in my skin

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

- Mary Oliver

Writing has taken a backseat to the busyness of my life & I realize how much I miss the comfort and quiet I find by sharing my thoughts in this way. Spring is here and I am intent on welcoming the changes and opportunities for growth that this season, and this year, have to offer.

I will turn 44 this summer, a few weeks before I toe the line for my second attempt at the 100 mile distance.  The Cascade Crest 100 miler stole my heart (& my stomach!) last August and my acceptance into the race via lottery this year signaled to me that CCC100 is the 2014 goal race for me. (doubling up and doing Bryce100 as well didn’t jive with my bank account, parenting obligations and frankly, my training….out with Bryce, in with CCC!)

CC 100 Elevation Profile

Not a day goes by that I don’t visualize myself on those trails.  Doing so feels like ‘coming home.’ It has taken me a long long time to find my place in the outdoors, in nature, in the freedom of physical movement.  To let the “soft animal of my body love what it loves”.

What a gift.

There is precious irony in my relationship with running – especially running long distances in the mountains…in the dirt, mud, heat and rough terrain.  I have come to realize that one of the keys to success in ultrarunning is a certain toughness or “thick skin”. Grit. A willingness to gut it out and let yourself get banged up & rubbed raw.  I’ve only recently, in my 40′s, developed a thickness of skin which is beginning to serve me well in these endeavors.

I was always the sniffly wheezy girl with the asthma, allergies and angry rashes.  With eczema so bad my skin would bleed and ooze. Weepy sores, cracked cuts & itchy crusty scabs.  It seemed my skin was an outward representation of the anxious, worried, stress-ball nature of my inner world.  I longed for the carefree, loose, tan limbs of my friends….to run free in the hot sun – the hot sun that made me burn & itch….to swim in the salty water – the salty water that made me writhe in pain.  I wanted to feel that ease. That freedom.

My skin was thin.

As a young woman in my 20′s, my skin cleared somewhat as my body shrank.  Developing an eating disorder which would last nearly a decade only punctuated and amplified my desire to be “free” & my inability to do so.  Running was a rigid chore during those years – there’s nothing fun about punishing oneself physically for all the wrong reasons. (I once had a therapist tell me that “anorexia is like telling yourself you have to clean the grout between the tiles in your shower, with a Q-tip, all day, every day”…I found that metaphor frighteningly accurate.)

Now, I’m a mother.  My skin has waxed & waned.  I have the silvery stretchy lines to prove it. I bruise easily & wrinkle even more.  Sometimes I look down at my legs as I run and feel sadness – “if only I had been kinder to my body then…”  The truth is, when a woman’s body weight fluctuates to such extremes, the skin remembers.  Maybe that’s a good thing?

I’m getting tougher.

The stretch marks on my thighs, hips, butt, tummy, breasts….I might finally sit in peace with them. They aren’t pretty – (not gonna lie!!) – but goddammit I am done hiding.  Run free in just shorts and a running bra on dusty rugged single-track? Yes, please! Jump in that cool mountain lake?? Even better.

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Here’s to a Spring of throwing open the windows, airing out your heart & unearthing your dreams…it’s time to get out there.

beginning

No greater agony

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

One of the most interesting and delightful changes I’ve noticed as a single parent of a 13 year old boy (!!) is the subtle shift going on between the two of us regarding accountability and inspiration.  I now have a teenager who not only looks to me for guidance, answers, protection & comfort – but also as the most prominent role model in his life when it comes to goal-setting and commitment.  His goals are becoming more “real” and adult-like.  He is thinking beyond the immediate and looking towards the future.  He is beginning to understand that having a plan, putting in the work & gradually chipping away at the goal is kind of exciting.  He sees the rewards.

My job as his mom is not just to support and cheer him on.  That’s easy.  It’s the (gentle) pushing and nudging that can be uncomfortable.  I know it’s uncomfortable because he pushes me! This accountability thing is actually a 2-way street in our home.  He sees me declare my intention to attempt the 100 mile distance again this year, plunk down the registration fee for the Bryce 100, and commit to my training program.  Does he ask if I did my run or my workout on any given day?  You bet he does!  Does his commitment to come home from school & get his homework done in time for his practices which sometimes last until 9:00 PM inspire ME to get my butt out of bed at 5:00 AM for a run to avoid putting a big fat zero in my training log for that day? YES!!! What kind of parent would I be if I said one thing and modeled another?  OR, what kind of parent would I be if I said “Don’t bother trying anything hard or new or difficult….Just hang out there in your little comfort zone honey!” There has to be a balance.

