Monday, April 27, 2015

For the love of the game

"Clear the mechanism."

With that, Billy Chapel (played by Kevin Costner) shuts out the roar of the crowd, his vision becoming pinpoint. He reels back and hurls the pitch toward the chasm of the catcher's mitt. The thud against the leather palm of the waiting glove is deafening to the honed in pitcher. "Steeee-rike!" the umpire proclaims, arm pumping out the well-known sign.

As I watched For Love of the Game (again), I teared up at the last scene (again) even though the
outcome of the flick was the same as the first time I saw it. 40-year old Chapman is three outs away from a perfect game. He is in excruciating pain from the thousands of innings pitched in his nineteen year career. But he's also conflicted and confused. He has chosen baseball over love but that will change. He decides his career will end with his final pitch.

In the aftermath of laying hold of that perfect game despite all odds, we are treated to a predictable airport scene where Billy and his love interest, Jane Aubrey, reconcile. One can just imagine a "happily ever after."

So what does this have to do with me? Admittedly, I am a sucker for against-all-odds sports movies. But I think I was drawn like a thirsty runner to an aid station by the title. I've been around ultrarunning awhile; 22 years and counting, to be exact. I used to be in the lead pack. I used to win a few races. I was often in the top three. And then life happened. I got older, trained less, and the young whipper-snappers started tearing up the trails.

Nevertheless, I run. I run for the love of it. I don't always "like" it but I keep coming back for more.

After a mind-melting week away from home and a late Friday night flight back to Virginia, I stood behind the start/finish banner in the darkness of the wee hours. It was the Promise Land 50K++ run up, over, and through the mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge. (34ish miles instead of the expected 31 gives us good value for the money.) It begins with a steady and steep four-mile climb and proceeds to alternate with rugged downhills and more arduous ascents. One thing it is not is flat.

But it is beautiful: spring green, wild flowers, budding bushes, cascading waterfalls, narrow ribbons of trail, the scent of lilac.

I've been running more races this spring because for the first time in years, I am not not coaching. But long runs come in spurts and weekly mileage is not massive. Still, this Promise Land was a must-do if I am to complete the LUS race series. With two other 50Ks and a 100K completed since February, I could only hope for a magical day.

I guess I'm getting used to the back of the mid-pack. My proteges' run ahead of me. Though I am one in a long train of trail travelers, I run alone and silent. I like it that way. I eavesdrop on the not-so-sage advise of one novice runner to another. It makes me shake my head. "If only you knew." Still, as the weather suddenly turns, I relish the sleet and freezing rain that falls from the sky. I am comfortable and not bothered by the odd April weather. I smile and run on.

I play cat-and-mouse with other runners on the six-mile grassy road section down and around Onion Mountain. I run rhythmically and freely, breathing controlled. The sleet lets up. I pass some people. I smile and run on.

From Reeds Creek, I make the climb back up to the parkway. Though I am occasionally within earshot of fellow travelers, mine is a world of silence. I contemplate the weighty topics discussed in this week's intense training. I pray silently. I sing silently. I silently rehearse speeches in my head. I smile and run on.

The temperature drops and rain returns as I arrive at the Parkway and begin my descent down the rocky and technical "dark side" trail. But by the time I take a left on another grassy forest road, the weather improves as does the footing. Down, down, down. More rocks to negotiate. The sound of rushing water as the bold creek cascades over boulders is like music composed by an extraordinary musician. I momentarily interrupt it's song as I ford the swift-flowing waters. The cold water feels good on my legs. I smile and run on.

I am greeted at the next aid station. "Hey, I though you gave this up since becoming a grandma." I chuckle and head down the course. The ease of the gravel road section releases my mind. I feel accomplished as I surge onward. Turning at the massive collection of orange streamers, I am ushered back onto blissfully sweet forest single-track. I arrived at the next age station, dumped a few hitch-hiking cinders from my shoes, and join in some friendly banter about "older" runners. I eat, drink, smile, and run on.

