Would You Like to Touch My Lump?

I had a little back surgery at the end of December, 2018. Everything went fine and I have recovered pretty well unless you are a perfectionist. And by perfectionist I mean you don’t want lumps in places you don’t normally find lumps. I am not an alarmist. After all, I was the mom who kept saying my kid had a ‘cold’ when it turned out to be pneumonia. I thought my lump was maybe a phase of recovery and would just go away on its own. Except it hasn’t. I don’t think it is anything serious. It is probably scar tissue or some other annoying nonissue but it is directly under where any kind of waistband hits, so it is actually uncomfortable. The upside is I have yet one more excuse not to wear pants. ‘.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I were doing that romantic thing that couples do these days…we were lying next to each other on the bed staring at our phones together. I was feeling around my back where the incision was and I felt the significantly sized bump. Or maybe it was a lump. Or possibly on its way to becoming a hump. I said, “Hey honey, I think I have a weird bump on my back over my scar. Can you feel this?’

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My lovely lady lump

Without looking up or looking anywhere in my general direction, he says, “Sure.” He touches my side and says, “Feels like the rest of your back to me.”

Which, OF COURSE it did because he was not touching my side, not my spine or anywhere near the damned lump. “Honey, you didn’t touch the right place. You need to look at me, see where my hand is so you can see the right spot!”

Steve, still only half listening to me, “I have lumps and bumps all over my body. Don’t worry about it.”

But now I am also kind of questioning my own sanity. Once that happens, he has the upper hand and he knows it.

The next morning, I ask Peyton, “Can you see this lump on my back?”

She responds, “Of course I can.”

Me: Because last night Dad told me it felt like the rest of my back.

Peyton laughs, shrugs her shoulders and walks away.

I spent the next week asking everyone I came in contact with if they could see a lump on my back.

Me: Riley, Can you see this lump?

Riley: Ew, yes.

Me: Here, feel it.

Riley, seriously about to cry: NO, please don’t make me touch it. I really don’t want to touch it.

Me: Yes, please you have to…

It got even weirder with the poor wait staff when we went out for dinner.

But I regained the upper hand. Victory was mine. I was vindicated. Plenty of people we knew, and several we did not, saw and felt The Lump. Its existence was no longer in question. I was not crazy. Well, maybe I was crazy for exposing my lower back and asking people if they saw my lump BUT that lump was THERE. It was not a figment of my imagination like someone in the house wanted me to believe.

Later that weekend after returning home, Steve and I were both in the kitchen making dinner when I lifted up the back of my shirt a tiny bit, exposing my lower back. He said, “When you’re standing like that, I can definitely see the lump.”

Yeah, I thought so. Except now I keep picturing myself as Igor.

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After spending weeks talking about The Lump I drove to see my doctor for a surgical follow-up. We had a wonderful discussion about a variety of topics, including how I was doing post-op. I got back in my car and started driving south when I realized I had not shown him or asked about my lump. What. The. Hell. Damn it.

When I got home everyone is asking me what the surgeon said about the lump. I told them I forgot to ask. HOW COULD YOU FORGET TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR??? I don’t know. We were having a nice talk about a lot of things. It just didn’t come up.

But, damn it at least my husband finally acknowledged the lump’s existence. I know it is there, and that’s what matters most.

I’ll email the doctor’s PA.

 

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My Husband Needs a Pseudonym

My husband quit social media three years ago. He still subscribes to my blog, however. All day Wednesday I was bracing myself for him to come home and blow a gasket over my post about directional sex (You say Position, I say Direction). Fortunately he has long days at work where he has no access to his cell phone and his personal email. Furthermore, he carpools and often drives, so that eliminates another 2 to 3 hours of his potential reading and relaxation time right there.

So when he walked in the door, I tried to read the expression on his face and everything looked perfectly normal in the way a typical kind of ‘it’s Wednesday and we only have 20 minutes to have a family dinner and get P out the door to volleyball practice.’ way.

Steve drives her to practice while I clean up the kitchen. When he gets home, I am thinking, hmm…maybe he is back to only looking at his email once every three weeks. Feeling somewhat relieved and smug, leave the room for a few minutes. When I return, he is laying on the bed looking at his phone.

Me, one-half casual, one half sucking up: Hey, honey…whatcha doing?

Steve: Just reading about my sex life on the internet.

Me, thinking, Oh fuck. How do put a positive spin this?: Um. yeah, People think it’s pretty funny.

Steve: I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow. I’m not going to be able to show my face for ten years.

Me: Don’t be silly. You’ll retire long before that. Plus you could wear this mask Peyton made for school.

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I told my husband if he couldn’t show his face in public, he could use this beautiful mask Peyton had made for some class she is taking. Don’t ask me which one.

Then he remembers that all of my FB friends from his job are people he no longer works with so that’s OK. It’ could even be less horrifying than that time I had everyone at work calling him Pookie.

Every few minutes he reread a part out loud and says, “My mother can read this.” Yes. “Your mother can read this.” Yes, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for either of them.

I tell him, “We’ve been married for quite a while AND I am 50 years old. I figured I was old enough to know about and talk about sex.”