I have, at times in my life, found that balance elusive.  I spent faaaaaar too many years in the world of black & white.  Extremes. Do it all or do nothing.  Either way, I was left exhausted & hollow.

It’s a humbling thing to create and announce big goals for yourself in your 40s.  Doing so can seem silly or selfish.  “I’m the mom now! It’s his turn to shine! I’ll just sit back and watch!” Thing is:  When I watch him, I am INSPIRED.  I am energized in a very profound way. In a way that does not detract from his accomplishments but actually binds us even closer together as a team, united.

I feel I would be letting my son down if I asked of myself the bare minimum.

I would most definitely be letting myself down.

This year promises to be another year of growth, as long as I keep beginning again.  I believe we all have “untold stories” inside us, yearning to be heard.  It is never too late to share your story….or edit the old tired one you have been carrying around in your back pocket.  Or, crumple up that sorry-ass excuse for a story and throw it in the fire.  Write a new one.  It’s YOUR story after all.

“If lines of disappointment crowd your brow and distant dreams seem hopelessly lost.  If you realize you are not who you hoped to be.  

If sadness rises from your gut, becomes a moan and threatens to escape your lips. If you begin to mourn something never even born.

Remember.

It is not too late.”

-Josh Irby

Sometimes you just do things.

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Having lived in a foreign country for most of my 20s, I sometimes look back and wonder why I made that choice.  Why I stayed in Japan so long, right out of college. The “plan” was to teach English for 2 years and then move back to the States and pursue a graduate degree.  Deviation from the The Plan had something to do with a boy and lots to do with my emotional immaturity at that time in my life.  I was a 20-something after all.

Now a single mom in my 40s, I can surmise that a huge part of the draw, for me, was the challenge.  Living in a rural Japanese town with very few foreigners provided me with daily built-in obstacles.  It was guaranteed that nearly every single day would present me with some crazy oddball problem or conundrum.  Whether it was trying to order my medicine from the pharmacy in Japanese, travel for work, deal with my broken-down bike in the humid dumping July rain, communicating with the local police about the creepy man who hides in the bushes and flashes me every other week on my morning runs, or simply trying to mail a package home or navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood with a map I can barely read.  Yes, some things got easier & more comfortable over time.  But my life in Japan was inherently ripe with endless opportunities for embarrassment, humiliation, confusion, exasperation.  All these equal GROWTH.  I couldn’t help but learn a ton about myself during and after my time in Japan.

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I look at my life now, and I see the relative ease and comfort of my existence.  I do not encounter many daily physical struggles.  I am, however, aware of the underlying messiness, complexity & uncertainty of my real-life personal and emotional difficulties.  These challenges are woven throughout our everyday lives….sometimes we barely notice them and other times they rumble incessantly – an annoying background static that we just can’t shake.

Problem is, very rarely are they simple. concrete. challenges.  They are not tasks I can pick up, complete, check off my list, dust off my hands. Be done, move on.  They are messy, oozy and complicated.  Real life goop.

Perhaps this is why I gravitate towards ultrarunning.  I don’t think I’m alone here.  The physical, sweaty, HARD work of training for and completing a long mountain trail ultra is challenging for sure.  But the simple concrete nature of it (“OK! start here! run up that mountain! run down! do it again! go over to that mountain! you have 32 hours! GO!”) is strangely comforting.  It’s a challenge in a relatively protected and controlled environment.  You are allowed the opportunity to do something really super freaking HARD (and perhaps fall on your face and fail in your attempt), and then go back to your own “real-life” mountains.

In Scott Jurek’s memoir “Eat and Run”, he repeats this mantra which his father often used: “Sometimes you just do things!”  It becomes part of his internal dialogue.

Yep, sometimes you just do things.  Like really reaaaaaaaally hard things.

Doing really really hard physical things is seemingly about 3000% easier for me than tackling my pesky inner challenges.  Why is that???  Telling me to go shovel snow or dig a trench is a million times more appealing than asking me to sit quietly and address my regret, self-doubt & insecurity; or contemplate my future, my relationships, my finances.  I would much rather mow the hill in my backyard than have that scary talk with my boss or close friend.

Running trails helps.  Somehow, I am slowly learning to combine the two…to recognize that these two types of HARD WORK are complementary.  The strength I build on the trail can empower and sustain me when I encounter more ambiguous and vague challenges in my personal life.

Power on.

