Dump Your Resolutions in 97 Days

It is September 25th. Wednesday. It will also be a Wednesday when the Gregorian calendar increments to 2020 ninety seven days from now.

97 days. Ninety-seven days. Chew on that for a bit.

The internets have already started churning out articles and "helpful" guides to get us all prepared to start on our New Year's resolutions when that fateful day comes. I don't even want to link to them because, frankly, that mindset is BULLSHIT.

Go look at that number above, again.

You could complete most of the resolutions you set for yourself every single year in 97 days. I am a fangirl of Benjamin Hardy, who writes the kind of stuff that makes freaked-out un-self-actualized folks like me stand up and start moving (or choke up, or both). He poses the question: "If you had 3 months to live, could you finish this year's goals in that time?" The answer, of course, is almost certainly YES. [Hopefully you have good goals—goals that you would be proud to complete just before death. Ouch, but hey, that's stoicism and the real way to embrace the ONE life you have. Sorry not sorry.]

A note on your annual resolutions: if the resolutions were projects that actually require a full year to accomplish (and those are rare, honestly), fine. Using your momentum starting today, you could have those goals done by September 24th of 2020 instead of the end of December when you're feeling cookiefat and hungover on too much time with Uncle Jerkface.

Your homework (and mine)? Make a big audacious resolution or two or three that you CAN complete or do for 90 days, and do them starting NOW. Then feel free to take a few days off while you ring in the New Year with none of the stress everyone else is feeling about "gotta improve! gotta set goals! omg!!!" while they drink plastic tumblers with crappy sparkling wine.

You got this.

The Heroine’s Journey

I’ve heard people say that you can read any number of books whether fiction or non or self-help, and they might be interesting but they won’t actually get you out of your rut until you are ready. This has been said about addictions, too-that you can quit 62 times or 3 times or 17 times but when you’re actually ready to be done, THAT will be the number that does the trick. If there was ever a reason to just keep trying, that’s evidence enough.

Last summer I was driving across Colorado from California, listening to a podcast interview with a fascinating woman named Steph. She’d been a monstrous skiier in the footsteps of her father and reinvented her life with a record-breaking year of travel and vertical descent, then wrote a book about her transformation. Not into a world-class athlete, but into a woman who had integrated her feminine and masculine sides into a whole and happy person. She was unhappy with her life before but had not hit any kind of rock bottom, and that hooked me. So many transformation stories seem to require that hard reset, that desperation borne out of hardship or trauma. Not Steph’s. She validated the “this isn’t good enough yet” life reboot.

By fall, I was also ready. 365 days ago I took a leap of confidence and joined Steph’s 3 month coaching program called the Great Big Journey. It promised nothing short of lifechangingness. That is, of course, if I put in the work and showed up and created and discovered what I needed for kicking myself out of ‘good’ into ‘amazeballs’ (my depiction, not hers).

Within a few weeks I was making connections between my history of authority-based relationships and my inability to choose something-anything-to steer my ship towards, whether work or love or location. Something had to change or I’d be in the same place at 54 as I was now at 44. And 34. During phone calls that alternated between frantic notetaking and impromptu crying, I found new meaning and some ways to find my goals.

But I still needed to act. Self reflection and self awareness are (a little too) fascinating on their own but they do nothing if I wasn’t going to actually DO something.

And do, I did. I rekindled old friendships that I couldn’t maintain before. I fell in love with one of them and had my heart spectacularly broken, and yet I reveled in it all. I became a poet, a bit of an extrovert, and a lover. In that same window of time I moved to Salt Lake City and those “little” changes set me down yet another new path of joy and connection.

Is everything perfect? Fuck no. Fear is managed, not extinguished. Love exhilarates and blinds at the same time. And work… well, work is still a perpetual mix of creativity, grinding away, and timing. I’m an amazing writer and my clients are out there to be found and cultivated.

But what has changed that still sticks with my enriched life? At least this:

  • Nearly overwhelming ability to feel my full range of emotions. Sounds boring or like a skill that everyone has, but it’s not. I didn’t let myself feel anything too deeply for 40 years. That’s a scary process of unlearning.
  • Less dependence on authority relationships, particularly with the men in my life. I have more than enough ability to make decisions and take actions with my own authority. And my relationships are closer to equal partnerships than ever before.
  • Many more friendships, and the deepening of all of them. Exactly one year ago I had one, possibly two friends that I would be able to call in a moment of crisis for understanding and an ear. Now I have a half-dozen, maybe closer to ten. That alone is a massive shift. It’s evident in my interactions with all my friends, this connection and commitment.
  • Despite the trepidation over work and finances and the ups and downs of feeling your feels and the risks of love and loss, I am HAPPY.

UTMB 2019: If A Lifeline Appears, Say Yes

Last spring I took a packrafting safety and rescue course. We learned that as a swimmer in distress (aka pre-drowning-victim) you must have agency to be saved. It is not enough that an expert lifeline is thrown. YOU MUST REACH. And grab. And hold. And keep swimming. Your participation in your rescue is not optional.

At UTMB last week a lifeline appeared right at the time I needed it, but I had already decided that drowning was inevitable. I walked away.

This is that story.

Chamonix, late August: Terrified

When friends asked me how I felt in the days and hours before the start of the 170KM UTMB race, my standard response was “terrified”. The magnitude of the trails, the potential wet weather, and my injured achilles tendon had seriously fucked with my mojo (not to mention two hard 100s already in 2019, and some challenging interpersonal drama). Other months I might have been able to reframe my story, to tell myself, “I have no expectations other than enjoying the spectacle.” Alas, that was not my mindset, and mindset is everything.

[Part One of the UTMB story: Two weeks before UTMB, I “janked” my achilles on a boring pavement jog.]

Prior to the achilles thing, UTMB was supposed to be a “frosting race” to cap the summer. A time to use my training experience to get through the course without stress or hurry. I set modest goals: first a finish and second a decent time, perhaps approaching 40 hours. After the injury, the first goal shifted: no serious injury that would put me out for months or more. The other goals? Demoted to meaninglessness. Honestly, I fully expected the achilles pain to announce itself early and loudly and I’d last maybe 20 or 30 kilometers before hanging it up, smartly and with no “didn’t tough it out” regrets. The worst case scenario was frightening: pushing through pain only to rupture the damn thing on a remote mountain pass.

