Tuesday, August 19, 2014

on when reality and cliches don't match up

I keep envisioning those people with perfectly straight, white teeth and shimmering, immaculate hair smiling and saying "I just love being pushed out of my comfort zone." And I keep envisioning myself sucker punching them square in their perfectly straight, white teeth.

Moving across the country has been nothing short of an internal bloodbath on my feelings and, many times, my outlook on life. This likely comes as a shock to most that know me, because it was an incredible shock to myself. Leaving Michigan I didn't have any of the feelings I was supposed to have. I didn't cry enough when I hugged my mom goodbye because I was shoving every sad feeling I had into the bottom of my chest. When I crossed every state line I didn't get a wave of excitement. I felt like no matter how high I had the AC on, and how cold it made me, there was not enough air in the car and there was some pair of hands were surely reaching up to strangle me and I shivered while cold sweat ran from the top of my nape down between my shoulder blades. I thought about the end of my life and how it was feeling. But, of course, this wasn't the end of my life, it was just another panic attack. I reached up and felt my pulse throbbing far too quickly and far too hard through the skin in my neck and wished for it to go away through shallow breathing and trembling lips.
If you are lucky enough to be a person that is not ridden with anxiety then I hope you perhaps reread that and try to imagine what it's like.

I've had several of those since I left home, and in-between them are long stretches where my throat feels too swollen to talk and my mind is so blank yet unbelievably crowded that I don't have anything to speak about anyway. My jaws clench so hard that sometimes I swear my molars are cracking together when I check my phone and someone from home has texted "How are you?" or "What's it like?" or "How's Arizona?" And usually I can hold back the swollen tears but sometimes one seeps out, and sometimes one thousands follow it, and sometimes none.

I have glimpses where I know I need to get it together, and in those glimpses I feel like I have a life. I applied for a job and had a spot-on interview, which made me smile as I walked to my car, and as I was sitting across the table from the manager discussing fine dining service/stigmas/cliches I felt like myself. For the larger part of an hour I didn't have a weight on my chest or puffy eyes and things were okay. It was short-lived, but I held onto that memory of that feeling for the rest of the night, and it felt like a big deal to me. It is not, however, a big deal to others, and I felt foolish for thinking it would be.

I had orientation with roughly 200+ people that were in some range of the same situation as myself. There is one other girl in the Literature program and from 9:00 to 12:00 I felt like I had a friend. I was forced to sit at a table with 8 other people who identify their hobby as 'running', and though I forced myself to be a part of the rapid conversations it was hard to drink my water out of a plastic cup because my hands were shaking with a fierce so bright that I had to stop trying. Three different times I had to ask someone to repeat what they had said because all I could hear was my own blood pumping through my ears.

No one likes being pushed outside of their comfort zone. If you're enjoying it, then you aren't outside of your comfort zone. There is the cliche of "the best things happen when you're outside of your comfort zone" but I don't fully believe that. Perhaps the best things happen when you find a new comfort zone, after you are out of being outside of your comfort zone. And perhaps sometimes the best things don't happen. Both of those outcomes are very real and very possible every single time. People tend to forget that. Mainly because people only like to remember the good things.

I was texting Sammy while sitting in my car outside of World Market (I know, I was surprised Flagstaff had one as well) and as I clenched my phone in both hands I tried describing to her what I was going through and it's probably the furthest I've gotten with anyone on the topic. At one point in the conversation she said "Have you talked to your mom? I assume Julie always knows how to make you (or anyone) feel better." Then I cried because I missed my mom, and she does know how to make me feel better. And, as Sammy, had included, make anyone feel better.

One time (more than one time) I thought my life was in shambles because I was experiencing a heart-wrenching breakup, and all she kept saying were things like "It just takes time," and "Fake it until you make it," and "Time heals all wounds". When I called her out through my tears for her abundance of cliches she responded with "Well, they are cliches for a reason. Because they're true."
And I always thought there was some validity in that. Props, mom.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Cohen Conversation

Do you want to talk about it?

I don't even know where to start.

Start from the beginning.

It was a nice day.  It was snowing for most of the trail outing, but I had my coat on so I didn't mind.  We were out for a pretty long time, I'd say close to the time I'd spend napping before getting up to stretch, but it wasn't long enough for me.  I mean, I was feeling great and had no arguments from her, so I didn't see why we had to cut back to the car at that particular time.

Did you tell her that?

Yeah.  I did.


Like I always do.  When I started to notice we were heading back, I lagged behind a little.  She tried to get me to run in front of her, but I wouldn't.  I stayed a consistent 5-7 feet behind her, stopping exactly when she would.  She knew what I was saying and she didn't care.  She wasn't listening.  She never listens.

