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Day 27: My Most Boring Adventure or Maggie has a Meltdown

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This must be the world’s most boring adventure. I know I know, shut up with the complaining already. I should be grateful that all I have to do every day is wake up, run, recover. Running is probably my favorite thing, And I get to do it for causes I care so much about it. Now I even get to run in some of the most beautiful places in this country. My life is pretty simple right now, wake up, run, recover. That’s it. That’s all I have to do. That’s all I get to do. FSM it’s boring – monotonous chaos.

I always hear from people that running is boring, but I’ve rarely thought that. My mind wanders, I listen to audiobooks, I meditate, I mull over things – sometimes too much. It’s peaceful and calm, but not boring. This run is the worst of both worlds. It’s boring but inside my mind is pure chaos. My thoughts are wandering, they’re ping ponging around my skull. My brain refuses to focus while my legs seem pretty focused on not moving.

But still I plodded along this week, met my mileage goal and stayed on track. Wake up, run, recover. I did get caught in a rainstorm for about 2 miles on Monday, that along with running with the cows was about the most excitement I had in four days. Judging by the waste left by the cows along my running path, I’d argue it was more excitement for them than for me. Tuesday came along, more cows, more desolate land, more boring pain. I have 75 more days of this? I thought back to that commercial where all these famous athletes are waking up at dawn and hitting the track, gym, or pool. It’s meant to show that winning (or in my case finishing) isn’t a 2-minute adventure, it’s years of the grind. The commercial tries to church it up, make the grind seem inspirational. I bought it then. I do not buy it now. There is no glory in the grind. No glowing sweat or encouraging coach. No rival you wake up every morning to beat – just the grind. Fine, I thought, that’s what endurance is right? There may be no glory here, but goddamnit I’m going to find my grit. There’s plenty of that to be had. I settled in for 10 more weeks of boring miles. If that was my lesson I was going to learn it. I had all day, I had all the days ahead of me too.

Then hobbling along with a mile to go on Tuesday, Crack. Wide open. I started sobbing. No, wailing. Now there's ugly crying and there's drunk crying and then there was this, the ugliest and most irrational cry I’ve ever had. I cried dry tears, fat wet tears, snot tears, some mix of dirt and sunscreen tears.  I cried so hard the cows mooed in solidarity, or mockery. I cried out of pain, not really what I felt that day but every pain I had ever felt, every pain anyone I had loved had ever felt. War, death, the loss of children, addiction, the feeling of pure helplessness when the pain you've been fighting back, holding in finally demands to be felt. I wailed for all of it. 

Funny run, real funny. Decided to change the lesson up on me. Fine, I’ll listen. This is what I learned: in my wailing I was not desperate for the pain to stop. Maybe I knew that was hopeless, maybe I even invited it a little, I mean I was bored. Instead of wishing for the pain to recede, in that moment, I so desperately wanted comfort. I was calling for my loved ones, out loud, willing them to be by my side. To just be there telling me it was ok.

I can deal with pain, sometimes I run from it just like everyone else, but I know that's a temporary fix. I can endure pain, I can even in a pinch endure it alone. But I don't want to. I don’t want to be an island. When I’m in pain I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to shove it deep down inside and try to handle it solo. I want someone to hold my hand when I face the scary pain, pour me a whiskey when I hit the helpless pain, and even grab me the nasal spray when I’m crying so hard I can’t breathe. How's that for miss independent? Luckily for me I’m surrounded by people who will, and have, done just that.

Man, this post got a little deep – but don’t worry (Mom), I’m doing just fine, working my way through my third state and even if it’s buried under the boredom and the chaos, I’m very grateful for this experience – the ability, the opportunity, and the village of support behind me.

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Day 20 Update!

Day 20! 20% done, well time-wise and if all goes according to plan, which so far it has not – but I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on this journey and a few have talked about the power and utility of chaos. For a woman with a color-coded daily planner, chaos is not my preferred method. Nonetheless, I have to give some credence to the idea that it is very very useful to be comfortable in the unknown, the unpredictable, the chaotic. This run has been chaotic, monotonous chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Nature is inherently chaotic. There are no straight lines in nature. No black and white and often no discernable pattern. Being comfortable in that environment means you have to have both focus and confidence. Focus on the priorities and confidence in your ability to flex. I knew I was going to have to be able to flex going into this, just was not aware of how much and how early. I wrote earlier about the importance of symbols and how this run was symbolic to me. Part of that symbolism was running route 66 through my home town in Illinois. Sadly I made the call this week to run a more direct route to Virginia Beach. The decision was hard. The thought of running along my old high school cross country routes, with my family and friends was a giant motivating factor for me. I moved away from my hometown 13 years ago, but have always kept that community in my heart. I’m chronically homesick and know that so much of who I am as a person comes from that place. Still, that place also taught me the value of practicality over sentimentality. For a whole host of practical reasons, the new route gives me the best chance of finishing this thing healthy and in time for other commitments in November. That being said, my sister has already offered to throw me a celebratory party after I finish J Check out the new route and dates here.

Overall week 3ish was a very good week. We hit our mileage goal every day, I feel rested and healthy, and I’ve begun to actually enjoy the miles. Coming out of the desert to Phoenix, I felt like I was a phoenix rising from the proverbial ashes of a wasteland. I’m sure having Team Hoyt AZ with me was the spirit-bolster. Let’s talk about that group for a minute. Most of those members live in Tucson, 2 hours from Phoenix. Most I’ve never met, a few had special needs children to care for, and yet with 5hours notice they showed up in the middle of the desert and THANKED ME for letting them come along on the journey. THANKED ME! I was so stoked to have such awesome company, I didn’t shut up the whole night. To top it off, one of the members Mark ran the whole night with me. He’d never run an ultra before, obviously wasn’t training for this endeavor, and never once complained. Where did I get so lucky to have these people in my life? Phoenix also meant lunch with one of my friends from college (did I really graduate 10 years ago?). I was exhausted and actually thought about cancelling lunch, soooo glad I didn’t. We caught up, ranted, even had a few brunch cocktails. Then, because the universe has decided that I somehow deserve the most amazing village ever, I got two nights with Laura Sutton – a friend who I swear lives every hour in service of someone or something else. She organizes all the Runs for the Fallen and is currently organizing a massive run across the nation for next year to honor gold star families. If you’re at all jazzed about my run, check out this awesome event and get involved! More at http://www.runforthefallen.com.

We set out for higher and greener pastures on Monday, trading heat for elevation. Tuesday was pretty awful – yelling at the mountains awful, so we’ll just move on from there. (note the mountains gave zero f$%^s about me yelling). Wednesday, we decided to try some day running like normal humans and it was pretty good – weather stayed reasonable and the views were exactly what a soul needs – expanses of green earth and blue skies. The hills were brutal, and I did A LOT of walking, but we got the miles in, even ran most the downhill singing Beyonce and Meatloaf as loud as my lungs could manage. I must have looked like a freak. Today’s rest day was awesome. I had a whiskey sour at a local tavern. I chatted with locals and vacationers, took care of admin, and finally ate a decent day of calories. Wrapping up this rest day I feel ready for the next week or so of running, excited for what’s to come, hopeful my body holds it together, and grateful for this opportunity. 

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Day 13: What the Hell am I Doing?

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It’s Day 13, my first real rest day since I set out on this adventure almost two weeks ago. Over the past two weeks there have been two consistent thoughts – “this hurts,” and “what am I doing?” I guess I expected both, but they have certainly manifested in unexpected ways, but I was warned about that too – expect the unexpected.

 

I expected the pain to be searing, sharp, acutely overwhelming. While some of the physical pain has been, the psychological pain has been something very different. I expected to be cracked open, to have the desert and miles break the shell that keeps all the demons in. Instead it’s felt more like a slowly increasing weight, on my shoulders, in my stomach, on my heart. I’m remind of the proverb of how to boil a frog. You can’t drop the frog in the boiling water, it’ll jump right out. You set the frog in lukewarm water and slowly increase the heat. That’s what this run feels like, both metaphorically and literally.

 

I don’t think the reality of the task, at least not the enormity of it, has fully set in, and maybe that’s my saving grace. Nonetheless, I do find myself wondering what the hell I’m doing. On the first night, I dreamt that I was trying to dance with Riley, one of the Team Hoyt athletes, and slipped and fell into the icy ocean. People tried to help me, but as I felt them touch my legs I did not feel relief, I felt panic, I felt like they were going to pull me further under. I took a deep breath at the surface and as I sank back into the water I told myself to stay calm and do what I knew, inflate my shirt, tie my life jacket down and kick to the surface. In my dream, I swam to safety the only way I knew how, by trusting what others had taught me and my instincts. When I woke up I didn’t have to look far for the metaphor.