I begin to catch runners ahead of me. Shared steps lead to shared encouragements. I meet a young college runner. "What mile are we at? Do we have enough time to finish?" she asks, somewhat panicked.

"It's been 4:57. You have over five hours to complete about ten miles. No problem." Invigorated, she plows on, pulling away. She catches two girls in front of her. With my steady progress, I eventually catch and pass them all. I smile and run on.

Now there is a mountain to conquer. The climb is hard. Still, it's not like some other years when my legs fatigued and threatened abandoning me on the hillside. I felt in control. Apple Orchard Falls was spectacular, millions of gallons crashing over the cliffed wall to the rocks trail-side. I allowed two stronger climbers to pass but closed in on a line of runners as we approached the top of the three-mile climb. Comfortable temps and conditions gave way to a sudden drop in degrees and precipitation. The cold, torrential downpour forced me to don the jacket hiding in my pack. With a mere 5.5 miles to go, I smiled and ran on.

My legs churned on after crossing the parkway to take on the last short climb of the race. Then it was a right turn onto the same single track we had climbed earlier in the day. The trail, now offering mud and water through which to slosh, showed the way. Just follow the water: down, down, down. The switchbacks afforded me glimpses of folks I had been chasing all day. Soon the roar of Overstreet Falls signaled the last 2.5 miles that would bring me home. I smiled and ran on.

Sarah and Abby Quigg with "Tripletoes"
I ran and ran and ran. I was tired but not hurting. I was not in agony as in previous years. I didn't hate life. I continued to close the gap on those previously allusive runners. The orange-painted "1 Mile to go" line passed under my feet. The five-foot wooden squirrel adjacent to a mailbox toward the bottom of the mountain reminded me of the proximity of the finish. With the turn into the campground, the gravel gave way to sodden grass. The finish banner was just ahead. Two of my Shindigglers, the Quigg sisters having finished about twenty minutes prior, cheered. David Horton, race director, boisterously yelled into the microphone, "Rebekah Tripletoes!!!" He always calls me that. He thinks it's funny. I think it's endearing. I crossed the line, smiled. . . but did not run on.

My time of 7 hours and 43 minutes was the slowest of my eight finishes by a few minutes. It was an hour and twenty minutes slower than my fastest. My rank was 197th out of 320 starters. I was bested by a 54-year old (four years my junior) and a 62-year old (four years my senior.)

But I will smile and run on. . . for the love of the game.

Postscript: For an idea of what the race entails, check out this video created by medical director, George Wortley.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Glossary of terms:
Shindiggler (noun) Running girls who display the following attributes: tough but tender, serious but silly, centered but just a tad to the right of crazy.

Shindiggled (verb) past tense, as in, "to be shindiggled," to cross the finish line behind a Shindiggler

Yes. I was shindiggled yesterday, four times over. Though it sounds like this condition of being shindiggled could be painful, it really isn't (at least in retrospect.) Let me explain.

I've been writing for some time about "my" Shindigglers, a group of college girls who I used to coach as high school athletes. Nowadays, we spend hours together, running up and down mountains and along country roads, (mostly so we can gather in my kitchen guilt free to inhale cupcakes and ice cream). We turn the night before a race into a sleep-over, watching episodes of "Fixer Upper" before bedtime. We embrace challenge and share in each others' accomplishments. And, oh how we laugh!

This weekend's event was the Terrapin Mountain 50K, a rugged race with about 7,000 ft of elevation gain and equal amounts of descent. Much of it is very "runnable" as a large amount of gravel road in addition to forest road and single track make up the course profile. But of course, the problem with running down is that is normally means it will go back up. That's where it can get tough.

