Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Encouragement for all former coaches

I used to be a coach.

I loved being a coach.

My life revolved around the responsibilities of being a coach. The plan started broadly but narrowed. Seasons broke down into months, months into weeks, weeks into days. Many factors came into play: schedules, goals, age and talent of kids, weather, facilities, conditions.

I was a hands-on coach. I never asked the kids to do anything I would not do. If I asked them to suffer, I suffered as well. It was them and me that always become a "we"; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, we did it, so help us God.

Coaching was not easy, nor was it always fun. But then again, most things of worth are not without difficulty and challenge. Sometimes it was a grind, especially if I was already dead-tired after a long day. There were occasional behavioral issues and conflicts that required extra energy. It was impossible to please every athlete (or parent) with decisions and plans. A utopia it was not.

Coaching was an opportunity to teach not only athletic skills and process, but model the deeper things in life; perseverance, excellence, duty, responsibility, teamwork and selflessness. See one, do one, teach one.

I struggled with discouragement as a coach. Was there anything I did or said that merited remembering? Was there any positive impact from spending time with me? There were many days I concluded the answer was "no."

And then came Sarah, Micah, Abby, Rebecca, Caroline, Kendal, and Nicole, to mention but a few.

With one exception, each of these girls are now college grads. One is a teacher in Mexico and soon to be married. Two are headed for medical school come August. Two are beginning their careers as critical care nurses. Another is teaching Spanish while working on a graduate degree. The other? She is a college senior and is on a sure path to medical school as well. All are highly motivated and proficient in their chosen fields. All tell me they are building off of what they learned from me as a coach and now a friend. That makes my heart smile.


Micah has had a stellar career at the University of Virginia as a top 800 meter runner. The other six are charter Shindigglers. Together we have covered miles and miles of mountain trails. We have shared life and love, pain and struggle, challenges and breakthroughs. These kids were a joy to coach as high school students and continue to encourage me through tough times of self doubt. I suspect, however, they have no idea what they have meant and now mean to me.

These young women give me hope that maybe what we experienced as coach and athlete had some lasting impact. They still write me notes that I will cherish 'til I die. Micah recently asked if she could share a letter I penned before her last run as a high school student. She read it to the UVA track team before the ACC championships, saying it opened the tear gates. It was hard to believe she had kept it over the years. It was even more amazing that it meant something to her.

I miss the relationship-building opportunities I had as a coach. I long to see young athletes develop from season to season. To not have a team to call my own leaves me feeling empty. But while that role as coach may be in the past, I draw strength that for at least a few, I may have served a purpose.

Coaches, be encouraged. Sometimes what we do actually matters in the long run.




Monday, May 1, 2017

A perfect opportunity. Not a perfect race.

"Hey," David Horton blurted out. "There are some kids here that want to talk to you."

With that, about six college students approached, all of whom were in Horton's college running class. They were almost giddy when exclaiming to each other, "It's HER!" I had the feeling this was going to get uncomfortable in a hurry.

With the eager students gathered 'round, they wanted to know more details about my race through the Brazilian jungle. They had all read my book about the experience as a part of their running class requirements. Questions about snakes and jaguars morphed into advise for the race in the morning; their first ultramarathon, the Promised Land 50K+ mountain adventure. The banter back and forth was entertaining, but their view of my abilities was way too high. Most would end up beating me to the finish.
Extraordinary runner and friend, Rick Gray.

Fast forward to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. Horton sent us off into the dark once two trumpeters led us in the National Anthem. I certainly felt more energy than two weeks prior when a training run left me discouraged and feeling old. I had already completed three ultras in three months, running much stronger than anticipated given my low mileage training. ("Training" may actually be too generous a word.) But for the last while, my legs felt dead and my breathing labored even on short, easy runs. Getting sick was partially to blame. I still had crackly stuff in my lungs. But in the already warm morning darkness, I felt a little lighter on my feet. Happy times.

