Ideas in the Dryer

On good days, the internal status of my head is similar to a rolodex. My attention flips through the roles and responsibilities of my life: Mom, Attorney, Runner, Writer…

Today it is more like a clothing dryer. I reach in, randomly pull things out to attend to, and then restart it.

A few things have been rolling around in my mind over the last few days. First, I signed up for my first triathlon. It is on July 25, 2014, the Spudman in Burley, Idaho. It’s an Olympic distance tri, so the swim is 0.93 miles (1.5k), the bike is 24.8 miles (40k), and the run is 6.2 miles (10k). I’ve been blabbing about breaking into the triathlon world for about a year, and I am finally doing it. Granted this is a little concerning, knowing my personality and personal mantra of Go big or go home. I don’t do things in a small way.  What does that mean? An Ironman is likely to pop up on the horizon is what that means.  Short term this means my butt needs to get back to the swimming pool and soon. My strength training is going to have to be sidelined for the next month until the race so I can work in swimming on Monday and Friday and cycling on Wednesday and then sometime on Saturday.

The second thing rolling around in my head is that one more of my runners has dropped from my relay team. The race is in less than a week. The chance of finding a runner who fits well with my team, has $130 laying around, and can run one of the hardest legs of the race is zilch, nada, zero. Even if it was possible, do I truly want another runner? We have a trailblazer, which is going to be a tight fit with six runners. It would be more comfortable with five runners. The opportunity to run Wasatch Back as an ultrarunner is too hard for me to pass up. I can pick up the extra miles. In fact, I would love to. It would make my total miles for the relay race jump from 20.8 to 36.3 miles.

The third thing is whether I start a second or even a third blog. I go back and forth on this. This blog is dedicated to life as a single mom and ultrarunner. But as you can see, if you follow it or flip through some of my prior posts, my writing life has snuck in through the back door. Other aspects of my life are clinging to the windowsills trying to claw their way in as well. The second blog could be dedicated to my writing life, but then I also like to post about being a mom of a bipolar child. Do I start a blog about that as well? That would take a lot of time. It would be easier for me to post everything on one blog, but then people who follow this blog for the running would be turned off by the writing and bipolar child posts, or would they? Then I get on my soapbox and tell myself, “It’s my freaking blog I can post what I want!”

It gets more complicated when I throw my day job into the mix and want to post something about advocating for child abuse and neglect victims and teens who are charged as adults and sent to prison (another issue I’m passionate about).

What it will ultimately come down to, is what my readers think so, please comment.

What are your thoughts and experiences on this issue? Does anyone know of a theme I could set up my blog to post on different threads and my readers could just click on whatever they are interested in? Or should I just keep it all in one stream?

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.

Good Morning KFKD Fans!

I submitted the first twenty-five pages of my memoir to a literary agent about six weeks ago. Their website says to give them eight weeks to respond. I haven’t heard anything, and my mental radio station dial began to play KFKD (KFucKeD) last night. You know the station. It’s the one that tells you that you should have worked on the memoir another year before submitting it. The one that tells you that you’re not quite good enough to be a published author, and spirals down from there to the depths of maybe you’re not good enough to be anything.

I mean, who wants to read a book about a thirteen year old girl who gets sucked into a vampire cult in Salt Lake City, Utah(Mormon capital of the world) only to escape her controlling adult boyfriend to join a band of hippies dealing drugs and hitchhiking up the coast of the western United States, right? Long sigh. I would, but I love memoirs about people who have fought back and overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds. My friends who have read it, say it’s great and an amazing story, but they’re my friends what else are they going to say?

Out on my run this morning I remembered a quote I read recently in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she was quoting from the movie Cool Runnings, which is about an Olympic bobsled team.

Their coach says, “If you are not enough before the gold medal, you will not be enough after.”

This echoed inside my head while I ran through the drizzling rain. Slowly, it became louder than KFKD, and I realized, there are a hundreds of literary agents out there. If this one decides not to respond, I will just move on to the next one, and then the next. If no one wants to pick up my memoir after a year, I will self-publish it. There are tons of people self-publishing now, and there are contests for the best self-published book each year.