 

As to the answer to my question, I am running across the country. That’s what the hell I am doing. From day one, that is what I have been doing. We may have had van problems, I may be behind in mileage. I may feel like I can’t do it, like my gift is not enough, but that doubt puts me in a proper relationship with reality. My reality may not be what I expected, but it’s what I wanted, it is what the universe has decided I needed. I stopped at a VFW and had a drink with veterans. I woke up underneath the stars. I battled blisters. I navigated ATV trails, wadis, and even the open desert. I rolled under barbed wire fences, snapped pictures with border guards. I greeted horses, cows, and desert donkeys. I felt tired and beaten. I ran in the early morning hours while watching a desert thunderstorm.  I ran away from bats. I ran by what appeared to be a baby bear. I’ve met my daily mileage goal. More often, I’ve fallen short of my daily goal. I’ve raised money and awareness. I connected with people. I ran through Native American reservations. I ran along the interstate. I cried. I cried some more. I doubted. I laughed. I doubted more. I crossed one state line. I felt the heat, the darkness, the loneliness, and even a little of the joy. I walked. I hobbled. I ran. I am walking, hobbling, running across the country – reminding myself every day that this run is not about the launch or the finish, but all the miles in between. 

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Day 0

Day 0:

“When you want something, the whole Universe conspires to give it to you.” Replace “universe” with friends and I’m on board.

I fully intended to spend today examining and articulating my feelings, but I really only had one feeling, irritation. During the two days prior to the biggest run of my life and my flight is cancelled and then delayed. My support vehicle dies. Tow takes five hours (yes five) to get a tow. Shop says can’t be fixed til Monday. UPS won’t hold my package for one additional day. The rack company doesn’t send a rack. Sends two attachments, no rack. Tee shirts aren’t ready. Luggage rack isn’t put on right. No parking spot for the van. After each “you’re kidding me” moment a friend steps in and saves the day, offers a car, a solution, their time, coffee. A friend drives down to surprise me for the launch. My mom sends me a photo and a sweet text. My love brings me back down to calm.

Long story short, about 10 things went wrong today, but none of it mattered, not really. I have my shoes, my phone, and an incredibly deep web of support. And that’s all you need, for any grand adventure. The belly full of pasta and vino drizzled laughs are just perks.

To tomorrow! 

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So, what's the symbology there?

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We all love symbols. Tattoos are symbols. Flags are symbols. Words are even symbols. We communicate via symbols every day. It’s how we take what’s inside our brains and our souls and share it with other people. Symbols are an essential part of community, and this run is full of symbols.

The run itself is a big symbol, running across the country, from ocean to ocean, covering every inch by foot. It’s not just the massive mileage it’s going to take to do it, heck that was what this was for I could just stay in sunny SoCal and run 35 miles every day. It’s symbolic. It’s symbolic of me reconnecting to my country. It’s symbolic of me transitioning from the Marine Corps to whatever is next in my life.

My starting and ending points are important. I’m starting the run in San Diego, home to Team Hoyt San Diego on the anniversary weekend of their very first race. I’m ending in Virginia Beach, home to the very first chapter of Team Hoyt, on my Team Hoyt anniversary race. I ran my very first Team Hoyt race at the Wicked 10k in 2011. I’ll explain more in a blog later about what Team Hoyt means to me, but in this context Team Hoyt was what made Virginia Beach feel like home. I grew up in a tiny little town in Illinois. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same house on a dirt road. I can probably still tell you the middle names of everyone I graduate high school left. When I left for college and then the Marine Corps, I was chronically homesick. Sure, I love travelling and adventure, but I’m nester at heart. I need a community, a routine, familiarity. I need that small-town feel, even in the big city. Team Hoyt Virginia Beach gave me that. When I got orders to San Diego, I thought about resigning. I couldn’t leave another home. As fate would have it, Team Hoyt San Diego was founded. So I went to San Diego. I traded my ocean sunrises for ocean sunsets. Different climate, different people, but it was the same community I so desperately needed. Now I get to trade my sunsets for sunrises, and head back to my Team Hoyt home.

Speaking of home, my route is also symbolic. We’ll be covering the first two thirds of the run along historic Route 66. Historically this is route brought people to the west, to new lands, new adventure, new beginnings. It also was an infrastructural reminder of the dangers and restrictions for people of color during the Jim Crow era.

I’ll cross into my home state on the 22nd, exactly 2 months after I begin the journey. 22 is a powerful number itself I’ll be sure to harvest that energy on Oct 22 when I run my 9th Marine Corps Marathon with Bella (our 5th time together!) Side note: the MCM was my very first marathon. I, of course, said I'd never do it again. Ha!

My logos, of course, are symbolic. The bird logo for Run Free, the non-profit founded to support this run features two birds on tennis shoes. The birds are an obvious nod to the freedom often associated with flying, but also a nod to Anna Judd – one of my biggest inspirations for the run. Her transcontinental run in 2014 featured a bird logo. The two birds symbolize the power of a team, specifically the duo teams found in Team Hoyt and Ainsley’s Angels organizations across the country. If you look closely one of the birds only has one leg – because well sometimes we look or act a little different than “normal.” Still, together with a good pair of shoes, the duo can “Run Free.” The logo for the run, the multicolored flag overlaid on the outline of the United States, represents the organizations I’m supporting. The gold is for gold star families, the green for Warrior Expeditions, the pink for Ainsley's Angels, the blue for Mission Continues and Team Hoyt San Diego, the red for Team Hoyt VB, and the brown for the Farmer's Veterans Coalition. Each band represents one of the organizations I’ll be raising money for. Finally, the mantra of my run – “with grace, gratitude, and grit” outlines the way I’m going to approach every mile. Anyone who has done distance with me knows I can get pretty cranky, frustrated, and frankly rude, and often to the very people trying to support me. My favorite was during mile 75 or so of my first 100 miler. My friend Eric gently says “You can do it Maggie.” To which I snapped back “Don’t motivate me. I f’ing know I can do it. I’m 75 miles in do you think I’m going to quit? Do you think you telling me I can goddam do it would stop me? Just go. Run ahead I don’t even want to look at your face or hear you breathing anymore.” Add a couple more f bombs in there would probably be more accurate. In other words, I become grace-less and most certainly don’t exhibit gratitude. Of course, I’m tired and understandably cranky. But as I’ve repeated before, nobody cares who you are when you’re fresh.

I will cease to be “fresh” around midday Sunday. So that mantra is to remind me to give gratitude, act with grace, and move forward with grit. It’s what (hopefully) will fuel me through the gruel. And it sounded better than passion, persistence, and pizza.

So those are my symbols, the things I’ll look to for strength and comfort when I’m in so much pain, and the things I’ll look to to remind me of what I’m trying to do and why I wanted to do it in the first place. 

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The Beginning....

I don’t believe any big adventures, at least not mine, start with one singular idea – cause and effect are not that linear, or traceable. This adventure is no different. If I had to trace it back, I’d say I got the idea of running across the country because I met a girl who did it before me. I met Anna Judd in 2014 in rural Virginia where we clicked off 27.something miles chatting about feminism, family, and the power of community. In short, she inspired me. Here was this hippie cocktail waitress/artist covering the United States on foot to both understand what was outside her own Orange Country bubble and to raise funds for the veterans’ community – a community she herself wasn’t a part of, but felt connected to. That was the seed.

Then I met Shaun Evans in 2015, also running across the country, this time for the special needs community, spreading the message of inclusion and teaching people that “Yes, you can!” I met up and ran 10 miles with him in rural Iowa (then again is there any other type of Iowa?). The seed had taken hold.

In February of 2016, I, along with three of my amazing girlfriends, set out to run 161 miles over four days along the coast of California to honor the 161 US servicewomen who have died supporting operations since 9/11. I was floored by the feedback I got from my loved ones, my acquaintances, and complete strangers. I still haven’t pinpointed the connections, but something about running for a cause mobilized and inspired people. I don’t know why I was so shocked, I’ve been inspired by runners in 5ks. I’m inspired by people every day. I’ve run races for charity before and I love my races with my Team Hoyt family. I understood the direct connection between my lending my legs in exchange for my Bella’s energy and inspiration. But this was something different, less tangible.  I didn’t fully understand how or why, but I understood that I could do some good for others through running really far.

Then, of course, I ran into roadblocks. Original plans didn’t turn out. The legal paper was confusing. Executing the plan meant trying to file non-profit paperwork from Kuwait, and eventually would mean giving up my active duty career in the Marine Corps. I got offered a promotion and a sweet gig in Tokyo. 3600 miles was really, really far. It was going to be really hot in Arizona in August. I hadn’t committed to anything. I was going to do a similar run with another organization in 2018.  I had a dozen legitimate reasons to postpone or cancel altogether.

