Detoxing from Doing Epic Stuff

Four months have passed since I had my hip surgery/labrum repair. In that odd way our perception of time works, some days it seems like it hasn’t been that long. On other days, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. Enough time has passed that I am now starting to reference time in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’, much in the way I have done with cancer, marriage, divorce, becoming a mother and many other major life changes.

During the ‘before’, I spent nearly every spare moment running mountain trails. I often put in a couple of 20+ mile runs in the hills each week. Now, the ‘after’ looks a lot different. I have trouble fathoming what I was doing at this time last year. But the happy news is I am indeed running!

Return to Running

I started running right at 12 weeks. Following my prescribed progression, I started with one minute of running followed by four minutes of walking, repeated a few times. Now I have run as much as three consecutive miles without taking a walking break. I am still transitioning back into being a runner.  Some days I walk and some days it is a mixture of walking and running. I am also getting into the foothills for hiking/running a day or two each week.

I am genuinely grateful to be able to do what I am doing just four months after this extensive surgery. I have worked very hard to make it to this point. I expect I will continue to improve, though I still have no idea what that will ultimately mean for me in terms of running. I have little doubt I will continue to run but I don’t yet know if the ‘after’ period will involve racing. The jury is still out and I won’t make any decisions on that until I am further along in the healing process.

Measuring Time

For the last several years, training for an ultra has been an incredibly important part of my life. In some ways, training for these big races is how I have come to frame the passage of time. That may sound odd, but when you spend months dedicated to preparing for an event, thinking about it, dreaming about it, planning it, it becomes intrinsically entwined with your memories of that particular moment in your life.

What do I remember about 2012? That’s the year I ran my first two 50 mile races. 2013 is the year I ran my first 100 miler and 100K…and then had surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Vermont 100 July 2013

Packet Pick-Up Vermont 100 July, 2013

Bear Chase 100k

Bear Chase 100k September 2013

What do I remember about 2014? I ran a 50 mile race three months after finishing chemo.

Bear Chase Trail Race

At the finish line of the Bear Chase 50 with RD and all around great guy, Ben Reeves.

2015 was the year of training for the Bryce 100. I trained in a lot of snow that spring…and the race was amazing.

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Beautiful scenery early in the Bryce Canyon 100 mile race.

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What I remember leading up to Bryce: slogging through deep snow in the spring.

2016 was the year I spent in the hills around Colorado Springs training for Run Rabbit Run 100.

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Most of the time I am content to be where I am right now, but there are difficult moments. Not having a race on the calendar for 2017 sent me into a temporary tailspin not long ago. Logically I knew all along I would not be running any races this year. I knew there was a distinct possibility I would not be running at all in 2017 (or ever) following my surgery.

Cruising Ultrasignup

All the same, I felt some moments of panic with the realization that training and racing were out of the question for the year. I suddenly found myself cruising Ultrasignup.com looking for a race hookup like a junkie. I looked at Run Rabbit Run and thought, “Oh look! There are spots still left in the 50! I could probably hike the whole race if I had to!”

After a few hours, I was able to reel myself back in to reality. I am used to trying to just power through diffiulty, but this is something I cannot force through sheer will and/or mental and physical strength. The body heals on its own time table. I can do things to help the process, but I can also do a lot of foolish things that would hurt the process.

I tried to put my finger on what it was I felt I was missing…or maybe missing out on.

Run Rabbit Run 100

Foliage on full display at the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race in September, 2016

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Olympian Hall Aid Station, Run Rabbit Run 2016

I Need Something but isn’t more Cowbell

After spending the last 20 years running the trails and roads, going for a run feels like fulfillment of both basic and higher needs.  I love the ritual months-long build-up before a race, working towards short-term and long-term goals. I miss the early mornings spent on the trails, lost in my thoughts of how to make the world a better place and myself a better human being. I long for the feelings of freedom and power that come from exploring the trails, alone and unafraid.

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Enjoying solitude on the trails.

While I love working towards a race goal, the months of effort, the hard work involved, is what makes the experience gratifying for me. When I see articles about running a 100 mile race on extremely low mileage, I immediately think, “Why on earth would you want to do that?” The race is merely the celebration at the end of months of putting in the hard work. I spend weeks, months, years earning my way to the festivities. The dedication to the process is its own reward.

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My running partner, Willy.

I went early today for a few miles alone with Willy in Cheyenne Canon. Somewhere along the way, I realize that one key component I have missed out on during my recovery from hip surgery is the joy I feel from the solitude of being alone on the trails. I have spent plenty of time out walking in my neighborhood or at the gym or in the pool. There are benefits to all of these activities and being dedicated to them over the last four months has gotten me where I am now. I can get physical exercise anywhere, but only time in the mountains seems to bring the sense of peace I need.