CC 100 Elevation Profile

a thing i need to just do :)

letting go

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.”  - William Stafford

It’s been an interesting summer. July & August particularly so.  A little like this:

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Moving into Fall, I almost have to shake my head and laugh at how the plans & goals that I made and set for myself have fallen apart.  I can gaze over the wreckage and clearly see that approximately 2% of what I had carefully counted on happening actually happened.

footOooops.

As I sit here with a massive boot on my leg due to a random Achilles strain (first real running injury ever), sustained during a “just for fun” marathon last weekend, i realize that despite my F’d up foot and the other 12 things that went sideways this summer, my personal trainwreck is honestly more like this:

toy train

And, I am okay.

Clinging to preconceived notions of how things *should* turn out, attaching oneself to specific outcomes – these are two of the best ways I know to guarantee disappointment.  And yet, it has taking me all these years to finally start “getting it”.  I’m 43 and just now nodding my head…”ahhhh, I get it….no attachment…..huh.” The old Erin believed that the MORE she worried and the MORE she ruminated, the less room there would be for screw-ups. Not only is that not at all accurate, it’s also not at all FUN.  In fact it’s miserable.

When asked “How are you doing?” by friends and family, it seems that deep down my most honest answer would be: “Overwhelmed.”  As much as I still tend to oh-so-carefully organize, list out, over-analyze and worry (my specialty), things tend to go off the rails. ALL. THE. TIME.

Such is the messiness of getting your hands dirty & truly living.

THORPE

CCC100 training

LIVING.  I like it. 

Can I *will* my injury better in 10 days in order to redeem myself at a 2nd 100 mile attempt, as I PLANNED – ? Maybe.

Will this be a tortuous drawn-out 3 month battle with a stubborn punk Achilles & will I watch my trail shoes begin to gather dust in the corner? god I hope not.

Fact is, I just don’t know.  I am getting much much better at shrugging my shoulders at life and saying, “Hmph. Good question there. I don’t know.”  Sometimes I need an extra deep breath, a pep-talk, a run, a moment of quiet meditation on the trail to get to that place of accepting pesky little MR. IDON’TKNOW.

The good news is I no longer need a bottle (or 2) of wine, an eating disorder, a dysfunctional relationship or some other form of numbing behavior in order to deal with the unknown.  YES, I get overwhelmed.  YES, I get grumpy and cranky and wimpy and weak and shout “WTF world?!”  And then I take it outside.

It’s exhausting to constantly live in a state of hyper-vigilance, believing that if you worry enough you will be protected from the messiness. I don’t love my DNF, my injury, my flooded kitchen, my difficult family issues … but that’s my freakin’ LIFE. I’ll take it.  If I never ever left room for a little trainwreck here and there, I do believe I would be missing out on a whole mess of beauty, love & unimaginable grace.

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Here’s to an Autumn of letting go.  Of opening your heart. Of living a life that leaves plenty of room for chance & unexpected joy.

Here’s to keeping it loose.

FOMO & the art of taking back my joy

“Comparison is the death of joy.”  - Mark Twain

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Social media, Facebook, running blogs, race reports, live runner tracking….the internet is ripe with endless material which one could obsessively pore over and use as a tool for comparison.  A gauge.  A measuring stick. Runners by nature tend to be competitive creatures.  I have found ultrarunners to be less outwardly competitive and more demanding of, and hard on, themselves.  It’s an interesting transformation when you find your own personal goals bumping up against the exciting, awesome, inspiring goals of those around you.

ELLIE

ok, I admit to having a photo of Ellie on my fridge.  a girl can dream. :)

Inspiration, I like.  Running inspiration ignites the flame within me that just needed a little fanning & a little ooomph…running inspiration connects me to a community of people following their own dreams and setting some damn fine examples of lives fully lived. Comparison, on the other hand, seems to stamp out my fire.  Deflates and diminishes my own aspirations. How to separate the two when we are constantly bombarded (by our own choosing of course — no one is forcing me to use the internet) with this or that blog, status update, photo, race result, etc?  When does inspiration dissolve into cheap comparison? When does soulful passionate desire to fulfill an inner dream for oneself turn into “Look what she’s doing/ I should do that too/ Why can’t I do that/ Ohmygodiamsojealous/ I suck, I should just forget even trying.”  It seems to be a fine line.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) brings up a Jr. High-type pang in my tummy….a 7th grade “I didn’t get invited to the roller skating party”-type left-out feeling.  It’s actually pretty ludicrous when I sit and think about it logically.  My running is no less meaningful because I missed that race, that amazing adventure, that superfun trail run.  My goals are no less important if they take 3 years to accomplish due to the plain fact that I am a single mama, work full-time and have a very busy teenage boy….Why even compare?  I guess it’s human nature to do so (and I do believe there is a particularly sticky brand of comparison that is woman-nature.)