I think this quote speaks volumes and articulates a foundational problem we see in many teens. And adults for that matter.  We spend so much of our time and energy striving to be better than others, sometimes at things that don’t even matter to us personally.

My youngest son, Skyler (13), struggles with this in a profound way. Strapped with anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and multiple learning disorders, he constantly compares himself with “normal” kids and in his mind never measures up. He also compares himself to his honor roll socially adept older brother. I constantly reassure him that he is an intelligent, compassionate, and determined person and that he just needs to “run his own race” and stop competing with everyone around him. But that is easier said than done, because most of the world looks at him through those same lenses comparing him to those around him.

I can practically see KFKD playing in his mind, and it shatters my heart. This weekend I am secretly putting vinyl letter on his bedroom walls that say, Brave, Strong, Courageous, and Smart. I want these words to be his the moment he opens his eyes each morning, and the last thoughts in his mind each night.

The book I am working on now is called, Reaching for Sky. It’s about Skyler’s and my journey through his childhood, dealing with his explosive and wretched emotions, and struggles to make the world see the greatness that is in him. As I said, I love stories about people who have fought back and overcome insurmountable odds.

Reaching Youth

A good friend of mine asked me to speak to a group of teens who are graduating from drug treatment and juvenile drug court. I’ve been thinking about this over the last week trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between the teens and me. I know that I can’t walk in there as the attorney and ultrarunner that I’ve become. If I cannot bridge the gap, nothing I say will even register in their minds.

But I haven’t always been an attorney and ultrarunner. My specific pits of despair are very similar to those kids including substance abuse, living on the streets, running away from home, drug dealing, teen pregnancy, teen motherhood, high school dropout, gangs, and more.

Life has never been along the straight and narrow path for me. Life has never been along the straight and narrow path for me. The one thing I have in common with them is their struggle. The struggle for life and the discovery of self-purpose.

So many of our teens lose their belief in themselves, it flies out the window along with their ability to dream ambitious and crazy childhood goals. I prevailed over my struggles because I rediscovered my belief in myself and one other person never lost her belief in me, my mom. I have found that the farther you go in search of who you are, the farther you get from it, because it’s right where you started from in the first place.  

Reigniting the fire of their dreams and childhood goals can be very difficult. However, it is easier than rebuilding their belief in themselves. One little talk from me is not going to leave them with a fully reconstructed self. It might, if done right, lay a brick in the foundation, if I’m lucky.

What I can give them is an external anchor until they rediscover themselves. I can show them that it’s possible to come back, to rise against all the odds stacked against them. Running, for me, is a confirmation of my inner strength and determination to continually face my fears and never back down from the struggle.

Long distance running is a metaphor for life. You chose to get out of bed and face your run, sometimes not knowing the route you are about to head down. At times, it is dark, and you can’t see what or who is coming from the other way.

 

You come to the foot of a hill or a mountain, and you chose the best or worst path to take, up and over. Sometimes it is too big, and you decide to try to go around which results in you being utterly lost. Puddles appear, and you happily splash through them or skip around them to avoid the miserableness of soggy feet.

 

At twenty miles, you hit the infamous wall. Your mind is telling your body it cannot go another step, but you do, and you get stronger. After a mile, you feel your strength return. You hit another wall at thirty miles and then forty miles. You know they will keep coming, but you know you can keep going because you have done it all before.

 

Some days you hit your zone gliding on top of the world, flying down hills, or floating over the mountains. Some days you trip over rocks, roots, and your own feet, falling on your face. But, you stand back up, and keep going. Life has its mountains and walls. You choose how to deal with each, and sometimes you glide, on top of the world.

 

Drop Bags…

Drop what? A drop bag is a foreign object to any runner who does not run farther than a marathon. To an ultrarunner, a drop bag is your savior. Well-placed drop bags can even replace a crew for the more experienced ultrarunner.