Then what happened?

She turned towards the car and I stopped in my tracks.  She looked back at me and tried to get me to come to her, using that soothing voice that she uses whenever she thinks something might be wrong with me.  I backed up a few paws.  She crouched down and acted like she wanted to play and started to be rambunctious, but I knew her games.  She was going to get me to play with her and then grab my collar when I wasn't paying attention.  She's done that one too many times.

And how'd you react to that?

I ran away.  I ran down the nearest trail.

And how do you think that made her feel?

I don't know, probably mad.  But I wanted to play.  I wanted to feel the wind flapping my lips and my paws kicking up snow.  I was feeling more free than I'd ever felt before and I didn't want to stop.  Hell, I couldn't stop.

Did she follow you?

Yeah.  She did.  She followed me with a stick, waving it in the air like she was going to throw it.  I bought into it for a minute because, hell, I'm a dog.  I saw that stick and fantasized about how many pieces I could chew it into, and how fast I'd run just to get my teeth on it.  Just as I was jumping up to get it out of her right hand, her left hand goes for my collar.  Who does that?  You're going to trick me into getting back into the car?  I don't think so.  So I took off again.

And she followed you?

No.  She didn't.  She walked back to the car.

And you followed her?

Yeah, I followed her.  I stayed about 15 feet behind her, just in case she tried to pull any stunts.  To my surprise, she didn't.  She walked straight to the car and got right in and started it.  I stayed by the trail head, about 10 feet away.  We locked eyes and I could tell she wasn't playing around, and do you know what she did?


Guess.  Guess what she did.

I don't feel like guessing.  What?

That bitch drove away.

Did you chase after her?

Nope.  I stayed just where I was.  Who is she, thinking she can leave me like that?  I'm my own dog, and if she doesn't want me anymore, that's just fine.

Did she come back?

Yeah.  I tried not to notice her backing the car up to the original parking spot, but I watched her out of the corner of my eye.  I knew she wouldn't *actually* leave me.

Did you go with her then?

Hell no.  I wasn't even close to being done playing.  I watched her from a safe distance, acting like I was sniffing a tree, but really just keeping an eye on her.  She rummaged around in the car for something and emerged with a bag of treats.  Not just any treats, either, but the expensive ones that we use for obedience lessons.  The good ones.

And did you go for the treat?

God, it was tempting.  But no.  I perked my ears up and licked my lips, but stayed right where I was.  She took two steps towards me and I stayed there.  She took three more steps towards me and I took three giant leaps in her opposite direction.  It was at this point she started to get vocal.  I believe it started with "Fuck you, Cohen!"

And how did that make you feel?

It hurt a little, to be honest.  I know she just wanted to go, but couldn't she tell I just wanted to stay?  Why does it always matter what *she* wants?  With that in mind, I trotted off.

And how long would you say this went on?

I'd say this went on for about as long as we were running.

And how long were you running for?

I told you, about the time it takes for me to nap until I have to stretch or switch positions.

So an hour.

Which isn't that long.  Anyway, she walked back to her car and sat there for awhile, staring at me like I was the scum of the earth.  I knew she'd be happier if she just came to play with me.  If you think about it, I was doing her a favor.  Who wants to sit in a car when you can romp through the woods?

But you had been romping through the woods for almost two hours already.  She was probably cold.

Right.  But we were having a great time.

What if she had something to go do?  Like perhaps go to work, in order to make money to feed you?

Of course.  It's always her.  Her schedule, her necessities.  Why couldn't it just be about me for once?

That sounds like a topic for another session.  What happened next?

Well, I looked up just in time to see her slam the car door so hard that I thought the car was going to flip right over.  She came running toward me, but instead of reaching her hand out to grab me, she just kept going.  I was delighted.  She had finally realized that we needed to run more.  She had caved.  Life seemed to move in slow motion as my jowls floated through the air and my tongue smacked the outside of my mouth.  She wasn't smiling, but I was.  It wasn't long before we came up to another dog on the trail, and I ran up to sniff him and converse with his rear end.  Just as we were getting to know each other she slipped her hand around my collar.  And that was it.

It was over.

Yeah.  I tried to plant my paws and not follow her, but with her fist wrapped around my collar it seemed as if I didn't have a choice.

Do you think she forgave you?