I wasn't exactly fresh as the proverbial daisy for this race. Last weekend I ran a mud-slicked 100K race. My body let me know it wasn't all that thrilled to be subjected to such punishment. But still, when on Thursday I could rise without using my hands, I was as pleased as a coffee-addicted woman locked inside a Starbucks. (Not that I am that woman. I don't like my coffee that strong.) I was able to easily go up and down steps, get in and out of my car without wincing, and had calmed the veracious appetite that follows a long, tough adventure. I was all set. Maybe.

Well, maybe not. The first miles felt okay. No soreness or tiredness. As the morning light brightened, so did hope for a solid race, if not a bit slower than normal. And that was okay by me.  When the first long downhill came, the top portion of my quads began singing a soft melody. I listened and decided to be content with adding harmony, not rushing ahead despite my inclination to catch familiar faces that whizzed by under the influence of a downhill run with abandon.

My steady cadence continued once reaching the bottom of the mountain and faced with a two-mile climb on yet more gravel. 25 run. 25 hike. 30 run. 30 hike. Counting steps helped break the challenge of the climb. I was pleased with my progress as I made the left turn onto single track trail. When I turned to look back, it was my first glimpse at some of the Shindigglers. Either they were moving fast or I was moving slow. Or maybe it was a little of both. I kept moving toward the next portion of the race; a return up the mountain on the same gravel road we descended.

I never did see Sarah. She was way out ahead. But traipsing back up the long, curving Hunting Creek Road, Abby and Kendal came up on my shoulder. "Hi, Coach T." They looked strong and in control. They went on ahead, counting steps as well. On again. Off again. At least they learned that from me. I smiled even as they put distance between us.

Then came sweet Nicole, going for her first ultra. I had coached her in high school as well and traveled on a mission trip with her to Costa Rica. We chatted for a few minutes before she smoothly pulled away from her old coach. I wished her well. She was smiling.

My race continued, doing the best I could. At times, I felt I was moving well and making up
Peering into Fat Man's Misery
ground. I just couldn't understand why other runners were still occasionally passing me. Was I that slow? (I liked to think they were feeling that great!) But other times, I came to understand that full recovery after a 100K does not happen in the span of seven days. My legs straddled that thin line between obedience and revolt. Slipping into Fat Man's Misery was anything but graceful. My calves began to cramp and my quads screamed out in protest in having to squat. Still, I got through the rocky fortress and continued down the mountain. I don't believe I have ever been more tentative. Never so slow. But the truth is, I had lost all faith in my legs. One little falter would have turned me into a molten mass of tetanic muscle.

Glad to have the steep descent behind me, I saw a Shindiggler, this time Kendal, coming back up from the last aid station. That meant she was about ten to fifteen minutes ahead. After refueling and finding a handful of Doritos to hit the spot, I retraced my steps only to see Rebecca and Caroline headed down to the aid station. Just as Kendal had on me, I probably had a slim ten to fifteen on them. I needed to keep moving. I needed to keep moving NOT so I would not be caught. No, I had to keep moving because that's what a Shindiggler does. She puts in the best possible effort whether or not it's the best possible situation.

I ran those last miles, hiking only the bigger inclines. I asked my legs to keep churning, even if the turn over was slow and methodic. They obeyed, though reluctantly. The still-icy waters of the creek crossings cooled my feet and seemed to bring a nano-second of relief to my legs. I wanted to tarry in the last deep stream but dared not. The finish line awaited.

And there they were, four of the six Shindigglers, with the other two nabbing their finishers shirts shortly behind me. It was a happy reunion. All had met the challenge. There was joy and relief. Pride and accomplishment. Love and respect. And then there was the Shindiggle Wiggle (DiggleWiggle, for short.) It came to me during the run. We HAD to come up with a trademark move. And so it was born.

May we DiggleWiggle after races and on special occasions for many more years to come.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seven times around

"Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.  March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days.  Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”. . . And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city. . .” (Joshua 6:1-7)

Seems like a crazy story, huh? But at least three major archaeologic excavations in the southern Jordan valley of Israel confirm the crumpled walls and destruction of Jericho by fire in about 1400 BC. Strange but true.

