Loss Changed Me, and You, Too

I went a long time without tragedy or loss in my life. Almost 40 years; how’s that for being lucky?

Sure, I had fights with friends, I lost grandparents, I saw friends of mine lose loved ones. All of that was somewhat detached or expected, so it was manageable.

Friends that I’ve known for many years have been through their own losses whether or not I was aware; surely they must have changed as a result. Some of those¬†friends are very private, with well guarded emotions. Did they get that armor after suffering or was that part of their makeup all along? If something terrible happens to them, do they cope on their own time and put on a good or neutral face when out in the world? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I did that – stuffed it all in – with all of the mundane hurts and disappointments that came my way. I fought outward displays of emotion for many years, and still have a hard time with it. No one – NO ONE – got to see me cry in public. That was not OK. But then that changed.

Losing a close friend last fall, and then a beloved pet very suddenly over the holidays (where I felt at least partly culpable), and now another friend at a far younger age than is right or fair, changed me. The magnitude of those losses meant that the bottleneck had to give, and it has helped to not just show that “I’ve been crying all day” face in public but to reach out and ask for support from my wide network of friends and acquaintences. It really helps, despite any doubts I had.

What has changed in me?

Love.

I love more. I use that word more frequently. I used to think you can only use that word for someone you would step in front of a train for or devote your life to. Now I see that love is that big, and can be that powerful, but it is much more encompassing. Saying “I love you” to a friend takes nothing away from the big loves in my life like family or my partner.

All I can see for myself is that the more loved ones I lose, the more love I have and show. Of course, I’d not choose to lose anyone else. But loss clarifies emotion and helps to grow the bonds between the survivors and that is nothing but good.

The Way to Know Life is to Love Many Things

Hey, Me: Shit or Get Off The Pot! Love, Me

This blog post is part of the Week of Self-Love hosted by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt of annesophie.us. (Even though the week is technically over, I still want to give her link-love for the great idea!)

Decisions-images

Today marks just 5 days before I am scheduled to venture up into the scrubby hills between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon for an inaugural 100 mile race. Problem is, my body isn’t excited about this prospect, AND there is a much closer, locally-organized shorter event the same weekend. So, as is usual for me, I am torn.

Normally my course of action is to wait until a decision foments on its own, but that is not how I’d like to BE as a participant in this life. Deciding is not a bad thing, not a scary thing, not to be avoided at all costs. So, to make this be an effective behavioral change, I think I should set a hard deadline for the choice (24 or 48 hours from now), and make the choice and deal with it. Lovingly, without regret or self-recrimination, or even too many “but, if….”s in the mix.

Self-assuredness is a quality I could use a bazillion percentage points more of. Here’s my pledge to make that happen, little by little, with care and compassion for my own flip-floppy mental state.

Ultranutrition: How to not poop out, figuratively

Ultra food of the gods….

Ultras and nutrition seem to be a match made in caloric heaven. Just eat as much as you can possibly stand so that you CAN keep standing, right?

Not quite *that* simple, but for some folks, close.

The key is judging your own effort level first, and your familiarity with digestion on the run second. A 48 hour grind with 90% hiking is a different beast to appease than a 6 hour zippy race. This topic is ripe for detailed digging (and I will, I promise), but here’s an overview for starters. Keep in mind that the golden running rule always applies: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. (No, the golden rule is not, “What Would Anton Do?“)

Here are the types of foods that will help for different effort levels, for a 50 mile distance:

  1. Hard/fast and lots of running: fuel like a marathon with some additional easy-digesting quasi-real food. This would include: gels, sports drinks, water, and other quick foods such as candies, pretzels, m&ms, or even boiled potatoes.
  2. Easy and long effort – lots of hiking over varied terrain, some running: whatever tastes good, no matter what it is. Gels, sports drinks, cookies, sandwiches, soup, burritos, coffee, you name it. If it tastes good and you’re power-hiking tons, down the hatch!
  3. Medium effort – hard uphills but hiking, some good and hard downhills: this one is trickiest. It will depend a little bit on the placement of aid stations and how much food you are willing to carry. The short answer is to eat what tastes good but not stuff yourself, and try to eat/digest when you know you will be walking (usually uphills). Really jarring downhills can mess with any food’s processing, so keeping digestibility high is still a good strategy. This means opt for a jelly sandwich instead of a spoonful of peanut butter.

That’s a really basic primer. More will surely come.