Not for a long time.  The whole way home it was completely silent.  I panted with my nose pressed up against the window, and out of the corner of my eye I saw her glare back at me as she rolled it down.  If looks could kill, I'da been six feet under.  And damn does that girl hold a grudge.  By the time we got home I had forgotten all about it and was looking forward to a nice bowl of salmon flavored pebbles and a nap on the bed, but every single movement she did was filled with anger.  I could hardly get any shut-eye as she was describing our trail experience to Jesse.  It was 'fucking this' and 'fucking that' with a few sideways looks in my general direction.  I hadn't seen her blood running that hot since I flipped the kitchen table over and broke the chairs, back in March of '11.

What's it like between you two now?

Things are mostly back to normal.  We cuddle, I slobber, she scratches my body and gives me Dentasticks.  Whenever she puts on her running clothes, though, she never takes me with her.

Do you think she'll ever take you again?

I'm sure she'll get over it soon.  She always does.  This has only happened once before, so it's not like.. you know.. a 'thing' I do on the regular.  I heard she put an ad for me on Facebook.  It read "For free:  One not-so-Great Dane".  Really clever.  I have to admit, it stung.  Doesn't she know how sensitive I am?  She doesn't understand how hard life is.  Imagine living life in a world that is built too small for you.  The struggles I go through daily aren't even acknowledged.

Your time's up, we'll have to visit that topic next time.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TNF 50 and the importance of it all

When I DNF'd the Black Hills 100 I raced a 50 miler two weeks later and had the worst run of my life. I swore I wouldn't race another ultra until The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in December.  Surprisingly, I stuck to that.  I thought for sure I would crack in September with local races, but I didn't.

I signed up for TNF because I had visited San Francisco in May of 2012 and fell in love with not only the city but what lies across the bridge.  The picture at the top of my blog is the most important picture I've ever been in because I've never felt a longing for a place like that before.

The time between July and December felt just as long as it actually is.  I would say "time flew", but I waited somewhat patiently, and every weekend I thought about how many weeks I had left.  I did a lot of speed work the front half of my training, and more longer back-to-backs the second half.  I worked hard most of the time, but I wasn't killing myself for it (except, arguably, when it came to track workouts).  The Monday before I left I found out that TNF thought I perhaps had some potential as an ultra runner, due to my previous luck in past races.  They placed me on their elite runner list and I started the most competitive 50 mile race with 99 other people in the first wave, who happen to be the best runners from around the world.

Starting a race with elite runners is a real treat.  I felt completely inadequate and undeserving standing in the dark with Rob Krar, Dakota Jones, Anna Frost, Emelie Forsberg, Max King, Rory Bosio, etc.  It's a fucking fast start.  I forgot my watch in Michigan, and was toying with the idea of not wearing one anyway, so I went without it.  I haven't done that before, and I quite liked it.  I got into a bit of a time warp which came from not keeping track of aid stations or the rise of the sun, and when I was positive I was coming up to mile 10, it was actually mile 17.  This was where I first started to eat (whoops).  Every part of this course is absolutely beautiful, and I knew that going in to the race.  There's a short out and back section before you head down to Stinson beach, and I saw (read: ran in to) Anna Frost here, which was the greatest experience of my life.  I also saw Dakota Jones and Dave Mackey, which was kind of cool because it meant I wasn't doing absolutely horrible.  I hadn't fallen apart.  …Quite yet.
Down to Stinson beach was one of my favorite parts of the race.  Once you got done with the out and back it was 1.6 miles down, and I bombed the shit out of it.  I fell twice and got a little muddy, but to be fair I had lifted my eyes to gaze at a waterfall.  At Stinson beach I picked up Jesse and I was feeling quite well at this point.  The climb back up ripped at my soul and I've never hated stairs so much.  Dipsea Trail stairs are hard after 27 miles.
There was a long downhill after the second stop at Cardiac Arrest aid station (~30 miles) and I took it for everything it was.  Hikers/onlookers told Jesse and I that we looked like we were floating.  And actually, we were.
This report is getting lengthy.  I hit a wall around mile 36.  We had an aid station at the parking lot of Muir Woods, and I loved the fact that I recognized it.  As I got a rock out of my shoe I thought about the last time I was there a year and a half ago.  Everything had changed except the marvel of it all.  After a climb it was a flat 3 mile stretch to the next aid station and as much as I wanted to punch Jesse in the face I knew he was right when he said we had to take advantage of it.  This was likely the worst shuffle in my life.
Through Tennessee Valley for the second time I thought it was never going to end.  I actually looked at Jesse and choked out "This is never going to end."  And it went:
"Yes it is."
"This is going to be a 12 hour 50.  Oh my God."
"No it's not."
"Yes it is."
"No it's not."
And it wasn't.

