There Are Two Kinds of Cravings: Only One Matters

[In the spirit of my affinity for alliteration, today’s post is brought to you by the letter “C”.]

To balance our lives we are constantly told to pay attention to our cravings, for they tell us something about what we really want. Maybe about what we really need, even if we can’t admit it out loud.

It took some time but I realized that there can be a hard line drawn between what I see as two fundamental types of cravings: Core and Common. Choosing one on which to spend your limited life energy and time is crucial.

Let’s start with the cravings that many of us think of when we think of cravings – the common, everyday desires and flights of fancy, regardless their source.

Common

Common cravings are everywhere. So prevalent are they in our lives that they are almost not worth mentioning, or they are clichés: chocolate, coffee, cute clothes, crispy crunchy cookies, consumer goodies, cat photos, et cetera.

But the common cravings are not all about sugar and products. There’s another side, the cravings that can prove counterproductive or even caustic when honored above other pursuits or investigated too deeply: competition, comfort, closure, compliance, control, …..

Core

Now, plumb the well and get some depth. Cravings that belong to the core group are the ones that deserve attention, time, and a sense of curiosity (itself a kind of craving). These include connection, contemplation, creation, communion, and more.

It is by spending a minimal amount of time accepting, acknowledging, and letting go of those Common cravings that we are freed to spend time on the Core. Realize that external closure and the sense of control is elusive at best, but that you can create your own embodiment of calm through a new connection with life, spirit, or another human.

Free Entrepreneur/Freelancer Resources Made Available Due To COVID-19

Working at home as a freelancer has always been a challenge for me and millions of others. Distractions abound, clients come and go almost willy-nilly, invoices are forgotten, and everything is tinged with uncertainty. It is something we chose for the other benefits: freedom of schedule, not having a boss, the ability to be at home close to family…

So now, with a very real pandemic on the world’s hands and many more people working from home and trying to make connections than EVER BEFORE, many companies are stepping up to offer some of their premium services for free… for now.

I’ve compiled a list of the handful that are the most juicy for freelancers, especially in creative fields, or those of us who want to collaborate and communicate effectively. Let me know in the comments if you have found more. I am relieved and grateful to these corporations for doing the right thing and extending their resources when they can be of benefit to so many.

Just to get started, this is a HUGE list of artist-heavy resources, including ideas for how to book gigs online to how to get restitution if you are in the film industry, etc… https://covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/

And are you an educator or someone directly affected by a school closure? There’s another (massive) list for y’all: http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com

Now to the individual links. I wish there were a lot more, but hopefully this will grow!

  1. Adobe Connect. This is intended to create virtual rooms for classes and seminars, web meetings and eLearning. You can get 90 days free by signing up for their trial before July 1st.
  2. Comcast/XFinity is offering free Xfinity WIFI hotspots all over the country, and also making their cheapest internet service free for a limited time.
  3. Charter/Spectrum (which serves a lot of folks who do not get Comcast…) is offering 3 months of free WiFi home internet service to anyone who has a K-12 or college student in the house. I know this isn’t everyone, but it is a big help.
  4. T-Mobile is nuking their data limits on cellular plans for at least 2 months. Verizon and AT&T are NOT, but they are at least suspending fines and service terminations for non-payment.
  5. And…. hey feds… how about some sick leave? This one is still in development. There will possibly be a direct kickback to self-employed folks who are self-quarantining and can show a “typical” level of income. Unfortunately this means you do have to have typical income. If you are a brand new freelancer with minimal work thus far, no dice…

Okay, short but could get sweeter. Hit me up in the comments!

Tattoos Are For Closers

I wanted a tattoo when I was about 19 or so. I imagined it, drew it out on paper, gave way too much mental space to it. My thought was to make a wry comment on the state of existence in my little newbie-at-adulting world. It looked a little like this, kind of, but not exactly. The idea was that the world is unpredictable, chaotic, entropic. That’s how I felt at 19.

As far as entropy… I was on to something, but back then my mindset was less optimistic than it finally grew into. (Too much Nine Inch Nails, perhaps?) The tattoo was to go on the inside of my wrist near all those little bones and on thin skin, a theoretically painful location that seemed to make the whole endeavor a tiny bit “tougher”. Because that’s how I am. If I’m going to do something painful yet common and obviously survivable, why not do it in a way that is even more painful? You know, to show my level of commitment or something. Does that mean I’d make a great Marine?