I had my own Jericho-like experience on Saturday, only instead of having Joshua at the helm, the
Andy Jones-Wilkins shouting out to the troops (Credit::John Anderson)
leader this time around (no pun intended) was Andy Jones-Wilkins, an accomplished ultrarunner with longevity in the field. The "Jericho" turned out to be the twisting, turny, tedious trails of Walnut Creek Park, a piece of real estate just south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Seven times around a nine-mile loop in one day. That was the assignment. That's what had to get done.

What made me think this was a good idea? Oh, I don't know. Maybe it was a yearning to race more since gone were the obligations of coaching every weekend. Maybe it was that deep-seated desire to test limits. Or, just maybe, it was the need to gain some odd sense of accomplishment.

The start (Credit: John Anderson)
 After a night of hearing a steady drip, drip, drip on my camping cabin roof, and having to avoid the puddles on the way to the bath house, it was a given the trails would be wet. The misty morning at the 5 a.m. start confirmed the fact. But when the equivalent to Joshua's "Advance!" command was given, the pack of runners disappeared into the darkness, across a tall and wide dam, and into the woods, not entirely sure of what the day would bring.

A looped course can be a good thing. Once the sun comes up, each loop is met with increasing awareness of what lies ahead. It allows a runner to adjust for daring downhills or calculated climbs. With two fully-stocked aid stations on the course, the 4.5 miles in between becomes tolerable. There is no need to carry large quantities of supplies. Arriving at the oasis in the center of the loop permits the runner to carve another notch in the 'ol belt and jump ahead to conclude, "When I get back to the start, I only have ___ more loops to do."

But a looped course is also a bad thing. It makes dropping out very easy. The car is there. A warming fire is there. Food is there. A chair is there. The suffering can become a mere memory within a nanosecond of muttering, "I'm done." All that's left to do is pack your bag and drive away to a warm shower and hot meal.

I went into the race wanting an opportunity to learn lessons, live out perseverance, and waddle away a finisher. Settling into the first loop, I ended up leading a small train of runners. I controlled the speed (or lack thereof) and rhythm. I felt like the pace was very doable and conservative, but half-way through the course noticed a heavy feeling in my legs. Still, I came through the start/finish as the fourth place woman. From there, though my legs began to feel better, my pack position moved to the rear.

Windy, wet conditions (Credit: John Anderson)
A major goal was to stay positive. That was hard to do when people started passing me. I felt much stronger and more capable last month at a 50K race. Still, since I was alone the majority of the time (which is not a bad thing), I consoled myself to run when I should run and walk when I should walk. I prayed for an enjoyable patience to get the job done. The enthusiasm at the aid stations buoyed my spirits and gave my stomach a plethora of options. Still, when the lead runner passed me for the first time a little over 3.5 loops into the race, the realization he was already nine miles ahead was none too consoling.

Then came the rain. What started out sounding as sporadic rustling in the woods turned into a steady blanket of wetness falling from the sky. The already soaked trails became difficult to navigate, the mud taking on an ice-like slickness. The rain continued falling for hours. A garbage bag-turned poncho managed to put some heat back into my core. It wasn't pretty but it was effective. Unfortunately, what became ineffective was my ability to run downhills with any confidence. Each step on the sloppy, slick slopes risked a plunge down the mountain or, at the very least, a face plant onto one of the omnipresent rocks or roots. With less than a mile to go on loop five, the race leader pranced by me for a final time. He only beat me to the finish by 19 miles. That's head-hanging, soul sucking, mortally depressing kind of stuff. I think there should be a rule against that.