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It’s Not You, It’s Me

Research provides plenty of evidence about the benefits of spending time in nature. I have never doubted the findings because I have experienced them myself. Today, while out away from technology and traffic and noise, my mind shifted into its creative space and I finally realized I am not really ‘missing out’ on anything at all. This summer has actually been exceptionally busy and while I love racing and the social aspect of running, what I really crave is the ‘quiet’ I can find only when I am alone on the trails.

I managed to get in 9 miles on the trails early this morning and was thrilled to see no other humans until I was over 7 miles in. In this world of ‘afters’, 9 miles is nowhere close to 20, but it felt just as wonderful. It was emotionally satisfying and physically challenging in exactly the way I needed. While I love my running friends, in this world of #zerolimits and baddassedry, right now I am content to go at my own pace, concentrate on healing and take care of my own needs.

Do I still Exist if I Don’t #DoEpicShit ?

Instead of looking back on 2017 as the year I did some ‘epic’ race, I will remember it as the year of recovery and no racing. I cannot and will not cap off the year by completing one big goal. Instead I am making a bunch of intermediate goals in the form of a list of trails I want to explore over the coming months. I am grateful I can still find peace, solitude and joy from doing something purely to feed my soul. If I continue to be smart and patient with my healing, hopefully I can soak in the tranquility and beauty of new open spaces as summer winds down and the cool winds of fall usher in the magnificent colors of fall.

Breck Crest Mountain Marathon Race Report

This past Saturday, Steve and I ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon (http://www.mavsports.com/events/?event-categories=breck-crest-2015 ), a challenging high altitude mountain trail race. We last ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon in 2007. At that time, I had just run Pikes Peak Marathon two weeks prior and had a bit of a groin injury. Somewhere around mile 15 or 16, Steve severely sprained his ankle. We finished the race, but basically limped in to the finish. In fact, we were so late to the finish that year, that our family had given up on us and gone back to the condo we had rented. Nevertheless, the beauty of the course had left quite an impression on Steve and me and we had always wanted to go back and run it again.

This year, our friends Debby and John had invited us to join them on race weekend. Debby was going to run the half-marathon and John the full. We thought it would be a great way to get away for a couple of days, run a race and enjoy some time with our family and friends. Since Steve had been training on Pikes Peak most of the summer, I knew he would do fine at altitude. I, on the other hand, had not had time to get up very high in the mountains. I knew I would suffer pretty much right from the start of the race. I just hoped that Steve would be tired still from his Pikes Peak Double so that we could comfortably run together.

The Breck Crest starts at 9500 feet elevation in downtown Breckenridge. Pretty much immediately, the runners head up into the ski hills and surrounding trails. Runners climb about 3000 feet over the first several miles, topping out at 12,500 feet of elevation. The half-marathoners drop back down into town at this point, while the marathoners drop down to around 11,000 feet before heading back up to 12,500. From there, the course follows the “crest” over the ski hills of Breck. Runners stay up at 12,000 feet or above until mile 12 when the course drops back down, rolling between 10,000 and 10,500 for several miles. The final mile brings runners back to downtown Breckenridge. The trail is often rocky, covered in roots and quite technical. It is also spectacularly beautiful.The race course is actually short of a full marathon. My garmin read 24 miles, Steve’s read 23.5 and John’s read 23.7. The first time I signed up for this race, I was bothered by the fact that it was not a “true” marathon. After having run this race twice now, the hills and the high altitude provide enough of a challenge that I never feel like I got cheated out of miles.

Our family loaded up the car and drove up to Breckenridge Friday evening. We stopped by race headquarters at the Vertical Runner store in Breckenridge. This is a lovely running store, and any runner visiting the area should check it out. We chatted with RD Jeff Westcott and picked up our numbers. Vertical Runner was providing free pasta for racers and their family. This gave the race an extra nice and homey feel. It was great way to start the weekend.

The next morning, Peyton snapped a quick picture of us before we headed out on our adventure.

Steve, me, Debby & John

Steve, me, Debby & John

We headed down and lined up at the race start in downtown Breckenridge. We saw Steve’s co-worker Chris, who had driven up that morning for his first attempt at a mountain trail race. We also were pleasantly surprised to see Steve’s childhood friend, Dave, who lives in Silverthorne. Dave had ridden his bike over to see us off at the race start. We chatted for a few moments and then were on our way.

