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Where Did Your Money Go?

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I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it, this run was overwhelming in a lot of ways – some good, some bad. One of the best ways was how much people from every corner of my life supported me – financially or otherwise. Crowdrise says we had 241 donations online alone! So, what did we do with all that money?

We started out the run by completing the fundraising for Team Liam’s specialized racing chair, custom made by Team Hoyt Racing Chairs with artwork by Liam’s IRun4 buddy Ty Godwin. As Ty says, this was a classic example of “give a dime, get a dollar.” Through your donations, we not only got to gift Liam a chair, but we got give Joan and Fabian (Liam’s parents) the opportunity to run with their child – and I got a couple new wonderful friends.

We also we able to complete fundraising for a chair for another San Diego teenager – Andy, the son of Robin and Heath. Another military family, Robin is the Ainsley’s Angels ambassador in Southern California and does amazing work for special needs athletes.

As we hit the halfway point in Oklahoma, your money went to fund a Freedom racing chair for the Meredith and Laura and their amazing family of Annie’s House. These ladies are truly remarkable. They have five special needs children and are truly a source of love and caring for everyone they meet.

As we crossed over into Arkansas your donations funded two freedom racing chairs for the new Ainsley’s Angels ambassadorship in Arkansas led by Jarrett Banks – another new friend. Jarrett is doing absolutely wonderful things in Ft Smith, both through Ainsley’s Angels and his church, where he’s a pastor.

Your donations also funded two freedom chairs for Ainsley’s Angels in Washington State, run by good friend and lovely human Sarah Poppe. Sarah, an Army spouse, nurse and all around badass of love, came out to support for a few days and is one of my most precious friends.

Your donations also sponsored a Team Hoyt racing chair for the San Diego chapter of Team Hoyt, triathlon equipment for Team Hoyt Virginia Beach, and racing equipment for the Illinois ambassadorship of Ainsley’s Angels – run by my sister Rachel! Your donations also supported Team Hoyt Arizona and the soon to be official Team Hoyt Ohio!!

For the veterans, we were able to invest in a veteran mead maker as she launches her mead business, Wit and Mettle Meads. As part of that investment, Marine veteran Casey Jackson granted Run Free naming rights to a line of mead brewing right now! The new line will be named “No Worries” and will be dedicated to CWO2 Miles P Henderson. Miles was killed in Iraq in 2006. His mother and father hosted me on their ranch in Canadian, TX and “No Worries” is a shortened version of one of Miles’ favorite bible verses – Philippians 4:6.

We were also able to donate $2500 to the Mission Continues, an organization that helps veterans transition to a life of service outside the military and $6000 to Warrior Expeditions. Warrior Expeditions, founded and run by Sean Gobin, sponsors veterans on outside expeditions as a way to transition from wartime experiences. Sean came out to the run to support through some of the hottest days and yet another remarkable human being.

We were also able to make a $500 donation to Jacksonville, Il AMVETs post, who graciously hosted a celebration party for me.

For the gold star family community, we were able to donate $3000 to wear blue: run to remember Gold Star race program. This program sponsors gold star families to run marathons as a way to honor and grieve their fallen family members.

Finally, with $5000 we were able to support next year’s Run for the Fallen a cross country tribute to fallen service members sponsored by Honor and Remember.

Altogether you all have contributed $46k to this adventure and the communities who have embraced me. I’ve had a few more requests for specialized equipment so I’m going to keep the fundraiser open indefinitely, or at least until I decide on the next adventure, so feel free to make your Christmas donations, Hanukkah gifts, or non-denominational tax contributions here.

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What's Next?

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Has it really be a month since I hit the Atlantic Ocean? Seems like just yesterday, and a lifetime ago. I’ve been asked a lot this month, “What’s Next?” both in life and running. And while I have about seven answers to the first part (seriously – journalist, advocate, mental health/running coach, non-profit leader, professional feminist, FSO, security wonk), I have one awesome answer to the second.

What’s next is a 6,000 mile, relay run across the country, from Ft Irwin, California to Arlington, VA. Wait, Maggie, didn’t you just do that? Yeah, but this is different, stick with me.

In April of next year, Honor and Remember will kick off the largest tribute to Gold Star families I’ve ever seen (possibly ever?). Runners will start in Ft Irwin, CA and run one mile for every service member killed since the USS Cole. Teams of four runners will carry flags honoring our country, our fallen service members, and their gold star families, stopping at each mile to read the name(s) of fallen servicemembers. I’ve had the honor of doing four smaller versions of this over the years and their impact on me has been permanent and profound. At the end of each day the runners and team will conduct a flag ceremony, presenting an Honor and Remember flag to a gold star family in honor of their sacrifice.

