Tuesday, September 1, 2015

three moves, a career, a breakup and 80 minutes of running

The first move was Sarah Renkoski. Most people don't know who Sarah Renkoski is.

She is my best friend. She was the first and is, so far, the only person in Flagstaff that I can truly be myself around because she is the exact same. We met at Karma, where I bartended until very recently and she was a server. We have the same sense of humor, are both pretty offensive, love to eat, love to shop, love to be honest and honestly love to be bitches. We both love our space, we both love our dogs, we both hate our dogs and we both have superb taste in wine and beer. We are level-headed at opposite times, giving the other one an honest sense of ground and reason. We hung out almost every day and I am now realizing that may have been the clutch of my poverty, because when you love shopping and you love food it's really hard to just sit around. When Sarah and I first started hanging out, I realized I hadn't laughed that hard or that honestly in far too long. Those days seem so far away, and they are far away because everything changes when you're not looking.

Sarah and I both started looking for jobs at the same time, and we got them at the same time. The only difference is that I stayed in Flagstaff, and she moved. She started interviewing for a job with Boston Beer Company, and we started having beer tasting parties on Sunday nights for the several Sam Adams/Boston Beer Company beers (who knew there were so many?) while naturally having Hello Ladies on in the background. If you haven't watched that show, then watch it. If you don't like that show then we aren't friends and also (in the words of Stuart) "You can fuck off." This was the beginning of the end on a few different accounts, but that's hindsight speaking. Sarah left on the morning that Jesse and I broke up for good. Sarah moved, and I was alone again. However that is not really true because a) I have Cohen and b) I am a̶l̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ good at being alone because c) I like it.

And the breakup is hard to write about not because it is painful but because there is everything and nothing to say. We are both wonderful people but we are no longer great together, and that is sad. At the same time, now is the most hopeful and happiest I have felt in too long. I can't speak to his account because that would be unfair and rude, but I suspect it is along the same lines. Several of the people I've told have been shocked, and asked "What happened?!" but that is a loaded question and also an impossible question. Sometimes things just fall apart, you aren't right for each other anymore, wants and needs of the relationship don't match up and there's really not much else to say.

This breakup prompted the second move. I moved out for approximately 20 hours into a condo of a co-worker's boyfriend, who had two spare rooms. I quickly realized it was a rash, poor decision on my part. Before living with Jesse I think I've lived alone for too long to have a roommate - at least one that I don't know well. There are a few people that I could see myself being roommates with, but not someone I don't know, or with such a different lifestyle. So I moved back, and that is the third move. The apartment that we shared is expensive for my new salary, but do-able, and Jesse has a kind heart.

So then there is my new career. When Renkoski and I were job searching, I applied to be a rep for Patagonia. During this specific length of time, I was bartending at Dark Sky (Flag's hottest new brewery owned by people who deserve it most) and met a gentleman named Brad, who had just moved back to Flag to run an outdoor store (Peace Surplus) after spending a year and half in Seattle working for AmerSports/Arc'teryx. I picked his brain and asked for advice in the industry after telling him about my Patagonia prospect and he had so much to say. He extended his help to me whenever I needed it, and I soon took him up on that. After two interviews with Patagonia they offered me the job. It was total shit pay and I had to move to Reno. Fucking Reno but the thing is that it is Patagonia. I didn't know if I should take it to get my foot in the door or tell them to (for lack of better words) go fuck themselves for expecting their employees to live off of such a low pay. Anyway, I went to Brad for advice and (a very long story short) I have now accepted a position as the Apparel Buyer for the store that he runs. I have a dream job, decent pay, great bosses and get to keep living the life I've built in this town. I won, and I needed that win so badly.

When Brad called to offer me the job, Sarah Renkoski and I were sitting in my car in the Safeway parking lot. She was dead silent when I called him back (I missed the first call) and while we both rapidly started to sweat in my black car in the Arizona sun we silently celebrated by car dancing and jumping up and down. I'd like to think I was calm and professional while accepting the job, but I think my voice was shrieking with joy. While he discussed the pay she elbowed me and mouthed "That's good money!" as I rapidly nodded my head and smiled wider than I had in far too long.

