Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Best of Days

The past two weeks have been such a whirlwind that I have put writing it all down as a last priority. But, it shouldn't be, so here goes...catch-up time.

I have had a chance over the past two weeks to fill so many roles in my life, that I have come to realize I am happiest when I am working to fill them all.

Very selfishly I decided (with hardly a nod from Paul) to head to San Francisco to tackle my final race of the summer. I needed a good one to find some level of peace for the tough challenges I have had to face. Somehow I justified this race, by saying I would crew for my friend and a fellow trail-runner after I finished. It became such a win-win situation.

I had the race of my life on August 11th. I had been totally out of my pre-race routine, and had turned over the priority to go to the men who were racing longer than I. This allowed me to just move on instinct. I know how to plan my drop bag. I know what I am wearing, and how to plan for the final pre-race moments. And when given the chance I know how to race. I just let what my body was wanting and preparing all summer to with freedom and joy. I did just that. I enjoyed every moment. I sang out-loud as I descended, and I smiled as I climbed. I shared miles with all of my friends: Luisa and Steph got the first 8 miles, Catherine and Bryan shared the climb with me to mile 22, Clea got the ridge on the way out, Paul brought me on the way back (what I considered the most important section of the race) and boy did he push me, I kept the downhill from Pan Toll to Muir Beach to myself...which actually turned out to be my best moment of the race, descending to Legacy and singing feeling the blessing all the way down. (I knew the day was a gift and was lifted by the spirit of it all; it was a very spiritual descent that I continue to have a hard time putting into words) I shared the most difficult climb of the day with Shan because there was noone that could pull me uphill better than her. I thought about how hard she is working and wanted to share every minute of the last hard climb with her...thanks for pulling me up. I came through the final aid station with my dream in front of me; I needed to move to break 10 hours. I thought about someone who has become my "email" friend, Jamie, and what she must have mustered to get to the finish at Badwater and I pushed. She was injured and continued to climb; I felt great and had no excuse. I pushed and pushed and when I crested the top I ran as fast as my body and legs would go to my very favorite: Avril! I sprinted ALL the way to finish to Julie standing at the finish. She could tell by the smile on my face that I had the day I had been wanting for. It was amazing...9:55:12, 3rd woman, 13th overall!!

Was it being out of my routine and having to let my instinct take over; was it sharing this day with everyone I love; or was it just a freak occasion. Whatever it was to be I took it and still savor it!

As soon as I changed and got some soup; I was ready to work. The guy I had met at Miwok, Steve, and had silently pulled me on the ridge was tackling the 100. So when he came in from the first loop. I helped fill his bottles, get him soup, and try to get him moving out of the aid station. He was having a grand time visiting with everyone around...and eventually knew he needed to move on. Although I didn't see him again I heard he had a great finish. I am very happy for him!!

Soon after, Stuart and Henry came through. I was ready to work. I got them soup, and started to help them at the drop bag site. It was quite cold at the beach and the winds were kicking up a good breeze. I quickly moved their bags and them to the car so that they could change and move on without getting chilled. This process took longer than I would have liked but they left in good spirits and so I was happy for the time taken. My plan was to deliver them a "real" dinner at the next aid station. Both of their weights were down and I wanted to make sure they were eating well. I met up with them 11 miles, and more hours than I would have liked later. Henry was in great spirits, but Stuart was feeling very cold, tired, and low. Again, I sat him in the car to eat. He was expressing to me all that was going wrong, to which I replied, "are you here to have fun, or are you here to finish?" He told me that he was there to finish, so I kicked him out of the car and told both that I would see them at mile 75 with breakfast in tow.

At mile 75, they came in with very little time to spare before the final cut-off. I was concerned. Again, Henry was in good spirits, but Stuart came in and said he was done. I needed to get Henry moving out quickly, so I looked at Stuart and told him that if he wanted to stop that he needed to talk to Wendell, the RD. I wasn't going to make the decision or break the news for him. Henry looked at me and was disheartened with Stuart's decision. I asked Henry what he wanted to do. He said he didn't know. I told him to walk away from the aid station and make his decision. He walked over to the car, changed his shirt, filled his bottles, and told me to meet him at the next aid station. He was invigorated by owning this fantastic decision to keep going. As I took Stuart back to the room he explained that he would hav e never made it because he wasn't going to the restroom, was drinking a surprising amount, and his legs were completely shot from the difficulty of the course...he is a flatlander afterall. I did what I could to make him feel supported.

We headed over to the next aid station to meet up with Henry. When he arrived he wanted to be done. I explained to him that it would be better for him to fight until the clock ran out, then just throw in the towel. Again, I sent him away to make his own decision...I told him he had two minutes and that I would be in the car waiting. Again, I saw him fill up his water bottles. I ran over to him, and he threw me his gloves and told me to meet him at the next aid station...and for the first time in many hours he ran off. It was just incredible.