I ended up finishing in the top 30, and I'm okay with that.  I would've appreciated being a little smarter about the race and avoiding getting so low.  I also would have continued my speed work a couple of weeks further into my training.  10,000 feet of climbing and 10,000+ of descending treated me well.

But the thing about this race, is that it was not about the race at all.
I used TNF 50 as an excuse to get back to a part of the country that I feel like I need to be in.  Elite runners are cool, but stalking their lives and accomplishments is something I don't have the time or effort for.  They do cooler stuff than I do and at faster paces than I run.  To be grouped with them was a privilege, there is no doubt about that.  The ties I have with San Francisco aren't from reading training blogs or watching live tweets from other big ultras; they were my own that I had made a year and a half before and finally had the opportunity to touch base with and fulfill [to an extent].

My favorite part of the course was the stretch before the out and back and down to Stinson beach.  It's the part of the course where you're closest to the water for quite awhile.  The sun was cloud-covered and I did some passing here, but for the most part I was alone.  I cherished the many minutes it was just me, my lungs, my feet, the waves, the salt, the wind and strands of hair across my face.

Jesse and I had a red-eye out of SFO Sunday night, and for the greater part of Sunday we spent it across the bridge exploring more where we had been the day prior.  We stopped at the Mountain Home Inn and drank for a couple of hours, and as we (he) drove back to the airport it was a crazy kind of pain.  Driving down winding mountain roads with bridge and city lights at the end is a terrible thing to have to leave.  I couldn't tell you what we were talking about on that car ride, but I distinctly remember an ache comparable to a palm squeezing your heart when you're traveling in the exactly opposite direction that you want to be.  That you should be.  That you need to be.

To be pulled by a place to such an extent is a bizarre experience.  I didn't go to TNF to win.  I didn't go to hang another bib number or cross another finish line.  I went because the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is my favorite place in the world, and I needed an excuse to go back.  I went to rest an unsettling feeling, and what I got was pure bliss.  While gazing at the ocean atop a cliff I accepted the realization that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be -- not even perched at the top of a 14er.  The euphoria from spending 50 miles and a few days there equates with the contending vacuity that settled in my heart the night we left and has since burrowed itself deep inside.  And I have a great fear that it will not leave.


And with all of that being said, I owe much of the experience to my cousin Carley and her husband Mike, who without them this would have never have been possible.  They let us stay at their apartment in San Francisco for the entire weekend, even though they wouldn't be there.  Words and gestures could not possible express enough gratitude to the two of them.


And now, for the obligatory pictures.

[View from Twin Peaks]

[Race grounds across the water]

[This is Tino.  Carley and Mike's cat that we got to hang out with over the weekend.]

[I ripped the mirror off of the rental car backing out of a typical SF garage.]


[I got to race on all of that…!]

[To be fair, photo credit: Jesse Scott]

That's me, with my best friend and love, in my favorite place in the world.  Those are perfect footsteps. That's a perfect life.

To run in such a fashion is a well-worked for treat.  To want to run to fulfill such a passion is something much bigger.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Traffic [write-off one]

A couple of weeks ago Scotty Jacobs and I decided to participate in a write-off versus each other.  We were both a little bored with writing and needed a reason to force the creative juices going.  The concepts of write-offs have really taken off lately and they're a lot of fun.  The general rules are to take a general topic (or two binaries) and write on them (in the case of binaries, each writer taking a different one).  The writings are posted and the readers vote on which is best.  This is typically done in the comments section (which can be left anonymous).  If you read them, please vote, and if you feel you have some constructive criticism, that is also warmly welcomed.  Our topic is "traffic".  Without further ado, here they are:


Traffic (option one)

As a non-believer and a lover of knowing I have the potential to control things if I ever felt like taking the initiative to be the 'control freak', there lies one thing we cannot control in our lives which even I am willing to admit:  and that's traffic.  I've been driving for about a decade now, and I have realized the emotional toll that driving inevitably not only takes on the soul, but allows the soul to experience.  They include (but however are not limited to) the following:

the loss and gain of control because you can't control other drivers.  No matter how hard you clench your teeth or grip the steering wheel, other people on the road largely don't give a shit about you.  Sometimes they listen to you when you tell them "Don't you dare!  Don't you dare pull out in front of me," and sometimes they don't listen, which is quickly followed with "HOW FUCKING DARE YOU! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Are you kidding me.  Unbelievable.  Nice one, you fucking idiot.  I hate you."