My goals for this race were to 1) spend time with Steve, 2) enjoy the views and 3) get in a good training run for races coming up later in the season. I knew I was not trained for the altitude, so I figured that for the first time in my life, I would take pictures on the course and just generally have a good time.

The race course gains about 3000 feet over the first six miles. It is a very runnable course in the early miles. My main goal in those early miles was to keep my heart rate and breathing under control. This was not too much of an issue. If I felt the hills and altitude getting to me, I just back off the pace and hiked until I felt recovered.

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Steve and I ran together, chatting throughout the early miles. As we reached an elevation of around 11,000 feet, we had to switch over to power hiking. The trail grows very steep in this area, as you head up to tree line. Despite our slower pace, we managed to pass a few runners during this section.

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More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

By around mile 6, we reached 12,500 feet of elevation. We chatted off and on with Josh and John, runners we had just met out on the course. The course rolls for a bit and then eventually turns into a quad-busting steep downhill. We ran back down to about 11,000 feet between miles 9 and 10. Then, we power-hiked back up to an elevation of 12,500+ feet, peaking at mile 12.

Running at 12,500 feet

Running at 12,500 feet

At this point, we ran up above treeline for a ways. The views from the crest are spectacular.

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As we headed back down below treeline, we hit more screaming downhills. I knew we still had a long way to go and tried not to burn myself out. The trail is extremely rocky and root-filled through this downhill, so Steve and I were both concentrating on making it down without getting hurt. Finally, around mile 16 we made it back down below 11,000 feet. At mile 17, I said to Steve, “I think it is time to start racing now!” Steve replied with an incredulous, “What?!” There were not too many other marathoners, as most people seem to choose to run the half, but I set about trying to pick off as many runners as I could from mile 17 to the finish.

I was really enjoying myself at this point until we had a couple of unfortunate incidents with mountain bikers. The vast majority of mountain bikers were so polite and accommodating of those of us who were running. However, we had a couple who literally ran me off the trail. I will spare most of the details, but because mountain bikers were on our tails riding their brakes, I was very distracted. I had already twisted my ankle getting out of own cyclist’s way and now as I listened to continuous squealing brakes, I feared this person was going to run me over. I tried to move out of his way and I ended up hitting a rock and flying off the side of the trail. I would have rolled down a large embankment had I not fallen directly into a tree. I am a little banged and bruised from hitting the tree so hard, but the tree saved me from far worse injuries. Once I found my sunglasses, I dusted myself off and Steve and I continued on our way.

In an instant, I went from having a great time to wishing I had not started the race. I had to mentally talk myself through this rough patch. I could not allow some inconsiderate people to take away from the fun that I was experiencing. I had to pull myself out of the bad space I was going into mentally. I had come out to have fun with my husband, and I could not let anyone take that away from me.

We ran along as the course rolled between 10,000 and 10,500 feet for several miles. Finally, we descended back into town. We wound our way through the streets of Breckenridge, not exactly knowing how the race would finish up. We became extremely excited when we eventually saw our daughters waiting for us. We knew we must be right around the corner from the finish line. We crossed the finish in 5 hours and 55 minutes. We did not break any speed records, but we improved upon our 2007 time by an hour and neither of us was seriously injured. Steve and I started together and finished together. We had fun. We got in some beautiful miles. We achieved everything we had set out to do.

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

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With Debby, who had finished the half hours previously. She was showered & fresh as a daisy when we saw her at the finish.

With Debby, who had finished the half-marathon hours earlier.

John had finished about 15-16 minutes before us. Steve’s co-worker had finished in 4:46, a time that I cannot even fathom on that course. Colorado Springs elite runner Joseph Gray finished in 3 hours and 5 minutes. He is a super nice and humble guy who is a complete freak of nature. Can’t wait to see what he does next! The race finish line had an amazing spread of food from local vendors, which was a very nice treat after a long and difficult run.

I love this race. It is everything a Colorado mountain race should be. It has that nice small, low-key feel. The course is beautiful, breath-taking and challenging. Despite the high-altitude profile, much of the course is runnable, which I love. The post-race festivities are fun and the food is great. I really like this event and am sure we will be back.

After the race, Debby, John, Dave and our family went out for a bite to eat. We enjoyed spending the evening chatting with our friends away from the distractions of our normal lives.

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Since the purpose of this weekend was to spend a little time bonding amid the chaos of the school year, our family opted to go for a hike on Sunday. We hiked up to Mohawk Lakes. We had done this hike last year in July, just about a month after I had finished chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. It is amazing how much easier it was to hike this now that the chemo is fully out of my system! We really enjoyed the beauty of the hike. It was the perfect way to finish off the weekend.