Chamonix, 3 p.m. Sunday September 1st

If you’d asked me 24 hours ago what I would be doing at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Chamonix, I would have assumed jogging through the streets of Chamonix-Mt-Blanc with new friends and a ton of grit (literal and figurative). We’d all be exhausted, jubilant, relieved, and overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd and the sight of the UTMB finishing arch. As it turned out, my friends were indeed doing their celebratory final steps after 45 hours on the trail. I was within earshot of the clamor blocks away, in a haze of processing and self-pity.

Fifteen hours earlier, under the dark cover of night with 50 kilometers remaining, I chose to quit the UTMB. At the 125km Champex Lac checkpoint, I walked up to the table that said “Abandonment” and let a woman cut the barcode from my race number. I lied to myself and to the race official, asserting that I “would not complete the race”. For me, there would be no more checkpoints, no more stretches on off-kilter trails strewn with runners sleeping on rocks, no more procession of lights ahead and behind me as far as I could see. There would be no more pain in my groin on nearly every step, no more nauseatingly soupy mud-fests that used to be trail, no more soggy pack, no more force-fed energy gels, no more gut pain with every stride.

End of the line.

Earlier in the evening my stomach had gone way off on a fast and technical downhill to try to outrun a storm (didn’t work). The daggers in my gut only magnified the conviction that I was not fit to continue. That I was at risk of serious injury. That I was not prepared for this endeavor, not this time. It all seemed so inevitable.

UTMB Start, August 30, 6pm: Quadkilla?

During the race, I carried no painkillers. I needed to FEEL what was happening in there. This meant that early on, the achilles was indeed unhappy. Tight, a bit sore, and certainly giving me warning signals that I was noting and then ignoring. For now. I keep popping my hippie anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric – brilliant, FYI) and plodding up the conga line climbs into the first night. I have never had so many people behind me in an ultra before. I have never had this many people ahead of me in an ultra before. Amusing and amazing.

Here’s how UTMB goes: the average angle of climb or descent is right around 12%, similar to Hardrock Hundred. However, the flattish miles at UTMB account for a higher percentage of the course, which means the ups and downs are far steeper. And hoo boy, my quads were announcing loudly their disdain for the extreme angles and bumpy trail. This is when I need to call on my extensive experience to remind myself that this happens. This is OKAY. The quads might seem like they’re going to implode at 50K, but they will not if the calories keep flowing.

Achilles Yay, Iliopsoas Nay!

Despite the quad complaints, the evening and first night and day had been going relatively well, considering my fear around the achilles. I got through 20K, then 40K, then beyond 50K with no progression of the pain, possibly no threat of further injury. Très bien! And holy cannoli, the sunrise on the Italian border pass just made my entire year. On that pass I decided that I must come back to this amazing place, over and over, year after year. But after every blissfully grinding climb at UTMB there must also be a descent into hell.

Entering Italia

Around 60K, the downhill & flat running combo awoke my iliopsoas—an on-and-off injury for more than 2 years. Was this another warning from my body to stop to prevent real damage? Every single bumpy down on this course was followed by flat running and a fair bit of cursing.

Here’s the weird thing with injuries and pains and things that go bump in one’s body in the nighttime of ultras: they might not be anything at all. Or they could be THE THING that puts you in cross training rehab hell for a year, or more. My brother nursed a deep groin injury for over 5 years before hanging up ultrarunning for an actual life. That shit gets me paranoid. Luck probably plays a part in how it turns out, but knowing one’s own body helps immensely.

Through Courmayeur after a rooty downhill trail that would make HURT 100 proud, I changed into lighter clothes and got a burst of new enthusiasm for our next climb. Before leaving, I saw a runner with a mug that said, “WTF” and commented on it. He replied, “it’s not what you think…” and I chuckled. This is Paul from Ireland. I’d be seeing a bit of him over the next 12 hours.

I relish climbs. I grind, I pass people, I get it done. Usually in ultras I am asking, “when could I have another climb, please???” Which is why I’m drawn to stuff with big power climbs like UTMB. We ascended to an airy pass at a ski resort and then down to the next checkpoint with a fabulous shaded lawn for a 10 minute nap.

Yep, that's me in pink Vfuel attire.

Mentally, I was all over the place. Up then down, ebbing and flowing with my muscles and heat load. Next, our highest point at Col Ferret. On the ascent a storm rolled in providing welcome shade, but I knew we might get nailed. Sure enough, the fat drops came and the lightning-thunder gap was down to 3 seconds. I was ready to GTFO this mountain. When the 10 kilometer descent was described as relatively runnable, I was prepared to suffer the quads down to La Fouly to avoid as much of the slop and lightning as I could.

Storm Drain

Through a rainstorm that sent rocks down, blocking several roads, I ran HARD down the mountain into La Fouly, Switzerland. The trail, once we reached the woods, was absolute wreckage. Soft squishy pudding mud while it was still downpouring. The trail was the stream. The stream was the trail. I managed to not slide/slip/fall and coat myself in the muddle. But through all that running and desire to just get to the next checkpoint, BOOM went my gut.

[Side note: I don’t get stomach issues. I’ve been extremely lucky this way. I don’t get nauseous, I don’t puke, I have low appetite but can usually put food in. So this gut thing on the La Fouly descent was unfortunately unexpected and overwhelming to my (then) fragile mental state. Jason Koop writes with amazing insight about UTMB when he describes a likely DNF as a person with multiple issues that they are trying to address or think about all at once. One issue? You’re fine and nearly all runners will plod through with one issue. But two? Three? Odds of DNF start skyrocketing. ]

Even with my now multiple issues, I got through La Fouly and started on the next section, a “rolling” 7 kilometers to Champex Lac. Along the way (frankly, as I sat on a bridge still in La Fouly hating life) I met up yet again with Paul who tugged me along with another friend through my whines and (silent) desire to stop. Running sucked. Walking sucked. Sitting down compressed the stomach and sucked, too. After a bit, I let my pity grow enough to let Paul & co get ahead of me. Now I was alone in the dark, with another runner or two or three coming by with regularity. This was demoralizing. This was mortifying. To stop UTMB seemed both perfectly logical and yet oh so dumb.