So that’s what’s next for me. I’ll help plan the California, Georgia, and South Carolina portions of the run, and try and get out for as many days as I can. But I need your help, again. Here’s how you can get involved.

 

Check out the website. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sign up for our virtual race for a sweet medal and tee shirt!

Donate to the cause!!!

Sign up to be a runner (or volunteer)!!!

Find your fallen hero, or have their name added here

And as always….SPREAD THE WORD. No, not bird.

 

 

 

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The Importance of Education

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Running, like education, is life transforming – it takes you places you never would have imagined

I’ve always said that running was one of my favorite and most effective teachers. The things I’ve learned about myself and life on the trails, including during this cross-country journey, I could have learned in few other places. Experiences allow you to learn from the world and yourself, formal education allows you to learn from others, and that’s why I’ve always been a big advocate for both formal education and experiential knowledge. It’s why I went to college, then joined the Marine Corps. It’s why I also pursued graduate school, twice, while in the Marine Corps and am approaching the end of my doctorate program in international studies.  

I learned a great deal from my time in the Marine Corps. I grew up fast and learned how to lead in my own style. While there were tactical manuals, doctrine, and official publications to reference, the overwhelming majority of what I learned was through experience. During my first deployment, I learned about Afghanistan through reading first-hand reports and translated documents. I learned about the terrain by flying over it. I fancied myself a little bit of an expert on Afghanistan, until I started my master’s thesis on Afghanistan. I quickly realized that my experiences, and what I learned from them, were but a slice of the rich tapestry of knowledge out there.

This desire to gain a deeper understanding of the topics that interested me, inspired me to further my formal education. Just like in the Marine Corps, I would never be an expert in admin or logistics, nor did I have time to experience those lessons firsthand, but I knew there would be an expert somewhere to tell me. Running is the same. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t through miles and error, but I’ve also picked up a book or two and listened to my fair share of podcasts. As I am now transitioning to civilian life, I have a better understanding of how education played a key role during my time in active duty, and am experiencing the amount of support it provides during my current transition.

I feel fortunate to have found a great partner during this transition, and cross-country journey, through the support of National University. Like National University, I believe in the power of education to inspire and strengthen communities and I am excited to share my experiential and formal knowledge with current and future National University students, many who like me are transitioning to civilian life. In fact, about 25 percent of National University’s student population are active duty, veterans or family members. The University’s founder, retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander David Chigos, understood how deployments, relocations, and work schedules posed a challenge for military students and the University created a format that adapts to our needs, offering a wide range of programs, including cybersecurity, business and criminal justice that are available online, on bases and on campuses.

As a Yellow Ribbon School, the University also accepts the post 9/11 GI Bill and strongly supports the Forever GI Bill. An estimated one million military personnel are expected to transition to civilian jobs over the next 3-5- years, which is why the GI Bill has been so beneficial, as is the newer Forever GI Bill, which expands education benefits and further reduces education costs to military-affiliated students. The nation understands that in order to properly support and serve our troops, we have to ensure that they have access to formal education.

I look forward to giving back to others when I return to teach at National University. I believe we all can learn from each other, and I’m certainly doing just that during this journey as I have the chance to connect with people from all walks of life. I am proud to be among those one million military personnel who are transitioning to civilian life, and glad to be channeling my passion for learning through life and education into a new role. Who knows where it will take me but as I strive toward achieving my goals, one step at a time, I hope to inspire others to be lifelong learners and achieve their education, career and life goals.

 

 

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Day 85: What the Hell am I doing? Again.

 




 

What the hell am I doing?
I asked that question about 74 days ago, and answered: “running across the country.” I thought that might suffice, that answer might quiet my brain and my heart, but like a persistent toddler eventually the answer led to more, deeper questions, and the “what the hell am I doing” turned into “why the hell am I doing it?” At this point I ask myself that pretty regularly, and every time I go through the same answers and counters. It goes roughly like this:

Why the hell am I doing this?
To raise money and awareness! I tell myself that I’m doing this for the communities that have given so much to me. Then I counter with about 15 ways I could raise money and awareness without the pain of running (or walking) 2800 miles. I could be spending my waking hours organizing fundraisers, cocktail parties. I could be writing five OpEds a day to raise awareness of these great organizations. Try again Mags, why this?

To build communities! To inspire others to get involved! Yeah! I’m an inspiration! Again, I counter. There are thousands of people out there more inspirational than I. I could be working for them, mobilizing communities around their missions. Not buying it, why this?