I decided that the only way he would have a real shot was if I joined him for the last 9 miles. I knew he had been on his own for a long time and that it would be so much easier for him to speed up if we were chatting away. Stuart said that he would take over the driving. Although I couldn't believe I was doing this after I had raced and been up all night, I put on my running clothes to get ready to head out. When Henry came in, he didn't look great but I told him to head out and I would go with him. I caught up to him, and he was having issues other than the clock that was doomed to run out of time. He decided it was safest to call it at day. At mile 91 with no time left, Henry's race came to an end. He showed more heart and will in those last miles, and it was awesome to be part of.

As we were eating our final meal before travelling home, we visited about the weekend. We talked about the difference in my crewing for him at his first 100 finish and my tone this time around. (I was a crazy hyper, intense, and overwhelming crew and pacer...I am surprised he ever forgave me for my behavior) As I have been part of more and more people's races and have done my own, I have come to the realize the importance of calm and ownership. If I remain calm and collected as crew my runners will take the cue as everything is great. I don't have to be hyped-up to have them take care of what they need and get them on their way. I also have come to realize that this is not my race when I am crewing. Decisions have to be made and owned by the runner. I knew their goals, and left it to them to make final decisions. I was paid the most wonderful compliment regarding my crewing style from Stuart:

"You were perfect for crewing! You "thought" for us both, anticipated our needs, yet challenged us to make our own decisions. That was the perfect balance between being too passive and too pushy." Ok, I wasn't perfect, but he was very kind. Although they didn't finish, I was there for them and hopefully gave them exactly what they needed...who could say no to: avocado sandwiches, IN and OUT burgers, Sausage biscuits, and Lattes. (By the way, you too run 100 miles and these foods can be part of your diet)

I barely had time to let the dust settle from that trip, and Paul and I took off to the Smokey Mountains to spend a long weekend with my parents to celebrate their 40th anniversary and our 3rd, which are on the same day. When Paul and I were choosing the date to get married I figured if the date has worked for my parents for so long, it would be perfect for us.

After a very long travel day, our connecting flight was delayed for 6 hours, we entered what Paul ended up terming, "Eden." We stayed in the beautiful haven of Blackerry Farms outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. It was complete Nirvana for days. It is where we learned, "Yes is the answer...what is the question." So many gifts came from our trip:

- a wonderful amount of time spent with my husband
- 3 hour long dinners filled with laughter and wonderful food and wine
- fantastic time with my family...and most of all my father
- Paul on a horse cantoring down the trail
- Experiencing hours and hours in the Smokey Mountains
- and more than anything, a real vacation...

I spend so many weekends heading off to beautiful places to run through the trails. What I sometimes forget is that there is so much beauty in not going somewhere for a race. I can still, and even more so, do the things I love but more than that get quality time with my family and especially Paul.

My best moments and days over the past few weeks have come from thinking a little less about myself, and a little more about those I care about. It was in turning my pre-race priorities over to others that I had the race of my life; it was in giving to others when they needed it most that I could cherish my time out on the race course. It was in creating what my husband and I needed as a couple that we could cherish a real vacation, and it was in letting go that I could fully enjoy my time with my family.
It is the things I do that are not about me that will only help to make me a better person:
- the friendly honest email to my mother-in-law...we both win from that
- being excited for my friends' successes, and genuinely so:
Last weekend while I was hiking, I had three friends finish Leadville: Joe, JT, and Fred. I had one friend prove she is still the champ pacer: Melissa 2 for 2!! And I had a friend swim across the English Channel in the fastest time so far this year...Lynne, 9:50!! And even better, I get to run with her in the fall!!
- Spending time with my family, not only when it is a gift to an amazing has got to be more than that.
- Calling my grandfather...I'm working on that one.
- Making time for my friends, thinking of them, and giving them the best of what I have to offer
- And most importantly, keeping my time with Paul #1 and making our home the Zen experience I know it can and should be...

I love to run, but it is finding the balance of giving that I actually created the best of days... By the way, this is very easy to write in my blog, it is continuing to live it that will remain my life-long challenge.

Have a wonderful weekend and now that I am firmly landed for a little while I will keep up more!



clea said...

nice post and pictures. The smokey mountain trip sounds awesome...

Eudemus said...

Congratulations on an amazing race in the 50! You really tore up a very tough course. Also, thanks so much for your help at Rodeo Beach. It really came at a perfect time as I was struggling with that first 50 and beginning to have doubts. Your great attitude and assistance really kept me going.

Also, congrats on a great vacation. It looks like it was very well deserved. It's important to take those calm, restful moments when life offers them. Especially for those of us who are constantly running around.