Then I read John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley in Search of America,” and I read it right after the 2016 elections. Never had I ever read a book so well-timed and in tune with my own feelings. Like Anna, I had spent my first 18 years of my life in a bubble – granted, mine included a sea of corn peppered with tractors while hers was an actual sea dotted with surfboards – but a bubble, nonetheless. Then, I spent my next 10 years or so going everywhere I could – both in the United States and across the world. If there was a chance to go somewhere new, meet someone new, I’d be there in my old vagabond sweatpants and favorite travelling flannel. As a side note, everyone should have a travelling flannel. Still, in all that travelling I’d managed to lose touch with my fellow citizens, with the communities that made up my country. I’d grown up in the country, was educated in the city, and lived on both coasts. I’d spent 10 years serving my nation’s policies and its citizens, but I felt like I was still in my bubble. I was John Steinbeck (minus Charlie and the impressive literary resume). I knew I had to do it. I had to run across the country because I was supposed to. I was supposed to meet these people and these communities. I was supposed to learn about them and from them. I was supposed to be the person on the other side of the adventure. I’ve heard people say, and often I’ve stolen, the phrase “the best way to learn a place is by running it.” So that’s what I’m doing. Running, more than driving and certainly more than flying, allows you to truly sense the space you’re in and connect it to the space within you. You can hear, smell, and see your surroundings – the good and bad. You have time to process and think about what’s going on around you as much as what’s going on inside you. That’s my search for America.

Now, what to call it? If naming a child was anything as hard as naming this event (and the non-profit behind it) I’d like to apologize to any progeny of mine in advance. I wanted something that was short and sweet (and had an unclaimed domain name), but that encompassed what I was trying to do and how I felt about the adventure. Becca and I tossed around ideas of something in a foreign language, perhaps a native language? We thought about naming it after someone. We thought about alliteration and the appeal of the hard k. We thought we could incorporate my name. Then I remember reading a story about Rick and Dick Hoyt – a duo team in which the father (Dick) pushes the son (Rick) in a specialized racing chair in road races, bike races, and even Ironmans. In the book Dick recounts the conversation with Rick after their first race. Rick told his dad that when he was in the chair, he didn’t feel like he had a disability. He felt free, and even called himself “free bird.”

That’s it. That’s how I feel. I’ve never spent a day in a wheelchair. I’ve always been able to use my legs and arms. I’ve always been able to speak what’s on my mind (to the chagrin of some). But Rick nailed it. I felt free when I ran, too. I felt physically free. I could go anywhere as long as I had my two legs. I didn’t need a car or bike. I can turn left or right. I can keep going or turn around short. Most of the time I’m not even limited by distance or location. I’m not running to get somewhere, I’m just running.

I feel free, or maybe freer, emotionally and spiritually too. I feel like I can meet my demons one by one and move past them. I feel like I can strip off my insecurities, my obligations, my worries. I’m free from all that. All I have to do is breathe in, breathe out, left foot, right foot, drink water, and eat food. How simple is that?

I feel that same freedom in my communities. Communities help free some of that baggage, too; some of that responsibility. Communities help free me from isolation and all the problems that come with it. Again, I’m not sure why it’s there, but I feel the connection between running, community, and freedom.  Thus, Run Free was born.

So that’s the origin story, because “I loved Forrest Gump” seems like too much of a cliché.

Next….My Communities

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Space, or the Importance of Nothing

Join me April 29 for Space, Yoga, and Beers!

Join me April 29 for Space, Yoga, and Beers!

 

 

As I recently moved to a new place (again) I was reminded (again) that I had too much stuff. As I donated box after box I felt lighter and  lighter. Putting my clothes away last night I, for the first time in years, didn't feel the underlying annoyance of cramming clothes in drawers. I simply placed by shirts, neatly folded, into the drawer and closed it. I had it. I finally had space.

I had space to put the new shirts for my organization away in my closet. I had space to store my artwork in the small storage by the door. I had space to display some of my favorite antiques from my mother’s house. I had space. And it was wonderful.

We all crave space. We crave it when we're overwhelmed, when we're sad, when we're overcome with joy, and when we’re in pain. When I'm suffering on my yoga mat (which is just about any time I'm on my yoga mat), my instructor reminds me to breathe, to create space between my ribs and belly and heart. That space is necessary to breathe through the pain.

The same with running. My best running always occurs in the mountains, along the cornfields, or among cacti in the open desert - places with miles and miles of space. There’s no space on a treadmill or a crowded city streets. I can still run there, but it’s not the same. Even with the endorphins, it often leaves me with more craving than contentment.

But it's nothing. Space is literally nothing. We crave nothing. Without it we can’t breathe. We can't think. And we certainly can't move. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to find or create space today. Somewhere, through I don’t know what, we’ve learned to associate wants and needs with “things” either tangible or intangible. I want new running shoes, I need a loving relationship, I need food and water. While all of these things are fine, even healthy desires or necessities, they’re still tangible items. We’re conditioned to think of needs as “things,” not the absence of them.  Sometimes we need nothing.

Space is craved, but we so rarely make it an effort to create it. I am guilty of craving without creating. I pack so much into each second of each day. I can't stand inefficiencies, wasted time, waiting in line, waiting on others. I'm always going to feel this way. But I often confuse space with wasted space. Wasted space is inefficient. Space is critical.

My frustration with waiting comes from some inherent narcissistic idea that the world revolves around me. I’m upset when others’ plans interfere with my own, when their schedules don’t accommodate my own color-coded perfectly designed day. But maybe this is the universe’s way of both reminding me of my small place in a large tapestry and giving me space, against my will but when I most desperately need it.

What’s that saying, take five minutes to clear your head every day, and when you have too many things to do, take 10? Something like that. Space is like that. When you feel like you have no time to carve out space, that’s when you need it the most.

In yoga we also learn that we all hold a space within ourselves, a place of stillness and grace. This space is always available to us - among the quiet or the catastrophe,  between the mundane and the magnificent. It’s our place of love, truth, light, and peace.

Space is free and accessible to all. It’s one of the very few things that is, and it’s time we start appreciating it. It’s time we start creating it instead of simply craving it, or worse ignoring our cravings. We need to start looking at space not as a luxury, but a necessity, required for success, required for happiness. It’s time to understand that we can move through pain, accomplish any task, go as far as we want if we just have the space to do it.

Sign up for Hoppy Yoga at Mission Brewery here: http://www.hoppyyoga.com

 

Things I learned....Zion 100k

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Last Friday I ran the Zion 100k, a race I signed up for some time last year as a sort of reunion race for the Valor Run 161 crew. per usual, I went into this race with very little preparation - I simply hadn’t made it a priority. I still thought I might finish in 15-16 hours. I finished in over 19. It was humbling to say the least. On the other hand, it was a confidence boost to know I can still cover 63 miles on foot (notice how I didn’t say run - “run” might be overzealous, let’s say bounce walk). And like all the other long bounce walks in my life, I learned a few things:

Running is the teacher you need for the lesson you’re ready to learn. I registered for this race with Michelle, the ever badass surgeon turned Navy LT ultra marathoner. Talking with her afterwards she emphasize how humble this race had made her. I was thinking about how it boosted my confidence. She had run it 5 hours faster than I. It made no sense. But those were the lessons we each needed.

I learned about balance. Just like this race inspired both humility and confidence, the mountains can both destroy and restore a soul. Running causes so much pain but then releases the dopamine you need to suffer through it. The terrain and views are all at once amazing and treacherous. You fall in love with the mountains and then you want to level the whole thing and build a parking lot. You run 100k then drink 12 coca cola classics. Balance.

There are two points of every long run. The first, the miles you feel light as air. You bound down the mountain or beast up it. Every step seems to energize you, you can’t wipe the smile off your face, you could go on forever. The runner’s high. The second, are the miles you can barely slog through. Every step seems to be the last, you can’t muster the energy to listen let alone chat, and you can’t seem to cover one more foot. The runner’s low. Two points, every ultra. I can’t figure out what brings each on. I can’t figure out how to extend one or shorten the other. And for the life of me I can’t figure out which one I’m chasing.

Running makes me better, if not physically (ultras probably do more physical damage than good) but mentally and emotionally. If I missed a couple days of running my old chief used to send me out for an hour, cover my classes. He said it was more for him than for me. I think it was his way of politely telling me I was cranky without running. Running de-stresses me. There’s a science there, that whole dopamine/endorphins thing. But it’s not just that. As evidence from the last lesson, I’m not always happy when running. In fact I’m often cranky, tired, rude, self-involved, etc etc. Running makes me better because it makes me learn how to deal with that. In Go Ruck challenges they tell you, “no one cares who you are when you’re fresh”. What they mean there is that it’s easy to be kind and caring and compassionate when you’re well-rested and happy. But true character comes out when shit hits the fan. Running reminds me that these situations are permanent, but act like an asshole and that’s on your character forever.