One loop to go. (Credit: John Anderson)
Given that the winner was already basking in the joy of a win and a leisurely evening ahead, I was nevertheless delighted to have Michelle Anderson join me for the next go-around. After refueling and heading back to the trail, I quipped, "Tell me your life story." She did. She talked, and I very gratefully listened. The time went by more quickly than before. She was the consummate companion, tending to my every need, taking charge at the middle aid station, assuring I was eating and drinking, and encouraging me along. The progress was better than the prior loop but the mud was becoming more and more intense. Two to six inches coated much of the trail. I sometimes ran into a tree on purpose to slow the slide. Other times, hanging onto branches was the only way to prevent a free-fall down a steep slope made treacherous by competitors' feet stampeding the same narrow ribbon of real estate seven times over. The going was tough, mentally and physically. And within a few moments of completing lap six, I could tell a toe nail on my left foot decided it had enough. I would have to deal with it.

Arriving at the start/finish, I was both surprised and delighted to see two of my "Shindigglers" waiting to go out on the seventh and final lap. The Shindigglers are a group of five college students-turned ultrarunners, four of which I coached during their high school years. I love these girls. They give me life as we train and adventure together. There is nothing they wouldn't try. The prospect of their company made my heart sing.

Michelle, Rebecca, and Sarah. (Credit: John Anderson)
A quick toe taping and sock change re-energized both body and soul. Off we went. Though I was on pace through three loops for a sub-14 hour finish, we had to count on losing light half-way through this final circumnavigation of the park. If all went well, I was looking at a finish a full three hours slower than anticipated. Still, there was nothing to do but put one mud-logged foot in front of the other. 

The muck was a full 50% worse than the previous loop. Around the lake and in the weaning miles of the race, I changed my mudding technique to stand sideways and literally rode the wave of mud down each incline, a precarious procedure at best.  Once, the mud took my legs in different directions. The short ascents were just as difficult. Gripped foliage was a necessity to navigate the incline. Sometimes, though, that wasn't even enough. A step forward often meant a big slide back down. It was exhausting. A few times, it was all I could do to hold back the tears. The girls sensed it, knowing when to fall silent, and when to encourage.

Finally, the last section of trail was behind us. We ran under the finish banner with little fanfare, save the presence of the time keeper and the race director. The parking lot was nearly empty. Gone was the happy banter of racers and crews. Little remained at the aid station save some still-steaming tomato soup. It was delicious and welcomed. The day's "Joshua," aka Andy, handed me the reward for a finish: a crisp $2.00 bill graced with the likeness of Thomas Jefferson, the namesake of the competition.

Part of me wanted to bemoan the fact of being the fifth to last finisher. It was odd, a little lonely, and a lot humbling. And yet, I must remind myself that the task was to complete seven trips around my Jericho. It didn't always make sense. It wasn't always pleasant. The "why" wasn't always clear. But the directive was well-defined. Seven times. Success must be seven times. 67 folks signed on for the trips around the park. Only 54 runners started the journey. A mere 40 stayed the course to completion. I must keep perspective. 7 loops is 7 loops. Mud or not, 62.3 miles is 62.3 miles.

By the grace of God, I advanced. By the grace of God, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not just another birthday

I went to bed in a funk. I woke up in a funk. Not because I was upset being at the precipice of another birthday, but because my brain cells were stuck thinking about a disconcerting situation. Yea, yea. I know. "Why worry when you can pray?" Guess I'm still working on that one.

With a 100K approaching two weeks hither, it was important to get in a long run despite the "funk." With snow and ice piled up in the mountains, the thought of a slogfest was not that appealing. And a solo road run? Less than appealing. So I did what any reasonable TrailMama would do. Last evening I sent out a Facebook message to my band of loyal Shindigglers and asked if they would join me. "Yes!"
came the answer. There. It was settled. Now I HAD to get my posterior end out the door and down the road.

But not before the door flung open this morning to the sound of music (at least I think that's what that sound is called). In they came singing "Happy birthday to you. . .", bearing gifts to boot. A plethora of trail food snacks, gift cards for ice cream and food, letters carefully scripted, cards thoughtfully signed, and a framed picture collage of moments from previous adventures. Oh my heart! The funk was nowhere to be found, replaced, that is, by the love and enthusiasm of these college girls and a couple token guys.