Up, up up. Down, down, down. Up, up, up. Down, down, down. That pretty well describes this race. I was running in the middle third of the 330 person field, gladly playing cat and mouse with a number of people throughout the day. The two youngest Shindigglers, Hannah and Makena, got away early before I caught them again. When they pulled away the second time around mile 13, I thought there was still a chance of catching them later on. It had happened before, and with any luck, it would happen again.

But then again, both my calves and a hamstring may have conspired against me.

Maybe it was the near-90s heat and humidity. Maybe it was the low miles I had logged. But for whatever reason, the calves started the quiver routine fairly early, around 18 miles. Of course, I shortened my stride and pounded the fluid and electrolyte intake. Gaining control, I proceeded to make progress, grateful that cramping was my only issue. Nevertheless, the "only issue" turned into a major one. At times, I pulled up suddenly when the muscles decided to lock into place. Ouch! Not nice. Each time, it slowed my already relatively pedestrian pace, and frustrated me when quite a few runners slipped by me from about mile 23 to 28. I felt my hopes of catching Hannah and Makena fade, especially knowing they would be running faster than normal with the two older non-racing Shindigglers running those 15 middle miles with them. Still . . .I had to try.

By the time I started up the three-mile climb counter-current to the bold, rushing, cascading mountain stream, I rehearsed some of what I told the college kids the night before:
  • Walk when you're supposed to walk. Run when you're supposed to run.
  • You will suffer to some degree. That's ok. That's good. 
  • Nothing is accomplished without an element of suffering.
  • Embrace the suffering. Love the suffering.
  • It doesn't always get worse. Be smart. It can get better.
  • No matter how bad it is, be glad you are out there doing it. Most people can't or won't.
Geez. Not wanting to be hypocritical, now I had to practice what I preached. I did the best I could for where I was. I ran when I was supposed to run. I walked when I was supposed to walk. I was purposeful of what I sent to my stomach. My brain politely requested my muscles to relax and cooperate. I pushed on, thankful. It didn't always get worse.

Partly fearful of having another super masters woman catch me and partly out of ego, I topped out at the last aid station better than I had left the previous. There were only 5.5 miles (or so) to go. My legs didn't feel too weary, and my energy reserve was adequate at this point. Now if only my muscles would refrain from those annoying and painful tetanic contractions.

Hannah and Makena cooling off with me
Leaving the last aid station, I upped the prayer game. "Lord, protect me. Keep me from stumbling or tripping. Don't let me wipe out on this rocky trail. Keep my old muscles from curling up into tight little balls. Let me get down this mountain unscathed."

My feet hit the steep gravel road for the final couple miles. I had passed some people higher on the mountain, and again on this section. Some were reduced to walking even on this long downhill. Encouraged, I made myself continue to run, continue to steadily push forward and downward. Whenever my calf muscles began to tighten, I backed off a notch. With one mile to go, I glanced at my watch. I had roughly seven minutes to break eight hours. I remembered telling a friend that I would be happy if I was under eight.

Shoot. I have to admit, I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen. I found myself on the edge physically with little left from which to draw. 8:01 is what the timers recorded when I crossed the line. It was my slowest finish of the ten times I had completed Promise Land. I was glad to be through but somewhat disappointed nonetheless.

I have to be careful to refrain from comparing myself to my previous, speedier runs over an hour and a half quicker. I need to be cautious in applying value to where I fall in the overall and gender standings. But I also have to be open to learning from the time out on the trail. An old dog can learn new tricks, and this dog happens to think a few more miles prior to the race may go a long way in keeping muscles happy and cooperative.

This was certainly not a perfect race, but is was a perfect opportunity to remind myself how to run.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Running into 60

Makena, Abby, Hannah, Kendal, and Me
The thundering stampede began at 7:00 a.m. sharp, the dawn still working on breaking. 400 runners with their collective 800 feet pounded across the grass, turned onto the hardtop, and shortly thereafter began the assault up the mountain on gravel road leading to the rocky trail. Some were working hard, too hard: the freight-train breathing gave it away. Others laughed as they took those necessary steps toward the goal of reaching the miles-away finish. Me? I ran quietly, amusing myself with deciphering who was a half-marathoner, who was in it for the 50K long haul, who was a newbie, and who had many miles under their belt.