the universe does pick sides, and today it picked yours because that's the only way to explain how you just hit all of those green lights.  Those 42 seconds you just gained from hitting that green light?  Legit.  They matter.  Why do they matter?  Because everything involving traffic is perfectly intertwined.  One green light means another green light which means a beating another red.

feeling like a badass because you're actually racing everyone else on the road.  Oh, the person in the lane next to you is slowing down for that yellow light?  Well, you're not.  Not today.  You drop that bad boy down a gear and go for it.  Did you just switch lanes without using your turn signal?  Shit yes you did, and no one died.  Is the person behind you yelling at you for it?  Probably.

making you feel smart because what fucking dumbass doesn't use a turn signal when switching lanes? What are we, in driver's training?  Oh, that person in front of you didn't realize their destination was coming up so quickly?  Are they THAT unaware of their surroundings?  They're texting when driving?  Christ, how vapid they must be that they have to send text messages while driving.  Have they no appreciation for actual conversations anymore?  Likely not.  They probably don't even read books or listen to talk radio, and they probably put sugar in their coffee, too.

you actually know all about the person you're staring at because people who take selfies at stoplights are all the same.  They're one level below the people who are texting and driving, because the only thing worse than not being able to control the urge to send relatively pointless messages to one person while driving is to take a picture of themselves and upload it with every hashtag (except for "#selfie", because no one who takes selflies actually wants to admit that they're selflies).  It's cool, though, because 140 characters or less doesn't take much time to type.

you get your humble on because that's what happens when you're stuck at a red light and it's pouring rain and the perfect slow song is playing and the metronomical slap of the windshield wipers slip you into a somewhat catatonic state.  There's nothing like being able to recall the lack of direction your life has lead, where it's going from that point on, why everything from the past has been intricately woven into the very present moment and also why none of it is related at all.

you completely lose your shit because you can do that in what has turned into your private sanction which happens to be, for the most part, glass walls and home to completely visible breakdowns.  That steering wheel is your punching bag because the fucking asshole in front of you almost made you crash or came to a halt when the light had just barely even turned yellow don't you know that yellow means RED IS COMING SOON?! And that steering wheel is your new pillow that you put your head on and sob and even though your windows are down and you're shrieking at the top of your lungs that's just fine because even though you're surrounded by people, those people don't know you.  So fuck those people.

you know that everything is actually quite alright because once you get past the somewhat congested traffic that made you tap your brakes and interrupt the cruise control, you relax and you speed back up to a comfortable 75 (but debatably 74, just to be safe) mph.  That moment when no one is in your way, the sun warms one side of your face, you don't squint because you didn't leave your sunglasses on the kitchen table, and a slow smile creeps at the corner of your lips for no reason and absolutely every reason.

Tears and sore cheeks and strained vocal chords are three of many possible physical side effects of traffic.  Traffic inflicts, heightens and blatantly allows the full range of human emotions to project with quite little protection.  Much of life is felt in traffic, and without even being realized, is left there; and like traffic, it dissipates.

Traffic (option two)

Traffic is like a PMS-ing woman. We can’t stop it from happening and we desperately want to avoid it by any means necessary. Spend too much time dealing with it and our own good moods are in jeopardy. The only remedy for it is patience. Honestly though, who has time for that shit?
We do our best to leave a few minutes early to beat the rush. On the days we actually accomplish this, we calmly reach our destination on time, only to find that we left our wallet at home. Damn it traffic! You did that on purpose! You’re such a selfish bitch. Traffic really is the quicksand of our everyday lives. The more we fight it, the deeper we’re consumed by it.
When genuine road-rage starts to set in, we have completely lost the battle with traffic. See, not every driver on the road feels the same way as us. They stay relaxed behind the wheel and embrace the traffic. These are the real assholes on the road,  not us. They find themselves in the fast lane, going the regular speed limit. “IT IS CALLED THE FAST LANE FOR A REASON PEOPLE! GET YOUR PONTIAC VIBE OVER TO THE RIGHT, WHERE IT BELONGS!” This is the kind of thing that makes us want to follow them to the rest area and let all of the air out of their tires while they take a squeege. The whole time we are freaking out about them being in our way, and they’re oblivious to it.
Imagine if our population was the same, but the motor vehicle was never invented. Come on, really think about it. The roads would be packed with people on horseback. Personally, I would probably ride some sort of bovine creature. Like an ox. Maybe even an upright walking grizzly bear that I could just piggyback from place to place. Regardless, there would be animals’ shit everywhere. People getting bucked and trampled into the shit. It would be awful to bear witness on a daily basis. However, all traffic disputes could be settled with some sort of a medieval joust right in the median. Bam! Done and done. Saddle up and back on the road. Sounds glorious.
Of course, traffic is not only on the streets. There is air traffic, nautical traffic, foot traffic, social media traffic, cell phone traffic, etc. All of them frustrating in their own unique way. We have to remind ourselves to accept this fact, take a chill pill and enjoy the ride like those other assholes out there. That’s all life really is anyway, a ride. It’s up to us to make the most out of it. This is with one exception though; Pontiac Vibe drivers will forever be on our shit-list. Do us a solid, stick to the right lane or else the Vibe despising grizzly bear is getting a tune-up. Buckle-up, check your blind spots and we'll see y'all at rush hour!