The purpose of a drop bag is to store gear and supplies that you will likely need later in a long race, such as a fifty or one hundred miler. If you plan to be out on the trail for twelve or more hours having a place to stash some things is very very useful.

I spent about two hours organizing my gear into drop bags yesterday. Salt Flats 100 allows drop bags at every aid station other than number one, which is ten miles into the race, that’s right the first aid station is ten miles in. That may come as a huge surprise to any marathon runner who has a aid station every one and a half to three miles during their race.

In order to pack your drop bags responsibly, there are some things you need to know about your race such as elevation, likely weather conditions, and the aid station food and drink selections. Without this information you will be packing things you don’t need or not packing something that you do need. You can’t carry everything you may need out on the course. And, even if you could, you really don’t want too. It is better to have a drop bag at every aid station than care unnecessary gear especially in the later stages of a race.

Elevation gain and loss changes your gear requirements. It influences temperatures and the technicality of the trail. It affects your speed and the thus the time you will be reaching particular points in the race. You need to be able to calculate about the time you will be reaching each drop bag to be able to include necessary items. The drop bag you will reach just before sun down needs to include things like a flashlight or headlamp. Possibly a jacket and long pants, if it is an early or late season mountain race. Might there be snow at the higher elevations? Or river crossings requiring you to change your socks multiple times during the race? Is there an extreme climb where trekking poles would be helpful, but you don’t want to carry them through the flat sections? You need to look over the elevation map and consider what you might need at each point in the race.

Weather conditions changes your gear requirements. In the desert, it is hot during the day and below freezing at night. The sun beating down on you is unrelenting. Wind changes things as well, think about keeping dirt and other debris out of your eyes. Wind can drop the temperatures even on what would otherwise be a perfect running day. Rain creates mud and excess water, in addition to sopping wet clothing, it could change your shoe choice or pre-race foot preparations. Heat and a dry climate can cause chafing issues requiring glide or some other type of lubricant for bodies or feet.

Food and drink supplies change your supply requirements. Ultra-aid stations have a buffet laid out for their runners. You will find various candy choices, a trail mix or two, chips, fruits, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and during the night hours soup or other warm foods. Drink options are just as extensive, water, Gatorade, heed, EFS, there are a bunch of them out there and it all depends upon who is sponsoring the race. There is generally salt tabs and some type of gel. It’s a good idea to check on the race website or contact the race director to find out what is going to be there. If it is something you don’t use, you have two options either test it out to see if you can tolerate it or bring your own supplies.

The Salt Flats 100 has approximately 5500 feet of climbing over the entire race, so relatively flat for a 100-mile run. The weather conditions are pretty much ideal, 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit with the possibility of thunderstorms. I will have drop bags at miles 31, 50, 57, 67, 81, 90, and 95. My crew will be meeting me at each aid station other than the 90 where no crew is allowed. I pick up my pacer at mile 81.

No matter how well you plan, you have to expect the unexpected. I have learned this not only in ultrarunning, but in parenting too. Being a single mom of two teen boys, the unexpected tends to happen so often that it loses it chaotic feel. One of the most important things you have to also accept and be willing to do is completely scrap the entire race plan on the fly and just deal with things as they come up. If you are too tied to your plan, it can and will wreck your race.

So train for six months, plan all you want, organize and reorganize your drop bags, have a million and one meetings with your crew and pacers and in the end be ready and willing to throw it all to the wind. Only then you are truly ready to run an ultra.

You’re a runner?! Why?

Traffic sucks. The freeway has been transformed into a parking lot. I’m supposed to be at a conference at the other end of the valley in 20 minutes. I’m going to be late. My phone rings. It’s my 13 year old calling from school. Two seconds after it stops ringing, he calls again. I don’t answer. He calls again. And again. We still have not moved forward on the roadway. I sigh. I wonder if it would be faster to run to my office, today? I could just pull my car to the side of the road and run. The phone rings again. I stare at it. It would probably alleviate the slowly rising frustration. I know what he wants, he wants me to pick him up and let him stay home. It happens every spring. His anxiety goes through the roof. His ability to regulate his emotions plummets. The phone rings again. “I’m too sick to go to school,” he said this morning. “I just can’t be there today mom. Please? Don’t you care if I’m sick?,” he asked. This has been his mantra for three days. Yeah, a run would be great right now.