We spent the next three-plus hours running, laughing, stopping for photo ops (a vainly-disguised excuse to pause when we grew weary), and wondering why it wasn't getting any warmer. There were cows to chase, "Poo Sticks" (as in Winnie-the) thrown into the stream from the bridge, human pyramids to build, and musing about what conditions might be like atop the tall mountains in the back drop of our view. The new guy shared his story of grace and mercy, while others told stories of significant encounters and progress in their Christian lives. Fruit snacks and energy gels got eagerly snarfed down to fuel the endeavor.

Every step was uplifting, no matter the toll the accumulating miles took on our legs. "Coach T," Sarah rang out. "It's a longstanding tradition to take turns voicing what we appreciate about you." And so it began. Despite temps in the teens, my heart melted into a molten mass. Could it all be true? Do they love me that much? I hoped so. There was no doubt I loved each one of them.

When the country roads led us home, the house nearly burst with giggles, the aroma of hastily created pizza, and the sweet, gooey goodness of oven-broiled s'mores. A DVR'ed episode of Fixer Upper produced ohs, ahs, and girl bonding time as all six of us piled onto my bed to soak in the glory of realty re-dos.

So yeah, it wasn't just another birthday. It was a day to be remembered. A day to be cherished. A day to relive over and over again.

Thank you, my little Shindigglers. Tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The first test

The training was in the bag. Test time was moments away. But in the darkness of the frigid morn, I couldn't find The Shindigglers. Where were they? How hard could it be to find my five favorite girls? Still, among the nearly 250 runners plus volunteers and onlookers, they remained illusive until the waning moments before take-off time. There was no time for even the briefest version of my pre-planned, pre-race advise and encouragement. No pre-race pictures to compare to post-race later on. Brief hugs had to do. And at the last minute, a note was slipped into my hand. "Coach T. Read this when the going gets tough." I didn't have the heart to tell them I didn't put my contacts in. Still, I slipped it in my pocket and purposed to read it in the aftermath.

This was my tenth running of the race, the last version in 2008. For four of the five girls, this was their first long race. The fifth was more experienced with about 5 ultras under her belt. When I began coaching four of these five kids five years ago, I heard some parents were fearful they would turn into ultrarunners. I guess they were right to be concerned.
This race, a reverse double loop course, allows a runner to see all the other runners coming or going. I chased Sarah for the first loop, catching glimpses of her blue jacket just ahead of me. She didn't know I lurked until she spotted me through the trees on a hairpin turn. She waved and politely smiled. And then she ran faster. Despite the pleasant surprise of steady and strong running on my part, I chased her from behind the rest of the day. She beat me to the line by about seven minutes. We might need to discuss whether or not this is the proper level of respect for her elder.
Rebekah with race director David Horton

The other four, taking a more conservative approach, ran behind me. Abby and Kendal looked like they were having fun. Rebecca was not. IT band pain produced tears at the turn-around point. But quit? Never, no never! Caroline, her sister, took to her side, offered encouragement, and led them through the finish line as sisters united. Six Shindiggler starts. Six Shindiggler finishes. It was a very good day. It was a test passed with flying colors.

And that note? They carried a copy as well. It was what inspired them. . .and that inspires me.

Words to run by "These are my kind of girls. They are tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy. May we shindiggle together over many more miles" Coach T

"Run silent. Run deep. Run long. Run strong." Coach T

Songs to run by: In Christ Alone, Never Once Did I Walk Alone, Courageous, Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Verses to run by: "You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. As for God, his way is perfect:The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way. (Psalms 18:28-36)

Did they ace the test or barely skim by? They aced it absolutely and in so many ways! Second test is scheduled for March 21. Stay tuned and Shindiggle on.