Over and over again, I decided that getting a tattoo was a really serious deal. Something that I would/could/should/oughtta personally only leap into if I really knew what I wanted. If I knew that I was committing for the long haul. If I was confident in my choice of design and of location and of tattoo artist. And that, my dears, is where things go off the rails. Because, as you can extrapolate:

I never got a tattoo.

Even now, there’s more evidence of stalling in this very piece of writing right here… I started writing a post about my recalcitrance about that tattoo at age 43. I’m now 45 and STILL I am a person who does not make decisions easily. Especially not “hard to take back” decisions. Life-changing, for sure. I can move across the country with ease. I can quit a job that I hate. I can break up with people who are not the people I need to be with (after some delay, but that’s another post).

But get a tattoo??? That shit doesn’t wash off. Even changing cities or jobs or relationships seems less “permanent” than getting a tattoo. So, no, I do not have one.

And that’s not how you make life changes, as I should well know by now. Waiting for the right time, the right image, the right artist, even the right story. But all of that… it’s just stalling and foot dragging and denial.

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” – Doris Lessing

Ask nearly everyone you know with tattoos (even one), and it’s a common story that they do not attach deep personal meaning to their first ink. It was something they just did. It looked neat. They had a spur of the moment urge. Maybe they were drunk. It happens. No. Big. Deal. After the first, maybe they then wanted more. Maybe they wanted some with grandiose meaning. Or not. Maybe they got a few more also for fun, or maybe they stopped. I know quite a few people with just one, from a long time ago and a personality they barely even know anymore. They don’t regret it but they also don’t have a strong urge to continue this “body as canvas” direction.

Is 2020 the year?

Signs point to YES. I’m both more emotionally free from fear of commitment and more enraptured with images that inspire ink. Circles, moon phases, heart expansion, and trees are all on my mind.

……..

Title of this post gleefully stolen/adapted from a play/film you should watch to see dialogue in masterful action: Glengarry Glen Ross, the “coffee is for closers!” scene.

Secrets To Running 100 Miles Under 24 Hours

In 2018, I made a big deal out of my goal to run a hundred mile ultramarathon in less than 24 hours. I told everyone who stopped long enough to hear: runners, friends, family, grocery store clerks, hairdressers, baristas, toddlers, other people’s pets, you name it. Would making my sub-24 loud, proud, and public hold me accountable? I seriously didn’t know.

Secret #1: Public accountability

On the flip side, there’s a TEDx talk about this (what isn’t there a TED talk about, these days…). In it, Derek Sivers (one of my favorite thinking seekers on the planet) says declaring your intent to achieve a goal often backfires because just by saying it out loud you get approval and an emotional reward. By getting your emotional reward FIRST, it is possible that you could be completely derailed from actually achieving your goal. Yikes. Derek suggests, in fact, that you might consider keeping your goal to yourself. I think both theories are right: it just depends on YOUR personality. Maybe it even depends on the goal itself.

Fighters vs The Rest Of Us

There are some folks who really truly will FIGHT and achieve that which people said they could not. Many movie plots are based on this, and it makes for a great rallying storyline. They told her no way could she be a skateboard hero, and look how she showed everyone!!! But honestly, I think there are also many of us (myself included) who take criticism to heart, shrinking under naysayers. We tend to thrive in a supportive and encouraging environment, with a literal or metaphorical crowd cheering us in all the way to the finish line.

I don’t often declare goals publicly, so this was an experiment. In a way it was casting the net wide, allowing other people to partake in either my success or failure along with me. After all, if I told no one of my goal, no one would know if I failed. My tail would be firmly planted between my legs and I’d mope around alone. Failing in public actually has a lot of tangible benefits. Humans are natural caretakers; when we see a wounded creature we want to help or at least murmur our sympathies. We are a sucker for vulnerability, and that’s not a bad trait to have.