I give in and answer the phone, “Hi bud, what’s going on?”

“Mom, you need to pick me up. I don’t feel well and I am getting really frustrated and annoyed.”

“I am sorry to hear that sweets, but I can’t pick you up. I’m stuck in traffic and am going to be late for work already.”

“I’m not asking you, mom. I’m telling you.” I take a deep breath.

“I love you son. I’ll see you tonight.” I hang up the phone. It rings. I turn the phone off.

Why do I run? It’s usually the first question I get from non-runners. I think runners know the answer, “It’s complicated.” It shouldn’t be that difficult to answer, but it’s so multifaceted and all consuming that it becomes nearly impossible to make someone who does not run really understand. But, I’ve never been one to turn away from something that is difficult.

FREEDOM. Running provides me with a doorway into the world. I can go anywhere I desire and experience the world in a beautifully simple way. I can turn left or right, it doesn’t matter. I can splash through the stream and brush the leaves with my fingertips. I feel more connected with the world around me. My thoughts come and go and I can just watch.

RELAXATION. That’s right. I said, I relax when I run. I let everything go, or I work through anything that has been bothering me. My feel my feet roll from midfoot to toe and push off. My knee drives forward and my arms brush against my sides. My breathing comes evenly, in for three steps, out for two. And then contact with the other foot. The air on my face is cool and crisp in the early morning hours.

SELF EXPRESSION. Strength, courage, and an unconquerable spirit. My limit is myself. I am my own competition. Before me stands a mountain, a wall, a river, and it is me who decides how to get over it or around it. But I will never just go home.

As runners, we don’t shy away from challenges. We look them in the face, smile, and say, “Bring it on,” pushing forward with every ounce of energy we have left. Giving up is not in our nature. We may be tired, unmotivated or have an ache in our hip, but we get out there each day becoming stronger and faster. Rain, sun, or snow we face them all with our pounding feet and pumping arms. Determined, ambitious, goal oriented, strong, brave, adventurous, and forgiving– these characteristics make us excellent runners and are the same characteristics we need to be loving parents.

I turn my phone back on. Five missed calls. One message. “I love you mom.” He had a great day at school despite calling me 30 times panicked throughout the day.

 

Getting It All In

As a single mom with two teen boys, two dogs, two cats, and a fish, life for me fluctuates between total chaos and minimally contained chaos. You know the feeling, it’s like an ever increasing electrical current just under the surface of your skin. So how do I fit in training and racing ultramarathons? Structure, priorities, multitasking, and absolutely no procrastination.

My children are my first priority. Always. If they need me, everything else has to move out of their way. This is where the most chaos comes in. My oldest son (16) is very involved in the community and is an honors student. He has sporting events, tournaments, and school activities going on all year. I attend 95% of these. The only time I miss is for a race, but I always make sure he has someone there, like grandparents supporting him. My youngest (13) has a neurological disorder, which requires regular doctor’s appointments, meetings with his school, and lots of attention and help regulating his emotions.

My career as an attorney is my second priority. I work Monday through Friday 8-5 and am on call for a week (24/7) every other month. Being on call adds to the chaos occasionally. When I’m on call, I take all emergency calls for my office at all hours for one week. Trials also cause some chaos, but it is usually contained to work hours.

My training comes in third. I get up in the morning before my children are awake to complete my training. I run four days a week and do strength training and cross training (swimming and cycling) three days a week. My training calendar amounts to approximately 20 hours a week at its peak.

My sleep and social life suffer the most because no matter how you split it, there are only 24 hours in a day. Not many people can manage my schedule. It’s intense and I would concede that it’s probably pathological in some way. But here is the thing, If I can manage this, anyone can manage training for a 5k (3.1 miles).