My poison was the 50K version. This race up, down, over and around Terrapin Mountain has become somewhat of a classic, now in its 10th year. I know the course like the back of my hand, often using portions of it for multiple training runs. So when the race director announced right before striking the starting gong that the first aid station was not yet at Camping Gap due to ice, it wasn't hard to believe. Miraculously, everything was set up when I arrived, but the carnage of cars stuck on the icy road below told the story. It was treacherous. Difficult to stand, it was impossible to run. I navigated a slim strip of slippery leaves on the road's edge, choosing the risk of falling off the mountain over the higher risk of a hard fall on the ice.

Abby
The frozen stuff disappeared as we lost altitude. Down, down, down. Then back up, up, up. I was glad that heavy-feeling legs early on had loosened up. Occasionally, I chatted with those around me, wondering all the while where three of my college-aged "Shindigglers" were on the course. I figured they were up ahead somewhere.

Sixteen miles in, we passed by those same cars still parked erratically on the ice. Much had melted as the sun rose higher in the sky, but I presumed their owners were busy tending to runners rather than cars.

I felt pretty good; physically and mentally. My training approach had changed. I no longer desired pounding out a ton of miles, choosing rather to work smarter. Transitioning into my 60's, I was liking this approach. Goals to be a front runner no longer existed. In fact, those days were long gone. But what I desired were steady, happy efforts, and enjoyment in traversing these courses.

Over the next miles, conversations with various runners were light-hearted and refreshing. I was surprised to catch a few friends who I thought were miles ahead. The race turned from pleasant into pure enjoyment, except for a stumble up the steep and rocky backside of Terrapin that brought on a major, painful calf cramp.

What was not fun, however, was the miles-long descent off the mountain. This technical, thin, and rock-strewn trail is normally negotiable and speedy for the adept trail runner. But even the most mountain goat-like athlete would have problems today. The now-melted ice and the overnight rains had turned the trampled trail into a slick slide. It was almost worse than the icy road, impossible to stand at times as indicated by my muddy butt. At one point, a group of us made a bypass off trail and through the woods to give way to the rescuers struggling to stretcher-carry a broken-leg runner down the mountain.

Kendal, Abby, Me
The last aid station provided the final calories and drink I needed to finish the race. The half mile down to the station and then back up to rejoin the trail also provided an opportunity to see runners who were close behind. It was then I saw two of the Shindigglers. They were behind me. "What?!?" I admit it. I smiled at the thought of being in front of kids 42 years my junior.

Still, I didn't rush into kamikaze mode to keep the lead. I simply remained steady, happily sharing miles with Rick, a long-time friend. The bold-stream crossing was refreshing on multiple fronts, as it marked the final two miles of our prescribed journey. When we hit the gravel road and made the turn to hard-surface road, I spotted Martha. Over the years, she and I often battled for the Grand Masters title (50's age group). But now that I had moved into the next age group, I found no real compulsion to chase her down. Still, I noticed she was taking walk breaks. Hum. Soon, I was within fifty yards of her when she turned around and saw me. She apparently felt no compulsion to race either. That was really appreciated! Martha, Rick and I ran the final 200 yards, crossing under the finish banner holding hands.
Makena, Me, Hannah, Kendal

A few minutes later, I greeted two of the Shindigglers, Hannah and Makena, at the line. Shortly thereafter, Kendal joined our happy group. It had been a good day and an even better introduction to 60-something running. Lord willing, there are many races to come.

My new goal? I just hope I can experience ultrarunning at 70.