It’s possible for your eyelashes to hurt.

Some people are motivated by haters or competition. The few times I wanted to quit I remember what my Mom tells me before every race, “Do your best.” Now that sounds like the “Everyone gets a trophy” or “It’s not winning that counts” sort of mentality that I assure you I did not grow up with. Sure it’s a pass for the weak, but it’s a directive for the honest. Around mile 27 I wanted to quit, for any of the various reasons why someone wants to quit these things. I hadn’t really told anyone about it so I wouldn’t lose face, I’d run 100k before so it wasn’t a distance PR or anything, I could sleep and enjoy the scenery, I shouldn’t risk an injury, all the typical things people tell themselves to convince themselves that they don’t need to spend the next 8-10 dark hours wandering the mountains for a mug, a coke, and some lukewarm cheese quesadilla. Then I thought “is this your best?” Believe it or not, I think this was the first time I’ve really asked myself this. This was the first time that the advice my mother has been giving me for 30 years - before every race, every test, every application, every challenge, finally sunk in. It took 3 decades but I finally truly learned how poetic it was. Do your best. Simple enough right? It’s all yours. No one can tell you failed. Only you really know if you did your best. And only if you’re truly honest with yourself.

Take your sunglasses off at night…makes it easier not to crush your face on the 2000ft descent.

You meet the most random wonderful people, people find one another. This weekend was a collection of random, in the sense of I could have met each one of these people once and never spoken to them again. Michelle was the girl who won her first 100 miler as I cried into my blisters. Becca could have been another Marine Corps officer met on TAD. Noah – some guy silly enough to run 5 marathons in 5 days. But instead of those stories being singular eventually forgotten memories, they became origin stories. As I gear up for this run across the country I’m beginning to more and more look forward to meeting the people along the route. Sure I’m going to have lots of personal reflection time, understand myself more and make myself a better person. But I’m also going to get to connect with my fellow citizens, runners, veterans, middle-Americans. Hopefully share miles and stories, meals and beers.

Sometimes there’s only one man that can get me through a race….and that man is Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.

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My Very First Fundraiser

And my very first blog post since launching this website. And it's a request, of you! All of you. Well 200 of you. Here's the deal:

I have 200 envelopes labeled 1-200. Which means I need 200 people (that's you) to volunteer to take responsibility for one of these envelopes. Here's how it works: 

1) Shoot me an email, text, or radio signal and volunteer to take 1 (or 2 or 10) envelopes. You can pick the number! 

2) I'll send you your chosen envelope along with a self-addressed stamped envelope (or SASE in postal lingo).

3) Raise that amount of money. (Pick envelope 10, raise $10, Pick 200, raise $200...you get it) (Side note: I'm asking that you complete your fundraising by 1 April. That's 45 days give or take, plenty of time.) 

4) Return your check(s) in your SASE. Or you can paypal too!

5) Receive your tax-deductible receipt and free gift from me! 

Part of my mission on this run is to get as many people involved as possible, to make as many connections as possible. This is a fantastic way to get you all involved and raise money for some great organizations - and get you talking about this awesome adventure. Anyone can raise $200. I swear, even kids can do it. In fact, get your kids involved - they'll get an extra special prize from me. Set up a lemonade stand (or hot cocoa maybe for all my non-California friends). Put a swear jar in at work. Host a fundraiser with 31, Stella and Dot, Silpada, MaryKay, LulaRoe or any other small business. Ask your local restaurant to donate a portion of a night's proceeds to the cause. There are a 100 ways to reach your goal. And help me reach mine. 

As always, thanks for your support! 

 

 

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What Sports Can Teach Us, Even When We Don't Play Them

As I sit here alternating between a giant grin and a few tears, celebrating the Cubs pennant win EDIT WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP, I find myself questioning “Why?” Why do I base my emotions – sad or happy - on a team of men I’ve never met playing a made up game which arguably offers the world little to no tangible progress or “good.” I mean I love sports, playing them, the lessons they taught me, the health they give me. But I’m not playing the game anymore, I’m just watching it. Could this time and energy be better spent somewhere else? Is it wrong to buy into the hype? Should I really be this invested?

I grew up a Cubs and Bears fan, not by choice, simply because my father ran the TV, we only got 4 or 5 channels and sports was always one of them. I rooted for the Cubbies and the Bears but couldn’t tell you players or stats or even the little known rules of the game.

Then I left home. I went to Chicago and watched the White Sox win the World Series in 2005. I saw the joy and energy that came with it. I saw a city celebrate. I saw, in the middle of a country in two wars and an economic slump, people believe in something, in magic almost.

Then I went further away, to Rome, and watched the Bears crush the 2006 season. There was this crappy little bar that catered to American students abroad, Scholar’s Lounge. Irish Car Bombs were $5 and they served Budweiser. Because of the time difference, the owners agreed to keep the bar open late for Sunday games, if we could get enough people in there buying drinks. So the diehard Bears fan on the first floor used to convince all of us to hop on the last bus of the night, sometimes in pajamas and watch the Bears dominate. I loved Rome. I loved traveling and adventure, but I was (and still am) chronically homesick. For those three or four hours, in the middle of the night, I felt like I was home.

From there I joined the Marine Corps and realized I’d probably always be away from home. Through deployments and various duty assignments, I made second homes, and third and fourth and fifth. But I always had sports. Sports were both a constant and a marker of time. Baseball season gave way to Football in the fall, then back to spring training. Players and coaches rotated out, but I still had sports. Sometimes that meant watching football at 2am in Afghanistan, or finding the one bar to play the Cubs games in Virginia. It was a way to show where I was from, a conversation starter with other Chicago fans. And believe me, we’re everywhere. I also found that just because I wasn’t playing the game, didn’t mean I couldn’t learn something.

Through baseball I began to see the technical side of life. I read somewhere that baseball is a game of failure and perseverance. Take batting averages for example. Ty Cobb still holds the record at .366. Which means for 65% of his time at bat, he failed to connect the bat to the ball – a basic premise of the game. And he was the best. It’s this high failure rate that requires the greats to maintain both skill and patience. Equal parts dealing with the pitch you’re thrown and preparing for the pitch you want. It’s placing the ball in the tiny corner or pocket of the field. It’s exploiting errors. It’s standing in the outfield for 9 innings just to catch one fly ball. It’s throwing 10000 pitches just to perfect one.

Through football I learned grit - the kind of grit embodied by greats like Walton Payton. When patience and technical skill took you so far and you still hit a wall, grit says you simply smash through it. Walter Payton used to train on this hill near his boyhood home of Alabama. Every day he’d go and run the hill until he just couldn’t do it anymore. He didn’t have a technical trainer. He didn’t measure his electrolytes or study his form. He just went until exhaustion. He trained his body in a different sort of perseverance. Sure work smarter, but then work harder.

Through both I learned the power of tradition and nostalgia – both good and bad. I read about the black stain the "Black Sox" cheating scandal left on baseball. I learned about the racism that kept Satchel Paige – possibly the greatest player to ever play the game – from ever reaching notoriety and probably kept him from reaching his full potential. Through both I learned about legends and communities. I learned of the mix between the business of the leagues and the romanticism of the game. I learned that sometimes our heroes disappoint us, they can still be our heroes. As adults we’re able to praise aspects of character without condoning the faults. Things in this world are complicated, sports are no different. Baseball is a game of duality, of storied histories and "wait til next year." A game of stats and folklore, where faith and reason merge into a compendium of math and magic. Life is like that too.

This baseball season taught me the importance of a team. There have been a number of stars in Cubs history – Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa, Billy Williams, Ron Santo – stars who never won a championship. But this team, this young scrappy Cubs team won it all. The entire infield was in the all-star game. The pitchers could rake. Outfielders caught, the catchers smashed it. Some guy most fans wouldn’t recognize hit a grand slam.  Baez went from MVP to double E to redemption.  You have to have all the pieces of the puzzle. It doesn’t hurt to have a few puzzle masters either.

This team had fun. From the suits to the smiles – never taking themselves too seriously. This is no small feat for any professional sports team, let alone one with a 108 year old weight around their very young shoulders. As David Ross says “it’s going to get worse, just breathe.” Or as Joe says “We’re fine.” They didn’t crack, they didn’t choke, they came back in the 8th, the 9th, and of course the 10th.

Fandom is commitment. Through the bad seasons and the championships. Through divorce, death, moves, people rarely change their team. I know I won’t. The Cubs play in the same stadium as they did 100 years ago. There’s a lesson here. While we celebrate this week, this year, or even this decade, eventually we’ll be the underdogs again. Then we won’t. Ride the highs, move through the lows, but stay committed.