Here’s one bonus tip: candied ginger is the “new” Gu Chew / Shot Bloks. That stuff is amazing on touchy stomachs.

Elite Athletes are not Antifragile

Howie Stern, AC100 2012Activities for health = great. But be optimally healthy while an elite athlete? Good luck with that because it just ain’t happening. Elite/competitive athleticism is extremely hard on the body and mind, in the same way that you wouldn’t want to be a hotshot firefighter every day of your life or even every other day for years at a time.

When you want to take the next step up; when you want to start placing at 5K races, at marathons, or you know – gawd forbid – ultramarathons and that sort of stuff . . . then the type of training that you need to do becomes very metronomic. It becomes very predictable. And the flip side of this is that you, in a lot of ways, become fragile. – Robb Wolf

Robb Wolf. Gotta love that guy. His recent podcast (from the 10-to-15 minute mark) touches on the conflicts between activities, health, and performance, and his take is rationed and sensible. It’s based on a talk at last week’s Ancestral Health Symposium given by Nassim Taleb on Antifragile concepts applied to the human body.

Ultimately, I could not resist taking this comment completely out of context just so I could make a ringtone-worthy mp3 file that just says, “gawd forbid, ultramarathons”. Ring, ring!

Shredded HOKAs After 300 Miles? Part 1 of 2

wf100-post-feet-cropWhen I finished Wasatch Front 100 ultramarathon in September of 2012, my HOKA One One Bondi B shoes had 105 miles on them. They were dirty, stinky, and were showing noticeable wear on the tread. However, they’d performed surprisingly well over the dry and rugged trails of the Utah mountains.

After another 150 miles, however, they are practically dead, following another 50 mile event and a few training runs, and then the Angeles Crest 100 in August of 2013. Now, the tread is essentially gone.

This is after about 300 miles on shoes that some runners get 800 or more miles on before needing to start afresh. Are these a particularly shoddy pair?

They’ll go in a box back to HOKA headquarters for evaluation, soon. And I’ll post the results of that, here.

HOKA One One users, how goes your miles on your shoes? High, low, somewhere in between?

Rhabdo and Emotional Ruin: Joe Grant at Hardrock 100

Joe Grant

The body is a wondrous thing: full of energy and will, able to withstand impressive assaults both physical and ephemeral. It allows ultrarunners the chance to pit themselves against 31 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles or more at a time. If our bodies only focused on the most ideal immediate conditions for long-term survival, sports as we know them might not exist. (Conversely, none of us might be obese or stressed out, either.)

In ultras, and in life, sometimes it is just not your day. You might be under the weather, the weather might be over you, your knees might be revolting, or your digestion throwing a riot.

But some days are beyond that, beyond reasonable comprehension into complete unforeseen meltdown. This happened to Joe Grant at 2013’s Hardrock 100, which you can read in glorious detail on his blog.

I start hyperventilating, tears rolling down my cheeks. I simply cannot control my feelings and am overwhelmed by the weight of my emotions. I miss my grandfather. Why am I processing these feelings now? This is not the time or place to do so. This is not the reason why I race. Or is it?

Vibrant and raw reading aside, it makes me wonder about those emotional symptoms. ¬†Did they emerge as a protective mechanism for the kidneys’ threatened state? Joe seems to think that might have some merit. Regardless, it’s a powerful read, and prompted many comments, including one from a woman named Shelby who said it was a nourishing tale. This led to a comment by me (even if I temporarily could not spell my own name):

andrea's comment on Joe's blog

I stand behind that. Those that do not feel a stirring in their humanity when confronted by another nakedly vunerable human, are of little interest or concern.

How to Move Mountains in Two Easy Steps

san juan flowers

1. Find a mountain.

2. Let the mountain move YOU – it will thusly appear that you have moved the mountain.

This is life as a trail runner, ultrarunner, ultramarathon racer, mountain fanatic. I go into the mountains because I want to experience totality of self, and if I am out for a few hours or more, I usually get that which I seek. It is transient, however, and like any habit or addiction the dose requirements can inch upward over time.

Thusly one must take breaks, sometimes long breaks, to reset the addictive pathways. I am not in a break, but I have recently come off one where I did road races for several years. The trails called and I went back, with newly recalibrated nutrition (paleo, ancestral, gluten-free). That nutrition is a life saver, one which will be the focus of these pages and the source of anecdotes, recipes, and training strategies.

Stay tuned. We shall let ourselves be mountain-moved.