I'm currently dealing with a herniated disc in my lower back which is causing me some nerve pain throughout my left hip which is hindering my running. I can't recall whether I have written about my running lately (likely not) but I work with Emily Harrison as my coach, Shea Tinder as my massage therapist and Dr. AJ Gregg as ... everything else? He helps me weekly with my current injury, nutrition (racing and day-to-day) and strength training. I truly believe I have created the perfect trifecta of a team to help me succeed as fast and best as possible. Yesterday I ran for 80 minutes and was relatively pain free. This felt like a victory, and for the first time in too long I felt quite positive. So far this summer I've PR'd in every distance I've raced, including a win at a hard mountain half marathon. My ultra season starts at the end of September, and if I can keep my shit together mentally I think I will be very successful.

So I'm currently in the middle of a lot of changes, but I find it exciting and motivating. I'm starting a career, my home life is back to just me and my dog, I'm buying a plane ticket to Connecticut and I'm finally getting back to longer distances in my racing. I worked my last shift last night as a bartender at Karma Sushi. I am thoroughly excited to be getting home at 5pm instead of 11:30pm, and with a  company where I can grow, while being in the industry that I love and am passionate about.

My FAMILY is also coming out to visit tomorrow morning for an entire week. A lot of people would be like "Ugh, my family is here for a week," but my family is the best. It is not only my immediate family but also some extended, and they are amazing. They are hilarious, they are incredibly good at drinking beer, (more importantly) they have wonderful taste in beer, and I can't wait to laugh with them, share this place with them, and just be with them. If you know them, you get what I'm saying, and if you don't know them, then a) you should and b) I feel bad for you.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

On life being short or whatever.

In November of 2013 Jesse had a seizure while we were out running on the trails. I never wrote about it, and I wish that I had. Yesterday it happened again, and now I'm writing about it.

We went on the Kachina trail. I just recently played around on this trail and loved it, and I knew Jesse would too. Kachina starts up at Snowbowl and goes at least 5 miles to Weatherford (and I think beyond that?). I'm falling in love with this trail because it's not only up high but also very runnable. For the first mile or so it's very nice - little rollers with a couple of passes through small aspen meadows. It comes to some small outlooks with nice big boulders, and when we got to this part we ran in to four ladies (to be known later) having lunch/taking a break. The trail drops down a bit and becomes more technical with boulders to navigate between/on/around. I asked Jesse to lead because when he leads we go faster, and me trying to keep up improves my running. We went a little over a half of a mile until he stopped and said he wasn't feeling well. This never happens. I always wimp out on a run before Jesse does, even if he's not feeling that great. I'm always the first to be like "Ugh, I need a minute." or "Fuck, I need to walk this". He sat down and I made a joke with "'Tis the weather for a seizure". I now regret saying this.

And no, I didn't have my phone. I usually don't run with it when we are both together. 

The weather is always the same when it happens or there are symptoms. It's usually dreary, humid, and a bit cold. That's what it was like up in the peaks at 11:30am yesterday. The clouds were low, it was humid but comfortably chilly running weather. 

The left side of his body twitched twice before moving into full-blown convulsions. This is different from last time, as last time it began with him standing up. I was also not terrified for his life at this point, because I've been through this before and I knew it would be okay. I tried to hold him and kept saying things like "It's okay," and "I'm here, I'm right here". Last time he stayed on the ground until he regained somewhat of a consciousness, and this time it was different. 