Looking back, I started to follow teams during their good years, so I guess you can call me a bandwagoner. I’m ok with that. And I hope this year brings a few new bandwagoners turned diehard fans. We accept you. All we ask is that you stick with us. Suffer through the losses. Because that’s what communities do. We suffer together. We celebrate together. We find common ground. We exalt our heroes. And while the bond I feel seeing a stranger in a Cubs hat or a Bears jersey is not one of my strongest bonds, it reminds me that we could all find common ground, even if it’s just sports. They say never to talk about religion, politics or sports, but I’ve found that I’m probably going to agree with you on one of those topics, and that’s a good place to start.

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Things I Learned....30 miles for 30 years

I  spent my 30th birthday doing almost all the things I love, starting with a nice long run. Here’s what I learned over those 30 miles in the wee early hours in Kuwait. Plus what I want my next 30 years to look like!

“It’s not what you do. It’s who you are”

Talking with Marines earlier in the week, I started thinking about the standard “what I have accomplished in my 20s” list. I felt annoyed with myself after listing the first two accomplishments. One of the Marines chimed in that I was only listing the things I had accomplished for myself, but not the contributions I had made for others. Regardless, counting the things you’ve done for others is equally annoying. I won’t do that. Besides my Mom always said she wasn’t so proud of (or worried about) the things I did as she was about the person I was.

This is especially true in running. I, like so many others, like to collect fitness achievements. Longest run, heaviest lift, handstands, muscle-ups, fastest marathon. I post pictures of my medals and log my run times. I started a blog for heaven's sake. Sometimes it’s for posterity. Sometime, let’s be honest, it’s for a little outside validation and support. But that’s not really why we run. We run because it makes us better people. I will always love racing. I will always prefer it to the lonely miles on a treadmill or track. I love my medals and race tee shirts and sharing beers afterwards with friends. But the run is always there, even if the race is not. It’s there without the finish line, the bling, the tee shirt, the post-run Instagram photo. It’s good to set goals, to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, and even to enjoy the congratulations and support of your loved ones, but the miles make you better even without that stuff. The goal tells others what you did, but it’s the miles that make you who you are.

“Lose the rules”

I turned 20 at Officer Candidate School (OCS), or officer boot camp as some call it. I remember distinctly thinking that all I wanted for my birthday was to be a Marine. I was dropped from OCS a month later. I spent my teens mostly succeeding at the things I tried. I started my 20s failing at the one thing I wanted the most. So I started making rules, rules I thought would help me succeed. Rules I constantly failed to uphold. I eventually became a Marine, because or despite those rules and was rewarded with a whole new set of rules. Some were forced on me, some I came up with on my own. No pajamas in public. No bikinis past like 35 or something. No flip flops. No jewelry. No nail polish. No binge drinking. No cigarettes. No Calibri. The problem with rules is that if I broke them, I felt guilty. And if I kept them, I felt righteous. I don’t want to be either of those.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, probably not, that the more I run, the more rules I throw out the window. If anyone ever gives you a list of “rules” for running, ignore that person. When it comes to running, especially ultra-distances, there are no absolute rules. Even silkies chafe. For every person that tells you to drink lots of water, someone else will caution you against flushing out all your electrolytes. Every guy who says don’t ever sit down will have a girl behind him saying to take a nap if you can. Even the ones that seem self-evident – like don’t quit – should be ignored sometimes. If quitting means avoiding serious injury, quit. Sure there are general guidelines or lessons you can learn from experiences, but there are no rules. Even looking back over the “Things I’ve learned” posts, you’ll find some contradictions. Some emphasize the importance of team work, others of rugged individualism. Some will make you think that the desert is the best running for the soul, others speak of the sea. None of them are meant to be rules.

 “The Importance of Education”

The more I learn, the more I realize that there are so very few absolutes in the world. Thus, more education, as a guideline, is better. The more you learn = the more you understand = the more you can do. I’m not just talking about formal education or even the things you learn from books – although these are important. I’m talking about learning about people, cultures, nature, subjects, the world around you, yourself. In preparation for a race you study a course map, read race reports, and try out new gear. You educate yourself on the weather and terrain for a specific event. When you pick up a new fitness program you consult the experts, you learn the basics and then build. It’s the same for life. You learn because it makes you better, faster, stronger, smarter, happier. But here’s the real reason to learn, the more you learn the more you can connect with others. The more people you can have a conversation with over a beer or a 50k. The more people you have something, anything, in common with.

“The Importance of Empathy”

Of course if all you have is education, those connections can only go so deep. True connection requires empathy. I’m not saying sympathy, blanket agreement, or even the approval of every person’s views and/or actions. Empathy only requires that you seek to stand, or run, beside another person and try and see things as she or he sees them. That’s it. You don’t have to give up your beliefs (although you might), you don’t have to minimize your own truth, you just have to honestly try and understand the experiences, feelings, and ideas of another human being. Empathy is what you do when you’re humble enough to understand that your experiences and feelings are yours alone.

Empathy in running is what allows the first place runner to admire the guy or gal finishing just under the time cutoff. Empathy in running is easier than empathy in life. Empathy in running comes from common ground. Despite whether we are 5kers or ultra-marathon women, we are bonded through our shared experience of running. Empathy in life is more difficult. We all have vastly different experiences, different backgrounds, and different visions of the world. It’s more difficult to empathize in life when those connections aren’t immediately apparent. Difficult, but not impossible. Empathy is possible because we’re already bonded together. We’re all connected by virtue of being on this planet. We just have to find those connections and use them to build empathy.

“Ease suffering”

This is the big one, and perhaps the most appropriate to both life and running. During any long run there comes a point where I want nothing more than to stop suffering. Usually this means I want to quit. I’m willing to do anything to stop feeling pain. Because pain hurts. Suffering is miserable. I wrote about pain and its utility a couple months ago, but that’s not the point of this post (See, more contradictions). This 30 miles, and the week of pain and suffering back home that preceded it, solidified my vision for my future, to ease suffering – my own and others. That’s what I want to do when I grow up. (Only took me 30 years). This vision is going to take committed and persistent action, both small and large. Easing suffering isn’t just about the big things – ending human trafficking, equal rights, fighting discrimination and hate, protecting human security, or healthcare – it’s about the little things too. Ending suffering means, for me, putting in the hours with the non-profits as well as treating strangers with kindness. It’s the slow, laborious, frustrating legislative action and fundraising efforts required for substantial and enduring change. It’s the conversations we have every day. It’s asking a little girl about school instead of commenting on how pretty she is. It’s buying a homeless man a sandwich and doing the research on comprehensive VA housing reform. It’s minimizing how much crap I buy and helping fight the slavery that makes our goods so cheap. It’s voting in December. It’s hugging a Gold Star family.  It’s taking the time to have a beer with a friend, ask them about the day, ordering another round and laughing. It’s sharing your Vaseline and massaging the sweaty, dirty, cramping calf muscle of a stranger. Ease suffering, in all its forms, as often as possible.

I may not know what the end looks like, or what exactly I’ll need to do along the way, but I have a purpose and generally know where to begin, and that’s really all I ever have at the beginning of a run.

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Music and Miles

This week is the 5th annual Firefly Music Festival in Dover, DE – my favorite music festival and one I’ve managed to get to for the past four years – and I’m missing it. I won’t be as dramatic as to say I’m heartbroken, but I’m really super bummed. I love music. I sound like a overanxious camel when I sing and I haven’t played an instrument since I was in high school, but man can I jam to some Bob Segar and Meatloaf. I love music. And not just the hipster underground alt rock and hip hop music that I’m supposed to love. I love that crappy 90s rap and twangy country. I love the bouncy pop and knock-off punk. I love a song you can dance to, cry to, run to.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the connection between music and running. For most, myself included, music makes the miles go by so much faster. There comes a point in any race where I need to pop my headphones in and go. Even here, I listen to my audiobook until I can’t stand the view of the treadmill or the sand anymore. Then I go to my favorite playlist, close my eyes, and go somewhere else. I don’t focus on the strain of my lungs or the ache in my feet. I focus on the poetry in the lyrics or the passion in a beat.

Music is a drug, a safe and legal one, and when mixed with running it’s potent – in the very best ways. It’s a sound track to my high. Music has a way of punching me in the gut. It has the ability to accompany a mood, amplify it, calm it or even overcome it. Sometimes all at once.  Just like running. Our whole lives have a soundtrack. And when a song from that soundtrack comes on midway through a run, that mile is dedicated to that memory. Because running takes so little brainpower, it’s hardwired in our bodies, you can devote your entire mind and spirit to that memory. You can reflect on it, relive it, and safely tuck it back into your memory. Music transports me to that first bus ride in Italy, to a long country road, to my front porch dancing, to that last 10 miles on the mountain.  More than that, it gives me back my emotions. I don’t simply feel joy when I hear a song from a joyful occasion – I feel the same joy - with all its specific nuances and context. Amazing grace doesn’t just remind me of the sadness I feel at the death of a loved one, it uncovers the exact sadness and love I feel hearing my mother hum it.