And the fun continued to Champex Lac with multiple stops for no good reason at all. Being upright in any configuration hurt. But, I had nearly 2 hours on the cutoff so I planned to lie down and sleep for at least a half hour at Champex to reboot the gut. I joined the morgue of sleepers on picnic benches and conked out. My alarm went off and I swung upright and the gut rebelled. Gawd. Damn. It. So this was it. I was done. 14 more hours of gut pain? No. Nononononono. That was my brain. That was all I could think. Fourteen more hours. Fourteen more hours. Fourteenmorehours.

Bench morgue. Champex Lac.

Just then I found Paul again. He was about to leave. I said I was giving the stomach one more try with some rice. I didn’t tell him I planned to stop. He said, “Do you want me to wait for you?” I immediately responded, “NO.” I hope I also mumbled something nice about not wanting to take up more of his time, but my memory is shit. And that was that.

Lifeline: rejected.

No Regrets = No Growth

As it turned out, I did in fact meet my first goal—to not render permanent injury. But a massive shitstorm of second-guessing and regret came almost immediately after the bar code was cut from my bib. (Maybe I could reattach it and undo??? Maybe…??) Much of the doubt came from suspecting that I could have still had my non-injury goal while still finishing, even if slower than planned. Had I said yes to Paul, there’s a damn good chance I would have finished. Simple as that. Sometimes it’s a door you walk through, and sometimes it’s a door you close.

Getting on the bus back to Chamonix with several other DNFs, the doubt was immediate. I could walk. I could keep going. Others seemed worse off. Why in the hell did I stop? I didn’t “deserve” to stop! One guy across from me was in his own world of funk, the UTMB running figure logo tattooed on his thigh. I looked at him, wondered what he was going through. If he couldn’t continue, or if he regretted already, too.

Regret is a tricky emotion. It MUST be funneled into positive action and mindset otherwise it will ruin you.

And this is why we process. When I take my experience running 75 miles through the Alps and really think about what I saw, what I felt, and the enormity of the event, I’ve got to believe that there’s little to regret. I came away with at least two new long-term friends (yes, Paul is one), and boy do I ever know what it takes to finish this course well for the next time I’m here. Of course there’s a next time.

Life has no guarantees. I might not get selected in the draw for 2020. This is how the game works. I am repeatedly reminded that I can choose better actions after making a questionable decision, but I might not get the chance again. I hope to keep choosing better before my time runs out. I’ve been running ultras for more than 20 years, and still I learn. Every single time, I learn.

“it takes a hard-won maturity to experience the depths of regret in ways that do not overwhelm and debilitate us but put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future” – David Whyte

The After After: Advice

Take the lifeline. When the rope is thrown, no matter how much you think you can’t swim, paddle anyway and grab on.

Paul offered me a chance, though neither of us thought it significant in the moment. He didn't know I was literally about to go get my number cut off, and I didn't want to mess up his race if he waited too long for me. My stubbornness rejected it even before my head and heart could give it the consideration it deserved. Other runners had different lifelines that they were able to use. It might be an expectant crew. It could be kind words from a volunteer. Sunrise. Coffee. A nap. Paul’s was a photo of a friend now passed. In a race this long, we all need some kind of lifeline, however small. We have to bring them with us, or find them in the moments of doubt.

I'll pose, again. It's inevitable.

Two Types of People

It’s often said, “there are two kinds of people in the world…” before humanity is bifurcated right before your very eyes, sometimes to profound hilarity. 

  • Those who get up with their alarm and those who snooze 11 times. 
  • The never-complete and the set-and-satisfied. 
  • Those who keep their curtains wide open, and those who prefer drawn shut. 
  • Those who “eject USB device” and those who just YANK THAT THING OUT. 
  • The seekers and those already found. 
  • Those who love tacos and those who clearly must hate all of existence…
I’m in the green group, for now….

Humans categorize. We sort. We pigeonhole. It is what we do to make sense of the other people around us. We were doing it when our social circles maxed out at about a hundred people, let alone now when we can see and be seen by thousands and millions and billions. [This tendency can also be used to do the basest evil which always begins with sorting people into the “my side” and “others”. Bad, bad, bad.]

Sorting Works? Sort of!

And yet, maybe there is some validity to seeing not so much differences that divide but rather the DIRECTION those differences imply. What if in sorting those people who surround us into “all the laundry together!” and “whites/colors/darks, you morons” we are actually sorting into personal philosophies of unsatisfied curiosity versus comfortable familiarity? That is quite useful, especially if you would like to embrace and promote one side or the other for this stage of your life.

By using the “two kinds of people” assessments, we can decide to assist our own path by surrounding ourselves with those in alignment. Find the tribe that suits us, at least for now. Maybe that tribe is the mortgage-paying, or maybe it is the rent-paying. Maybe we are better served by jumping from the meat tribe to the veg tribe or back again. Or we make the simple habit switch from electric to manual toothbrush.

Is the world truly able to be divided into two groups when it comes to nearly anything?

YES. HELLS, yes.

AND you can use this power as a weapon for GOOD. We all will be just a little bit happier as a result. It turns out I have a lot more to say about this.

Introvert Toolkit: Just Call, Already.

The 1980s had dozens of television commercials about the benefits of phone calls. They could save you a trip to a closed business, start a pep talk with a family member, or get caught up with a friend. Some were from the yellow pages companies, some were from the local phone companies. Most featured tag or jingle lines like, “phone first!” or “reach out and touch someone” or “just call”. Even now with the ubiquity of smartphones, you can still save time calling ahead. Even with Yelp and Google and the businesses’ own website . . . the hours still could be wrong. But it’s more than that; it’s not just the avoidance of wasted time.

Introverts hate picking up the phone. Often, it’s a hate with fiery and sweaty-palmed passion. Same thing for the shy, the awkward, and those on the autism spectrum. This means about 30% of the population would rather risk being wrong or missing a crucial piece of communication than making a phone call.

But here’s the thing. Introverts also dislike spending more time than needed on interactions with people. If I do not call that auto repair place because they are open for another hour on their Google listing and when I arrive they are about to close, I now have to interact with THEM, as well as the next place on the list.

This does not just apply to business hours. This is even more important in business RELATIONSHIPS. At work, the difference between picking up the phone and writing an email is so night and day that extroverts laugh at our silliness and reluctance to talk to a human.