Steve, silent for a moment, retreats to the bedroom. He is not angry about any of this. He genuinely seems surprised and amused I published the piece.

Also isn’t he so cute? The 53-year-old former altar boy is embarrassed even though he has technically been a grown up for at least ten years. I think it is cute that he is a little embarrassed that people may know that he has sex with his wife.

So maybe I need to come up with a pseudonym for him. That should make him feel much better. if I start writing about my intimate life with Fabio that will make things much less awkward and embarrassing for him.

Then I hear, “How do you just wake up one day and decide to write about your sex life on the internet?” which strikes me as absolutely hilarious because it really wasn’t a decision so much as a calling. As he was walking out the door that morning, I remember he asked me, “What do you have going on today?” And I can’t remember what kind of bullshit I said back, but I know I was thinking, I need to cancel everything else because I have a really GREAT IDEA.

 

 

 

 

You Say Position, I Say Direction

My husband and I have a good relationship. We communicate well, we enjoy each other’s company and we have fun together.  We also put up with each other’s crap. Or, rather, he puts up with my crap and I truly appreciate the fact that he is willing to do that. In return, I always like to think he puts up with my ridiculousness because a) I make him laugh and b) because we have a lot of sex. He got the girl who was still a little nuts but who wanted to raise kids and go to sleep by 9 pm so the nuttiness could begin with 4 am runs instead. Woo Hoo. He’s a lucky guy.

In any event, every woman should bring an air of mystery to the bedroom….So the other night when P was at volleyball practice, Steve came home for a little ‘date’. As things were progressing, he asked what position I wanted and I whispered in his ear, “I would like to face Northeast. Maybe even North Northeast.” (Position, direction, whatever) He stopped and started looking  around the room trying to orient himself to direction. See? He’s fun. Up for anything I suggest.

I have had three major surgeries in the last three years so I have worked this shit out perfectly. I knew exactly what I meant and I know he did, too, except that I threw a new term in there. Finally he was like, “Oh, OK, I get it. You mean the after-surgery position.” Yes, yes, yes, but I am trying to pretend it is something new and different to keep things FRESH and HOT and EXCITING because it has been almost SIX DAMNED WEEKS of this. So now it is NORTHEAST.

OK. Except pretty much right away I could tell northeast was not going to work for him.

Me: Would you like to change directions?

Him (trying to concentrate): No, no, this is good.

Me: I know it isn’t. Let’s do something else.

I pull away and set things up another way.

Him: Now we are south.

Me: NO WE ARE NOT SOUTH. THIS IS EAST!

Him: NO this is South. We are facing I-25.

Me: How could we have just been facing north-northeast, moved a little bit and now we are south?

Him: we are facing south. This is south.

Me: We are facing FUCKING EAST. Get a compass NOW.

This continues on to a full-blown argument about which direction we are facing during a sex act.

But it worked.

And I was correct.

And P has practice again tonight.

 

Married sex should have an air of mysery

I’m just going to put this picture of Sadie’s bug eyes here because this is what my husband’s face is going to look like when he reads this post.

 

We Were So Happy

“We were so happy,” she said as I hugged her and felt her tears fall on my shoulder.

It is a moment and a feeling I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

There are plenty of things I know nothing about, but one thing I know is love. Whenever I saw this couple together, I knew one thing: they were in love. I was not part of their ‘inner circle’ but we spent enough time together that I just knew. I could see it and I could feel it in the space they occupied together. There was an ease to the relationship between them and a mutual admiration that was refreshing. Their love was the real deal.

It was a second marriage for both, and as I know quite well myself, second marriages come along with a lot of complicated history. I do not presume to know anything about their relationship beyond what I, and others, could clearly see. All I can say is they shared similar interests and passions, and if I saw one, I was sure to see the other. Always together. Always smiling.

He passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, in his 40s.

All I could offer was, “He loved you so much.”  She confirmed what I knew, “We were so happy.” While I know she wanted to try to be strong and focus on how fortunate they were to have each other, that was something I could not bear.

“It’s not fucking fair,” I told her. Words I never allowed myself to think about my own plight as I faced pancreatic cancer….except when I thought about my own marriage. My second marriage. The one I came to later in life. The one I brought my broken self and my own baggage to. The one I felt loved in and cared for every day. When I found out I had pancreatic cancer and did not dare to think I might survive it, I thought about our love and thought, “It isn’t fair. We haven’t had enough time together!”

How many people can truthfully say about their ownn marriages, ‘We are so happy!’?

Many times over the 15.5 years Stephen and I have been together, I have thought, “I hope I die before my husband does, because I don’t know how I would ever make it through life without him by my side.” I did not know if long-term happiness in a marriage was even possible when we got together, but all of these years later, I know it is. I am still crazy about my husband.

Over the years, I have also frequently spent time feeling guilty about my divorce. I have analyzed what I contributed to the failure of my first marriage many times since we officially split. I have felt badly about our daughter not getting to grow up with both biological parents in the same house. While my second marriage has been a blessing, I have spent too much time anazlying my own ‘failures’ as a human being.