Music and miles are portals, free of space and time, a break to the past, the future, and the true present. Running strips us down to the core, the very basics of the human body. One foot in front of the other. Breathe in and out. Drink water. Eat calories. Move forward. When that simplicity is coupled with the complexity of music, something magical happens. All of it can come rushing in, you lose yourself and find yourself all at once.  It’s overwhelming to be sure, but what beauty you’ll find there. The capacity of the human spirt to feel all of those things, experience all those things, process all those things. The ability of the human body to cover those miles, to move that fast, to endure that suffering. To me this is the most terrifying and humbling experience. It’s how I feel when I stand on the bow of a ship. Like there is this incredibly complex, vast, and interconnected thing right in front of you that you know so little about.  And the deeper you go the more you realize just how much you don’t know, can’t know. All you can do is appreciate what you don’t understand and wonder at the beauty of it all. Turn your music up, put one foot down, then the other. Be humbled. Be overcome. Be grateful.

"I ran to be free. I ran to avoid pain. I ran to fee pain. I ran out of love and hate and anger and joy." -Dagny Scott Barrios

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The Utility of Pain

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The first time someone called me a masochist I thought they were crazy. Of course I didn’t like pain. Who likes pain? Hell forget pain, I didn’t even like discomfort. I was a hedonist by most accounts. I was certainly NOT a masochist. Still it’s hard to claim this when I continually signed up for increasingly painful endurance events. So I began to argue that I didn’t do these events for the pain, I did them for the lessons and the absolute joy I got from them. I said all of these while pretending that the pain was perhaps corollary to joy and learning, but not casual. Somewhere in the last week, maybe during a midday run in 100+ Middle Eastern heat, I realized that the lessons and the joy are not parallel to pain, but rather the direct result. A sunrise is never more spiritual than after a long lonely night. Sleep has never been more exquisitely well earned than after 100 miles. Part of it is simply appreciating things, providing the contrast of pain to pleasure. I firmly believe that the greatest pains in life are equally matched, or even dwarfed by, their counterparts – the greatest joys.

Think of the greatest joys in your life? Did a single one of them come without pain? A marathon? Childbirth? A great love? A inspirational friendship? A reunion with loved ones? Yoga? Dance? Art? The only joys I can think of that don’t come with pain are books and drinks with friends on a beach. And that last one often comes with pain the next day. Pain is a part of life, every day. Every stubbed toe or stiff back. Every ignored text or goodbye. The memories of loved ones far away or even gone completely.

So why seek out pain? I remember hiking with a man a year or so ago. I’m not sure I even knew his name at the time but somewhere lost in the desert waiting for the sun to rise we ended up sharing some of our biggest scars – his life in particular had seemed full of pain. I remember thinking, why is this guy lost on a mountain with 100lbs in his pack? If he wants to suffer he should just go home and live his life. Why seek out pain when there’s seemingly an abundance of it in the world?

Because, just like anything, you need to practice pain. Willingly exposing yourself to pain allows you to practice it, allows you to control it, to cope with it. I’m not just talking physical pain. There’s some true emotional and spiritual pain associated with endurance events as well. This is the most important pain of all to practice. There’s no other way to practice but to just feel it. You can’t fight it or numb it, at least not permanently. You can only settle into the pain, understand that with every step it may get worse. It may then all of the sudden get better. The physical pain may cause the emotional pain, or vice versa. It may cause joy. It may be the first of many painful episodes, a fresh hurt destined to be by your side for years to come. It may be the final scarring of an old wound. The ways you cope with pain over the miles, the mountains, and the mud are the same ways you cope in everyday life. Settle in and start listening to what the pain is trying to teach you – about your body, your spirit, and the world you inhabit.

These lessons you learn through pain are often the ones that stick with you. A burnt hand is a visceral memory that teaches you to be cautious around fire. Serious chafing reminds you to stock up on body glide. The pain of rejection or a broken friendship reminds you to be kind with your words. The loss of a loved one makes you appreciate those you have. When someone hurts you, you learn your capacity for forgiveness and compassion – and the strength it takes to exhibit both. The lessons you learn through pain and suffering are some of the cornerstones of your character.

One of my favorite lessons is that when forced to suffer, its best tosuffer with and for others. The pain you are willing to withstand for and by yourself - for money, ego, achievement, vanity - is a fraction of the pain you are willing to suffer with and for others.  There is no nobler cause than the one you take up for others. This is the idea behind Hero WODS, this is why Hero WODs are so exquisitely excruciating and why they are so often done in groups. I'm in no way equating the pain of an hour (or more) workout to the pain of losing someone, but I'm saying it's a way to practice it. It's a way to suffer and bond with others but like the bond - unbroken by death - a hero feels with his or her unit, squad, or family. It's a way to honor the sacrifice of men and women by sacrificing our time, our bodies, and most of all our comfort. Willingly withstanding pain is our small way of showing commitment and respect to a higher cause. In this case the cause is honoring the service, sacrifice, and legacy of others. It's a way to focus on the joy of knowing someone like the namesakes of these workouts. It's a way for us all to reflect on the lessons we can learn from them, ourselves, and our collective pain."

So this memorial day, if you’re so inclined, I urge you to practice a little pain. Go for a little longer run, (safely) do an extra set or extra rep. Feel the pain associated with a visit to a cemetery or a call to a Gold star family. Learn a lesson from this pain. Then be joyful. Cherish your lesson, your pain, and your joy. Know that while the pain for so many never goes away, it can and will subside. And in its place is peace and joy. So for the moment, settle into the pain.

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Just Because You Don't See It

I've been staying up north the past couple weeks in preparation for the upcoming deployment. As such, I've driven the California coastline (or sat in traffic) more than a few times. Each time I look along the coast, I can't help but to remember the miles and the lessons I learned on that 161 mile run. Except for the times I've driven the route in the dark. In dark I don't see the blue sea or the green hills. I don't get that instant feeling of joy, accomplishment, sobriety, that I got during those 161 miles. Why? Because it's dark? Because I don't see the waves? The trails? The lessons? Well, yes. Since I've been a child I've hated the dark, been scared of it. I can remember coming home from college the first time and driving up in to the yard because my Mom forgot to leave the outside light on. Or the time I bribed my fire watch partner at OCS to stay with me as we patrolled the parking lot in the dark Quantico night. I hate the dark. It scares me. It hides all the beauty of the world.

Fast forward to ultra running. There is something about when the sun sets during a run that just crushes my soul. It's how the kids at Hogwarts feel when the dementors show up - like I'll never feel happiness again. I mean I know the sun is going to rise again (or more scientifically accurate the earth will rotate into the light again). But there is this small fear that maybe today will be different. Maybe today the sun won't come up, it'll all be over, and all those beautiful views will be gone - forever.

But would they? I mean just because we don't see something, does it mean it's not there? Are the seven wonders crumbling if we don't look at them? Is the sea any less majestic at night? Are those breathtaking views, the ones that make you believe there must be a God. Are they only sacred if you experience them?

Of course not, we cannot be that arrogant or self-centered. We cannot believe that things only exist as we experience them. We can't possibly believe that perception really is reality. Those trails, those hills, those lessons are there. Just waiting. The mountains are there in the dark. The miles are there in the future. The pain and its lessons are there in our past. They are all there, whether we see them or not.

The same goes for people, for friendships, for memories. Just because they aren't there right now or because we can't touch them, or even speak to them; it doesn't mean they aren't there. There's this theory of time, Kurt Vonnegut among others, writes about it, saying that everything that has happened is still happening - in that moment. So your favorite hug, reunion, kiss, birth, memory, is still happening, and will happen forever in that moment. Sure you can't see it now. But that doesn't mean it's gone. A mile in the dark is still a mile. A mountain, still a mountain. This is a comforting thought.

It's a thought that allows us to keep pushing on in the dark. It's one that allows us to leave the places, and the people we love. It's what allows us to look towards the next race, the next sunrise. It's what allows us to smile and wave goodbye. Because we don't need to be scared of the dark. We don't need to be scared that we'll forget what we can't see. We don't need to be scared that it's not there anymore. It's still there. In that moment. And moments are permanent.

"All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I said before, bugs in amber." - K.V.

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Silkies Drink Pairing List

What to drink when it feels like you're wearing nothing at all....Orange Rum Light or dark.

Orange is light and fun, so is rum. So is your mom when drinking rum. Orange was also my high school’s colors and I drank more rum than 40 drunken pirates. Also I had a thing for pirates in high school.