 You really have to ask yourself, and be honest, what is important to me? Is surfing the internet for two hours important? How about watching that hour of TV every day? Spending an extra 20 minutes in the shower? Keep a journal about how you spend your time for a week. I am sure there are things you can cut out to make room for running or exercising in some way.

As a single parent, structure is critical to maintaining sanity. I get up at 445 am finish my workouts by 7 am. Get my 13-year-old up and make breakfast. My 16 year old is already up and showered because he leaves at 715 am. I am in my office/court from 8am-5pm. I get home around 530ish make dinner, clean up the house, help with homework, snuggle and watch a TV show with my boys. Bedtime is 9pm.

Multitasking is essential. I try to include my children in as much of my training and racing as possible. I do my strength training with my 16 year old. I watch my 13-year-old play minecraft while I do my workouts. I talk with my kids while I am doing pretty much everything. We sit down to dinner together every night. On my shorter runs, I take my kids with me on their bikes or running next to me.

No procrastination. This is something I learned in law school. I stay on top of all of my responsibilities. I clean up the house a little bit every day. I throw in a load of laundry during the week just to reduce the weekend duties. I keep up with the dishes. I cook extra meals on the weekends when possible.

Many of us need to learn to let things go or “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Sometimes we are hung up on things we think are critical in our life, such as house cleaning and yard work. These things are important, but they are not as critical as we make them out to be. I’m not saying live in a pigpen, so you have more time to play. What I am saying is if you are choosing between scrubbing the kitchen floor for the fourth weekend in a row and the kids want to play a game of Clue. Go play, it’s okay, the floor will be there once the mystery is solved. If you miss a run, don’t panic. You can back on schedule the next day. Don’t double up to make up for a missed workout. Just breathe and let it go.

 Kid issues are, at times, huge and overwhelming. Our children are not always perfect and some really struggle in life. We have to first realize what is in our control and what is not. Our child’s behavior is not within our control nor is our child’s feelings. This is really hard for some people to hear and accept. Our response to our child is within our control. Pre-planning and preventative measures are the best way to deal with difficult behavior. Talk with your child about the plan to deal with difficult behavior while everyone is calm so everyone knows what the expectation is and what the results will be. Other times you have to break things down into pieces and address each piece one or two at a time. Just like with strength training. You focus on a particular weak area at a time. Pick one or two of your child’s most challenging behaviors and really work on those and let the other less significant behaviors, just be. You’ll get to them once you have the others under control. As a beginning runner, you don’t start with the whole 26.2 miles, you take a little piece at a time it is the same when taking on a long term parenting project.

 The unexpected is going to come up, you will have to move things or disregard them entirely. Every situation is different and each child is different. Being able to change your parenting style to your child’s needs is like changing from road shoes to trail shoes.

Spring In My Steps

The transition from the icy gloom of winter to blooming life of spring, energizes and excites me. The rise of the sun before my feet return me  to my front door. The birds welcoming the new day, a new beginning. Spring is when runners of all distances decide which races to run for the year. Many cross a finish line before the summer heat settles upon them.

Salt Lake City Marathon is only two weeks away. An email from Salt Lake Marathon patiently waited for me to finish my long run yesterday morning. The email provided training tips, such as build a base, follow a training calendar, add core training, stretching, and running with friends. A little late don’t you think? Two weeks before the race! seriously. I hope you all have been doing these things long before two weeks ago.

I’ve already run two races this year. The New Year’s Revolution in January which is run on a indoor track . I ran my long run of 22 miles. The Buffalo Run 50 miler in March. So what’s to come? Salt Lake Marathon in two weeks, Salt Flats 100 in three weeks, Wasatch Back Ragnar in June, Red Rock Relay in September, and Pony Express 100 in October.

In this blog, I will be posting about all issues of running from the 5k-100 miles. It will include topics such as, training, nutrition, stretching, strengthening, cross training, and much more. It will all be flavored and marbled with my experiences in life as a single mom, full time attorney, and aspiring writer. My hope is to gather a community of people and inspire them to achieve not just running goals, but life goals too.