Stephen and I have faced a lot of hardship together. We have faced things together which would have torn many couples apart. But, yes, we are still happy together. We are happy in a different way from when we first met years ago, of course, but we still choose to spend our time together. We still make each other laugh. We still have the intimacy of a couple ‘in love’.

The one ‘gift’ of my divorce was that it allowed me to look critically at my own shortcomings as a human being and figure out how I could be a better partner the second time around. I express my needs clearly. If there is a problem or an issue, I will not allow it to fester. I probably drive my husband nuts at times, but I don’t want to waste time being angry at each other. We resolve problems quickly or just decide maybe the ‘problem’ isn’t worth spending energy on. Move on. Let the anger go.

While divorce is painful and difficult for all involved, I learned something from mine which, I hope, makes me a better person and a better spouse today.

Are you happy?

Life is hard. There are times when the world is going to hand you a lot of really challenging stuff you have to face. You may not always love your job, but you should always love your partner. Home should be the place where you are loved and cared for no matter what else is going on in the cruel, harsh world.

If you aren’t happy in your relationship, why not? Do you feel valued and respected? Do you make your spouse feel valued and respected? What can you BOTH do to improve your relationship? Is it fixable? Or is there too much anger for either of you to move beyond? Maybe what you wanted at 20 is just not what you realize you need at 40 or 50?

Either figure out a way to fix things or move on.

Before anyone accuses me of being cavalier about marriage, I assure you I am not. However, there is a point where everyone involved is losing, including the kids. I have witnessed many people going through the motions in their own marriages. I have also seen people stick it out even though it is clear everyone involved is miserable.

And I have seen a whole lot of happiness the second time around.

If I die tomorrow, I hope my husband tells everyone ‘We were so happy’. And I hope he tells people he was happy because I made him laugh, and took him on crazy adventures, and made him feel loved and sexy, and teased him about how obsessed he was with getting the garbage out on time, but that’s because I knew that was part of how he showed our family love…and I sincerely appreciated it.

And I know for the last few days, I have thought often about this couple who was so happy and I have cried and thought a million times about how my heart aches for her. I know many, many people will miss her husband, but none as much as she will. I hope everyone who knows her allows to her to be sad, and angry, and to say it isn’t fucking fair, because it isn’t. I hope she feels free to cry, scream, stomp her feet, break things or do whatever she needs to do to get through each day.

Because in a world where there is so much unhappiness, I cannot make any sense of why a couple who was so happy together has been denied the many more years of joy they should have had ahead of them. They were in love. They were happy. They made each other better people that second time around, because that’s what love does. It makes you better together.

Celebrate love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Months Post Op Goal: Rosa & Ohio Mike

Six months ago, I had surgery to repair a rather large tear my right labrum caused by cam and pincer impingement. I am not going to recount all of the details of the past six months because you can scroll through previous entries of my blog for that information.  Suffice it to say it has been a long recovery requiring a great deal of humor, patience, humor, help, humor, cake, love and more humor. In addition, I spent a lot of time swimming (hated it and hurt my shoulder), walking, hiking, riding my bike in front of documentaries on Netflix, doing my PT exercises, stairmilling, ellipticating and eventually working my way back to running.

Being a goal-oriented person, I soon needed to set a personal goal, a milestone I could attempt to achieve following my surgery. I did not want to sign up for a race because I knew I was not physically or mentally ready. I thought about it a few times, but I knew it was just a bad idea. After hip surgery is not the time to get caught up in race fever or any short-term goals. I needed to think of something challenging but attainable. Something that would not hurt my long-term success or health.

The Goal: Mount Rosa

I looked up at the mountains on our Colorado Front Range and decided I wanted to hike Mt. Rosa by my six-month surgical anniversary. Rosa is a peak that stands 11,500 feet tall and is the third tallest peak in our area. It is much less well-known than our local 14,115 foot Pikes Peak, but I kind of like it that way. I have hiked and run the trails up and down Rosa a few times before, and I always think it is beautiful. Some of the trails are pretty darned steep, making for a reasonable challenge. The loop would be about 15-16 miles, I estimated, so that was a decent amount of mileage.

Mount Rosa

Steve on top of Mount Rosa in 2016. We were last there in 2016 while I was training for Run Rabbit Run 100.

Climbing Rosa was not a ‘stretch’ of a goal. Or at least, it shouldn’t have been as long as I was careful and respectful of my body while I recovered. Too much running or high intensity work could set me back, but if I stayed on track, it was certainly within reach.

All summer and into early fall, I concentrated on two things: keeping up a good rehab protocol and exploring the trails. I promised myself that since I wasn’t training for any particular race, I would take more time hiking in new areas. I did some trails which were new to me and really enjoyed it.

Tonia and Willy

With my faithful companion, Willy

It’s Been a Long Six Months

For the most part, I was good about mentally focusing on the immediate issue at hand, which was simply to do the best job of rehabbing my injury as possible. When I started having some new medical issues, I really missed being able to relieve my stress through 20 mile runs in the mountains. That was hard. Long runs have been my coping mechanism for years and I have struggled with some depression in the last couple of months.