Garnet Port

Maybe because port is a deep garnet, maybe because I call these silkies maroon and I think of getting marooned on an island and being forced to drink port because let’s be honest, it’s the emergency alcohol.

Graphite Grey Goose Vodka.

Yeah it’s a little obvious, but silkies weren’t meant to meant to be subtle.

Gunmetal Bourbon.

Guns. Metal. Bourbon. America.

Black Scotch

Because scotch is what I drink when I feel like my soul is black. Or maybe scotch is what makes my soul black.

Navy Brandy

Because….Brandy you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, but my life my love and my lady is the sea. And it’s what I imagine Admirals in the Navy drink.

RoyalCocktail

Here’s your free for all. Because royal is a serious sounding name for a very unserious color. Royal is the color of the sea, international waters, and anything goes - except for amaretto sours. Those should never be allowed.

Green Whiskey

The original silkies, the original drink. Neither of those points may be true but nothing goes better with war-worn silkies (yes they can get thinner) than whiskey. It’s the first post-deployment drink. It’s the drink of NJPs and holiday duties. It’s the the drink of Marines kicked out of birthday balls across the globe. It burns, it’s abusive, and you keep coming back to it. Just like the Marine Corps.

Sand Tequila

Because sand reminds me of the time I drank too much tequila and ended up walking naked back to my Mexican hotel. Side fact: Mexico uses its prisoners to rake the beaches in the middle of the night.

Now these are merely suggestions, because the only real rule with silkies is if they fit, go 2 sizes smaller. #silkiesneversaydie

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Surround Yourself with People who Challenge You: Or How California Changed Me

We, especially in the fitness world, have all heard some form of this advice before - to surround yourself with people that challenge you. My favorite mantra is "If you're the fittest person in the gym, find a new gym." I love that idea. I love the idea that you pick your people, your running partners, your lift mates, based on them pushing you to be better, stronger, faster. You run with people that go just a little faster than your comfort pace. Life with people that make you throw another 10 plate on the bar. Yoga with people that have mastered crow or handstands while your favorite position is still corpse pose. You work out with people that are better than you, because that challenges you.

But that's not what this post is about. This is about picking people in every day life, not just fitness, who challenge you. Because challenges ALWAYS make you better. This is both incredibly difficult and incredibly simple - especially for us who have strong opinions and values. It's hard for us to be around those that feel, vote, or think differently. Just like it's hard to learn a new movement, or feel like we're struggling to keep up on a run. We either think they are less educated, less compassionate, less intelligent, or just plain wrong. We either find no common ground or we do nothing but fight on that ground. We either avoid these disagreeable subjects or come to them ready for battle. We begin "discussions" armed with our own arguments, our points and counterpoints, our facts and research. But I'm not just talking about political, religious, or social issues. I'm talking about how we live our lives every day. Here is why surrounding yourself with people who challenge you is so incredibly simple - because you don't need to find someone smarter, more fit, or more experienced than you. You just need to find someone different, someone who thinks about things differently, approaches things differently, finds happiness and joy and passion in different things. This might be the easiest task in the world.

When I moved to California I hated it. I thought the people were shallow and unambitious, the weather was  too sunny and picture perfect, and the radio stations were awful. Overall, I thought the pace was too slow and lazy. I thought the happy hours lacked depth and significance. People talked about yoga, not international politics. People met, spent hours together and never once asked "what do you do?" People spent whole days lounging at the beach, napping, brunching. It drove me crazy. I thought, do you know how many emails could you answer in that time? How many miles could you run? How many meals could you prep? I thought the girls that spent their evenings trying to "find a man" were frivolous and hurting my feminist cause. I thought it was ridiculous to spend more money on make-up than race fees. I thought these people were a little behind me, that if I just explained, ok preached, to them the values of work ethic, social justice, and overpacked schedules, that they too would give up their lazy lives and become overstressed, anxious, go getters. I had assumed that I had figured out how to live and they just hadn't yet.

I was wrong. I'm not saying I'm giving up my ambitions of saving the world or my weekends of 14 appointments. Or that'll put makeup on this week. I'm saying that people challenge you in the most surprising ways. I'm saying that it's ok to slow down, let a little sunshine in, and pour a cocktail at noon. I'm saying it's ok if others are more or less ambitious that you are. I'm saying that different goals are less or more. Moreover, that the goal of being happy is a valid and admirable goal. I'm saying that we all have things to work on. But mostly, I'm saying that challenging yourself can't just be in the gym, or the classroom, or the debate hall. Truly challenging yourself has to be about every day life. Try it. Talk to someone that looks at things completely differently. If you like to throw weights around while listening to Rob Zombie, try yoga. If you're a ultra marathoner that mocks those super fast 5k guys, sign up for a road race. If you're someone that has been focused on your hair color more than activism, talk to an activist. If you're someone that hasn't put makeup on in 2 months, grab fresh manicure or shade of lipstick. You'll probably change a few things about how you live your day to day life, and maybe you won't. Maybe your views will change drastically, maybe you'll just strengthen your original ideas. Surround yourself with people that challenge you, not because they are better, but because they are different. Do this and you'll surely connect with a few more people and learn more about yourself and the world. Most importantly, you'll surely learn a little more empathy. And empathy is half of the secret to peace, happiness, and progress. But more on that later....

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Things I Learned...31 Miles for 31 Heroes

Originally posted August 2015 after a 31 Mile ruck run (with 31#) in honor of the 31 Heroes killed in Afghanistan 6 August 2011.

Over the past two weekends I've been honored to run and work out for causes. Specifically men and women that have died in the cause that is the United States of America. Here's what I learned.

Don't invite infantry Marines to endurance events. If you've ever doubted the physical capabilities of these assholes, let me cure that. They are stubborn. They are competitive. They are the very reason I joined the Marine Corps. I respect and admire how they've forced me into humility. They are beasts. You deserve the very best in leaders.

Working out for a cause, whether it's a WOD, a marathon, a 160 mile run, or a 31 mile hike, is the most humbling and amazing experience. I've often wondered why we do these things in honor of people. Some is it is to honor the fallen, the heroes. Some of it is to remind the families that their heroes are alive and well I others' hearts. The joy and the closeness at a mile marker is enough. But even more than that is the bond we formed through shared hardship. I would never say that running or rucking a mile is equal to the pain of losing a loved one's life. There is no physical pain that can equate to that. What we do in their honor will never bring them back. It'll never cure the pain. In fact it's actually quite selfish. We do it for ourselves. The bonds we bond in physical suffering connect us. They create communities. And that's the crux of human existence.

We all want to be connected to people. It's why communities form. It's why countries exist.

Powerful things shake us. They are phenomenal. We want those things. We at the very least want to be connected to those things. Those people. Those communities.

Confessions, I struggle with inadequacies. I don't like people telling me I'm not good enough. I don't know, blame my dad. Credit my dad. Shit credit my mom. But today and every day I start to realize that we can overcome our inadequacies by being better. Trying harder. Sacrificing more.

Strength and calm. Strength is calm. And vice versa. What an incredible lesson.

I rucked, shit ran, 31 miles with a group of people that had never ran that before. Yeah they did it for the 31 heroes that lost their lives, but they also did it for the guy or girl next to them. The built a community with honor today and for that I could not be more humbled or proud. I've done some incredible physical endeavors, with some amazing people. Never have I've ever been so in awe of the men and women beside me. Military and civilians. Passionate endeavors fueled by passionate ideas. This wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done, I never hit my low, I was never desperate, but it, combined with the memories of my lows and desperation, might have taught me the most about my purpose in life. For that, I'm eternally grateful.

This video captures my thoughts. All of these things made me who I am. I'm no where near perfect. But I love who I am. And I'm so thankful for everyone that pushes me to me better. I have no haters. Everyone in my life seems to support and love me, and they make me who I am. And there aren't enough to words in any language that describe that. Come up with new words.

Keep learning. Keep growing. Be humble. Be humbled.

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Things I Learned...Valor Run 161

Originally written 1 March 2016 after a 4 day 161 run down the coast of Southern California in honor of fallen female servicemembers.

I knew 161 miles would teach me a few things, and as always the miles came through. Here’s what I learned this weekend trotting along the coast with the some of most incredible and badass people I know…

Becca is a much better logistician than I am. Probably also a better RV driver, but tell that to the tree.

Michelle continues to be a far superior athlete than I, but I’m ok with that. Or at least I should be after I repeated it in my head for 20 or so miles each day. I’m ok with that because she’s a genuine humble soul and deserves every bit of praise I can awkwardly heap on her. Girl crush for life.

Samantha is also a superior athlete to me, and I’m ok with that too, because she’s worked for every single success and accomplishment in her life.