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As busy as we are and as tired as I get from spending a weekend out-of-town, it was much-needed time to reconnect with my kids and my husband. It felt great to get away from the distractions of every day life, if even only for 48 hours. All in all, this was a wonderful weekend. Mountain therapy is something I think we all needed.

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Finally, please check out the September issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. John Medinger wrote a lovely article about my pancreatic cancer experience and my Bryce 100 journey. I am greatly indebted to John and Ultrarunning Magazine for sharing my story.

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http://www.ultrarunning.com/

I just finished a 100 mile race. What’s next?

I had a CT scan on Monday, June 15. I picked up a copy of the report and the big news is that it says “no masses”. This is awesome! I have now made it 19 months past my surgery and diagnosis without a recurrence of pancreatic cancer. June 16 also marked one year since I finished chemotherapy. I cannot believe all of the good things that have happened in this past year. It has gone by so quickly and has been simply amazing. My family and I are understandably feeling quite ecstatically happy about my good health. I don’t necessarily feel like I am beating the odds, though I suppose I am. Rather, it feels like this is how things are “supposed” to be for me and for us. I was not supposed to have cancer in the first place. I am supposed to be here, happy and healthy.While the future was once in doubt, now I make plans without really giving it too much thought.

It has been 2 weeks since I finished the Bryce Canyon 100 in Utah. Immediately following the race, our family spent several days touring some of the National Parks in Utah. This was the first vacation we have taken in a very long time and it felt like a fitting end to the ordeal of the last 19 months.

I was pleased to find that I was feeling well enough to do a series of small hikes in the national parks.Tour guide Peyton informed us that Bryce is actually not a canyon. It is a series of rock amphitheaters. We loved the hoodoo rock formations of Bryce Canyon. There are completely unique from anything we have seen anywhere else.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

We moved onto Zion National Park following our time in Bryce.

Zion is completely different. It is a canyon and gets very hot. It is beautiful in a completely different way from Bryce.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

We hiked up some of the Narrows “trail”, which actually just goes up the Virgin River through the canyon.

Hiking the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows

Under a small waterfall

Under a small waterfall

steve, peyton & riley in the narrows

Finally, we moved on to Moab and visited Arches National Park.

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

We came home tired and happy. It was so nice to get away together. We even survived five days in one small hotel room without killing each other.

When we got home, it was time to hit the ground running with real life. Steve signed up to run the Pikes Peak double this year. He will run the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday of race weekend and then run the full marathon on Sunday. For those who are unfamiliar with the race, it goes up Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,115 foot mountain just outside of Colorado Springs. You can read more about the race at the website below.

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/

Steve has been training with me for the Bryce 100 for months now. I always feel so lucky that my husband and I can spend time running together. While it could be difficult when the kids were little because we both wanted to run, it has always been something that we have shared and bonded over.

I never wanted the kind of relationship where one of our passions or athletic pursuits trumped the other person’s. I see couples where one person runs and races all of the time and the spouse simply follows along and takes care of the kids. I know for some couples, this arrangement works well for them. But I love the fact that Steve and I spend time training together and that we take turns supporting one another’s athletic endeavors. We share our passion and truly encourage one another in pursuing the events and distances we truly love. He supported my Bryce venture 100%. Now I get to support his Pikes Peak double 100% and I am grateful to be able to do so.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

A lot of times after completing a big goal race, I experience a bit of an emotional let down. After months and months of preparation, followed by completion of the event, I often find myself thinking, “Now what?” So far, I haven’t really had that post-race funk sink in. I am not sure why. I know immediately after finishing Bryce, I started thinking, “What race can I run next?” There really is such a emotional, psychological and physical high that comes from a successful race. It is easy to fall into the trap of chasing that feeling. If I had my way three days after the 100, I probably would have signed myself up for five more races. Instead, I decided to slow down and rein myself in a bit.

I know there are people who race constantly all year long. If they have jobs and families and can still make it work with their sanity and relationships intact, then I am in awe. I try to target a couple of big races per year and find that is really all I logistically do and still work and be a good wife and parent. Maybe that takes my badass credibility down a couple of notches, but that is OK with me. I don’t need to be a badass. I only need to be honest with myself about what I can successfully manage in my life. I am most proud when I feel like I am doing a good job balancing all of the roles I play.

I know I will eventually have to have another epic race on the horizon. Right now I just want to have some fun with my running and enjoy some mental and physical recovery and rejuvenation. I plan to run the Denver Rock n Roll Marathon with Project Purple in October and I am looking forward to sharing training runs with my teammates. I have a couple of other trail/ultra races I am eyeing, but I really want to support my husband in his upcoming races and I do not want to miss out on Riley’s senior year of high school. We have started the summer college tour and interview process and I know that in the blink of an eye my baby will no longer be living with me.