Fall in Colorado

My favorite time of year in Colorado!

Would You like Another Crap Sandwich?

How do you cope when you life hands you a crap sandwich while you are already sitting on top of a pile of crap? Runners cope by running. Distance runners cope by running stupid distances. But, I couldn’t run ridiculous distances. I was tired, my body was beat up and I had other symptoms and things to be concerned about. I had to just sit on top of the pile of crap that was already there, while holding my crap sandwich, hoping dessert would maybe turn out to be more appealing. (I have to say that I am using crap metaphorically here. There is no actual crap involved in my current situation, and that’s about all I want to say about it for now).

While I always thought Rosa was possible, I had about a month of physical issues which really made me doubt it was ever going to be within the realm of possibilities. There was one day we started going up a trail where I thought I was going to have to go back down and have Steve take me to the hospital. Another day we went up to 11,000 feet and the altitude kicked my butt. Moving slowly, sweating profusely and breathing hard, I doubted I could make it up the additional 500 foot climb to the top. As we descended the trail, I fell on my face, hard.  Steve was horrified, but I was just happy my hip seemed to be OK.

Still, I persevered. We chose a date where Steve and I could summit and where the weather looked like it would cooperate. It was going to be special! It was going to be a date! Just the two of us achieving my goal together.

Enter Ohio Mike.

We saw Mike getting dropped off in the parking lot as we set out on our path to Rosa. His mom and brother were in the car. Mike was already started off down Gold Camp Road as we gathered our stuff and headed out behind him. Mom rolled down the window and asked if her son would be safe out there alone. They were here from Ohio. Mike wanted to go on these unfamiliar trails and Mom was worried. I reassured her the trails were safe, but being a mom myself, I understood her worry. I told her we would probably see him on the trails and we would look out for him.

Steve and I started running up Gold Camp Road and there was Mike. I stopped and asked where he was headed. He told me Mt. Rosa and I said he we were also doing Rosa. Ohio Mike was going to do an out-and-back, but we told him we were doing it as a loop. I knew this was supposed to be a ‘special date’ with my husband. I knew Steve wanted it to be just us out alone for the day. But…Mike…and Mike’s worried mom. I couldn’t just pass by and leave. We spent the next seven hours showing Ohio Mike the beauty of our local trail and mountains.

Ohio mike scenic spot

The day started off for Steve and me as a way to celebrate the first six months of my physical recovery, but it turned into something else. I love our local trails. It brings me great joy to share Colorado’s beauty with people new to the area or just new to a particular trail. In fact, Steve calls me the Tour Guide. But I have gained so much happiness out on those trails and I want to share it with others.

I told Ohio Mike to text his mom that he was with company when he had a phone signal, because I did not want Mom worrying about him being eaten by bears. Soon I found myself sending Ohio Mike off onto some of my favorite photo spots so I could take his picture. I took pictures as he hit 9,000 for the first time in his life. And 10,000, and 11,000 and, of course, on the summit of Rosa.

Mike summit

And it wasn’t just me playing tour guide. I saw Steve call Ohio Mike over to scenic overlooks to point things out to him. I knew Steve had been looking forward to our time together, but when I saw him standing there pointing stuff out to this stranger we picked up along the trail, my heart got all squishy and I loved my husband even more.

Tonia Mount Rosa

Tonia, Steve & Ohio Mike at 11,000 feet.

Mike was quiet, but he kept up with us admirably well. He never complained. He was all smiles, even when I knew he was feeling the elevation. He was very well-prepared but he was carrying a very large pack with a lot of ‘stuff’, not traveling lightly as we were. He was being smart and cautious and I admire that, but I know it had to make climbing that much more difficult.

We stopped on top of the mountain for some photos and snacks. I told him this was my six month post hip surgery celebration. I gave Steve a hug and a kiss for always being my biggest cheerleader.

We came back down the mountain, enjoying the beautiful fall day and safely returned Ohio Mike to his family. On the way home, I thought, ‘Well, OK, I guess I checked off my goal’. But I didn’t really care. All that mattered was the sense of joy I felt from having shown Ohio Mike some trails and helping him celebrate a new experience. Sharing that happiness was what made the day special.

Mt Rosa

Ohio Mike with his tour guides

Ohio Mike would have made it to the top of the mountain, I am sure. But he wouldn’t have seen the cabin remains we showed him. He wouldn’t have seen the bridges we went over. He would’t have learned the names of some of the other mountains. And I would have missed out on the chance to tell the other hikers we passed about how ‘Mike is from Ohio and he is climbing Rosa!’ And everyone we saw was impressed, because dammit, that IS impressive.

Just thinking about it still makes me happy. Goals are wonderful and it feels good to reach goals, but not this time. Of course, it did not feel BAD to achieve my goal. It just felt irrelevant. I could not have cared less about MY goal, but I did care about Ohio Mike’s goal. All that mattered was sharing the beauty of our mountains with him and celebrating his success. I am thankful our paths crossed and I got be there to see him summit and return safely to his family. Thank you, Ohio Mike, for giving perfect strangers the opportunity to share a day and a goal, to enjoy some conversation, but also some peace and to celebrate the beauty of our world.

