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.

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


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.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bumps and lumps

A week ago this time, I was half-way through the Promise Land 50K, striding along forested trails, and along creeks running more swiftly than me. The misty, damp conditions, bright green tunnels of foliage, and the sweet siren songs of the birds produced a level of tranquility not often experienced in this fast-paced world. I embraced being there. I eagerly accepted the challenges. But I could not help but remember that this race was in reality a box needing to be checked off.

Today, I am sitting on my bed with six inches of stitches and staples in my face, along with a swollen jaw line. Some may even mistake me to be Herman Munster's second cousin. I've been told the importance of laying-low, doing nothing, in order to guarantee an acceptable aesthetic result. And all this because of a little bump.

When I nonchalantly asked my family physician about a round, hard lump along my jawline back in January, she waved it off as nothing but a cyst. Still, in the interest of safety, she sent me for an ultrasound. The ultrasound led to a biopsy, and the biopsy led to a surgeon search. All this took time and a fair bit of mental gymnastics playing out the possible scenarios in my head. In the meantime, a routine mammogram came up suspicious and resulted in more tests, waiting, and contemplations. It was an interesting couple of months.

Now life's landscape looks a little different. The breast issue became a non-issue once the testing was complete. The biopsy proved the parotid tumor to be benign, though surgery was indicated. And the surgeon selection process could not have yielded a better practitioner. All this commotion for a little bump or two.

Arriving at the hospital for my long-awaited surgery on Wednesday morning, Gary and I both admitted to being a little nervous. It didn't hit until I was on the stretcher ready to be taken to the OR. There were possible complications to the surgery that could be life-altering--not really life-threatening--just altering. Still, in an odd way, it was wonderful to see so many doctors and nurses that I had worked with for years. "Hey, how are you? What's been going on in your life?" was a common thread in both directions. To experience what it feels like to be wheeled down the hallway on a stretcher or sit in pre-op holding watching patients, doctors, and nurses come and go was fascinating- almost fun.

Then it was my turn. The wall plate that opened the doors into the surgical hallway, one I had pushed thousands of times when working there as a perfusionist, was slapped. The doors responded, opening up wide like a big, sleepy yawn. OR 3 was not far down the front hall, and I was greeted by nurses smiling behind their masks. "Stop, I need a mask! I can't enter a room that's set up without one," I wanted to scream. But wait. That's not right. Patients don't need masks. Yes, I'm a patient. I guess we are allowed to have our germs flying around in our own surgical suite. I reset my thinking from clinician to patient.

Things moved more quickly than anticipated. I scooted to the surgical table while chit-chatting, the stretcher was pulled away, EKG pads placed, and head and shoulders positioned. "Your heart rate is in the high 40's," stated the anesthesiologist. "Is that about right?" He knew I was a runner but wanted to confirm I wasn't bradycardic for no good reason.

Hum. I was surprised my heart rate was that low with all this excitement. But at the same time I was pleased, hoping it indicated some level of fitness. With nary another word or warning, a mask was placed over my nose and mouth to pre-oxygenate before intubation. Since my anesthesia would be 100% IV narcotics rather than inhalation agents, I knew I would not get sleepy breathing through the mask. But when I heard, "OK. Let's go," I knew it would not be long. My eyes fixed on the overhead lights. I wanted to see how long I could fight the drugs coursing through my veins. It was like a competition. Not much happened in the next few seconds. Ah-ha. I was winning. Then my slightly fuzzy brain heard, ""For her, wham, bam, push it fast." OK. I give. Goodnight. My eyes closed, just like in the movies, rendering the next 3.5 hours time forever erased from my memory. I wish the procedure could have been recorded. I would have liked to see the whole thing.

I woke up in recovery hours later, feeling like one of those dolls whose eyes roll open and then easily close. YEAH! Immediately, I knew my face had survived; no paralysis of the facial nerve. Whew. That would be tough to be a speaker with a mouth and eye that would not close. I was in no real pain but when asked if I wanted something, I agreed in order to stay in front of it. No nausea. No paralysis. No pain. Life was good.

The rest of the day was spent in the Surgicare Center. It took a long time for the effects of the IV drugs to let go. Abby and Kendal, two of my faithful Shindigglers (and senior nursing students) came to visit. It was fun to watch them watch the monitors and access me as a patient and not just their TrailMama.