For now, I continue to reflect back on the Bryce experience and think about how truly incredible it was for me. Instead of being consumed by what I feel I need to do next, I am trying to simply enjoy all of the wonderful experiences of the last couple of weeks. For endurance athletes, there seems to be this insistence that we always have to constantly outdo what we have already done. I think that in many cases, it boils down to the need to chase that high. Right now, I am resisting that urge to compulsively chase the high of big ultra endurance events. I am really focusing on taking some time to breathe and celebrate my life and my accomplishments.   I will, of course, pursue other races down the line, but for a little while, my goal is to support my family as they work towards fulfilling some of their own dreams. I will cheer on my husband at Pikes Peak. I will soak in all of those memorable “last times” with my high school senior. I will focus on making some good memories with friends and family over the summer. I will run simply for the joy that running brings me.

Finally, I wanted to say a special “Thank You!” to Arianne Brown for the nice article on KSL.com about my Bryce adventure.

http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=35027516

The Significance of a Dog

We added a new member to our family this week. Meet Willy, the Australian Shepherd rescue.

At his foster mom's house

At his foster mom’s house

I recently have thought about how I spend a lot of time alone on the trails. I never used to think twice about going out on the trails solo, but as of late, have been hesitant to do it. I wondered why I suddenly got spooked while out alone on the trails. Was I just getting wimpy? What has made the difference? I thought back to when I first started running a lot of the more remote single track trails in our area and realized that I used to run with my big white German Shepherd, Klondike. He was my companion on my solo adventures and I never felt frightened or alone when we were together.

Klondike

Klondike

Klondike was my best friend who went everywhere with me. I still miss him, even though he died years ago. While I know I cannot rely on a dog for protection, I just feel safer and more secure with a canine by my side.

So I began the process of looking for a running companion. The dog would ideally be between 1-2 years of age, and of a breed that is built for the long haul. This brought me to the Western Australian Shepherd rescue organization.

http://www.westernaustralianshepherdrescue.com/

I filled out an application and we were matched with Willy (originally known as Riku, but he did not answer to that name). Willy was a stray that was found wandering the streets of Houston. He was brought north to Denver and lived with a foster family for 2.5 months. They kept getting lots applications for him because he is beautiful, but most of the people who applied had no understanding of the amount of exercise that this type of dog requires on a regular basis. Then we came along. I sent in an application that said I was looking for an intelligent and energetic companion. Soon, a match was made.

Willy & Riley

Willy & Riley

Willy came home with us Sunday afternoon and has settled in well so far.

Willy & Peyton

Willy & Peyton

He and I have developed a running routine already, which thrills me. He loves to run perhaps as much as I do.I  know over time he will become the best running partner.

It occurred to me after we got Willy and brought him home that there is something significant to my adopting a dog at this point in time. It means I am not putting my life on hold to see if I will be well long-term. It means that I am confident about my health and my future. It means that I have let down my guard enough to stop wondering about the “what ifs” everyday. In fact, I now rarely ever think about my cancer coming back. I would not have adopted a dog if I thought I might be too sick to care for it properly. I thought for a brief moment, “What if I have a recurrence?” But, I immediately put that thought out of my mind. It is not going to happen. We will be OK. Adopting Willy means that I just know that I am going to be fine.

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My heart feels happy and whole. Welcome home, Willy.

Running, Hiking & Raising Young People Who Can Think for Themselves

After a few days in Breckenridge last week, it was back to our regular lives in Colorado Springs. The kids have less than one month left of their summer vacation, so we are trying to make the most of our time off.

I don’t know if it was spending a couple of days living and breathing at 10,000 feet or if I am starting to really recover from chemotherapy, but I felt energetic the first few days of the week I started my running week with a 17 mile run on the Santa Fe trail. This is the farthest I have run since before I had surgery in November. It seems like a lot of hardcore trail runners around Colorado Springs like to make fun of the Santa Fe trail. They say it is not a “real trail”. While it most certainly is true that it is more like a dirt road than a trail, the Santa Fe allowed me to continue running through chemotherapy. The soft surface was very forgiving when I developed wide spread pain. Also, my breathing was so labored that If I had tried to run hills through chemo, I would have been reduced to walking a whole lot more. While I love walking and hiking, I did not want to be a walker. I wanted to be a runner. The rail trail allowed me to continue to be a runner through treatment.