As I look ahead, I wonder what the next few years will bring in terms of my running goals. More 100s?  More racing?  Or more self-styled adventures that don’t involve pinning on a bib and won’t be blabbered about on my FB page or posted on Ultrasignup…?  I don’t know.  I personally LOVE to read race reports & I often get goosebumps reading of other runners’ amazing achievements as well as their heart-wrenchingly difficult lessons learned out on the trail.

The wonder of the internet is that we have access to all this sharing.  I owe much of my introduction to and love of trail running to the folks I have met online and through running events that I have found through social media.  I think where I need to be careful is that place where I mistakenly slip into measuring my own experiences against the seemingly supershiny spectacular ones I see online.  When my own plan for a fun little weekend jaunt on the trails is somehow diminished by someone else’s post detailing a crazy epic adventure that I “missed out” on.

It’s all perspective.  It’s all about constructing my own gauge & my own definition of what brings ME joy.  A goal for the coming year: Maintain my abundant well of Erin-Joy while simultaneously allowing it to be sprinkled, splashed and nourished with healthy, happy drops of welcome inspiration.

RAIN

Cascade Crest 100: my first DNF & the power of “what if?”

“Because this business of becoming conscious……it is ultimately about asking yourself: ‘How alive am I willing to be?’”  - Anne Lamott

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pre-race jitters, Cascade Crest 100

It was a crazy surreal moment when the booming voice stirred me awake.  From under the pile of down sleeping bag in the bright morning sunlight I heard it:  “RUNNER AT THE TRACKS!! WELCOME BACK TO EASTONNNNN!!!”  

My heart sank deep into the pit of my stomach.

I had dropped from the Cascade Crest 100 miler at mile 60 due to extreme nausea and vomiting from mile 33 on.  I had run the previous 30-ish (okay it wasn’t exactly what you would call running) miles through the night on little more than water and sips of broth despite repeated efforts to force-feed myself.  It was not pretty nor was it anything close to how I had envisioned my race unfolding.  My legs were saying “run” and the rest of my body revolted.  By the time I FINALLY reached the mile 53 aid station I had convinced myself that screaming into Hyak just seconds under the 3 a.m. cut-off was a clear sign that I absolutely could will myself to power on despite not being able to hold down calories.  So I did.

Unfortunately, each step became more and more unstable & I could barely keep down water. It was around 5:30 a.m. when I made the decision to call it.  “Calling it” at that moment meant hiking 5 miles back to Lars’ car in the early morning chill.  Poor Lars was shaking and trembling himself as we were barely moving.  The last thing I remember is Lars covering me with a fleece blanket & his down sleeping bag in the front seat of his car with the heater blasting.  I was out.  The next thing I would hear is the loud voice welcoming triumphant runners across the finish line in Easton.

Needless to say, I was flooded with emotion.  The realization that I had not completed what I set out to complete.  The devastation of not realizing my dream.  The guilt and shame of letting my loved ones, and most importantly – myself – down.

Then came the overwhelming avalanche of “what if….?” 

With something so precarious and unpredictable as successfully navigating your nutrition, hydration and electrolyte balance in your first 100 mile race, there were bound to be bumps in the road, mistakes and low moments.  I had prepared myself for those.  I knew there would be barfy miles.  I didn’t count on those moments coming so early, lasting so long & not ever going away.

Naturally this left me amazingly frustrated, mystified, helpless, angry.  I had the most spectacular pity party on the dark trail alone at midnight:  crouched over, simultaneously & involuntarily vomiting, peeing, pooping and crying.  NICE.

Fast forward to 2 days after the race.  After many hours of sleep, contemplation, tears, hugs & conversations with the most generous and giving friends and family I could ever ask for, I have come away with some thoughts.  Some not-so-horrible thoughts.

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start line!

The avalanche of negative “what if….?” questions which only served to give myself an even greater beating than I’d already given myself – (“what if you had just gone a few more miles?? what if you had held on a little longer?? what if you had eaten more from the very beginning?? what if you had forced yourself to drink that soup at mile 23?? what if you had been smarter and stronger and tougher and better???????”…) – started to morph into something else entirely.  After a long conversation with my wise rock climber/philosopher older brother, I started to regard my race with gratitude and respect.  With different kinds of “what if…?”

What if I had never even tried?

What if I had given up before I reached the start line?