Check out Scotty's blog RIGHT HERE. And the podcast that he helps create RIGHT HERE.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

less is more.

Last time I wrote a half-decent blog I was pretty drunk and had signed up for a weekend of back-to-back racing with Jesse.  That weekend was this weekend, and in true Jesse-Kelsey fashion, we ran half of what we said we were going to and drank a lot instead.  I used to think it was the other way around, but a DNS is way better than a DNF.  The memorable parts of the race that we did make it to included: both of us winning the 10k, Jeff taking his age group and 4th OA in the half, an unmistakable bathroom encounter, two necklaces, three mugs and a misleading start.

tuesday went out for 20, got 15 in.  Couldn't care less.
wednesday track workout 16x1200.  I think this equates to 12 miles.
thursday 3 miles, I think.
friday 3 miles
saturday though we didn't make it to the Campus Classic, we did jog around for 6ish miles.
sunday 6.2

45 or something.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I have a lot to say but lack of energy, so this is purely a mileage post.  I should probably be tracking this a bit more diligently, anyway.

wednesday track workout, 15x1200.  Still not really sure on how to type track notation correctly, but I ran 15 1200s.  Pretty consistent with the times, 5:22-5:28.  That's like 11.5 miles or something I think.

saturday 8 miles.  Worked a private party that was a wedding shower ALL afternoon, and then set out for 20.  Only made it 8 due to lack of headlamp and being chased out by a thunderous downpour.  More the latter than former.

sunday 12 miles climbing concrete mountains in the morning.  Left from my apartment, ran to Joe's, picked him up for roughly 5-6 miles, then back home.  It was quite humid this morning, and it'd been awhile since I had emptied a handheld that quick.  Joe wore Hokas and rolled his ankle and I laughed.

Got to dirty herd early on account of getting out of work a little early and did 2 miles by myself.  It was the perfect two mile run that I needed.  Met up with Joe and the rest of the group and went another 6.

39 Miles on the week?  Not bad for running three days.

Monday, September 30, 2013

a DNF, a 14er, a finish, and Angina's. In September.

On Flight 349, from Denver to Chicago, I had a conversation with a man to my right about how ridiculous it is that planes don't have free wireless yet, and if paying for it is really worth it or not.  After that I laid my head to the left and let my eyes rest on the ground below me.  I felt my contacts sticking to my eyeballs and took a deep sigh.  I put in earbuds and recalled my weekend.

Five days before I had flown into Denver with the same playlist and a different vibe.  The trip was off to a slightly irresponsible start as I was in sheer panic that I was going to miss my 6:40 flight.  6:40 isn't early, but I'm almost the worst at anything time-related.  After chasing Kendrick Callaway around Denver's west terminal, we were off to see Blake.  Blake was a good friend from college who had graduated and moved back to Evergreen with his parents and I often miss his gay pride literature jokes and terrible ways of studying.  Once located, I could see why Blake moved home to a beautiful house on the side of a mountain with a deck that has a view that would kill your entire day.  I stood listening and engaging with this person I had missed dearly, and as the sun warmed the back of my neck, I looked up and realized the mountains may be having their first pull on me.

A few hours later I was on top of a 14er with the one person everyone wants by their side when they're climbing a 14er.  Though I had to stop and catch my breath a few times I was pleased with how it went, and Kendrick threw some props my way as well, though he could have just been trying to be nice.  After that I saw some mountain goats, and that was okay.  I was slightly bummed to find out they don't want to be pet and cuddle like I so desperately wish they wanted to be.

My first night spent in the back of Kendrick's truck was some quality sleep.  One wouldn't immediately think it'd be preferable, but I always enjoy car camping, and the memory foam mattress was actually putting up a rival to my pillow-top queen back home.

And then I saw the desert for the first time.  And I really liked it.  Something big happens every time you see a completely different part of the country for the first time.  Something really big.  I've had my sights set on Utah for months, and I affirmed I'd be able to be happy there.  I want to be happy there.  I should be happy there.  I could be happy there.