And after decades in the workforce, it is still hard to remember that one 10-minute phone call can prevent hours and dozens of emails. Not to mention you now have a “face” to that other person and they are far more likely to work with you in the future. Why is that? Because most of the time the person that I (and you) need to call is an extrovert. They wouldn’t be in that sales or marketing position if they were not. So they LOVE phone calls. They EXPECT phone calls. For them, that’s all well and good.

For us, they’re a necessary hurdle in our quest for efficacy in life. See it this way: the more times you pick up the phone, the less time needed for carefully worded interactions in the future. And possibly less time needed for interactions AT ALL with that person in the future. So for an introvert, that’s a win.

So here’s the big, magical toolkit/tip/hack: MAKE THE CALL.

This tip was written with business in mind, but it applies 110% to personal relationships as well. THAT might be another post for another time.

Introvert Toolkit: Reach Out To Spread Love, With or Without Touching Someone

I just sent a cold email to Austin Kleon, asking if I could track him down in Pasadena for a "totally non-awkward" hug. This is what the digital age has done for introverts: we can reach out, nicely, from our trembling seated positions to those that we would like to appreciate. It could be an email. It could be a letter. They owe us nothing, but we receive the tingle of optimism for what might be.

It's good to offer something to those you admire, other than a hug. It could just be a story about their impact. "You have made a difference to me, and here's an example of how." A real story is better than just a thank you, but even those are okay. After I sent a letter to Natalie Goldberg thanking her for transforming my approach to the writer's life, she sent me a postcard back from New Mexico. You never know what delights await.

Natalie Goldberg sent ME a postcard. Squeeee.

Important side note: it's not good to ask for free advice (though if you do, put it FIRST, not after a whole string of buttering-up platitudes which ultimately make them suspicious of anything you might send in the future). It's definitely not good to ask to be mentored. Mentorship from a stranger is a fantasy that never works out well for anyone.

As to Austin? We shall see if he responds, positively or at all. In the end, I can feel good with the message that I sent, even if it goes into the ones-and-zeroes ether.

Whaddaya say, Austin?

Call Me By My Name(s)

I’m at the rear counter of a curio shop, ordering a mocha latte for my aunt Dolores. The owner, a woman in her 70s, is describing the size options to me in a not-abundantly-clear fashion. The small sounds rather small but is not terribly expensive though a number is not given. The large is $15 for newcomers, less for repeat customers. And two are, of course, $30. Because I am who I am even in my dreams, I order one small and wait for the cup.

My aunt and other traveling companions, who may or may not include my mom and other family members, are outside, admiring the small town views of rural highways and endless land. Before I went inside, we were remarking on how each house had two addresses plainly written on their exteriors or mailboxes. It kind of looked like this, for each and every house we spied while walking around town:

house with two addresses

A house, with divided addresses, cannot . . . exist?

This was a curious practice; I suspected part of the reason my aunt pressed some money into my hand and told me to go fetch her a latte was so that I could ask the locals in the shop what was up with the house addresses.

Through eavesdropping and some small inquiries, I had an answer. Turns out that there is a nearby town, larger, used for shopping trips and the like by the residents of the small town. The larger town has essentially consumed and absorbed the residential contents of the small town, though the small town seems to be suspicious of this. The two addresses reflect the locals’ shifting realities and inability to accept the larger city’s grand plan. One address is their official location relative to the larger town. The other is the small town address, from which no local can bear to part ways. Hearing this explanation made some sense to me, and I prepared to relay it to my travel partners. Just as soon as I received my potentially-expensive mocha latte, that is.

But before I could see the looks on their faces upon hearing the explanation, I woke up, wondering what was going to happen next. In reality, what happened was I took down some notes about this dream. And then I began musing on this dual-address state, not just of residence but of mind.

How often do we find ourselves with two “locations” in life? We are both children of our parents and adults (or even parents ourselves). We can be both an independent person and a spouse (with or without a new legal name). We can exist as a lover to a stranger and a stranger to our families. And often, for those who overthink our lives, we can exist as a fully realized adult human with accomplishments seen by our acquaintances and friends and yet feel like child who needs to get on with adulting to ourselves.

While our many statuses can act in concert to balance out our life goals or current choices, they can also act in opposition, causing suffering that is unnecessary. We contain multitudes, indeed. Each of these possibly dueling states has a “location” within our minds—and in the minds of those who surround us. Unlike those houses of my dream, we rarely wear both of our addresses at once. One is outside (the parent, the functioning adult, the artist) and one is inside (the dreamer, the child, the wanderer).

To boldly show both of our faces at the same time, both of our “addresses”, to the public at large is a rare act of vulnerability. It can make folks uncomfortable to see the duality freely acknowledged. Like when you see a politician cry during a speech. Or you see a woman breastfeeding in a business suit. Luckily, we live in an era that is starting to accept our many facets. That’s progress. Those examples I gave above might still raise an eyebrow, but they would have been unheard of—scandalous—a few decades ago.

What are your locations? Are they in neighboring towns, or are they antipodes so far apart there’s oceans and earth to keep them separated?

P.S. The original intent for this thread was to dig deeper and explore the history of name-changing for marriage and the cultural implications thereof, but it went in another direction, as thoughts often do. Perhaps I will explore the spousal tradition inquiry in a future post.

Los Angeles vs. Introverts: The Winner Will Surprise You

The second time I passed the parked car on my daily run, I mustered up the courage to look inside. I wondered if I would see cold white skin and sunken cheeks and eyes that no longer saw. Instead, what I saw was a middle-aged man, reading a book. “Well, that’s interesting”, I thought. Then I started paying attention more often to these parked cars. The details varied, but the underlying behavior was the same: individual people getting some “me time” in the City of Angels.

A City of Cars

My apartment for the previous 3 years is smack dab in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in one of the most stereotypically in-love-with-cars cities on the planet: Los Angeles. This city is a stupendous mish-mash of roadways, from Euro-narrow two-lanes that are functionally one-lanes because everyone parks on both sides, to 33% grade nail-biters (Los Angeles has 4 of the top 10 steepest streets in the country, beating out San Francisco’s TWO!), to avenues in old residential areas wide enough for four lanes. We residents of Los Angeles get to experience everything, along with traffic and parking issues aplenty.

Yes, this is a two-lane street. Theoretically. Make sure your backing up skillz are solid.