Monday, November 7, 2016

MMTR 2016: When Grandma (nearly) got run over by a (rein) deer

Nearly 300 runners gathered by the small lake, ready to begin the fifty-mile journey ahead. With headlamps casting beacons of light into the darkness, the mass of adventurers ventured off at the appointed time. They sauntered around the lake, up the hill, and onto the country road that would lead them to the trailhead. I was part of that crowd, seeking to complete my 19th official journey along the entirety of the course.

I was chatting with a group of friends that complete this race as a social event. Each could run much faster than they do, but they enjoy the simple pleasure of getting from point A to point B with smiles on their faces and not much impact to their bodies. Andrew Thompson was one of the gang, a former record holder on the Appalachian Trail. He, too, was en route to his 19th passage of the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Run through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

We moved down the road spread from shoulder to shoulder. I was on the left most edge of the road when all of a sudden, I felt someone -- or something --come at me from the side. Busting from the woods at full speed, the buck bolted across the road, his hooves slipping on the hard road surface. His antlers narrowly missed my chest. Then it was a chain reaction, each runner to my right jumping to avoid the deer now sliding across the road. When he hit the far ditch, he fell to his knees before dashing off into the woods.

"What just happened?!?" Whoa. That was a close one, and it gave the pack of us something to talk about for the next few minutes. I wondered if the rest of the day would be so exciting.

Photo credit: Freda Spencer
Once into the woods, across the creek, and starting up the first mountain, I shared some time with an old friend. It was good to catch up. But alas, that was short lived as his pace was quicker than mine. I fell back into my routine of counting steps on the inclines: run 30, hike 30. Run 50, hike 50. I like doing this to keep making forward progress as quickly as possible. Silly, maybe, but it worked for me.

Despite the large number of runners in the race, I was alone for long stretches. Yes, there may have been runners further up the trail or coming around the corner behind me, but for the most part, the day was mine to enjoy in silence. Even when overtaking a runner (or they, me), it was mostly short pleasantries before we both retreated into our private worlds. The woods, playing host to filtered rays and brilliant leaves, thin ribbons of trail, and lazy country gravel roads, offered up the very best of autumn.

I was happy to be running a solid race. The aid station signs indicated I was well within cutoffs, albeit not with as much cushion as in the good times of yesteryear. Still, I was monitoring and managing myself based on the twenty-four years of ultrarunning. There was a certain sense of contentment to draw upon the experience of knowing what and when to eat, how much to drink, when to push a little harder, and when to settle in.

I will admit, however, that when my good friend Martha had passed me about fifteen miles in, my rhythm temporarily changed into the clunk-clunk of a flat tire. You see, though younger than me, Martha is in my age group and has bested me a number of times in the past years. Though not obsessed about it, I couldn't help but think that gaining back the title one last time before morphing into the Super Grand Masters (60+) come February would be fulfilling. So when I saw her come down from Mt. Pleasant as I was going up at about mile 35, I knew she had a good 20 - 25 minutes on me. I had a decision to make. Was I going to bide my time or attempt to run her down?

I was still running strong but not at a pace that was kamikaze. I told myself to stay steady because you never know how the other person is feeling. My legs were fine (other than what I knew to be a large blister on my  big toe) but I was getting tired of breathing. Really. There had been way too much breathing. My weenie upper body strength may have contributed to that feeling. But while I was contemplating my displeasure of doing the inhale/exhale routine countless more times, I suddenly ended up on the ground, which caused a calf to cramp in protest. Though surprised at the tumble on relatively smooth surface, it may have contributed to a later decision.

Miles 42 through 46 are marked by two vicious climbs an twisty-curvy single track. The fallen leaves kept the rocks and roots secret to the runner. Any sudden lurch upon discovering the hidden treasures had the possibility of ushering in a sequence of quivering muscles that could make things very difficult. And, should an ankle roll or wicked fall occur, it could be race ending. At least that's what I told myself.

Truth is, I know I was moving well. I was catching people rather than being caught. Still, I wasn't really suffering like I have in the past. I wasn't hating life. My blister was a bother but other than that, even the months-long nagging ITB issue had been a non-issue all day long. Yes, I was ready to reach the finish line--but at what cost?

