run I didn’t push too hard. So what’s my goal for UVM? Finish with a smile and don’t vomit. Basically, somewhere between 3:35 and 4:22. Sorry, Erin this is probably slower than you would have run it.

P.S. I’m still doing the happy dance.

 

Turbo Tigger Time

“Mom, I need to get faster on my feet or Ultimate Frisbee,” Jasper (16) said, lounging on the couch and nudging me with his foot. “How do I do that?”

“Jumping and faster leg turn over,” I said, looking up from the book I was reading. He sighed.

“I hate jumping,” he said.  I made the, that sucks to be you face, and turned my attention back to my book.

“I need someone to do it with me.” He smiled and again nudged me with his foot.  Now, I made the , that sucks to be me face.

Plyometric exercises sprang out of USSR in the 1970s (figures, doesn’t it? USSR turns out some tough athletes). The idea behind plyometric exercises is that running is a series of jumps from one foot to the other. Over a mile a person takes anywhere from 1900 steps (twelve min. mile) to 1100 steps (six min. mile). Your hip, knee, and ankle essentially act like a spring as you land and propel your body up and forward.  Plyometric’s build off of this principle and work to strengthen your muscles and tendons, which allow you to become like Tigger bouncing on his tail. Continue reading

Flash Fiction Challenge: Amarathine Firestorm

This story was written in response to a 1,000 word prompt to write a story based on two sets of randomly drawn words that created a title. The challenge was to then fit the story around the title. My two words were ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Firestorm.’  This challenge is sponsored by Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds blog.

I had a lot of fun writing this and it was a nice reprieve from the more serious topic of my current book about my bipolar son. I hope you enjoy it.  I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sweat tricked down Dedrick’s spine. A few drops clung to the small of her back. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and coughed. Her chest heaved and lungs burned. The smoke and ash were contaminating the air her body needed. She could taste the wood that lingered in the ash. The fires had been burning for three days. Dedrick knew she had to keep moving. The village was still thirty miles away.

The screams and images of the last village she passed through flared up in her mind. Her stomach convulsed. She had reached the thatched huts after the flames had begun to eat them. A woman had run from one of the huts, her face blackened by ash and smeared with tears. The woman clutched a bundle to her breast. She tripped as she ran toward Dedrick. Dedrick dashed forward reaching out her arms. She bent lower as the woman continued to fall. Dedrick’s center of gravity passed the point of no return, and she launched herself forward. Her feet left the ground, and she flopped onto the sunbaked dirt. Her four silver daggers pressed against her ribs. The woman’s bundle rolled into Dedrick’s waiting arms. The blanket unwound as the bundle came to a stop. Dedrick’s stomach lurched with smell of scorched flesh and the sticky wetness against her upturned face.

The child’s skin was a violent red, blistered, and peeling away from the underlying tissue. Dedrick fought the urge to fling the charred corpse away from her. She gently wrapped the bundle in the blanket and placed it back into its mother’s arms. Her eyes skittered across the devastation before her. Charcoal, embers, and crumpled bodies littered the streets. The roaring flames and cries of the dying blotted out all the other noise, including the voice in her head urging her on. Time froze while Dedrick had stood there, paralyzed by the destruction laid before her. She could do nothing.

The day before, Dedrick had kneeled at her king’s side. His eyes sprung open. Blood bubbled from his lips as he spoke, “Dedrick! You must reach the Queen. Warn her Dedrick.”

His commanding voice was failing him. He coughed. Flecks of blood splattered on Dedrick’s face.

“The mages.” His voice was a fading whisper as his last breath left his body.

The far off mages had seen her crouched at his side. The Black Robes’ magic fire arched between their outstretched hands, and they directed it, in a cascade, toward the fallen king. She scrambled to remove his crown, ring, and sword as drops of fire rain singed her cropped dark hair. Clinging to the items, as if they were her soul, she began to run.

A tree crashed to the ground on her right showering her with hot embers and bringing her back to the present. Dedrick shook her head to clear the smoke and began to run again. Hot ash swirled around her face. Leaves and branches fell to the ground spreading the mage fire farther than she had thought possible.

The granite-chiseled stone of the castle’s battlements came into view above the deep green of the forest’s canopy. Of course, the queen would see the fire coming, but the river would stop it from reaching the castle. It wasn’t the fire that the king had wanted the queen warned of. It was the mages. The river would not stop the Black Robes.

She dashed into the small village of Tammirack. She called out to the villagers, but her voice came as a crackling whisper. She ran from door to door pounding with her fist.

“Get out! Run!” she said. The people peered out of their doorways and saw the firestorm moving toward their homes. Their eyes became wide with fear. They looked back at Dedrick, and recognition flashed across their faces.

“You’re the king’s messenger,” they said, in quavering voices.

“The king is dead, there’s an army behind that firestorm. Get your families out. Run! Don’t look back,” Dedrick said.

It was all she could do. She set her feet in motion once again. This was the final village before the river. She hoped that at least some would escape. She didn’t know how they would manage it, but she had to believe they would survive. It’s what drove her on. Dedrick was born among the Amaranth tribe. The king’s messengers were selected from her tribe because of their unfading endurance and everlasting courage.

Her feet barely skimmed the earth’s surface as she passed trees, jumped logs, and crashed through streams. Her feet molded to the earth with each step. Branches scratched at her bare legs and arms. Only a few more miles, her lungs seared with effort, and her legs were heavy like iron. Vomit rose in her throat as she continued to push her body past what it believed it could accomplish.