Finally, I started noticing people in their cars. Not stuck in traffic. Not cruising along in the HOV lane. But alone, parked. First, I just figured it was slightly sketchy. Maybe it’s someone passed out? Or . . . DEAD?! But then I really started LOOKING. Impolitely, perhaps, but looking nonetheless. Like I described above, the situations I saw were NOT the “skeevy looking person passed out in car” or worse. I saw all kinds of people, all ages, all kinds of cars. On any kind of street. In parks. On busy streets. On quiet streets. Before school. In the middle of the afternoon. At dusk. A young professional woman. A man in a sport coat. An older lady listening to the radio. An adult with a book. Another adult with a book. So many books. What is going on?

Consider The Introvert

First, consider the introvert. One-quarter to a third of humans are predominantly introverted, according to the few sites I could find with some semblance of an estimate. This means a few things, personality-wise. For example, introverts feel less energetic after interacting with others, and feel replenished after some alone or non-social time. It also tends to mean that reflection on internal subjects (analysis, philosophy, writing) is more interesting to an introvert. For comparison, engaging with the outside world (conversations, team sports, parties) is natural to the extrovert and it energizes them.

For reasons above, living alone is preferable to many introverts, but this can come at a price to one’s social life and personal growth. But it can also come at a literal price: in Los Angeles, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment recently crossed $2000. That’s more than 90% of the take home pay for the median per-capita income of $30K per year (which is 25K after taxes).

Compare Los Angeles to another “large-ish” city nearby: Las Vegas. This desert metropolis has a population of 600,000 people. There you’ll find warm weather, ample entertainment, and 1046 currently available 1-bedroom apartments under $1250. Of those, 608 are $1000 or less per month.

Back to Los Angeles, with a city population of 3.8 million people (6x that of Las Vegas). Within those city boundaries, you’ll find warm weather, ample entertainment, and a grand total of 33 one-bedroom apartments available for $1250 or less. Of those, how many are under $1000? Technically, two: rooms in boarding houses of about 120 sq ft. So, that means ZERO.

How do people manage to live here, at all? The answer is simple: roommates. Sometimes, lots of roommates. Heck, the apartment listings here might seem not so bad when looking for that rare $1000-$1200 find, until you realize that every single ad you open up is actually a room in someone’s house or apartment. There are many scams out there, as well. Most apartment seekers just ignore anything that seems like a deal because it’s likely to be misleading or flat out not legit.

Me Time in Your Own Private Heaven: Your Car

Remember all those people? Just chilling out in their cars for no apparently urgent reason? The more I thought about it and the things they were doing—napping, eating, reading, smoking, listening to music—it dawned on me. They are INTROVERTING.

When an introvert works with people and lives with people and is surrounded by people people people, what can you do in a few extra minutes of time each day to keep your sanity? There’s no time to be going up into the mountains or checking into a hotel, or taking WAAAAY too long in the private bathroom at work? You get your solo time in your car. It’s safe, it’s yours, and you can take it anywhere. In New York, car and parking costs might be just too much for this to be an option, but in Los Angeles I believe that solo car occupancy is one way that inward-oriented folks are filling a psychological need. They’re keeping themselves sane, and, in a way, performing a necessary public good.

It’s an inefficient solution, to be sure, with traffic and smog and all of that. But it’s a solution to ponder. I do.

Why Would Anyone CHOOSE to Run 100 Miles with Sand In Their Eyeballs?

Short answer is, well, no one. Not on purpose. But there WAS sand in my eyeballs and I dealt with it and I continued. That’s what running an ultra is often about. Certainly, that’s what the 2017 San Diego 100 was about.

Two things happened in early June. I finished my 9th 100 mile race, and I was infected with Taylor Swift. The latter is a highly-contagious condition, passed through the air in the form of sound waves, affecting those most susceptible: the nervous and tired. And try as you might, it is incredibly difficult to Shake It Off.

It started somewhere in the parking lot in the cool dawn hours before San Diego 100. I heard the chorus of Shake It Off, a song I didn’t previously know that well but now is intimately familiar. Chirping along at 160 beats per minute, nearly the perfect tempo for a jog on the trails (though too low by most exercise physiology standards), and damn if some of the lyrics aren’t good for an ultramarathon kind of mindset. You can’t blame me, can you?

“. . . I keep cruising . . . Can’t stop, won’t stop moving”

But first, how did I get here, to this hamlet of a resort a few hours south of my current home, on this sunny weekend in June? Of course, it started with a little website called Ultrasignup and a credit card. San Diego 100 joined my 2017 race list in January, thanks to a tip-off from a few friends that this historically hot race was actually pretty darn fun and scenic, to boot. This meant I’d be able to focus all of my spring training on bulking up miles and doing heat acclimation, the latter a task I actually rather enjoy. Cycling through the recently-typical but still frustrating loop of train/injury/train/injury, I cancelled a 50K, skipped a long-awaited 110K, and finally toed the line for Leona Divide 50 in April, dropping down to 50K when it was evident that even 50 miles was too much, too soon.

All of these race cancellations and punts put doubts in my mind and a little nagging voice in my head that said, “whoa, there, cowboy”. Who wants long-term injury woes when the evidence points to just taking some REAL healing and rebuilding time? No one . . . except many of we ultrarunners when it comes down to it. You know you shouldn’t eat that extra snack if you’re trying to lose weight, but holy crap is it hard to soldier on when treats are all around us. To ultrarunners, that snack buffet is the massive list of races just waiting for your credit card and itchy typing fingers.

My coach bounced (literally, knowing him) between unbridled enthusiasm/support and cautious warnings to back the heck down. That 110K (Coyote Backbone)? Definitely cancelled. Leona Divide? Not advised, but worked out pretty OK. Jemez 50K in late May, bumped up from the 15 miler? Tentatively accepted. Even the whole shebang of getting to the start line of San Diego? Not adviseable with the extent of my recurring pain patterns. But then again, I’d found from my PT that much of my discomfort was NOT in fact a hamstring injury but rather some extensive referred nerve pain. I didn’t know whether to be estatic or freaked. Nerve issues can be long-lived, but then again so can hamstring complaints. At least I didn’t feel like I was going to be actively risking a muscle tear. THAT made me feel way, way better. Armed with exercises to retrain movement patterns and relieve that nerve, I (ill-advisedly?) decided that running with and through my rehab was an OK proposition.

andrea at jemez 2017

At Jemez 50K, sailing.