Streaking past the last aid station, I remained steady. Not flashy. Just steady. I was playing it safe but ran on. I never gave up but never red-lined. Though I kept thinking I might look up to see Martha, I sort of hoped I didn't. That way, any compulsion to push into the super-suffer-zone could be more easily squelched. Even when the "1 mile to go" sign passed under my feet and a few gleeful runners slid by, I was still content to remain Steady-Eddy all the way through the finish.

Gary and me at the finish
I heard my name called as I ran under the banner, getting my congratulatory hug from race director, Clark Zealand. I was happy and relieved, but not overly emotional. It was just another necessary finish on the way to 20. My husband was there to surprise me. That touched me. A few photos were snapped before Martha approached. "You were only 16 minutes behind. You made up some time. But I have to thank you. I read your story of how you broke 11 hours a few years ago, and it gave me the idea. 'Why not me?' You inspired me to do what I've never been able to do before."

The man who started it all, David Horton
I was delighted for Martha. She is a strong competitor,  and a great friend. I watched her receive the cherished age-group prize later in the evening. It was okay. She faced her fear and grabbed the golden ring. I faced the fear and decided to walk the respectable pathway rather than the spectacular.

As a 41-year old, I ran my best at 8:57. I can remember thinking that I could run sub 9:30 in my sleep. That was dumb. In two months I'll turn 60. Long gone are the dreams of running those kind of times. But what is possible now? Surely, my priorities have changed. Time is not kind. But maybe, just maybe, new dreams can lead to new goals, and new goals can lead to new accomplishments.

Come on 60. I can't wait to see what you have for me.









Friday, October 14, 2016

Bucket-sitting

I interrupted my desk work by heading out the door into the sunshine of a clear fall day. Running shoes laced, I decided a tour of the ever-changing landscape of Liberty University would be a good step in the right direction.

With multiple construction projects happening simultaneously, it's hard to keep up with all the changes. The constant beep-beep-beep of trucks backing up make harmony with the explosion of nail guns. Steel workers prance atop the makings of the expansive domed roof of the new indoor football field, seemingly oblivious to the height and treacherous slope. Cranes, like monstrous prehistoric creatures, loom overhead, steel beams dangling as they are coaxed into place. Backhoes dig as bulldozers push. It's quite the sight and even a bit distracting to the runner afoot.

Enjoying the entertainment the construction world was providing, I came upon two workers on either side of the road. Each sat atop an over-turned five-gallon bucket. Both had been assigned a caution sign and neither one looked particularly enthralled with his duties. But despite the fact that a passing motorist would likely not be cautioned by the sign resting on the ground of the worker on the right, I decided to ask the other fella to explain the work behind him. It looked like a huge basin was being created, earth scooped up and hauled away by massive trucks. But why? I pondered. Were they creating a retention lake, clearing the way for the foundation of yet another building, or addressing an engineering issue? I didn't know. So I asked.

"Hey there. So what's happening behind you? Looks like a big project!"

With a grin widened by the gaps between the missing teeth, the affable man chuckled his response.
"Well, I don't know. I just hold the sign."

"Okay, then. I guess it will remain a mystery. Enjoy your day out here!" I replied.

"Oh, I will!" his tone suggesting he rather enjoyed this brief interruption to his bucket-sitting.

With a final look over my shoulder and a cheery "See ya," I continued along, dodging the warning signs placed smack-dab in the middle of the sidewalk.

My run continued, carrying me past several other construction sites. I noted with interest a number of other idle workers. Outside one tiny shack at the entrance to a work site, sat an elderly man sipping on a drink. It wasn't the first time I had seen him. Day in, day out, he sits in his chair and watches the trucks go by. I wondered if he was as clueless as the my new bucket-sitting friend.

Going through the motions. Oblivious. Why do more? Why know more?

Road sign holders and guard shack guys are not the only guilty parties. Being oblivious sure is a lot easier than being fully engaged.