Finally, I am so thankful for my husband who knows and understands my heart…And for Willy, who never knows what the hell we will get him into but always goes along happily.

Supermodel Willy

Willy the Supermodel on Mt. Rosa.

 

 

 

Time and Health

 

These last few years have shown me the precious and fleeting nature of time.  Sure, money makes life easier, but time and health are what we need most. We need time for experiences which give meaning to our lives. We need time to love and give to those who mean the most to us. We need physical and emotional health to be able to create those meaningful relationships and experiences. If you have neither time nor health, you will wish with every fiber of your being you could go back in time and change something, anything, to give yourself more of both.

For the latter part of 2016, I realized that I needed to take a step back from many things so I could take better care of myself. Last year was full of moments in time that were both joyful and emotionally draining. My oldest daughter graduated from high school. When I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my top goals was to live to see my daughter graduate. Luck was on my side. We both made it to this day. I was, of course, proud of all of her accomplishments and reaching this milestone in life. But I also knew it meant my daughter, my friend, would be leaving our home soon.

Growing Up and Leaving Home

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How do you go from holding a tiny helpless baby in your arms to saying goodbye to a young woman who is literally a part of you but also very uniquely and wonderfully her own person? But this is a parent’s job and we have known this all along. We who get to see our children grow and fly the nest are the lucky ones. Not every parent has that privilege.

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And though I heard many times, ‘The high school years go by so quickly!’ I now know in my own heart how true that is. I have 4.5 years left with my younger daughter. I plan to make each one count.

Summer

The summer of 2016 was full of bittersweet moments. I had the pleasure of traveling with Peyton to spend time with my family in New York State.

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I traveled to Montana to spend time with my husband’s family. Steve, Peyton and I spent time enjoying the beauty of Glacier National Park.

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Iceberg Lake

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Moving on to College

Through it all, I knew that our lives were about to significantly change. In August, we brought Riley to college. While I was excited for her to enjoy this next step in life, I felt like a piece of my heart was literally being ripped from my body. It was very apparent that all I wanted was more time with her. I knew we would talk and see each other again, but I knew it would never be the same. She had to adjust to being ‘on her own’ and we would shift to mostly being a group of three on a daily basis. I wonder when will be the first time she tells me she is not coming home for vacation or not coming home for summer. I wonder where she will ultimately end up living.

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Sisters saying good-bye at the end of their summer vacations.

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Saying goodbye to my baby on move in day.

As our car drove away, I waved to my daughter until she was out of sight, and then the tears came. I wished I could go back in time so I could hold her little hand, read her bedtime stories and play more games with her. As my daughters grow older and move on to the next phases of their lives, it is these little moments I wish I could experience again, because now all I have are photos and distant memories.

The Importance of Time and Health

We all tend to feel invincible when we are young. We are surprised, shocked even, when we first face our own health crisis. Though it feels like time is endless when we are young, we are mortal, after all. Time does not come to us in unlimited quantities.

Health crises come in different forms. We all know people who have died much too young from an illness. A long, slow protracted death from cancer cells ravaging the body. A sudden, shocking end from a heart attack.

Mental illness robs many of joy and fulfillment in life. It steals time and happiness from people in a more insidious way than a physical illness, but is often no less devastating. If the mental illness is severe enough, it can be deadly.

There are other health problems that may be not as deadly but can be equally destructive. As we age, we find out our bodies or our minds are no longer capable of doing some of the things they used to do. We may be forced to give up things we love to do. Eventually we may find we have problems with basic tasks or mobility. It seems cruel and unfair.

Growing Up and Growing Old

We watch our parents age and realize someday we will have to navigate the world without them. If we are lucky, we still call our parents well into adulthood asking for advice. We wonder why we live so far away now and wish we could go back and right some of the wrongs we feel responsible for.

We wake up one day and see our own wrinkles and gray hair. We experience the failings of our own bodies. Confronted once again with our own mortality, we wish we had more time. We wish we could go back and do the things with our young, healthy bodies that we can no longer do now.

All of this brings me back to time. Spend your time wisely. Spend it doing what is important to you. Spend time with the people who are important to you. This past year was exceptionally difficult at times and I found myself mentally and physically completely drained. I faced many difficulties that I did not want to discuss with others. The personal struggle too real and too raw.

Saying ‘Yes’ to Saying ‘No’

I have always been one who has trouble saying no. I don’t like to disappoint people. I feel like I should be strong enough to ‘do it all’. I spent days volunteering for events and then went home and had to lay in bed the following day because I developed a fever. I smiled and gave to others while taking away from myself and my family. I have always been a giver. I finally realized that what I was giving was physically and emotionally destroying me. I have my own battles that I am not done fighting. I need time and energy to take care of myself and my family.

For years, I spent so much time saying ‘yes’ to other people that I had to say ‘no’ to my own needs. While I do not do New Year’s resolutions, as 2016 moved towards 2017, I knew there was no choice. I needed to pull back and focus on my health and my family.