He tried to stand up immediately, and fought me when I tried to keep him on the ground. It's not like Jesse is a huge person, but he has a solid 30 pounds on me and is much stronger, and I lost that battle. He was trying to speak to me but it was so slurred and mumbled because his motor skills and brain just weren't there yet, but when he started to form words it was a different Jesse than I have ever seen. His voice was different, for starters. He literally did not sound like himself. He was also severely panicked. He kept saying we had to leave, we had to go, and we had to go now. As tears streamed down my face I tried to get him to sit down and he would not. From the second he started convulsing, I started shrieking for help. I screamed as loud and as long as I could, hoping that those four ladies would hear me. I still do not understand how they couldn't. In his panicked state, Jesse covered my mouth several times as I tried to scream for help. As we stood there, me fighting to get him to stop and him fighting me to start walking, he kept tipping back towards the side of the trail that drops off. I grabbed him aggressively every time and he would try to correct his balance. I had no choice but to start walking with him. I held both of his hands and stayed on his left side, placing myself between him and the steep drop-off side of the trail. All it would have taken was one little misstep and I think he would have been dead. He would have fallen and not been able to stop himself. I asked him his birthday, and he didn't know. I told him I couldn't wait to be back in Michigan in a few weeks and he asked me what I was talking about, and why I was going there. He soon began to think that I was injured - that we were walking like this because of me. He started to say things like "It's okay you just have to push through and we'll be back at the car soon," and "You can do it just stay focused". So I went along with this and started to say that I needed breaks, that I needed to sit down. When we would sit down, he would sit for almost 10 seconds and stand back up, wobbling, saying "Okay so do you think you're okay now? Can we go now?" And every time he would jolt backwards or start to fall I would support him with everything I had and scream for help as loud as I possibly could and started to sob. When I would try to make eye contact with him nothing really happened. It was like he was just looking at my eyes and not connecting. He just wasn't there yet. Everything that was happening was completely out of character for Jesse. If I was feeling that shitty on a run (which has happened), the last thing he would do is try to push me to get going. He is always patient. 

Several times he stopped and told me not to cry and that we would be back soon. The one thing I just cannot stress enough is his voice. It didn't sound like him and it was constantly rushed. Every word that he was saying was so fast and said with such urgency that nothing I could do would calm him down. He kept second-guessing me, telling me that we needed to turn around and go back to the car. Every time I told him "This is the way back to the car," and he would ask me how I knew that. It was the longest half mile of my life, and all I kept thinking about was those women that were stopped and hoping they were still there. I would give anything if they were still there. As we climbed up some boulders I saw Nice Lady #1, #2, #3 and #4. I immediately collapsed into tears and said "You need to help me. This is my boyfriend and he had a seizure and he doesn't know what's going on and he won't listen to me."

It was here that Jesse started to come back. Maybe it was me fully breaking down that pulled him back, or maybe it had just finally been long enough since the episode. Two of the women were nurses, which is always immediately comforting. They had plenty of water and food. Jesse kept saying that he didn't want to die, and he was terrified that he was going to die out there. They walked with us over a mile back to the trailhead. Jesse was more coherent but kept asking me the same questions over and over. He eventually realized he and already asked, but asked anyway, such as "I'm sorry Kelsey I know I already asked but I can't remember, ___(question here)___." 

I got back to the car and immediately called Erin. Erin is my boss. I was supposed to be at work in 2.5 hours. Last time this happened I was also scheduled to work (back in the Bravo days), and when I called they said "Well, we need you to come in for a few hours." And I did. This time, all Erin said was "Get to the hospital and don't worry about work. Let me know what happens." I work for wonderful people. I work for caring people. 

Jesse saw a neurologist (who actually specializes in seizures) and got a diagnosis of 'provoked epilepsy'. The doctors and whole experience at FMC was so much better than the previous experience at Borgess Hospital. Last time it was "But was it really a seizure?" And this time it was "This was a seizure, here's what we're going to do." I won't go in to details because that is Jesse's personal business and not mine to divulge. 

But now, a day later, I still feel emotional about it. I still start to cry when I actually replay it in my head, and on my run today I became angry. This isn't necessarily life-altering. He has medication, but can still do what he loves and I have no doubt about any sort of actual debilitation from this. We've talked a lot about what he does and does not remember, and he remembers not wanting to die. He told me he just kept thinking that he didn't want to leave me, and that he wasn't ready to leave me yet, and we have a whole life together to live still. And we do, and we will. To have a love as big as this sometimes feels unreal to me. I continually think I am the luckiest person in the world to have Jesse Scott as my significant other.