So, I set out to run whatever I had time for on Monday, and that ended up being 17 miles. I actually felt good and really ran the entire distance, which pleased me greatly. My legs felt good and I felt like turnover is improving. Getting out for a good steady state longer run just makes me feel good. I love to run long no matter if it is in the hills or a straight out and back. It is the experience of getting out and working hard over that extended period of time that makes me feel alive, strong and healthy.

On Tuesday, I went on a hike with my daughters. We did Section 16. I have run Section 16 more times than I can count, but it was fun to bring my kids out and see the beauty through their eyes. They seem to enjoy hiking and I hope we can enjoy many more ventures in the woods together in years to come.

The blue Colorado sky never gets old!

Tuesday night, Steve and I went down to Jack Quinn’s and ran the 5K together. On Wednesday and Thursday I ran at the Garden of the Gods. I ran an 8 mile loop with Tracey on Wednesday and was still feeling pretty good. There was minimal walking involved and Tracey, who wore her garmin, said we were running faster than we had been previously at the Garden. By Wednesday afternoon, I was starting to feel my energy level dropping off. My run at the Garden with Debby on Thursday was as fun and therapeutic as always, but my legs were feeling like lead and my breathing felt too labored.

My husband and I set off for Cheyenne Canon early Friday morning. Our goal for the day was to go as far as we could knowing that I had to come home by late morning to take one of the girls to a doctor’s appointment. We parked at Stratton Open Space and then ran up the road to the Columbine Trail. We had done this same run two weeks ago, covering 15 miles. This time around, it was much warmer and I was carrying 100 oz of water. The climbing on the Columbine trail is never easy because I am very slow to warm up, but this week it felt much more difficult than it had two weeks ago. Considering how much I have bumped up the difficulty of my runs over the past couple of weeks, I am not entirely surprised that I was working harder. My ability to climb seemed to improve as the morning went on and we ended up finishing 17 hilly miles. The good news is that the downhill felt much less punishing than it did two weeks ago. That is progress and I will happily accept it.

This was a good week of running. I am happy with the increase in mileage and the fact that I have been able to start adding hills and harder efforts back into the mix. My goal is to continue to push the envelope enough so that my fitness improves but not so much that I get injured. I would be devastated to have run all through chemotherapy and then derail my comeback by doing something idiotic and getting hurt.

In non-running news, my time and conversations with my kids have got me thinking a whole lot about my parenting style. Maybe it is because I had zero experience taking care of younger kids prior to have my own, but I have developed my own somewhat unorthodox parenting style. I believe in talking to kids about everything and repeating those conversations often. I believe in bringing humor to even the worst of circumstances. My kids often comment that they bet none of their friends have the dinner conversations that we have. Even though this may or may not be a compliment, I am proud of the fact that we enjoy some rather “unique” conversations.

I have always thought of my children (and all children) as inherently intelligent beings who need to be guided rather than directed. It always makes me sad when people make comments about teenagers “being stupid”, as if that is the automatic default setting for teenagers. I believe teenagers will do foolish things, of course, because they are biologically wired to take risks and chances as they grow towards independence. This does not mean that they are “stupid”, or that they are incapable of making smart, informed and intelligent decisions. Young people do need guidance, and they need people to encourage them to think about things much greater than themselves, and that their actions have consequences on both themselves and others.

I do not believe that it is possible to control another human being. I am not interested in controlling anyone, including my children. Parents often think they have control over their children, but dealing with a colicky baby or one full on temper tantrum from a three year old should convince us otherwise. We have control over how we respond to their behavior, but we do not have control over their thought processes or over what they ultimately choose to do. I communicate my own expectations to my daughters and try to help them navigate their lives as they grow up. If we set up the expectation that our kids will behave intelligently, then hopefully they will rise to the occasion. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes along the way. Of course, kids need to know what their parents’ expectations are, but I never assume that just because I establish a rule that it will automatically be followed. I remember having a conversation with Riley when she was in 8th grade where I told her that SHE would choose how much freedom she had growing up. If she was making wise choices, there would be few restrictions on what she was allowed to do. If she made poor decisions, then she would spend her adolescence at home reflecting upon her choices. So far I have had to set few limitations upon my 16 year year old because she has set the bar of expectations high for herself.

Maybe I have just been lucky so far. My kids are not grown yet and I know things can change in an instant (plus Peyton is only 11 so she could really give me a run for my money). I would like to think that allowing them to have a voice, to make independent decisions, and to have viewpoints that may differ from my own encourages them to really think about who it is that they want to become and what is truly important to them. I want my kids to develop their own opinions and determine their own value system. I do not want them to become little mirror images of myself. While my daughters definitely know what my beliefs, values and standards are, they also know that I expect them to develop their own as they move from childhood to adulthood. Debate and discussion are a healthy way to encourage and challenge all of us to think more deeply, and I try to encourage respectful critical thinking in our home. I love the young people with whom I share my life and I thoroughly enjoy the times we spend talking and exchanging ideas. Hearing their opinions and seeing them grow up into their own is my favorite part of being a parent.