Logan is not such a bad town, really, which is where the race started.  It has decent pizza and views that can tug at just the right strings on your heart.  After making it to the location of the race talk and packet pickup, I realized how timely packing drop bags for a race that the runner and pacer are both reasonably unprepared for could be.  Not reasonably unprepared for the distance(s), but the course itself.  Though the race didn't end well, I still think this is not a bad strategy.  I think it allows you to enter a race with an element of surprise and excitement coming from that surprise.  (...Obviously not a good strategy if you're going for the win, but I have no complaints being a mid-packer)

It was here that I saw Zach and Kate, and met Rob and Addison (pacers and crew from Chicago).  I asked Zach the dumbest questions ("Are you excited?!  Are you ready?!") but I was so overcome with my own excitement for him (all of them, really) that I couldn't help it.  There's nothing like seeing someone's eyes light up with excitement with bold determination resting just behind it.

I can't tell you who we stayed with that night on the count that I do not remember their names, but I can tell you that they were your typical ultrarunning instafamily.  The ride down to the start in the morning was one filled with so many laughs, somewhat realistic considerations, half a pizza and a very full bladder.  6am doesn't come any other way.

After the start I hung with Kate, Ad(dison) and Rob.  We went to the perfect diner for a time like this, and ordered breakfast.  The diner was called "Angie's" which was quickly dubbed "Angina's".  What we received was enough food for the whole day, and that is the problem with America.  Kate's cinnamon roll (1 of 4 of her breakfast items) was, I shit you not, the size of her head.

To kill more time we went to Starbucks, and then to the first crew-accessible aid station.  A front runner came through yelling about how "shitty the course was marked the first ten miles" and how "fucking ridiculous" it was and that the Bear 100 "needs to get it together".  I exchanged a knowing glance with Nick (Britta's boyfriend, and Britta went to college with Kate and Zach) and a coy smile.  It's okay to be angry in ultras, but you must be about certain subjects with a particular amount of tact.  Don't be a douche.  Zach came through looking good and it was a beautiful whirlwind of an exchange between crew and runner, especially for a first time.  No more than 15 minutes later, I heard someone say "That guy has no shirt on!" and before I lifted my eyes to the trail I knew it was Kendrick.  He was feeling great here, and as I made fun of him for taking forever to eat, he made a joke about me DNFing at 42 miles at Black Hills.  I punched him and he took off jogging.  After a few quizzical statements I shrugged and replied with "That's just how we are."

Team ZARK and myself (though I feel the need to make it clear that I feel like I was [am] part of team ZARK) left and got an early 10:30 lunch.  You'd think Angina's filled us up for more than 4 hours, but we all ate veggie burgers and fries in a plastic booth with paper crowns upon our heads.  This is also where I think I perfected at least three sentences of Ad's Stryker pitch.  He's a recruiter, and I kind of feel like I am one now, too.  With a hazy sky and mountains looming above us, Addison said, in reference to 100s and with a grin on his face, "I don't get it.  I really don't.  But I think it's awesome, and I'm glad you guys get it."  I could have hugged him in this moment, because it was a perfect thing to say.  With a wide smile I replied "We don't get it either."
Because, really, I don't think anyone does.  You can ask anyone why they run ultras (100s specifically) and they can give you certain reasons, but there will always be an extent to which no one can truly put it into words.

When we got to the next aid station, it was time to lace up the pacing shoes for both me and Rob.  We all tried to nap, and I think Ad and Rob were the only ones that got away with it.  I got out of the car and Kate shortly followed.  We hung around the aid station, watching the front runners come in and leave.  We didn't really say much, but both marveled at the mountains we were trapped in.  Something awesome happens when you share moments like that with people who you know are truly good people.  It's almost like there's a connection that is established but never acknowledged, and it doesn't need to be.  But it's cool to experience.

Zach came in and picked up Rob, and Kate and Ad took off shortly after that.  Kendrick came in no later than 10 minutes later, and we were off shortly.

The first leg went really well.  I typed out several sentences trying to do it justice, but you can't do mountain running justice in words.  You can't even do it justice in pictures.  You have to be there, in that moment, with that smile, with those heaving lungs.  We came up to the next aid station in good time, and I was greeted with Nick's face that had come familiar in a short time, the way it does when you meet people like that.  As I chomped down a banana he told me to be ready for snow, and the cold temperatures that awaited us at Tony Grove.  With a high-five and a smile so big that showed both rows of teeth, we were on our way.
And then we climbed for a really long time.  And slipped in the mud.  And the mud was like clay.  It was thick, it was sticky, it was slippery, and it was at least 40% cow shit.