But then I thought about all of the people that are so willingly unhealthy and don't seem to give a fuck. Here is Jesse, the least deserving person of something like this (not to say that anyone deserves to be an epileptic), and he was worried about dying. He was worried about leaving me. My own mother smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and doesn't seem to worry about that. People die long and painful deaths of lung cancer and somehow, in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't seem to bother her. How can she not care about that? How can someone not do everything possible to stay alive as long as possible? How can people be so selfish? What the fuck is wrong with people? How do people not care about their health? And how do people in much more serious situations deal with things like this? And most of all, HOW DOES NO ONE FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT? Why is it unacceptable to talk about it? Why are interventions only acceptable for drug addicts? Why is it rude for me to call out women on my Facebook Newsfeed that post things like "I just want to be skinny" and then eat a fuckload of fried food? "Because it just is, Kelsey." I know that you just have to accept people for who they are. That is one of the rules of life. Sometimes that is just so hard, though and sometimes life is just too unfair. And sometimes I just feel like kicking and screaming about it in my own little corner of the internet. 

I have a friend, Scott Spitz, who has been living with cancer while still being an elite athlete and holding true to his ethical vegan standards. How does he deal with seeing people treat their bodies like shit, when he is the one that has to live with cancer? I know that you have to let it go. You just simply can't worry about other people that much and I will never understand people who are fat and can't breathe while walking up stairs and still eat shitty food. Perhaps writing about it is my way of letting go and cleansing myself of those kinds of frustrations. ...At least for a little bit.

I thought about my own health and how I treat myself. I work with a nutritionist and sports chiropractor (Dr. AJ Gregg), a professional running coach (Emily Harrison), and get worked on by a professional masseuse (Shea Tinder) to keep things in check - all just because I want to be the best athlete that I can be, and I have never felt better in my life - physically and mentally. In no way do I expect that of other people, and I understand the whole "Life is short, I'm going to do what I want". But my point is that life is short, and maybe people only realize that when there are close encounters with death. I also am not saying that everyone should be an athlete or measure every meal and record every ingredient. That shit is tedious and annoying and even I can't comma to doing it every day. I'm not preaching for people to live my lifestyle and I'm paranoid that people are going to think that I am. But people die of obesity. People die of lung cancer. And sometimes people just die. Several times my mother has told me "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything." And that is so true. Oh, the irony. 

I suppose it is necessary for me to wrap this post up with going back to Jesse. He is now back to normal (though a bit tired, seizing is exhausting, yo) and in good spirits. He also has a beautiful, sweet new mountain bike. :) 

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Not-Forgotten TNF50 2014 Explanation in 2015

We can start with what happened in San Francisco.

Anyone who knows me, knows that the Bay area (more specifically, the Marin Headlands) is my favorite spot in the world. If you know me and you feel like you didn't know that, scroll down to my race report from TNF50 last year. This year was a world of difference.

My training for that race this year was very course-specific, because I was so familiar with it. I thought this would be a great advantage to me, and it was, until I didn't care anymore. It's the hardest thing to describe and I feel bad saying or even typing the words, but I stopped caring about that race about three hours in. And I don't know why. I loved where I was, but I hated what I was doing. I started to slip off my goal time and I just stopped. I actually, quite literally, stopped. I remember staring at the sky with my eyes so furiously burning with frustration that I think a few hot tears actually escaped. The only reason I kept making it from aid station to aid station was because I had to find Jesse, so I could finally drop. There were a few course changes this year, and one involved over two miles of road running; a nail in the coffin, to say the least. It has to be said that I felt fine, physically. I wasn't bonking or low on water or even tired. My muscles didn't hurt and my feet felt fine, my breath was steady and my heart rate only spiking when it should. The downhill to Stinson Beach is the best part of the course, in my opinion, and I charged it just as hard as I did last year. The difference was that last year it was out of joy, and this year it was out of desperation to be at the bottom, and to be done. Once I saw Jesse just before the aid station I stopped and said I was done. He did his crewing duties and attempted to change my mind but I believe he could tell that was not happening. Every time I went to explain why, a lump rose in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. I knew there was no way in hell I was going to continue, but admitting defeat isn't always easy. I didn't want to finish 'just to finish'. I've finished enough 50milers that just a finish doesn't feel like an accomplishment anymore. I used to think it was humbling, and now it is just confusing. I've dropped from ultras before, smiling and laughing while doing so, but this race is different. This race is always different for so many reasons. It will continue to be different for every reason.