The words of her dead father entered her mind, “We run until we deliver our message or we die empty of all that we are.” It was the Amaranthine way. She plunged into the shallows of the river unwilling to slow down before reaching its shore. The ferryman drew his sword and swung it, wild with surprise. His fear morphed into a clipped laugh, and he grabbed Dedrick’s collapsing form.

“Not yet Dedrick, you must reach the queen,” he said, splashing icy river water onto her face and mouth. She nodded and pushed herself onto her feet. She rested against him, as she boarded the ferry, and the six burly ferrymen began to tug the guide ropes.

The queen stood ready. She had known the mages would come for her. They’d been searching for her since she had escaped as a child. An abomination, the Black Robes had called her. All women born with magic were destroyed. She called upon her forbidden magic now. The waters of the river rose. A rolling crackling echoed as the water crystalized into glacial blue ice.

Suffer Well

rhinoToday was speed training. My miles went up this week, which means I had to throw in not just one more 800 repeat, but two. Joy of joy’s! Thankfully, my exercise induces rhinitis decided not to rear its horned head today.

I was tired when my alarm went off at 5:00 am. I stayed up late talking with my 16 year old until 11:30 last night. I knew the whole time we were talking that it would make it hard to get up and moving in the morning, but he is such an insightful kid. I enjoy hearing about what goes on inside his head. So, I listened.

The morning was crisp and cool. I ran over to the high school track and finished the first five 800’s. On the sixth one, my legs started to burn during the second loop. On the seventh one, my legs were burning on the first loop. It was well worth the burn, and it would have been worth the rhino too had it shown up.  Having taken a two-year hiatus from speed training, I have actually enjoyed getting back into it. Sure, I don’t like it when I’m headed over to the track telling myself how much it is going to suck, how my lungs and legs are going to burn. I try to bargain with myself and negotiate my way out of it.

I have a quote on my office wall that reads, “If you ran without sacrifice, congratulations you just jogged. Running hurts. It always has. Wooly mammoths didn’t just roll over onto a plate and serve themselves up to prehistoric man with fries and a shake. They had to be caught—and running down a woolly mammoth was a bitch. Guess what? Running is still a bitch. But one with purpose. It teaches us that good things do not come easy. It teaches us that we are capable of more than we think. It teaches us that hard work will be rewarded, and laziness will be punished. Don’t expect to learn those life lessons from running’s shiftless stepchild: jogging. Next time you suffer on the roads or trails, suffer proudly. It means you run like an animal.”

No one wants to suffer. No one wants to watch those we love suffer. But suffering is the greatest teacher. It is a tender teacher because things could be so much worse in every case, but it only gets bad enough to make the change happen that needs to happen. No one gets off this planet without suffering. No one. Suffering levels the inequities between us all. I don’t care how high your mountain of greatness is, suffering makes it obsolete. You find yourself staring eye to eye with those you probably looked down upon during another part of your life. Suffering bonds us all as participants in this great human race.

All life-altering decisions contain suffering on both sides. It doesn’t matter if you make the right decision or the wrong one you are likely to go through a period of emotional or physical pain. And if you don’t learn what you needed from it, you’re going to do it again and again.

I watched a video on the Barkley Marathons, which is a wicked 100-mile or so race without a defined course and 65,000 feet elevation gain. You get an incredible sixty hours to finish the race. In thirty years, only 14 people have finished the thing. On the video, the race director shakes the hand of a participate who has dropped out after finishing two of the five loops and he says, “I only regret you could not have suffered longer.” I thought it was a fitting statement (Here’s the video if you want to watch it http://vimeo.com/97270099).

Suffering is an opportunity to get stronger, to face your fears, to reach out to others, and to learn about who you truly are and what makes you tick. So suffer well.

Keeping It Up

I think the number one question I get about my running is how do you keep it up? Whether they mean the distance 100 miles or the daily commitment to training doesn’t matter the answer is the same. Motivation.  A person’s ability to achieve any long-term goal or change in lifestyle is determined by their level of sustained motivation.

Will power may get you a short-term goal, but it won’t help you much when it comes to long-term goals or long-term lifestyle changes. The bottom line is you have to find a reason to do keep going day after day. Everyone’s motivation is different. Some people are motivated by outward appearance, love, sex, money, status, power, benefit another, fear, attention, happiness, or some other internal benefit you receive from participating in an activity.

I have a close friend who encourages me to run all types of races from the extremely difficult to the insanely challenging. He will tell me how he is going to get into shape and be ready to race alongside me or at least do the fifty mile. He goes full boar into training and burns out his flame every single time.  I have racked my brain about different ways to help motivate him, but I know deep down it is up to him to find his motivation. When he does, I’ll be there to support him through his first marathon, 50 miler, and 100 miler.

I talk about motivation quite a bit because it’s what gets us through the tough days. It gets you out of bed when it is below zero or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people have to begin with an external motivation when taking on a new adventure. In the beginning, the excitement of starting something new is enough to get you going for maybe a week. After that, you may need to move to something tangible. Small tangible goals over short intervals will likely sustain you until you can reach that point where you find internal motivation.

I run because I love the way I feel when I do. I go to work because I feel like I make a difference. I parent with tenacious compassion because my children learn best that way. I write because I want to encourage and support others on their path to greatness.

If an activity or goal never becomes desirable just because of what’s inside of you, you will not be able to sustain it. This is an issue with your own perception of self. The value you place upon yourself as a person or member of society can undermine or strengthen your motivation.  If your goals never reach the point of

I’m doing (insert goal here) because I am worth it.

I’m doing (insert lifestyle change here) because I deserve to be (insert desire result here).

You should probably reflect on how you see yourself.

After all, “Person is a person, no matter how small,” Dr. Seuss Horton Hears a Who.