And so, despite any sensible long-range recovery plans, my need to run San Diego persisted and I followed it right to that starting line at 6 a.m. on June 9th. We set out slowly down singletrack. Actually really slowly, like walking a lot of the first mile, chuckling as we came crashing to a single-file halt from each brief jog. It was necessary through the swampy meadow, the path set through the grass and cold misty air. That cold was almost painful now but we knew we’d love to have it in about 8 hours.

A bit about San Diego 100’s weather: this is known as a hot, hot race. Want to run ‘downhill’ in the heat? You do Western. Want to run in the mountains in the heat? You do Angeles Crest. But in the last decade, the appeal of running moderately tough trails in the heat has brought a lot of talent to San Diego, making it well known as a sleeper tough 100. I prepped for heat for months; it’s what any pragmatic runner should do. Actually, I’d make a case for doing heat training in late spring to ALL ultrarunners, just because it better prepares you for any heat you encounter, and makes you a more efficient sweating machine in all temperatures, too.

All that in mind, I had no fear about heat. I knew to drink more than I want to (already being one of those low-drinker types), and to just not push the effort level under the mid-day sun. We ambled along out of the meadow and up a good fire road climb with ample rocks. I chugged along and said hi to a few known faces (hi, Summer! hi, Robert!) until we crested the climb and started down a fairly nasty Zane Grey-ish trail. The moniker of “sneaky hard” 100 owes some of its reason to ample sections with bad footing. If some runners find their weakness in long or steep climbs, I find it in technical terrain. I can grind out the worst longest steepest uphills and leave some folks in the dust, but throw me on a flat trail strewn with rocks and everything balances out. That’s a long way of saying that quite a few people passed me here, and that it’s not a concern. Some of them I’ll pick off on climbs later, some of them I’ll pick off in the last 30 miles, and some of them I’ll never see again. I’ll run my race and try to have a good day while finishing strong.

As the sun inched upward, any full blast of rays was just a teaser for how quickly the thinner air at a mile high can transfer heat to our skin. A dry breeze came and went, along with preemptive advice from early aid station volunteers to “drink up, drink a lot—that wind will dry you right out!” We passed through mile 8 aid, mile 12 on a friendly little out and back where I spotted more friends like Constance Wannamaker and Amy Chavez, two ladies I knew would do well and I’d likely not pass them later on unless they bonked hard *and* I had a phenomenal race. (They didn’t, and I didn’t.) Onward to the first major stop with drop bags and crew at mile 21. This would be mile 91 on the way back, and boy did that ever feel like a LONG way away at 11 a.m. with the temperatures rising. My crew and able photographer Geoff Cordner refilled bottles, fetched snacks, and sent me on my way to the next stop at 28. I made a note to really try to get through aid stations quickly as they can be quite a time-sink.

andrea coming into mile 21 san diego 100

Mile 21, stripping down to refill.

“…I’m dancing on my own; make the moves up as I go…”

Today—like usual—there is nervous and friendly chatter in the early miles, but my threshold for engaging in conversation varies widely. Some moments I’m the chatty one, other times I just grunt when someone is more chipper than I have bandwidth for. Today I wanted to say hi to a few known friends, and have a few quick meet & greets with new faces. After that, I’m usually good for the next 24+ hours of near solitude. Running solo is my preferred way to train, giving my brain the space to just wander. Oh, and music? Not my gig, either.

I talked a little with a guy from Ventura named Mallory nicknamed Mooey (Mooie?) (http://www.ultralive.net/sd100#tracking/runner/107) wearing RaceReady shorts. I complimented him on his old-school style, but he’d just bought them recently on a running store recommendation. That company was pretty much the only game in pocketed-shorts-town back in 1999-ish (check out this chafing discussion in 2001 and this gear summary from 2002). These days, I’m more of a better-than-naked fan, but hey, those mesh-pocketed pioneers carried my gels through a few ultras back in the day. Glad to hear the company is actually still around.

As the heat rose, I felt pretty good, all things considered. I was taking it at a medium-effort, staying near many of the same faces at least for now. Miles 30-45 can be the crux of this race: hot, with a pavement section that can destroy some knees, followed by an uphill trail slog with the sun directly on you as you clamber over technical terrain. This is Noble Canyon. It is 3pm and yes, it is toasty. But actually, it’s not *that* toasty. We are surely lucky, for now. Last year’s high was about 108. This year will barely crack the 90s.

mile 95 desert clouds

Nothing beats desert clouds, really.

Since San Diego almost fables itself as a scorcher, I had a vision of Race Director Scotty Mills seeing the mild forecast and then placing an Amazon Prime order for hundreds of cordless hair dryers, one for every runner to make up for the missing heat. Ultimately, the race had one of its mildest years on record, but that doesn’t mean we had pleasant temperatures. And boy was that wind dry, sucking the moisture out like a straw. I still saw serious ashen faces at aid stations and saw one guy step off the trail to launch his lunch. In the end, the race probably went through hundreds of pounds of ice instead of thousands.

The weather bonus was yet to come: we were about to be delivered a very different “treat” out there after dark, out in the moonlight. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

I chatted a bit with a guy from somewhere near Redlands about his first 100 miler (this one). He was a little worried about what would happen after 12 hours, as he’d never gone that far before. He worried about lack of sleep and hallucinations but at least I reassured him they’re not crazy or trippy like pink elephants and stuff. I hope. My experience has been more like this: hey, an SUV parked near the trail, nope, that’s a rock; whoa, a big tent next to the trail, nope, that’s a rock; why is there a house out here right on the trail? nope, that’s a big rock; are those folding chairs sitting next to the trail? nope, that’s a tree. And on, and on. Mundane but out of place things is my style of visual fuckery. I would have a much harder time with night running if my hallucinations were actually scary. Now let’s hope I didn’t jinx everything forever.

Speaking of night, here it comes. The day’s heat dissipating, I roll into the 48 mile aid station just after dark, more or less on schedule. I’m not as fast in the dark (who is, really?), so this next stretch might take a little extra effort to keep things moving. It’s 7 more miles before our big honkin’ out and back downhill to the turnaround point at mile 64. I know, 64 miles is the turnaround? Hang tight.