What if I had fed myself that sorry-ass old line: “YOU can’t do that Erin, don’t even try.  Other people run 100 miles, not you.”

What if?

Here’s what:  I never would have realized the wonderful & amazing cushion of support, encouragement and love that one receives when your family & an entire community of like-minded people are rooting for you and supporting you in reaching your goals.

I never would have been blessed with the friendships of some of the strongest, toughest, bravest and most courageous women I have ever met.

I never would have experienced the beauty of those wild places one can only reach on their own two feet, under their own power.

I never would have known the dedication and caring of friends who take a whole day or weekend to put their lives on hold to come see you run and bring you smiles, hugs and icy cold Cokes & follow along online late into the night.

I never would have realized that I AM strong enough to run alone on a mountain trail through the dark night.

I never would have experienced the humble reality of what it means to be DEAD LAST in a race.  AND — the joyful realization that being DEAD LAST in a trail race means that eventually the most positive, encouraging, selfless and kind individuals (yay Sweeper Todd & friend!!) will come up behind you and say things like “You are MOVIN’!“, when you know you have dried vomit on your cheek and are barely even making forward progress.

I never would have *finally finally finally* allowed myself the scary & vulnerable feeling of letting someone else care for me completely and entirely. Total trust is a beautiful thing.

I never would have experienced the bittersweet, sad & yet beautiful moment of having my boyfriend hold my hand at 5 a.m., walk with me after dropping out of my dream race, singing to me sweetly in a whisper: “I would walk 500 hundred miles….I would walk 500 more…..”

I am grateful for all these things.

My experience DNF’ing this race has given me a different shiny new set of tools than I had anticipated (I wanted a freakin’ BUCKLE!), but I will take them.  Gladly.  They are tucked away tightly in my pack for my next adventure.  See you out there.

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me & my sweet son at Stampede Pass, before the dark miles

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this guy saved me

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with kind eyes

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As I approach the final weeks of training before my first 100 miler, I find myself experiencing an avalanche of varied emotions, not to mention a hefty dose of fatigue.  Lots of questioning going on.  Am I ready? Can I really do this?  Am I just a total ultra-running fraud?  What the hell was I thinking??!  Thanks to dear friends & family, there’s also a lot of affirmation going on.  I am ready.  I’ve trained for this.  I am strong enough.

One thing I love about running, particularly running trails, is the mind space it provides. With the amount of running I’ve been doing this year, I’ve had a lot of time to think. Sometimes my thoughts are scattered, sometimes meditative.  Oftentimes I am thinking about my body & what I am feeling during that particular training run.

Other times I am simply in awe that my body does what I ask of it.  This is where kindness comes in.

I will be 43 years old next week and I admit that maybe, just maybe, I have finally accepted my body.  Took me long enough, no?  It’s pretty amazing what happens when your body-focus shifts from disgust, disapproval, shame & fear to appreciation, love, honor & respect.

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As a young girl I was asthmatic, allergy-ridden and had severe eczema.  My poor mom spent an inordinate amount of time taking me to the doctor.  Inhalers, medicines, creams, lotions — I was kind of a mess.  My entire body was constantly covered in a red angry rash.  I was a scratching maniac.  The thought of wearing a swimsuit or shorts made my stomach tighten up with fear. Kids stared.  I hated my body.

All through school, I did not exercise or play sports.  Running even one lap around the track left me wheezing.  Sweating made my skin hurt even more.  I was an itchy scabby wheezy girl with no awareness of what it meant to live in a strong powerful female body.

My 20s were spent in a similarly lost state as far as my physical identity went.  The eating disorder that dominated those years of my life and left me anorexic, weak and hollow, did little to acquaint me with my physical self.  I was completely divorced from my body.

Now here I am.  Preparing to run 100 miles.  Sometimes I still catch myself saying nasty little things under my breath to my body … “ugh, those stretch marks!”  Yes Erin, you have stretch marks on your body.  Extreme weight loss & gain will do that.  Not to mention childbirth.  “UGGGG that tummy roll!”  Yes Erin, you have a tummy.  “ew! that cellulite!” Guess what Erin?? NOBODY CARES.

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No more. I choose to regard my body with kind eyes.  Grateful & appreciative eyes. These legs have carried me so far!! They’ve allowed me to run and play on these amazing trails! They’ve held me upright and continue to allow me to charge hills and run for hours.

No more name-calling and bad-mouthing.  My body deserves some love after all I have put it through.  Time to rejoice in my strong, healthy, powerful human body.

Time to run.

HEART