Postscript: On a number of our Shindiggler events, we've allowed a boy to go. Ben, (or is it Sam?), is a welcome member of our training runs. But sorry, Whipped Puppy Boy, (I think he's in love with an certain Shindiggler), you have to possess two X chromosomes to be a true Shindiggler. Nothing personal. We still like you.

Photo credit on the finish line pictures goes to Martha Wright. Thanks!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My kind of girls

Partially-filled plastic cup in hand, I climbed the step stool to do battle with the stink bugs that came in for an impromptu landing on the kitchen ceiling light. It's an easy job to hold the cup up to the not-so-bright insects and watch them jump in for the finals of the backstroke. But it seemed a bit harder tonight. It wasn't so much increased resistance to take the pesty plunge, nor was it climbing the two steps of the plastic ladder. It was coming back down that got my attention.

"Yowza! My quads are REALLY sore," my brain registered as my arms reached for the countertop for balance. All day I had been feeling it. I had to be intentional about the act of standing, using my arms to provide another little push. And sitting? Well, it was the same thing in reverse. But tell you what. This was a pain that hurt so good. So good? Yes. It's the best pain I've felt in years.

Big bumps on a little log
21 years ago I was told I couldn't run 50 miles. "Watch me." That was the beginning of a long career marked by ups and downs, fear and failure, triumph and tragedy. Many of those years were under the watchful eye of a mentor and complimented by a running cadre that lived for the weekly group run. But the time came when I adopted the mantra, "Run silent. Run deep." Solo runs, introspective, quiet, and interrupted only by the sounds of falling leaves or snapping twigs under my feet became the norm out of necessity. And that was okay. For a period.

I've moved on. I am now the mentor. College students, once part of my coaching responsibility when they were in high school, have morphed into ultra-distance runners. They have drunk the Kool-Aid. They have become what their parents feared should they hang around with me. Their perspective of what is normal has shifted off-center. They spend hard-earned money to enter long races and assume the responsibility to train. And I love it.

Topping out on 3 Ridges
I put out a Facebook message to this special group of girls; The Shindigglers, as we like to call ourselves. "Want to go long in the mountains on Saturday?" knowing all would be towing a start line in just a few weeks.

"Yes! We were going to run a loop at Holiday Lake but we like the mountains better. Can two more friends come?"

"OK. Where and when?" I wrote. Their answer let me decide. I knew they needed to see something new. Something that would get their attention. Something they would be hard-pressed to forget. "I'll be at your house at 6:15 a.m. with packs for everyone." I barely slept, anticipating their response to the huge, ominous mountains we would climb and descend.

"Yep. We were way over there on the Priest!"
Including me, it was six girls and one guy. Poor guy. It could have been awkward but he fit right in, taking his rightful turn as we devised fanciful stories to pass the time on relentless climbs. He even took our pee stops in stride by gazing off in another direction. I suppose we'll let him come on other runs.

Only on the very steepest sections of trail did the forest enjoy peace and quiet. Other than that, it was non-stop chatter and jokes, story-telling, singing, lots of stops to appreciate the vistas and record it on camera phone for

posterity's sake. Never once was there complaining or whining, even when a distant peak was pointed out as the next stop on our woodland tour. They dutifully let me lead, perhaps out of respect for their elder. Or perhaps it was simply that I knew the way and they didn't. But whatever the reason, a brief pause at a large fallen log led me to exclaim, "You know, there is no place I would rather be right now." And I meant every word.

There is no greater joy than to see others come to value what you do. I LOVE seeing these kids embrace the challenge. I LOVE being able to show them the ropes and the way. I LOVE remembering conversations from eons ago on other runs, only to hear myself enter into a similar conversation with current company at the same spot on the mountain.  I LOVE the "Dear Coach T" verbal letters they create for me. I LOVE the fact they get excited to gaze across the valley to the tallest mountain and marvel they were already there. I LOVE to see them take one step at a time to reach a seemingly impossible and distant mountain. I LOVE that a sign indicating less than two miles to go inspires a spontaneous outbreak of song all the way down to the river. I LOVE that they LOVE what I LOVE. I LOVE these kids, and I LOVE that they LOVE me enough to follow in my footsteps.