In this case and despite Derek’s theory, I think being public worked. But only because of reason #2:

Secret #2: Luck Favors The Prepared

Stagecoach 100 2018 1st Masters woman

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

As a matter of fact, this goal of sub-24 for the Stagecoach 100, in September of 2018, was not a far-fetched goal to proclaim. I had more than a year of consistent mileage and almost no injuries to speak of. I was lean (almost too much, but that’s another topic) and at my “fighting” shape.

In the end, it DID work. Luck gave be good weather and no bodily mishaps during the event. At the end, I not only got my sub-24 but I finished 1st Masters woman (over 40) and 6th overall in the race. I felt sustainably good almost the whole way (relatively speaking for a 100 mile event), and was able to chat with and maybe even help pull along a few people. (And my fitness continued to pull me along to additional racing feats for months to come…)

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.

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.

Utahn at UTMB: Prologue

Delta flight 5724 from Salt Lake City to Burbank is completely full. This is not difficult given that it is a microscopic plane sporting 2×2 rows all the way back with the exception of first class which flaunts its four rows of ultra-wide 1×2 thrones for all of steerage to see.

Tomorrow, I hop on a United flight early enough to require a 6am airport drive for the impressive 5 hour flight across the continent before another 8 hour hop to Geneva, Switzerland. My body will land 15 actual but 24 clock hours after I begin. Upon deplaning I will immediately begin the breakfast routine of a country not my own. Coffee? Ya. Pastry? Not quite yet, merci. 

Back up… There’s more to this prologue chapter.

My Achilles Heel Is… My Achilles Heel

Two weeks prior to race day—8 days ago—I was jogging the streets of my neighborhood, breaking my usual routine to watch a local cycling race that looped around city streets for hours on a Friday evening. drawing a weak number of spectators plus me. I darted to catch almost dangerous views of tangent cutting and pace cars. But one of those sudden starts landed a dart right in my Achilles, near the heel. Like most runner addicts, I limped a bit, ran some more, and then ran some more. No biggie: the next morning it would be fine, and I could get in some of my last anticipated runs before a massive taper in the last week.

It wasn’t fine.

Waking up reminded me precisely of the darting pain from the night before. Immediately I knew this was A THING and I was none too happy. I walked, a little. My stubbornness gimped down to the coffee shop asking my body to answer just what the fuck was going on in there. The unhelpful answer was, “you hurt me, idiot”. (To be fair, I added the “idiot” part. My body’s not that cruel, normally.)

Back up, even further this time.

The Signs Pointed To: Rest

I’m tired.

Since September I have run three 100 mile races, all of them deliberately and with what counts as speed in my body. September’s gorgeous Stagecoach 100 took me over Babbitt Ranch land near the Grand Canyon in heat and sun to exactly the finish I wanted. I celebrated. Then I fell calamitously in love with an old friend and rode the vibes to a November personal best at 50K—a record I’d previously set at age 30, which was a long time ago. Winter brought a move to my new lovely hometown of Salt Lake City and a reboot of many personal motivations and values. Through heartbreak and upheaval and new romance I trained and trained and ran the race of my life in late March, my first win in a 100 mile event. It was a very good day. 

The week after my March race I ran over 30 miles and almost couldn’t believe it.

I felt…. fine. Of course I knew I ran a hard race, but the miles did not feel heavy or wooden, so I listened. Spring passed as I prepared for my third round at San Diego 100 in early June. Without complications, I had a  difficult yet satisfying race. But after San Diego, the recovery looked different. The miles were harder. The legs were heavier. With that new bodily information, UTMB was definitely looking like it would be a “get it finished” kind of goal. My body was ready to stop racing for the time being. 

So the mileage stayed reasonable through the doggy summer days of Utah. The weeks ticked down to the UTMB trip with all its planning and packing and mandatory gear and weight limits and hooboy. So much planning for this event, relative to most others where one can show up with some running clothes and a jacket and get through the day. Here my kit will weigh at least 5 pounds before water, not a burden but certainly more than the usual carry even for all-day runs.

But I can finish. This much I KNEW.

I might even want to finish well ahead of cutoffs, perhaps 39 hours instead of 46 is a reasonable goal…. that would be lovely. 

And then, the dart to the Achilles. 

(Next Up: Guinea pig in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc)

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.