Don’t Call It a Comeback. No, Really.

I just googled ‘World’s Shortest Running Comeback’ and I cannot believe that does not appear to be something runners keep track of somewhere. Runners keep track of all kinds of ridiculous things, so why not comeback miles? Or miles between initial and next injury? Besides, it has been so long since I earned my last participation medal at a marathon or buckle at an ultra that I am starting to experience low self-esteem. You can tell because it’s been a minute since I posted a selfie with an inspirational quote.

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Insert quote intended to inspire which actually makes people feel worse about themselves.

In all seriousness, after my microdiscectomy, I was a very good patient and followed my recovery protocol strictly. I am no longer young and silly (when I was 30 I had knee surgery and tried to run two days later). When the doctor released to me to begin running again, I was very smart and restrained in my progression back to running. I went to a small, flat, gravel ‘trail’ near my house and ran for one to two minutes and walked for two to four minutes.  I was ecstatic to get to do these little bits of jogging. I could not have been happier. I was telling everyone the recovery from my back surgery was a piece of cake compared to the recovery from my hip surgery (although my hip is doing awesome; the recovery just takes patience).

But the jogging period was incredibly short-lived. I think I got to experience this level of nirvana about three times, because somewhere in there we had a freak short blizzard while I was out walking. The sidewalks turned to black ice. Even though I had the presence of mind to move to the grass, I stepped once on the sidewalk. My feet flew up in the air like a cartoon character and I came down hard on the surgical side of my body. Picturing in my head what I looked like was hilarious. But the reality of the impact, not so much.

Within a few nights, I was waking up in agony, crying and unable to roll over. I made an appointment with my PT and now I am back to starting all over again.

Me to PT: What can I do?

PT: As long as there is no pain you can run.

Me (totally misunderstanding English): Wait….So you’re saying I can RUN?

PT (laughing at me): No. When there is no pain. You’re in pain.

Runners will try to find any and all loopholes so we can run. I cannot believe we are not all attorneys.

I left the appointment so distraught and angry at myself. The surgeon had told both my husband me that I could run after six weeks. I was just starting to run and I fell and jacked myself up. How could I do this to myself? I had not been able to run in so long and I was supposed to be able to run now.

I had been so depressed. I needed running. Running could lift me out of the darkest days. That was my hope and I was back to waiting.

My husband called me that afternoon shortly after my appointment to find out what the verdict was and I could not even talk about it yet. I had no idea what to say or if I could even say anything at all.

After another 90 minutes, I called my friend Tracey who has gone through a very long recovery period from her own injury and surgery and I told her the news. Though she is running incredibly well right now, she understood how heartbreaking the last 2.5 years have been. Every time I started running, something happened and I had to stop. The last time I trained and raced anything was Run Rabbit Run in 2016. She knew I didn’t even care about racing. I just wanted to run to be on a trail in the mountains. It was about my need for quiet time in the wilderness. It was about my own mental and physical health.

For more than two years, I kept up the mentality that ‘I am still a runner’ even though I am not able to run right now. I know a lot of runners who get injured, immediately get depressed and have to avoid all things running. I fully admit I was that person when I was younger. I gained patience as I got older and realized how ridiculous I sounded when I whined about having to take a day or a week off from running.

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Hell, I didn’t even hate snow. Running in snow is FUN! Walking, not so much.

Then I had a couple of strong and healthy years of running. I felt great. I felt tough and invincible and it was wonderful. Not even cancer was going to take me out of running!

But then ‘other things’ came along and those things DID take me out of running. Now I have been out for so long I vacillate between thinking I am a non-running runner and trying to make peace with maybe not really being a runner anymore,  because at some point ‘positive thinking’ becomes ‘delusional thinking’. I am still trying to figure out if I am in the ‘positive zone’ or the ‘delusional zone’, because I think there is a really fine line between the two zones. I guess once I stop crying in pain at night, I can try jogging again and see how that goes. For right now I am trying very hard to be a walker with hopes of being a hiker with hopes of being a runner some day.

I continue to ask myself that age-old question, am I or am I not, a flying, talking donkey?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Willy the Supermodel on Mt. Rosa.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.