For your own personal journey, because you love running and it makes you better, stronger, kinder.
The problem with that answer is that I’m not feeling more enlightened, better, or even stronger.

This journey doesn’t feel like progress; I see the icon moving, I know I’m moving forward in space and time, but I don’t feel like I get up every day to meet and vanquish a new obstacle, learn a lesson, and repeat. Physically and emotionally I feel like I get up every day and get pushed back down by the same big jerk, with a dull but painful thud. Sometimes for good fun the day (jerk) will punch me in the face, more of an acute pain to complement the persistent ache. I spent miles one day begging for the lesson through the tears. Frustrated and helpless against the pain, angry at my complete lack of ability to beat it back, to find peace, to find a lesson, searching for anything that made me feel like this was something more than a completely futile exercise in suffering and misery. But the only answer that’s made any sense comes from ultrarunner Scott Jurek.

Sometimes you just do things.

I hated this concept the first time I heard it. “You just do things?” What? That’s bull. You have to have purpose and intent. You don’t just go around “doing things.” Where’s the growth there? How are you bettering yourself or your community by just doing things, unexamined and directionless? How has that nonsense philosophy carried me through, the only thing that has worked, for the past month?

It works because it’s the perfect balance of humility and arrogance, humility that I don't understand the world, the effects of my deeds, that I can’t map it out, there are limits to logic (never thought I'd say that). It’s balanced by the arrogance of believing that I am doing something good, for myself and for others. I have to have the arrogant faith in 2016 Maggie and the October 29th Maggie. That pre-run Maggie knew what she was doing and that post-run Maggie will be a better person, that this pain will alchemize, that future Maggie will find the glory in the grind and make something out of it. She’ll be better, kinder, stronger.

So I'll keep going, not fully understanding why, but making the option of quitting as small as possible, as unattractive as possible. I’ll try and stick to my goals, keep my “why” in front of me for as long as possible and then keep faith that it’s there even as it recedes into pain and self-pity. I’ll go through the whole question and answer inner monologue as many times as I need to. I’ll just keep getting up. Sometimes quietly, clumsily, even angrily. Just keep getting up til I’m done. Because sometimes you just do things. 
 

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Day 66 or Putting the Social Back in Social Media

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Day 66! I’m officially 2/3 of the way through this adventure. I have to say, the past couple weeks have been pretty amazing, and have went by way faster than the first third. Maybe that’s because there have been real live humans! Running with me, eating with me, and chatting with me. Small towns across Middle America have welcomed me with open arms. Almost any runner will tell you that miles with someone are infinitely better than miles alone. So much better that I’m beginning to wonder how I did all those weeks (mostly) alone. Then I realized I didn’t. I’ve had more company than I can count for each of these 66 days, in both virtual and real life.

Social media sites have gotten a bad rep over the years. Studies show kids are less social with their peers, possess less social skills. Insta-celebs have pulled back the curtain on the perfect filtered posts. Internet trolls are hateful on threads. Fake news is rampant across the platforms. Weekly I hear of someone deleting their account or just taking a step back from social media, and I fully support that. Still it’s important to acknowledge how much social media has brought to this run.

I had a couple goals with this run. I wanted to spread awareness and raise money, but I also wanted to meet the folks of middle America – the people I grew up with but haven’t spent much time with since leaving for the Marine Corps. Social media helps with the first, there’s no way I could have been as successful in fundraising without social media. And it’s even with the second goal. Social media has enabled me to share my story and meet new people. It’s connected me to strangers turned running buddies. It’s been a fantastic complement to real life interactions.

Social media has also enabled me to feel the support and love of my communities and loved ones who can’t be here. I can’t count how many times a day I go to my phone for inspiration, a simple good luck or message or support. I have no shame in saying the comments or likes boost my spirit, keep me going. In fact someone asked me today how many times I thought about quitting, and honestly I haven’t, no once, yes because of personal determination and for the causes I care so much about, but also because I told everyone I was going to do it. The idea of making a facebook post saying “ok I’m tired, I’ll call it now,” is ridiculous. Shame has always been a pretty effective motivator, it’s the Midwest in me.

But wait Maggie, do you even know these people? Aren’t you just seeking external validation? Hmmm maybe. But I also don’t know the fans lining the streets of DC during the Marine Corps Marathon. I don’t know the aid workers urging me to get back on the trail, but their energy carries me, inspires me, reminds me of how much I’m loved and supported, how much this running thing can inspire people. I feel that same thing when the support is online. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Growing up in a small town I went to kindergarten with the same people I graduated high school with. We (mostly) thought the same, dressed the same, looked the same. We had a tight community, one that will always feel like home to me. It taught me how to be a member of a community, how to rely on those in your group for support, how to give that support back. Still, I rarely met or spoke to people who were different from me. I was limited to be friends with whoever was within walking (my siblings), riding (four neighbors), or driving distance. Social media changed all that. Take this wonderful group, I Run 4, for example. It pairs abled bodied runners (or bikers, swimmers etc) with special needs individuals, virtually. I’ve been paired with my awesome little girl for over a year now and cherish that relationship. I’ve never met her, but feel connected to her through technology.