These girls are my kind of girls. They are tough but tender. Serious but silly. Centered but just a tad to the right of crazy.

May we shindiggle together over many more miles.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A new generation

Looking back, I wondered if something was wrong with me. I waited to be swept away by the flood of emotions and river of tears I heard would come. I wanted my heart to fill and nearly explode after being overcome with a primal and new sense of love and joy. But alas, I experienced nothing like that.

Don't get me wrong. I love my children. I love my children more than an ocean of words could ever describe. And yet, their births were not the made-for-movies kind of experiences. With Caleb, it was hard work. I decided I wanted to experience childbirth in it's rawest form, which, come to think of it, may not have been the wisest decision ever made. Labor was not fun. It hurt. It was exhausting. It tore me - literally. It was the hardest thing I had done to date. So maybe my lack of gushing emotions was simply due to relief of getting the kid out into this big world.

Fool me once but not twice. I didn't make the same mistake on the second child. After a couple hard contractions it was "Hit me with the epidural." It worked. I thoroughly enjoyed the labor experience without the pain. But my relief of birthing Seth was different than pushing out Caleb. Seth was a hard pregnancy. Unlike post-pregnancy with Caleb, I did not miss being un-pregnant once Seth was born. I remember begging my doctor three weeks prior to my due date to make him come out and play. Seth was relentless in his kicking, jumping, punching, and general state of uninhibited activity. But the doctor declined my suggestion. Instead, despite my best efforts to coerce his arrival, Seth stubbornly awaited the appointed day to make his appearance. So after I pushed and the doctor pulled, I was ecstatic to be no longer with child. Now maybe I could sleep. Silly me.

Am I an unemotional, hard-hearted woman? I don't think so. Ask anyone who knows me. I have a wealth of emotions that show themselves often. But never would I have guessed them to be so front and center than at the birth of my first grandchild.

Asked to drive Claire to the hospital while Seth was racing from work, I felt my heart begin to pick up the pace. But when I walked into the room and spied all the accouterments needed for birthing newborns, the lump in my throat grew to grapefruit size. Nevertheless, as the night wore on as labor slowed down post-epidural, the lump melted away. I felt only tired from the long day. That state would not last for long.

"And the number is 10. Let's have a baby," nurse Brooke declared after checking the progress slightly after 2 a.m.. With that proclamation from the nurse (who, incidentally, had lived for two years in a basement apartment at our house), the room awoke to quick, but quite and calm preparation. I was beyond fortunate to be included as one of three spectators allowed to stay during the delivery. That lump in my throat returned, but grew to basketball size as it became all too real that life was about to change forever.

Seth assisted Claire by holding one of her numb legs while I held the other. Corrie, Claire's twin sister and photographer, captured the scene. Someone observed, "Seth, you look terrified," as Claire bore down once again.

"Pretty much," was his honest response while fixing his eyes on Claire, silently urging her on in the delivery of this special package.

Her labor efforts were effective as the tiny haired head explored the new world a little bit further with each push. "Seth, you need to see this," suspecting the next push would usher his daughter into the world. He turned and looked down just in time to see long-awaited Baby Addyson slide into the doctor's hands. I glanced up to see his face take on the most incredible expression of awe mixed with love. Then came the tears. Then came my tears as I watched my second-born child contemplate the arrival of his own flesh and blood.

Only now, in this first week of Addyson Leona's life, do I understand the many comments from other grandparents. "It's better than having your own kids."

Thank you, Seth and Claire, for helping me better understand love for my own children in the context of love for your child. May you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as you raise your precious daughter. May God be pleased as you present your family a living sacrifice to Him.

Thank you, Father, for Addyson Leona Trittipoe. I love her. I love you.

Thanks to Corrie Fewell and Lilybird Photography for capturing these moments on camera.