When you request to do a run like this, it’s not about you. It’s easy to think it is when so many people come out to support – virtually or in person. It’s easy to think so when you’re suffering or hungry or exhausted, but it’s really not about you. It’s not about your pace or your pain, in fact you’re the least important person there. It’s about what you can do for others. Running is a very selfish endeavor in a lot of ways, maybe that’s why I like it. But something like this just can’t be about you, it’s about alot of things – honoring and remembering, cherishing our loved ones, our bodies, strength and grit, inspiring others, community, love, and support but it’s not about you. I’m grateful that everyone on the road this weekend had that exact outlook.

Young Marines like Assi and Lindsey re some of the toughest, grittiest, most determined people on the planet. They’re also incredibly humbling to serve with.

Silkies: I get bigger, they stay the same size.

I don’t have causes, I have communities. And this weekend was a beautiful merging of communities – the Ainsley’s Angels and Team Hoyt Families came out with some of my running/crossfit community to support along with Team RWB. Support came in through my #TruSD Truman community, my very first community back home, my family, my Va Beach crazies and my local peeps. I even borrowed the stroller warriors community. I’m grateful for my communities.

I’m am in love with the sea and everything about it. There really isn’t anything that can’t be cured by salt water.

Corey can rock a crop top better than anyone I’ve ever met – and I live in Southern California.

Running long distances with friends makes you very intimate very quickly. We share water bottles, passcodes, and even underwear. It’s weird and I love it.

Running long distances also regresses you to your childhood. Someone watches traffic for you, monitors your urine output and BMs, makes you sandwiches. You get potato chips and cola for breakfast. And you have lots of trouble with the stairs.

Sometimes you gotta let a stallion run.

The trick to covering lots of miles with few or no injuries is all about honesty -with yourself. Are you injured? Or are you in pain? Are you looking for a reason to quit? Or are you pushing past your limits out of pride or arrogance? Is this pain the normal pain? The SNIFLS (Situation Normal I Feel like S!@#) You can lie to everyone else and say you’re perfect (and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s helpful), but you can’t lie to yourself. The more times you force yourself to be honest, the better you are at it – both with running and in life.

No one cares what you’re like when you’re fresh. They say this at the Go Ruck events, and it’s so true. It’s important when you get to those dark places to be able to push through and get the job done, but more important is that you push through and be a good person. Rule #1 is not lifted just because it hurts. And Rule #1 is “Don’t be a D-Bag.”

Show up. Don’t quit. Be flexible. Ok I learned this from a friend’s recent article, but I learned firsthand how helpful this approach is to anything this weekend.

Mental toughness isn’t a thing you achieve. I learned about dams recently, specifically those built on water soluble gypsum. Those dams, while strong enough to hold back millions of gallons of water, generate electricity, and control majority water sources also require constant maintenance. And it’s the same with mental toughness. The human mind is a marvel. It can force the body to perform amazing feats and endure great pain. But the smallest thought can erode the foundation so much that it all breaks. It requires constant maintenance to identify and address those eroding thoughts, those small breaks. You don’t ever achieve mental toughness. You simply grout the voids and hope it doesn’t all break.

Thank you again. To everyone that supported whether financially, in person, virtually, or just sent good vibes. Thank you to those painfully clarifying miles. Thank you to those women and their families that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

#valorrun161

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Inspiration Isn't Yours to Keep

Originally written the night before day 1 of a 4 day 161 run down the coast of Southern California in honor of fallen female servicemembers. I had big plans on a really great pre-run blog post, but the thoughts are jumbled in my head, and the emotions are even more amok. Fittingly enough, the only way to clear my mind and my heart is mile after sweet clarifying mile. So I'll leave you with the one thought that keeps coming to the front of my mind - Inspiration. I've heard some variation of "you're an inspiration" quite a few times over the past week or so, and I have to say it's my favorite compliment. But if I've inspired anyone with this or any other endeavor it's only because I've been lucky to BE inspired by so many. By a hippie that ran across America for veterans and communities, by a son who inspired his father to start a movement, another father that carried that message across the country, the family that stands by me - even when they know the stuff that doesn't go on facebook, the Marines that travel hours to put on a uniform and stand guard at a funeral of a man they never met, but called a brother, the mothers and fathers that wake up and go to sleep with their children every day, the women and men that leave their families to fight for a nation, the mothers and fathers that come to this nation for a new life for their families, for the girls that face bombs and attacks just to go to school, the Gold Star families that take deep breaths and keep walking every day, the friends that support me through every imaginable means, the woman that leaves the chance for wealth to serve her fellow humans, the woman who tackles every challenge with a fierce independence, and the woman who follows her faith despite how ridiculous it may be to someone else. 

And especially this week, by the little girl that has inspired so many, without ever speaking a word.

Inspiration isn't ours to keep. You get it for a while, you cherish it, then you pass it on.

Cherish your inspiration.

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Day 4 Dedication: Veterans

Originally written 28 Feb 2016, at the start of day 4 of a 4 day 161 run down the coast of Southern California in honor of fallen female servicemembers. Day 4 is dedicated to the vets, particularly the ones continuing to fight their personal battles every day. This run has been about honoring and remembering the fallen, but we must not forget the women and men that returned. The ones we see every day. The ones we can still support. Fox News asked me what I thought was the best way to support veterans, and I wasn't happy with my answer. So here's my redo.

Get involved. Pick a veteran's organization that you feel passionate about - I'd suggest Team RWB. If you're a civilian this is a great way to connect and understand veterans a little better; if you're a vet yourself, it's a great way to get that sense of community and camaraderie back. Maybe you can build ramps, maybe you can teach job skills, maybe you can run and guide hand cyclists, maybe you can donate some therapy time at the local veterans village. Maybe you can just spend some time with some amazing people.

Thank a Vietnam vet. This one is a big one to me. I can't count how many times someone has thanked me for my service this weekend--pretty much every time I mention that I'm active duty, I get a thank you. And--I'll only admit this here--it means a lot to me. I often don't know how to respond because I haven't been asked to do or sacrifice nearly as much as my sisters and brothers. I love my job and it really is an honor to be in charge of, and work with, the incredible people I have. But I like it. It feels like people support us. I always remember the Marine Corps Birthday ball in Chicago, I couldn't buy myself a drink. Now, this is Chicago, the dark blue liberal pocket of the Midwest. About 90% of those people said "I don't support this war, but I support you." Contrast that the experiences of my uncles when they returned from Vietnam. While those stories are theirs to tell, they aren't positive. I firmly believe that it is our nation's collective guilt on how we treated these servicemembers that has led to such a supporting nation today. They paid for this. And they are still around. So make sure you extend a handshake and thank them.

Offer a military perk. Hear me out on this one guys, it sounds superficial and people who know me know how I've felt about this. My feelings changed around mile 100 yesterday as I heard the stroller warriors talking about weekend trips. They were sharing locations and tips to make affordable adventures for the family. I started to think, man these women should have a military perks website or something. Then I realized that this was necessary. Military members (especially enlisted) don't get paid CEO salaries--I think that's pretty well known. To top it off, usually one spouse has to, or chooses to, give up a career to parent and run the house. It's incredibly difficult to find a high paying, fulfilling career that allows you the daily flexibility of supporting a military family, let alone one that allows you to move every three years. For these reasons, military families often rely on military discounts, free admission to parks, and other perks. Will some exploit this, come to expect it? Yes, and we as military members must do better. I still believe we are in service and therefore entitled to exactly what we signed up to do. And veterans please don't take this as my condoning the public shaming of businesses that don't offer military perks. You aren't entitled to it. But it is a nice kindness.

Get smart about veterans issues. Grassroots efforts, meeting veterans and interacting with them will be fulfilling for everyone, but policy change is what makes the big moves. Get smart on things like veterans homelessness, the VA, our mental health system. Then advocate for improvements.

Get smart about international security. The best way to support vets is to keep them alive and whole. Vonnegut once said war is bad for children and other living things. He was right. It's not the greatest of evils, nor is it inherently unjust. But war is a terrible thing and we should avoid it when possible. Get smart on how the international system works so you can understand it. This also just makes you a good citizen.

Reach out to vets. There are all sorts of articles out there that give you advice on how to talk to a vet, and while they give some good guidance they are not hard and fast rules. Everyone is different. There are no rules, except maybe one, be genuine and empathetic. You may say the wrong thing, but that's ok. I say the wrong things to people all the time.

Don't stare, include. This goes for everyone that is different. Inclusion is the name of the game folks.

Expect something out of us. Eric Grietens, in his book Resilience explains how his organization The Mission Continues, focuses on integrating servicemembers by asking them to continue to serve their communities. The rationale behind this is that we are happier and healthier when we are serving others - and I wholehearted believe it. We feel our best when we are contributing, when something is expected of us. Veterans aren't all broken souls that needed coddling. In fact I'd argue that most hate that. So expect something of us.

Pay your taxes. Because that pays our salaries.

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