While social media has exposed me to those who are different from me. It also enables people to find people just like that. Again, take special needs families. While families, especially those dealing with rare genetic disorders, can feel isolated in the physical world, they can find solace and community in the virtual one.

Social media, technology in general, is amoral – it’s all about how we use it. Sure, I get exhausted from notifications, but I get exhausted from people too (yes it’s true). I see people being mean and hateful online, but I see that in person too. It can be used for nonsense, or it can be used to build vibrant, thriving communities. It can connect, or reconnect you, to people who love and support you. It can hold you accountable for your goals. It can open you to diversity, or let you find people just like you. It can help mobilize communities, raise funds, and awareness. It can facilitate all these things if people want it to. And It can give you a street lined with fans along the lonely road.

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Tragedy and Community

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With hurricanes, earthquakes, and a recent tragedy in my hometown, I’ve thought a lot about the links between tragedy and community lately, and never more so than today. I thought about it running through Oklahoma City on 9/11 seeing the mementos left at the city’s memorial, thinking of the attacks 16 years ago, and the response afterward. Political scientists call it “rally around the flag,” after a national tragedy, the phenomenon of increased patriotism and trust in government. Psychologists have studied how outside threats affect group cohesion, and have found that external threats (perceived or real) increase cohesion. Reagan even posited that an alien invasion might be what the world needed to achieve peace. Anyone who has suffered a natural disaster or great personal loss will tell you how a community comes together. The differences that seemed insurmountable prior to, become insignificant after a tragedy. In ultra running there exist an unofficial philosophy, if someone needs something, and you have it – you give it to them. You don’t hoard it in case you need it later. You don’t ask for something in return. You just give it. Later down the road, if you need something you don’t have, someone will give it to you. That’s clearly the philosophy of survivors as well. 

When there is an external threat, one that threatens to destroy us, we quickly discover that we’re all part of a community – whether that’s the local community, the national community, or even a global community of the human species – and we fight to save ourselves, it’s encoded in our DNA. We don’t fight to save our individual selves, we don’t become selfish, we become selfless. Something kicks in and makes us realize that it’s the community we need to save, sometimes at the expense of our own personal safety. I’ve thought about why this is for days, and I’ve come up with some interesting theories – some based on science and reasoning, some based on nothing but Maggie thoughts – like love is the most powerful thing, the universe protects us, etc etc. But honestly, I don’t know why it happens, but I’m sure glad it does.

It gives me a silver lining in tragedy. It provides hope in humanity during the worst possible desperation. It’s the knowledge that while we can’t escape pain, we can have someone by our side, or even a whole village of people. It gives me hope that one day we can tap into that sense of community not only during times of tragedy, but also in times of prosperity. That we can realize in times of peace that we are more alike than others might suggest. That we all have a vested interest in not simply self-preservation but the preservation and progress of the entire community. 

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Day 51 Update

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Has it really been over 3 weeks since my last update? I’d like to say it’s been because I’ve been so busy, I’d like to argue that I’ve written over a thousand words the past three weeks, because both are true. But it’s been a struggle to get a coherent post on the page – partly because I have been busy running through middle America, partly because I’ve been trying to soak up as much of this run as possible, maximizing rest days, but mostly it’s because I’ve been overwhelmed, in the best possible way. Overwhelmed with friends flying in to surprise me in Albuquerque. Overwhelmed with the wounded veterans presenting me with an honorary purple heart on behalf of all the wounded. Overwhelmed with the smell of the Pampa VFW, because it smelled just the like church where we shipped Devon off to Iraq. Overwhelmed with complete strangers opening their arms and their doors to us. Overwhelmed because we haven’t paid for a meal since hitting the Texas border. Overwhelmed when the WWII vet thanks me for my service. Overwhelmed because the small towns here remind me so much of where I’m from. Overwhelmed with the pain that small community is enduring right now. Overwhelmed with the Gold Star family who hosted us, and reminded me so much of my parents and even a little bit of my grandparents. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of support, faith, and love I’ve gotten from all corners of my world. And if I’m being completely honest I’ve been insecure in my ability to do these experiences justice. I want to share them, I desperately want to write them down so I can remember every little seemingly mundane detail, hoping for the ability to capture the solemn and the simple, without being over sentimental. I read a book in college, The Places in Between, about a British man who walked across Afghanistan. I didn’t really understand that title until this week – but it’s really the places and the moments in between that have made this run.