I have pulled back gradually and I know it was the right decision. I need to make 2017 the year of saying ‘no’ to things which draw my time away from my family and make it more difficult to focus on my own emotional and physical health. For someone who is so used to saying ‘yes’, this is not an easy undertaking. This is not a New Year’s Resolution. It is a gradual, but necessary, process. I have to treat it like my life depends on it, because right now, I feel like it does.

Time and health. Those are the things that matter. You don’t get second chances with either.

 

Run Rabbit Run 100

I had the opportunity to complete the infamous Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race this weekend. The course was both brutal and beautiful. The volunteers were absolutely fantastic. I was challenged, uplifted and beaten down at various points over the course of the race. There were many high and low points over the 31 hours and 19 minutes it took me to finish the race. Ultimately, what I remember most is the purity of the connection to the people on the course. When you are tired and cold and nauseated, you cannot hide who you are. You must be open and be both strong and vulnerable. You must rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help keep you moving forward. In a world where we can be guarded and jaded, the experience of allowing all of the barriers to slip away and be really present in the moment and open to those around you is unique. When it all comes together, it is refreshing and life-affirming.

I signed up for Run Rabbit Run 100 way back in January, 2016. At the time, I was not really sure why I signed up, but as winter turned into spring, I found myself sinking into a depression. As the weeks and months of training marched on, I realized that spending time running in the mountains was what I needed to save myself. (You can read more about that here: https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-panther-or-the-rabbit/ )

In the past couple of weeks as I stared down a daunting 100-mile mountain race, I felt a familiar mixture of excitement and foreboding. Every time I mentioned what race I was running, people would respond, “Wow, that’s a hard course!” or some version of that sentiment. Looking at the course profile, it isn’t hard to see why Run Rabbit Run has a reputation for difficulty.

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In addition to the long, steep climbs and the significant elevation change, runners face extremely cold temperatures at night time. I had been warned that many people DNF due to hypothermia. I packed so much cold weather gear that my husband asked me if I thought that I was running in Antarctica. I know that anything can happen over the course of a 100 mile race, but I would not drop out due to not packing the right gear.

The race, which has a 36-hour cut-off, started on September 16, 2016. I had assembled a team of three adults and one teenager. My husband, Stephen, would serve as crew chief and would pace me for approximately thirty miles. Laura, who I had been Facebook friends with for years but had never met in person, surprised me by buying a plane ticket so she could come pace/crew me. She has ultra experience, but lives at sea level, so I was not sure how she she would feel with the altitude and elevation gain. She would run either 10 or 14 miles, depending upon how she felt. My friend Larry, who is a very experienced endurance athlete, would therefore do either 20 or 25. Peyton would be on hand to help crew and keep my spirits lifted.

I chose Run Rabbit Run 100 in part due to the race’s proximity to Colorado Springs. I knew we could drive up in a few hours and I figured it would be relatively easy to get people to come help crew and pace. In fact, there was a large contingent of runners from the Springs area, which made for a warm and welcoming environment.

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With Jenny and Denise.

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Tonia, Peyton & Stephen

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At the race start (Photo courtesy of Ann Labosky)

We started up the ski hill promptly at 8 am. The course sends runners straight up Mount Werner, gaining approximately 3,500 feet of elevation in the first 4.4 miles. Even though I did a lot of steep training runs, I had a moment of wondering what in the hell I had signed up for. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I had sweat dripping off of my face. Nevertheless, I knew that we would essentially be headed out on a net downhill for the next several miles. I chose to try not to think too much about what was to come later in the race, instead just opting to enjoy the scenery. I spent some time shaking out the nerves and chatting with people, knowing that it was very early and I had to keep the pace conservative to save energy for the big climbs that would come later in the race.

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Long Lake

The Long Lake aid station is at mile 10.8. I was still feeling good and the trails, which had been crowded up to this point, began to open up. We headed to Fish Creek Falls, a section which starts off with fabulous single track that becomes quite rocky and technical. I was running alone at this point, listening to music and enjoying the scenery.

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My sunglasses were bugging me a bit so I took them off. While I was messing with them, I tripped and fell, hitting both knees on rocks. I had only gone about 12 miles into the race. The hard hit stunned me and I had blood streaming down both legs. I walked for a minute, assessing the damage. Nothing appeared to be broken, so I shuffled back into a run, hoping for the best. From Fish Creek Falls, we ran along a four-mile section of trail back into Steamboat Springs.

Olympian Hall

I came down into the Olympian Hall aid station with a considerable amount of blood and dirt on my legs, but was thrilled to see Steve, Peyton and Laura. After stopping briefly to restock my gels, I moved on and headed up the next section of trail.

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(photos courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Cow Creek

As we moved on towards Cow Creek, the general consensus was, “Wow, this hill didn’t look this big on the course profile!” I spent several miles with a guy who shared some interesting stories from his years of dirt-bagging. Eventually, we parted ways and I ran into two runners I had been talking with earlier. Neither were feeling well at this point. One was injured and the other was sick to her stomach. I tried to give them both a pep talk, reminding them that they would likely feel good, then bad, then good, then bad, for the rest of the race. I think I was also trying to remind myself of that fact, because at this point my left knee, which had taken the brunt of the earlier impact, began to stiffen up. Every step hurt as I made my way down into the Cow Creek aid station. In addition, I had switched water reservoirs in my hydration pack and something had been digging into my back for the entirety of the section. I kept running with one hand between my pack and my back to eliminate any more damage.