And Tony Grove was cold.  Kendrick and I split up here for a few minutes, him fueling back up and refilling, while I was rolling my arm warmers back up and adding layers.  Someone gave me a blanket that had been sitting under a heater in a truck, and the nicest woman I've ever met gave me hand warmers for both pairs of gloves.  I loved her.  She told me to squeeze them when it got bad.
I would end up squeezing them with everything I had.

There was a small climb out of this aid station and a breakdown happened there.  There were tears and snot and a lack of words, but a pair of understanding eyes.  This section was long.  The descent was so much fun.  Kendrick came out of a low (at least a bit) and I had my way with a downhill.  We ate some waffles and I fell in a creek.  I ate a mint and Kendrick's hot chocolate got cold.  The sun went down and it got colder.  Headlamps were turned on and his legs gave out even more.

At mile 62, sitting around a glowing campfire and sharing miniature candy bars, Kendrick called it.

And that's fine.  At least it is in my book.  I know how a DNF feels and I know it sucks.  I'm still a firm believer that sometimes you just have to give 100 miles the finger and say "Fuck you.  Fuck you to hell."
Then you try to get warm.

One thing I learned from Kendrick is that you never stop chasing.  I have plans to attempt another 100 next summer because I DNF'd my last attempt.  He finished that same race and signed up for another hoping to qualify for Hardrock.  You chase a finish, you chase a qualifier, you chase a PR.  Problems arise in ultras, but I think real problems arise when you stop chasing.
Stagnation is, of course, the worst case scenario; always.

The rest of the trip was filled with raspberry shakes, seeing rich mountain towns, and being exhausted for the weirdest reasons.  After being denied a chance to see the Maroon Bells, we trucked on to Leadville.  Sitting in City on a Hill I got a serious caffeine buzz and wondered if altitude was affecting me at 10,000+ feet.  I sat to the right of a woman that I could have listened to talk to for hours upon hours.  Megan Finnesy has a way of conversing that is so fluid and seems to be so carefully animated to be entertaining but not obnoxious; and it was absolutely refreshing.

The drive to Denver International Airport is beautiful.  Colorado is beautiful.  Colorado is a state that makes you think life isn't possible anywhere else.
Perhaps for some people it's not.
And perhaps I'm one of those people.
I think mountains can have an amazing affect on anyone who experiences them.  But there is no doubt the difference of treating the mountains as your playground - putting them in your hands and hoisting yourself up them, and scraping your legs on the way down - and snapping a picture at the top of Independence Pass.

Before my flight out of Denver I had time to grab a beer with Rob, as he had a layover there from SLC in route to Chicago.  I left that drink feeling happy and a heart full of appreciation.  Ultras have led me to the best people that I know.  I met Rob, Ad, Nick, briefly Britta, and Megan.  And they're all people I would do extensive favors for at the drop of a hat (also the people I stayed with in Utah).  Instafamily.

This weekend did a lot of things for me.  It gave me motivation to continue training hard for TNF, it motivated me to commit to Tahoe Rim 100 next summer, and it gave me comfort in knowing that West is where I belong.  It also reminded me that DNFs happen, and they suck.  But they're necessary, and they're not the end of the world.
"They're a learning experience."  <--- Literally the worst thing anyone can ever say.

I started laughing.  I laughed at Kate's cinnamon roll.  I laughed that Kendrick has a carrot in the bottom of a Nutella-knock-off jar.  I laughed at the entirety of my conversations with Jesse over the weekend.  I laughed at the DNF.  I laughed at being on top of a 14er.  I laughed at thinking about Blake.  I laughed at how many hours I had sat in a car.  I laughed because the best lemon bar I've ever tasted was in Leadville.  I laughed because I can say I've been to Aspen.  I laughed at Zach's amazing finish of The Bear 100.  I laughed at Rob dipping his fries in ranch.  I laughed at Ad's Stryker speech.  I laughed at Kate singing "Wrecking Ball" passionately in the car.  I laughed wildly at the Dakota Grand Slam.  I laughed because, as I watched the plane descend through the clouds, I'm 25 years old.  I laughed because I can do anything I want.  I laughed because nothing is holding me back.

I took my earbuds out and the man to my right exclaimed "Were you listening to a podcast?!  Must have been hilarious!"
I laughed again and replied "No.  It wasn't a podcast." And shifted back to the window.

I laughed because I'm 25 and the entire world is at my fingertips.  I laughed because I'm about to take complete advantage of it.