Here’s the general layout of the course: picture one long out and back with a little loop at the beginning and a bulge in the middle where the trail diverges. Like a snake with a huge head and a gopher in its belly, and we’re going to follow the outline of the snake body. We do the loop (8 miles), then go down the first stretch of trail for about 20 miles; we’ll come back on this later. Then the trail splits and we go one way for about 25 miles, then join the snake tail for a 14 mile out and back, then come back up a different and shorter split of the trail for 20 miles, then join up again for the last 9 miles. Confusing? Yeah, I get it. Take a peek at the map on my Strava file: https://www.strava.com/activities/1032406160/overview

“…I don’t miss a beat; I’m lightning on my feet…”

Remember how we we dodged a bullet with the “pretty warm” temperatures instead of “scorching hot”? Here’s where things got interesting. Just when the moon was rising full and buttery over the PCT on that 7 mile downhill, it came: 50mph sandblaster dermabrasion treatments. A moonlight spa right there on the PCT, yeah, that’s what it was. I bet some destination resorts charge for this kind of torture just to tighten up the pores, or something. What it did for us was tighten up our jackets, and made me wish I still had my sunglasses to protect my eyeballs from dust. I’d turn my light up full blast to make up for the glasses and just get on with it. One switchback with blinding gusts, kind of sort of running, then the next with a tailwind so strong it was chilly without gloves. Repeat . . . until you almost can’t take it anymore, and then it’s another half mile to the aid station. I saw Constance on this stretch, headed back uphill and chilled without a jacket due to a mixup with drop-bags. Boy did I wish I had gloves to give to her since she does NOT have fun when it’s cold.

Eventual winner Kris Brown’s race report summed it up well, “A beautiful and serene day turned into a chaotic and violent night, but by then I was engaged.” I was engaged, too. Focused on getting the heck down that trail so I could go back up and get OUT. So here’s the thing: I passed about 15 people on this stretch. That’s where I can do alright at these things: when the going gets obnoxious, I can soldier on better than most. When folks around me are having the shit annoyed out of them, I see that and I get just a little stronger, seeing their trepidation. A fondly remembered high school XC teammate used to make us both chant as we strode upward, “I love hills! I love hills!” Everyone else’s bummer was our chance. Thanks, Robin.

“…I stay out too late; got nothing in my brain…”

I leapfrogged at least a few down at the aid station, and then trudge/jogged back up the trail. I passed a few more here, and started getting into my later-race groove: count the people you pass, try not to let any/many pass back. Repeat until finish line. These solitary miles were what I came here for: all static in my brain slows, all planning and worrying and scheming dissipates. During ultras I don’t have big brainstorms and new ideas, but I don’t have much of anything else that clogs my neurons, either. I just GO. Sometimes that’s all I can think about and it is a relief to the psyche.

As the night got deeper and we left the climb for more mild trail, I tried to reel more folks in but it was getting harder with how spread out we were. So I just went down into my cave and just tried to move as efficiently as possible when your feet hurt, you ass hurts, your actual ass hurts, and you could do with a little nappy right about now. Coffee instead? Yes, indeed! Leaving the 3:30am aid station with a jolt was just what I needed to get on with getting to my pacer at mile 84.

Only 5 more miles to the next aid, my drop bag, new socks and shoes, and a place to ditch my lights as soon it will finally get a wee bit light. But first, more miles in the dark, more gusty winds and sand blasting, and a bit of a slowdown in my pace. This is one of my slowest sections, despite the coffee. Just before dawn is often sleepiest, tiredest, and so on. Most runners have pacers through here (though San Diego is set up *perfectly* for solo runners and awards them accordingly with a different buckle), but mine will join me for the last several hours. This is a choice I make often, to run without a pacer or with one only for a short key section, or only if they want to join me. Just another introvert thing, probably.

At mile 80 the aid station is here and the light is indeed coming, so I ditch the headlamp and handheld and sit down to swap out shoes, but realize with my feet already swollen my new pair are just not going to cut it. So, I wipe my feet down and change socks only, which feels at really good. It turns out (after later inspection) that one of my socks had worn a big hole right in the heel over those 80 sandy miles. That could have been just one more of the sources of foot discomfort. Ok, get the heck out of here; I’ve already blown at least 10 minutes doing this swap out.

Despite the dawn, the winds do not abate and in fact become a bit stronger on this stretch, nearly picking me up on a few switchbacks over this open terrain. It’s an incredibly scenic section but difficult to enjoy with sand in my eyes. I picked up a few things on the trail that must have been dropped or blown off their runners, to hand off at the next aid station. I wonder how many things were blown off that didn’t land on the trail but are far, far away…. I’m a little hungry but not feeling the food situation. This leaves me low, mentally. A little sad, a little melancholy.

Actually, repeat #3-#5 for hours as necessary.

Mile 84 arrives and with it another drop bag full of gels (VFUEL gets my vote for the last year+) and one more pack of chews for extra salt and, well, just something to chew on. I’d exhausted my ginger chews already. This aid station and last actually had salty rice balls so I ate ate least one of those on my way out. They are hard to chew and move, but seem to deliver good calories. Must experiment more with this, as I don’t eat enough in these races to, well, race.

My crew/pacer/cattle-prod Geoff and I set out, now making better time because I still think I can crack 30 if I don’t majorly mess up. Earlier one of the pie-in-sky goals was 27, but I knew that would be a stretch. So I marked out the splits for 28, 30, and “finish” to be prepared. Mostly I’d been hitting the 30 hour splits but was behind those by 30 minutes right now. It is hard to apply last year’s results to this year as the heat was awful then, but it’s all I had. I know I am relatively strong at the end compared to most folks, so I can usually beat late-race projections, so off we went.

I was in a mental low point a few spots here, needing to run, wanting to run, but not actually getting the mojo. I felt a bit queasy, even a little dizzy for a spell, but realized that was because my stomach was completely empty. So it wasn’t bad food nausea, but rather NO food. This is actually a common problem for me: I get behind on calories not for lack of appetite but just because I don’t accurately refeed at the level I require. Sometimes I think I eat enough by grazing at the aid station but usually it’s far from the target. This is still something I am working out in order to be able to RACE ultras rather than just complete them.