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Arriving in Cow Creek with Peyton and Steve (photo courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Larry had made it into Steamboat, and several other local friends were at the aid station waiting for their runners, so Cow Creek felt warm and inviting. Even though I was in a lot of pain and wondering what the future would hold, everyone assured me that I looked strong and was running between a 27 and 28 hour pace. This was ahead of what I thought I could do, so that lifted my spirits. Aside from my knee and back, I felt OK, so I headed back of the aid station feeling hopeful for the rest of the race.

The next segment back to Olympian Hall was a rolling 12-mile section. My knee loosened up and I was able to run quite a bit. The sun was shining and the scenery along the single track was lovely. I was enjoying this section tremendously until my right hip flexor started to tighten up. I tried to adjust and loosen it up, hoping the pain would fade. We ran down the long steep downhill section back into Olympian Hall. Here the plan was to pick Laura up for the four mile uphill road section to the Fish Creek Falls trail head, where I would meet Larry for the night. However, shuttle issues forced a change in plans. Now Larry, who had been mountain biking but not running all summer, would be forced to cover nearly 25 miles with me.

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With Larry, headed off into the night.

I had been warned by many runners to grab warm clothing at Olympian, because as soon as the sun goes down, the mountains get extremely cold. Last year, the temperature on the course had dropped down to 8 degrees. I had been running in shorts and a tank top for hours, but threw on a long-sleeve shirt and grabbed another warm shirt, gloves and tights to put on as it got colder. We ran through town, and within a few minutes, I was hot. I stopped and took off my shirt in what would become the first in a night of many wardrobe changes. We ended up hiking much of the uphill back to the Fish Creek Falls trail head. From there, we headed on another six-mile climb back up to Long Lake.

Friendship and Inspiration

One of the things I love most about running ultras is having the opportunity to talk with people and hear their stories. People open up in a way they might not ever under other circumstances. While the scenery of a race makes the time alone special, the discussions are a big part of what makes the night memorable.

I first met Larry a few years ago when I happened to see him running close to where I live. He had on a Team Crud (Coloradans Running Ultra Distances) shirt, and I was just starting to get into ultras. I stopped him and asked some questions about races and CRUD. He humored me, answering a few of my questions. He probably thought I was a crazy lady, but that’s OK because I am forever thankful for that chance encounter.

I ran a few ultras after that meeting and then was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I struggled to come back to my previous form following surgery and chemo, I stumbled across Larry’s blog. I read a post where he talked about some of his own medical issues. Feeling very much alone at the time, I wrote to him. I did not know if he would remember me, but he wrote back and gave me a pep talk. Even though our issues were different, I finally felt like someone might just understand what I was going through. He encouraged me to be patient and gave me hope that things might be different but they would get better.

During the last couple of years, Larry has been an tremendous source of inspiration to me. He is an incredible athlete who has completed the Leadman series several times, but, more importantly, he is an amazing human being who gives so much to others. Larry coaches a local high school mountain bike team, spends his free time volunteering to maintain local trails and still finds time to crew/pace friends at races throughout Colorado. I followed him as he ran Burning River 100 mile race as a fundraiser for the Akron Children’s Hospital (coverage of this story can be found here:  https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/sharing_blog/deac461c4d31a0e9/)  Knowing how much slower I am than Larry is, I was extremely humbled and grateful when he said he would pace me at Run Rabbit Run.

Running Through the Night

Larry spent most of the night sharing stories with me. I was so wrapped up in his tales that I temporarily forgot to eat. This led to a blood sugar issue as we headed uphill on the Fish Creek Trail. As we picked our way over rocks and up the climb, Larry watched me stagger and stumble like I was drunk. Because he coaches a type 1 diabetic, he knew exactly how to remedy things. He made me eat a gel every 15 minutes until I started to feel coherent again. This is why I have a pacer. I knew I was in good hands and I am grateful he was there with me.

It was at this point that the temperature seemed to plummet. I was shaking, my toes went numb and I knew I needed to get changed immediately. I plopped down on the side of a swampy section of single track and pulled off my shorts. Larry, ever the gentleman, looked the other way as he dug through his pack for a jacket. Several runners came through as I was changing and asked if we were OK. This was a reasonable question, as we had recently seen several runners throwing up along the side of the trail. I just laughed and said, “Yes, I am just getting naked…You’re welcome.”

We headed up a long uphill section that took us back to Long Lake and then to the high point on the course at Summit Lake.I was once again freezing. I grabbed warmer tights, stepped about a foot away from a crowd at the aid and changed again. I just did not have the energy to be modest at this point. I started joking that it was goal to flash every runner on the course. We headed down a 2100 foot drop into the Dry Lake Aid Station, where I would be picking up Laura for a ten-mile section. Once again, my knee started to stiffen up. I was running when I could and hiking when I had to. It was frustrating, but I maintained my sense of humor about it. As it turned out, Larry didn’t have to worry about not having run much over the summer. I told him I wouldn’t break any speed records and I as right.