Obviously, having cancer has brought forth a lot of soul searching and reflecting upon what kind of parent I have been over the years. November 18th changed all of our lives instantly. We will live with a sense of uncertainty about the future for a while. I hope that the knowledge, guidance and lessons I have tried to provide to my children will stay with them no matter what happens in the future. My wish is that they will remember the respect we gave one another, even when we did not agree. I hope that they will always remember how I encouraged them to show respect for themselves and for others. I hope they always remember that I love them for who they are and that their opinions truly mattered to me. I want them to remember that they have to answer to themselves at the end of the day. They will know in their own hearts whether they did the right thing, and that is what matters most. I hope that they remember my telling them to go out in the world and be good human beings. We cannot fix the big problems of the world on our own, but if they each do their small part, the world will be a better place. They are already well on their way towards making that happen.

Breckenridge Getaway

rarely ever say the words, “I deserve”. I do not think the world owes me a good time or a reward. However, I have felt that after enduring more than nine months of the world revolving around my surgery and chemotherapy, my family does “deserve” some time to relax and have fun together. We have earned the right to set aside regular everyday lives and worries and to escape together to rediscover the simple joys in life, and to set aside the day to day stress and fear. This past week, we escaped to Breckenridge for a couple of days. A good friend who knows everything that has transpired over the last few months graciously offered us her space in the mountains for a few days, and we gratefully accepted it.

We loaded everyone in the van and drove up late in the week.

Just seeing how excited my kids were made me so completely happy.

Even our dog was beside herself with excitement!

Our first day in Breckenridge, we spent time walking around the shops and down by the riverwalk.

Having limited internet connection was actually pretty awesome. We played board games in the evenings and just relaxed, read and talked.

Our second day there, we went for a hike. We decided to hike a 6.8 ish mile hike that goes by old mining cabins, waterfalls and two mountain lakes. The hike has approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain. It starts at 10,400 ish feet and goes up over 12,300 feet. I picked this hike because it sounded like it would be a workout for everyone, but more importantly because it sounded beautiful. One thing I have learned about hiking with kids is if you can motivate them by having specific landmarks as goals, it is a lot more fun and manageable. Just as distance runners learn to do, kids break things down into smaller attainable goals (1/2 mile further to the first cabin! One half mile to the waterfalls!) Also, when the young hiker starts to grow weary, bribing with chocolate works miracles.

We were on the trail before 8 am to try to beat any potential afternoon storms. It was a chilly 40 degrees when I first got up, but had warmed to 45 at the start of our hike. The first two mile segment of this hike is a gradual uphill. It’s a good thing, too, because it has been a year since I have been at elevation. Just sitting around in Breckenridge, I could feel my body working harder due to lower availability of oxygen.

During the first two mile stretch, you can see and hear cathedral falls in the distance. Our hike would eventually take us to and then above the falls. Here is a close up of the falls. The picture below shows how far we actually were from it at this point.

A close up.

After two miles, we crossed a jeep road and then continued up the trail. This is where the trail gets steeper. There was only about 1.5 miles left to go, but most of the climbing is in this segment. Fortunately, there were lots of cool sights. This is the first old mining cabin that we encountered.

Waterfalls.

Another mining cabin.

Mining car pulley system.

Finally, we reached lower Mohawk lake.

We ventured up the last bit of trail to upper Mohawk lake.

A marmot came by to say hello.

An old mining car.

It was very windy and cold at the upper lake, so we hiked down to the lower lake to eat lunch. We then ventured back down the trail and into town, tired and happy and in search of chocolate.

Our last day in Breck, my husband and I went for a short run in the morning. We ended up at this lake.

After our run, we took the girls to the Breck adventure park. We rode up on the gondola and tried out a few of the attractions. Aside from the rides, I think the most enjoyment came from the ability to play on a big pile of snow in July. No one loves snow more than Peyton and Steve.  They both had to take turns sliding down the hill before getting into a snowball fight.

After lunch we had to pack up and come home. I loved being away for even a short period of time without the intrusions of every day life. It was a quick trip but it was a reminder, as Riley said, of how fun it is to just hang out with our family. There has been a lot of fear and sadness in our house. Taking even a short period of time away without distractions can at least temporarily help us leave all of that behind.