So after 20 minutes of standing there, watching people come in and leave the Stinson Beach aid station, I finally spoke without almost crying, and officially dropped. We then walked across the road to the ocean, and I stood there, rinsing my shoes from the mud (God, the mud, it was so wet this year), and letting the salt water burn my blisters and wash away with a blood tint. And standing there was amazing. Looking over my shoulder at Mount Tamalpais I clenched my jaw with frustration, disappointment, confusion and happiness.

After talking with Jesse about it, we collectively decided that I just have to do something different. I cannot keep doing this 50mile dance right now. I decided to do the Antelope Canyon 50k, and attempt to do it somewhat fast. A shorter distance with a different kind of effort actually lead to me thinking about an 'off season'. I've never really had an 'off season' before.

We had that talk with this view. The whole weekend we had this view. I get lost in my own mind thinking about this view.

The next day we went on a recovery run on the Coastal Trail. This is the best trail in the entire world. I'll do my best to describe with pictures.

So Jesse taught me to swim (One of my favorite things in my life is that my significant other is also my coach in many sports, and knows when I seriously need his advice). NAU has an amazing aquatic center, and it's pretty fun. I grew up on a lake, living in the water all summer and often times well into October (only my brother understands), but I never really learned how to appropriately swim. What I've been doing for 26 years is an awkward hybrid of a doggy paddle and a breast stroke.

I swam a mile last week and I was so proud of myself it took everything I had not to squeal. It felt like when I ran my first 5k, except Katie wasn't there to hug me. I just smiled and quietly skipped away from the pool. (But, of course, I spilled my victory to Jesse as soon as I saw him.)

So now I'm going to run a half marathon next weekend. Jesse is doing the full (in Sedona), so I figured I'd do the half while I wait. My longest run since TNF (which was December 6th) has been 9 miles, and that happened just now. Besides that I've only been swimming, weight training and in the past week, approximately 5 speed workouts. I also occasionally snowshoe at Snowbowl in the morning, up 1,000+ ft, and then run down (while Jesse skis). I'm well aware that I'm likely setting myself up for failure here, but I've never been to Sedona and I'd like to just have a good run. At the very least, I know I can still gut out 13 miles.

But it's incredible how ridiculous my behavior was to just do a 'long run'. A 'long run' of (what I wanted to be) 10 miles. I had four cups of coffee, changed into my standard running attire and stepped outside. I didn't even open the door all of the way, but just stuck my head out. Fuck it's kind of cold. Stop, just go. So I stepped onto the patio. But seriously I should take water because I"m dehydrated already. So I filled a water bottle, and stepped back outside. But this probably isn't going to be enough because I've had so much coffee. Maybe I should take my pack. So I filled my pack. A liter of water. Third time is a charm. But it's not that sunny so I should probably dress a little warmer. I chose my cozy Salomon headband and thin gloves. I sat on the couch and stared at the ceiling. I thought about going to the gym instead. I thought about asking Jesse if my 35 mile run in the beginning of December was good enough to count as a long run for a half marathon at the end of January. If there's anyone I can count on to rationalize absurd training ideas, it's Jesse. I actually sighed loudly and shouted a word that was a cross/blending of "UGH.", "Fuuuck" and "Goooooo". So I went. And I was too hot. And I only took two sips of water.

And I had fun. I did a few pick-up miles in the middle where my legs started to fill with cement, my breath was some sort of rigid three-part instead of having a steadiness, I could feel my hip bones rubbing on the top of my shorts and I was absolutely sure a rib in my left side was puncturing my skin. But it was worth it. For the first time in a long time, running was hard, and running being hard was actually fun.

It's easier when this is your view.

I'm going to attempt to update this blog much more often. I'm a writer. And it feels good to write again. Even if it was just a race/running update.

*The next update will likely be about Cohen. There's a lot going on there.

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.