As my run took me through campus and onward, I inventoried areas of my life that might include bucket-sitting. Am I, as the writer of Ephesians advises, being "very careful then, how you live, not as the unwise, but as the wise"? Or conversely, am I simply going through the motions, brain and thoughtful intentionality placed on the back burner? Am I being disciplined, well-informed, and in constant pursuit of excellence, or do I become lazy, content with past accomplishments?

God bless that dear bucket-sitter. But God help this gal to stay on her feet and keep making forward progress.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Naptime is for. . .

Good gracious. Is this what it means to get old? Am I on the fast train to senior citizenship? Geezerhood? Is this the beginning of the end? I'm out of bed and writing at 1:45 a.m. and have no idea where this story is going. That can't be good.

Maybe it's because I am in the post Muddy Muck Madness phase of life. The mud and obstacle run is the sole event each year that serves to put much needed resources into my self-funded FCA ministry. I love this race, this frolic (or more like a wallow) through the bogs that steal both dignity and shoes, across fields, through tunnels and creeks, along wooded trails, and across precarious floating bridges that stretch across the lake. And this year, the task of preparation escalated exponentially with the construction of a true-blue 120' water slide. Lots of people showed up this past Saturday, the air horn sounded, and mud flew. Then as quickly as the race began, the muck-laced racers drove away, leaving me with the daunting task of deconstruction. Had it not been for my husband and two other kind souls, I would still be removing bolts and dragging culvert pieces to their resting place, awaiting next year's action.

Much like the delayed exhaustion after a hard race, it hit me today like a load of bricks. Driving around doing the errand thing nearly lulled me into lala-land. Plans for a long, hard trail run must have figured out the child safety locks and jumped out of the vehicle somewhere along the way. But I managed to make it home safely, put away groceries, and head to the bed for a nap. A nap! At 4:15 in the afternoon! Aren't old people the only ones who take afternoon naps? As I sunk beneath the covers, I mumbled to Gary (whom I had awakened from his afternoon catnap on the couch when I entered the house), "Does this mean we're old?"

OK. So maybe the hour and a half dosey-doze is the reason for my restlessness in the middle of the night. Maybe the ideas whizzing around my cranial spaces akin to the thrill seeking motorcyclists who scream through the spherical cage of doom are keeping me awake. Or maybe it's the prodding I felt after reading a friend's new, and always terrific blog post. For heaven's sake! She has a baby and found the time to scribble in cyber-space. My children are grown and gone. I'm a grandma. I'm supposed to be in the life-contemplation, slow-paced stage of life. Right?

Nah. It's not that easy. Life is still a whirl. Ministry paths are morphing into this living, breathing creature not previously known to mankind. I think maybe today was the calm before I board the ship and sail into the storm. Not that the storm is bad. The coming storm is beautiful in many ways. But the storm is sure to slap some crazy waves against the bow. I will not avoid getting soaked, maybe even tousled about and nearly thrown overboard and drowned. And actually, I'm not quite sure of the ship's final destination. All I know is that this cruise is sure to be an adventure.

Maybe I did need that nap. Maybe I'm not old. Maybe I'm just preparing for a new voyage that reveals itself more later this morning.




Sunday, June 26, 2016

With a radiant soul

I didn't get much sleep last night.

I was enjoying a quiet evening in my room. It was the calm before 150 girls would storm the Blue Ridge Assembly property for Girls Black Mountain Sports Camp. I sat propped up in bed, thin mint Oreos by my side (which I must say are fabulous), computer screen glowing with various race-link tabs set to follow the progress of runners at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. Life was good living vicariously through the internet connection. When a lull in reporting occurred, I decided to check in with my dear mother. I cheerfully greeted her when she answered the phone. Her response was anything but. It was, well, dull, nearly silent.

Mother with newborn Addyson in better times
"I don't feel good, Rebekah. I don't know what to do." Her voice was wistful and faltering, perhaps even fearful. I could tell she was in a bad way. Attentive to her concerns, I finally convinced her to reach out to the retirement community's on-call nurse.