So we ran, sometimes slowly but what I could muster.

andrea-mile-87-san-diego

And I walked, sometimes crabby and morose.

walking crabby at san diego 100

I was told at one point that my pace was falling off and that almost made me burst into tears. Not at the concept of missing any time goal, but because I felt like I was being scolded. Low points in an ultra must be like being a toddler again. No cookie? Wahhhhh! This is what having everything magnified feels like. Honestly, the emotional ups and downs that we 100 mile runners feel should go a long way to helping dudes understand, just a little, what PMS is like, when these moods and emotions just seem to come out of nowhere. How ya like that now, boys? Super-fun, ain’t it? But the key in both situations is this: know that it is normal, and wait it out.

Math in my head showed me that going sub-30 was a sure thing, and now it was just a matter of by how far. So we ran. I passed a few more folks but everyone was moving pretty well so staying in front of them was work. That made me happy: I was surrounded by runners like me, strong at the end. One quick pitstop and I lost another place, but it was totally necessary. The end of Wasatch in 2014 was nearly catastrophic, so I hoped to not repeat that situation.

We rounded the lake, and saw a finishing chute, all uphill, and I had to run it. No walking at this point, no way. Not like my jog was anything resembling a kick, but walking across a finish line just doesn’t compute. And then, it was done.

Andrea after finishing San Diego 100

Aftermath and notes for future injury assessments: my ass hurt in several ways, only one of which was a deep aching at the inside hamstring attachment (not the priformis, that one I know well). But with that pain now gone I am not worrying about it. Some outside knee pain, the same kind as over the last month. Receded after 10 miles never to return. Hip/groin flexor pain: a little and manageable. Painkillers: 6-ish ibuprofens, plus 10 of these buggers after learning about them on a physio podcast: Meriva Curcumin. Can’t hurt, and maybe they helped even more than I realized.

That song? Yeah, it was in my head throughout the race without me even knowing all the verses. It’s actually not a terrible little pop song. Now, of course, I know it well, and now I can infect you, bwahahaha: Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off.

The gear:

  • Salomon Sense Ultra 3 pack (a little too big even in size S, but otherwise very comfy)
  • Salomon old style soft flasks – the new ones with the firm bottom hurt my ribs.
  • Target C9 Champion shorts circa about 2011: the only shorts that NEVER chafe me; this black pair have been with me on at least 4x 100s start to finish.
  • VFUEL shirt: nothing special about the shirt, just what it represents as my first ever ambassadorship in ultrarunning. Curious about VFuel? Give it a go with 20% off: use the code ANDREA20%
  • Julbo photochromatic shades: darker in sun and lighter in shade. I could have used these overnight against that wind!
  • HOKA ONE ONE Speed Instinct shoes: just a tiny bit too “light” for a 100? But really nice wide toebox and good but not aggressive tread. A thin rock plate would make these perfect.
  • Smartwool socks: super comfy but prone to getting holes when abraded
  • The food:
  • VFuel: about 15 gels in all flavors, plus Ginger Twist drink taken double-strength. I might lobby VFuel for chews, too, with the same flavors as their drinks. Or, maybe… maple bacon WAFFLE! Waffles are huge right now. Hint, hint.
  • Waffles: 3 GU gluten-free waffles. I like these except that they are too sweet. A little more savory, guys?
  • Chews: Clif chews mostly in margarita flavor for the salt.
  • Aid station food: not a heck of a lot. 2 rice balls, a handful of m&ms, a few pieces of potato.
  • Total estimated calories: 2500-3000? Not terrible if I were a better fat burner. Not enough for a carb burner.

I almost feel bad that I wiped off my feet at mile 80, which ruined the awesomely black coating of grime on them for this post-mortem photo op. My leg “tights” are still pretty impressive, though.

Like my tights?

My Veins Are Blue, Impressive, And Not Girly

Like Madonna (if the tabloids have managed to reveal truth), I have a body full of visible, proud veins. They’re impressive and decidedly not girlish. The backs of my calves have a few starting to poke out. My feet are a roadmap of blue pathways and beige flesh. My inner forearms, a streaky aqua. The backs of my hands, well, they’re the masterstroke: aggressive pale worms poke out under the thin skin like snakes in a sock.

When it comes to blood draws and plasma selling — pocket money in college — I’m a favorite patient for their needle. Blood draw folks LOVE me — sometimes a little too much. They would see the vein in my inner elbow and send over the noobs to practice on my willing tubes of fluid, only once ever to ill effect.

Veiny arm with blue streaks.

Blood plasma folks love this arm.

Accepting My Big Blue Roadmaps

It took a long time to like those veins, let alone appreciate them for what they do. It’s only recently that I’ve realized they are metaphors for much of my personality, in all its strengths and weaknesses.

For starters, I have low blood pressure, an inward mirror of my outward unflappability. Getting a rise out of me is nearly impossible, figuratively and literally. Sometimes I get dizzy standing up, as the blood struggles to get back up to my brain from my strong legs. In a similar way, my brain suffers a bit of existential pain when it realizes it’s along for some epic day (or days) my legs took us on out in the mountains. The low blood pressure directly contributes to the bulging calf veins: the blood *needs* pressure to get back up the body. If not enough pressure, too much blood pools down low and that stretches out the veins. Simple mechanical process, not a pretty aftermath. So, too, can my unflappability and slowness to action cause my whole life to “pool” in one spot, unable to progress onward and upward.

What makes the veins so visible? That’s a slightly different question. Perhaps my skin is thinner than average. In outward temperament I often look impenetrable, unperturbable, cold. But those veins stand out in the open, trusting, showing their hand without much apology.

Feminine Hands Contain No Veins

Then, there’s the prettiness or feminine aspect of having “man hands”. Since young I’ve always been not-quite-a-tomboy. Not wanting to be typical, I actually relished the descriptor of “weird!” as a kid. And yet still I wanted to be liked for my own strange brand of girl power. There’s vulnerability in showing off those strong veiny calves and downright masculine hands and saying, “THIS IS ME. I contain possibilities not yet fulfilled, potential still to be tapped out of this pulsing stuff of life.” Blood courses through me just like everyone else. The evidence of said blood is much more visible on my body through these bulging tubules of turquoise.

My veins are both me and represent me. They’re bold, unafraid, barely hidden, full of life . . . and sometimes prone to stagnation, weaker than they could be, and gender-inappropriate.

I think they’re pretty rad.

Well-veined hands typing at the computer

Man hands, typing this post.

 

[Also published on Medium as Man Hands, Girl Power]