We got into Dry Lake, where we met Steve and Laura. I gave Larry a big hug and told him to get some sleep. Laura and I headed off onto a section that featured several bridges and most likely would have been beautiful during the daytime hours. Fortunately for us, there was a bright spectacular full moon and very few clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful crisp night and we chatted, alternating walking and running through this out-and-back section that was fairly crowded. We got to the Spring Creek aid station, got a bite to eat and then headed back to Dry Lake.

Heading to the Finish

When we arrived back in Dry Lake, Stephen was ready to get me to the finish line. We had roughly 30 miles to go at this point. I had just gone uphill for 4.5 miles and we were facing another 8 mile climb back to Summit Lake. I knew we would be hiking most of this and was fine with that. I was tired but my spirits were still high. We laughed and joked as we made our way up the jeep road. The moon went down and the sky began to lighten. I knew 27 and 28 hour finish times were long gone. I also knew that a sub-30 was pretty much out of the question. Normally, I would be upset to slow down as much as I did, but I honestly did not care one bit. My knee and groin had been hurting and my back hurt where my pack had rubbed it raw. I knew, however, that i had more than enough time to walk it in to the finish line if I had to.

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When we finally got to the Summit aid station at mile 81.5, I was looking forward to jogging downhill for a bit. As I started to run, however, my right ankle hurt so badly that I immediately had to stop.I tried to jog again and just couldn’t do it. I felt the ankle and determined that it was probably just an angry tendon, so I resigned myself to walking. We walked back to the Long Lake aid station for the third time. I changed my clothes once again, putting on shorts in preparation for warmer temperatures.

The rolling but mostly uphill section to Mount Werner seemed infinitely longer than it actually was. I was getting passed by plenty of people but I did not give a second thought to attempting to chase anyone down. All I wanted to do was finish. I did not want to injure myself but I knew if I kept walking I would cross the finish line with minimal damage to my body. We rolled quickly through the aid station and then hit the 6.4 mile road that would take us to the finish line.

My husband is an amazing man who not only supports me in theory as I tackle these adventures, he is always there with me as I take those final steps to the finish line. Throughout the last miles of the race, I asked him to talk to me, but I could only give one word answers. This was the first time in my life that I ever got sleepy during a race. I became frustrated when I found out that he had told me I had 12 miles to go, but it was really 12.8 miles (Hey, it MATTERS!) Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I would never take my exhaustion out on my husband. He is the man who stands metaphorically and physically with me as I struggle through the most difficult times in my life.He is my rock and my hero and I come away from these races feeling more in love and connected to him than ever.

Dropping back down 3500 feet over the stretch felt painful and cruel. Many people remarked that they were unable to run at this point, and I was definitely in this camp. It was hot and I was hurting. Even Stephen was hurting at this point and wondering where the finish line was. Finally, we saw it.

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Peyton ran out to meet us and I gave Larry a hug as we made it down the road. I was completely spent physically but emotionally ecstatic. We got to the grassy section before the finish line and pathetically jogged over it.

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I got my 100 miler buckle and a beer mug for my efforts, finishing in 31:19. This was my slowest 100 mile finish by nearly five hours, yet I was not remotely disappointed with my finish time or placement. I was simply ecstatic that I finished the race and, despite some aches and pains, had a truly spectacular time.

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It was so wonderful to be greeted at the finish line by two of my favorite female runners, Tracey & Meghan.

After the race, we went back to the condo we had rented. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. I was also too sore to sleep, so that made for an interesting night. When I awoke at 3 am the next morning, I was in a state of deep emotional happiness and gratitude. Yes, I was proud of my finish, but more importantly, I was filled with intense appreciation for all of the people who had supported me along the way. There is something so uniquely special about running through the night with people. I find that people become the essence of who they truly are over those long nighttime miles. We talk about things that we might never discuss under different circumstances. The stories, the images, and the memories will stick with me forever.

I spent the summer training for this race, often alone in the mountains for hours, trying to work my way through my own issues. Over those 31 hours and 19 minutes, I was grateful to be there in the midst of the outstanding scenery and to feel fully alive. I am thankful for the opportunity to dig deep, to work through the problems and to connect with other human beings. When people have asked me why I do ultras, I have often said it is because I enjoy the challenge. While this is completely true, more than anything, I embrace the chance to learn about not only myself but those who are around me. I am forever grateful for the selflessness of others, for friendship, for the shared stories, for love and for the opportunity to fully be my perfectly flawed self. After struggling for months with my own inner demons, a 103+ mile trek through the mountains of Colorado finally brought me the sense of connection to others I desperately needed

Finally, I had the opportunity to work with Paul Nelson and his amazing crew, John Uibel, Marina Polonsky and Shawn Brown, at Run Rabbit Run.

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They are putting together a documentary about the race and they chose to feature me as a ‘human interest’ story. They followed several elite runners as well as a few of us regular folks. I am honored to be a part of this project and am pleased that they chose to feature a variety of runners. Look for this to be coming out by the end of 2016!

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