Now it is back to reality. My husband had to work on Sunday. I did a training run with Vanessa, then went grocery shopping and took the kids to do some school supply shopping. Today I have to return to the cancer center for the first time since my last day of chemo to have my port flushed. I am glad I have some good memories to hold in my heart.

 

Treatment #13 knocked me down, but people pulled me back up.

Monday morning, my husband and I did what has become our standard pre chemo ten mile run. It was warm and sunny and beautiful. After facing months of treatments, chemo Mondays now seem to cause stress for both my husband and me. Since each week brings something different, the whole experience keeps me slightly off balance. I know Steve now worries going into Monday about how I will feel for the rest of the week. At the start of our run, I had butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to go home and crawl back into bed and hide out under the covers. By the end of our run, my stomach had settled down and I had regained that calm that I get from running.

Treatment went fine but nausea hit me shortly afterwards. Monday night I missed yet another landsharks meet. Tuesday brought some of the most intense nausea I have felt thus far. I felt like I was going to throw up all Tuesday afternoon and evening, and in fact, did get sick a few times that afternoon. I do not know if it is the fact that I am recovering from last weekends race at the Greenland 25k or if it is just the cumulative effects of chemo over months or both, but I felt so very tired all week.

This week has been marked by probably as much hiking and walking as running. I enjoy hiking, but I see myself as a runner not a hiker. Feeling like I am not capable of running on certain days makes me frustrated and honestly even sad. But I physically just had to slow down this week. Slowing down a bit gave me the gift of spending time with both a long time friend and with a new friend who I enjoyed getting to know better. Slowing down allowed me to visit new trails I have never been to and truly appreciate the scenery. I also got to enjoy the beauty of one of my favorite trails more fully because I was not staring at the ground the whole time the way I typically do when I am running something technical.

I had two days this week where I felt like I was actually able to run my planned mileage. One of those runs I had arranged to meet a friend. For another, I had planned to run alone and happened to meet up with one of my regular running partners in the trailhead parking lot. Right now I am really enjoying company on my runs. Somehow through this whole process, I have continued to meet and make new friends and deepen existing relationships through time spent out on the trails together.  It is remarkable to me. Some people get overwhelmed and frightened by an illness and yet there are so many people in the running community who have embraced me during this really difficult period in my life.

As a runner, I know I have been told after a race in which I ran well, “You are amazing!” While I appreciate the compliment, of course, I never quite understand the wording. More accurately, maybe running a specific time or distance is what we find “amazing”. No one is “amazing” just because they run fast or far. That being said, I think that there are a whole lot of “amazing” people who also happen to run. Theses people are amazing not because of their running, but because of their kind, caring, compassionate nature. There is a big collective heart among many of the runners I have had the pleasure of meeting. That I continue to derive my emotional support from other runners, even on days when I can no longer run, is what I find amazing.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I am not one for pomp and circumstance, but right now every day has taken on a new significance. Illness brings an intensity to every day circumstances. Every moment becomes important because you no longer have the luxury of believing you have an unlimited number of those moments left. I still do not want a fuss made over me. I often tell my family that I do not want presents. I do not want flowers or jewelry. I have always been a person who treasures simplicity and the gift of time. Yesterday I went for a run with my husband in the snowstorm. I told him that there weren’t too many men who would have been willing to run and walk when I needed to walk these days, especially in driving wind and snow. Despite my circumstances, I know how “lucky” I am. Our family spent the rest of the day snuggled inside of our house. My teenage daughter baked. My husband grilled salmon in the snow because that is what I had requested. We watched a movie together and then had cake.

Riley gave me this present.

It was a jar with phrases she had taken from things I have written. On some of the slips of paper she had written snippets of my own writing and in some she added her own thoughts. As parents we try to give our kids the wisdom that comes with age and life experience. We do not always know if our kids are listening or absorbing what we say. Knowing my daughter has been reading, listening and hopefully tailoring my advice to her own life circumstances means more than anything to me. We want to know we are making an impact on our kids, even if it appears that they are not listening to us. I appreciate my daughter being willing to listen and hear me, as I hope she feels that I have listened and really heard her over the years.

On a run this week, I asked a friend how he and his wife had gotten through a particularly difficult chapter of their lives. He said, “It is really simple. We just loved each other so much”. This simple but powerful thought has stuck with me all week. That is exactly how my family will get through our current obstacle: by just continuing to love each other so much. Tough circumstances can either tear families apart or bring them together. I know that in our home, and in our lives, there is more than enough love to carry us through this time. I want my daughters to always remember how much I have loved them and to lean on that knowledge to get through whatever life throws their way. No matter what happens in the future, no matter where life takes us, my love will always be with them.