When I last updated I had had my first emotional breakdown just inside of New Mexico. Day 29-30 I had my friends Justin and Linday, who took time during their anniversary weekend to come run and support. Ok mostly walk and support. It was sorely needed. Day 30 I was booted off native lands, and rightly so, I didn't do the due diligence of researching and requesting a permit. Turned out to be a blessing as the reservation officer let us know that it was legal to run on the interstate in New Mexico...so we backtracked (wasting 10 miles) and headed back out of the interstate, which ended up saving us about 10 miles. The universe seems to work like that sometimes.

Getting close to Texas we thought about maybe riding the 40 all the way across to OK, shortening our mileage, but talking to our guy in Texas, we decided to take the backroads and hit some small town USA. Boy, I'm glad we did. But more on that later.

Day31 brought a surprise guest, Michelle, who flew out to Albuquerque despite her demanding residency schedule to share some miles. Michele is much faster and fitter than me, but she walked step for step with me, and it felt so good to catch up. Becca would come join us for some miles, reminding me of just how lucky I am to have such strong supportive women in my life.

Day 31 also brought the eclipse, which thanks to a welder along the route who let us borrow his helmet, we were both able to see without burning our retinas. We also were surprised with a visit from the 512th rescue squadron at the beautiful New Mexico Veterans Memorial. The CO presented me with a coin, patch, and bracelet as a reminder of what brave men and women train to do every day. About midway through Day 32 we were surprised with none other than Team Pathman. Despite my hot water balloons of pain (aka my feet) I jumped up and down and clapped my hands like a toddler when I saw them cruising down the hill. I got to share a few miles over the next couple days with Jim and Riley, more thankful than ever that I’ve got such amazing people in my life. Day 36 we stayed at the JX ranch in middle of nowhere New Mexico. Tom, a Vietnam Vet, and his wife Mimi were fantastic hosts wishing us luck and even making a donation, and Becca thinks their steak might be the best she ever tasted. Day 37 brought a new friend, and the first “stranger” to join me on the run – an Army reservist from a nearby base joined me for two days. She’s no longer a stranger.

Day 38 was a much-needed rest day in Amarillo, or sorry, “Amarilla”. A friend of mine had reached out to a friend of hers, Caralee, who arranged an entire day of pampering and rest. Spa treatment, massage, lunch at an amazing Italian restaurant, shoes and running gear from Get Fit Amarillo – I was beginning to see what people were meaning about Texas hospitality. Day 39 we hit Friona, the Cheeseburger capital of Texas. I thought about asking for a tofu burger but figured that might be considered an insult, so I got the local Mexican food. We had dinner and tasty ice with the mayor and then headed into Hereford, home of the whitefaces (it’s a cow not some sort of weird racist thing). Along the road I ran into Merrill, a local welder who rode his bike to say hello. I got 8 miles in with an Amarillo resident, and another new friend. I was presented with some amazing mementos from local veterans’ organizations (who skipped Friday night football to welcome me – how about that!?) I hit a pretty good stride on day 43, through the town of White Deer which has at least four antique shops for its 100 or so residents. I picked out a treasure box to hold all the treasures (aka things we find on the side of the road). We finished up at the Pampa VFW where we shared beers and bawdy jokes with the members. Day 44 and 45 were spent with the Gold Star family in Canadian, TX. We got a full tour of the town, an interview with the local paper, and my very first zipline! Their land was beautiful, their home inviting, and their spirit encouraging. They even bestowed upon us honorary Texan citizenship. Day 46 meant crossing into Oklahoma, windy with rolling hills for the next few days – and more gracious people. We stopped in Hinton, OK for a meet and greet and dinner and couldn’t even pay for our dinner. We made it to Oklahoma City, where my recruiter joined me for a couple miles and we hit the halfway point. After a chair donation and get together with the local chapter of Ainsley’s Angels we had some much-deserved pizza and beer, where I met a woman who had just finished walking across the country – see there are plenty of weirdos out there. She was heading back across the country and stopped in OKC to say hello to some folks who had taken her and her dog in for a couple weeks (she picked up the pooch somewhere in Arkansas). Amazing.

It’s now getting darker here on Day 51 with a pretty hectic Day 52 right around the corner. The past few weeks have been nothing short of soul-reviving. Aside from the people and places, the miles have given me a lot to think, and write, about….now if I can just get it down on the screen.

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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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