"Now, Mother, once she comes to make the assessment, have her call me." Agreed. Within the half hour, my phone jingled awake. It was the nurse.

"Your mother is very anxious. The EMTs are here and will be taking her to the hospital to get checked out."

Mother was suffering more than usual. At 88, she was trying to be a trooper--like always. But she's getting tired. Her shoulder offers nothing but pain and swelling, she feels weak and wobbly when walking, and all her get up and go has got up and gone.

These events precipitated calls to my brothers, one of whom made the short trip to the hospital given he is the only sibling living in the area. Several hours and many texts transmitted into the wee hours brought the news of a GI bleed, resulting anemia, a UTI, and decreased renal function. Still, they released her to David who carried her home and lovingly tucked her in for the night.

Today Mother still sounds tired but better. I doubt any real physiologic improvement magically occurred overnight. So what changed? Though still exhausted from the ordeal, maybe she has a better perspective on her status. Perhaps she has viewed her condition as inevitable; the normal course of events for someone completing nearly nine decades of life. Maybe she has figured out that suffering is better tolerated when you can see beyond the moment. Perhaps she knows, as the old hymn states, "it will be worth it all when we see Jesus." She is facing the difficulties with grace and peace.

But let's switch gears for a minute. The race I had been following all day was still going on. I used down time between medical status checks to see where a certain female given bib number 29 was on the course. Bethany Patterson, a 37-year old friend with three kids had earned a coveted spot among the list of entrants.

I've know her since she was a baby in the sport of ultrarunning; a talented if not somewhat over-confident and cocky (by her own admission) college student. I had no idea who she was the first time she passed me in a race. However, I absolutely knew I didn't particularly enjoy her perky little self prancing up the hill, leaving me to lumber along with labored breathing. Her career was just starting. Mine, on the other had, was struggling to maintain even distant contact with the awards podium.

A lot has happened in the years since. I've had some good stretches, but mostly years with diminishing return. Bethany rose quickly to ultrarunning prominence, got married, birthed twin boys and a sister, and maintained a successful professional career. Though she never left the racing world, it's just been in the last two years that her trajectory has been stratospheric. This I find fascinating, but in the details of the story, I have newfound respect and admiration.

In an interview  the day before the gun sounded, this slightly built but powerhouse of a runner was interviewed. "I'm a different person than I was." I'll say. If you listen carefully, the cause/effect was her new understanding that she "gets" to do this; that she re-found the joy in the journey. Did this mean she would not suffer in the training? That a hundred miles would be easy? That success was assured? No. And a million times no. It simply meant that because she could see the broader picture, she would commit to do whatever it took to get across the finish line.

Credit Jason Griffith and Crozet Running
Bethany took to the start line having prepared very well. She began running at the sound of the gun knowing suffering on some level was non-negotiable. She was prepared to endure. She agreed beforehand to meet up with "Suffering" along the trail and do battle, but in this case was privileged to introduce him to "Fierce" and her sidekick "Relentless." She posted, "What an absolutely magical day. It exceeded all my hopes and expectations for this race." She pushed her way through the ranks, running down all but six competitors and finishing in a time of 20:40. 

Here on the grounds of this camp is a huge rock guarding the founders' graves; Willis and Julia Weatherford. Julie was born in 1889 and died in 1957. I researched her life but found little beyond the epitaph on that rock. ". . .a great sufferer but a radiant soul." Amazing. Most of us have a hard time displaying a "radiant soul" in the best of times. Leaving that kind of legacy meant making the decision to endure with grace over and over and over again.

I suspect my Mother, the now-exhausted Bethany, and the late Mrs. Weatherford share something in common: they know (or knew) how to suffer well. They understand (understood) the importance of perspective. They all learned to allow the suffering to produce something most beautiful and inexplicably wonderful.

Well done, ladies. Well done.