Now that I'm home, the "big bump in the road" caused by a little bump beneath my jaw doesn't seem like such a big bump after all. The process has been relatively easy, pain minimal (despite the Frankenstein-like appearance), and quite interesting to me from a medical viewpoint. I am thankful for that.

Is there a lesson in this? Probably. Though to be honest, I'm not feeling very philosophical at the moment. But this I know: If God is truly sovereign, we need to be willing to roll with whatever He ordains for us; look at each bump, twist, and turn as an adventure and life experience that will ultimately be used for good. Are some bumps bigger and harder to deal with? Sure. I think the hardest part of this bump is having to lay low for a week or two, hardly of any significance in the big picture.

Now, I am not minimizing the difficulty of mind-boggling, exceptional, and terrifying situations. But
I want to encourage any and all who are facing a bump to do so knowing that nothing is without purpose. Everything is written into our life stories for a reason. Find that reason in Christ.

Monday, May 2, 2016

I'm a wus (and might like it that way)

For days before the race, I dreamed about an epic performance. With surgery looming in a few days to have a tumor removed, I wanted to battle the challenging course with all I had as it led me up, over, around, and down the mountains. I wanted to collapse across the line totally spent, exhausted, hauled away from the finish line fray by concerned onlookers. Then, I wanted my legs to be so trashed from the extreme effort that it would force me to limp my way into the hospital, embracing a great anesthesia-induced sleep. It just seemed to be the right approach under the circumstances. Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but the way it should be.

Pre-race fun
So why was I smiling when I crossed the line? Why was I not hurting badly on the final four-mile descent, despite a respectable pace? And now, why am I able to stand from a seated position without difficulty or use of my hands? Why am I able to do stairs without grimacing? Why, oh, why?

One possible answer to the question is that I went into the race finely trained and conditioned. Hence, no incapacitating soreness in the aftermath. While it is true that I put in a number of long runs in the weeks prior (and I have lots of pictures to prove it), I didn't particularly leave a blazoned path behind me. We Shindigglers (or sometimes just me) stopped to enjoy overlooks and photo-ops. We always relished being done with the run but seldom dealt with the consequence of pushing hard and strong throughout. So nah, conditioned protection from relentless pounding is probably not plausible.

Another possibility is that I ran a tactically perfect race, monitoring my body and responding to it with calculated precision. Indeed, I ran when I was supposed to run. I hiked when my heart rate and breathing jacked too high. I doubled up on electrolytes when calves quivered or a hamstring felt tight. I anticipated caloric needs dependent on the section coming up next. I was intentionally mindful of posture on the relentless climbs to avoid lower back issues. My mind was a constant whirl of assessment/response microcycles. Indeed, I ran a smart race based on well over twenty years of experience. I suspect these things contributed to an uneventful "recovery." However, it's not the complete story.

For much of the day, I was alone, seldom having opportunity to speak with fellow competitors. I loved the solitude, preferring the sweet songs of birds that filtered through the mist to human chatter.  With plenty of time to think as I rolled along, I recalled more frantic years of racing. Those years were fraught with angst about who was in front and who was behind me. It was push, push, push. The pressure to be in the hunt was palpable with every heart beat. I had expectations for myself. Others had expectations for me. My identity was bound to a position and measured time. And that, dear friends, spells P.R.E.S.S.U.R.E; a pressure that seeps into life's every nook and cranny.

I kept telling myself that I must do my best. But had the definition of "best" changed for me? I don't feel I slacked off into a lollygagging world. I ran appropriately in each section, especially for the last twenty miles. My mind drifted to my Shindiggling girls who were in front of me. I thought about a few ladies in my age group who were also out in front. (I would find out Martha, another trailrunning grandma, had adopted my Shindigglers over the miles.) Anyway, I knew I was moving well since I passed quite a few runners and rarely got passed back. My desire to be striving and steady remained strong knowing I might be able to sneak up on one of those gals. Still, I felt no do-or-die compulsion to run anyone down.

Rebekah, Abby and Kendal, Martha Wright
Yes, I got tired coming up Apple Orchard Falls. Yes, running across the parkway felt difficult after all that hiking up the miles-long steep grade. Yet I forced myself to get the job done; I finished strong. The miles of gravel road leading to the finish rushed by quickly. I was strong and in control without a lot of pain. I finished a couple minutes under 7:30, the time I thought was doable this year. Though I never caught the girls or age-group competitors, I didn't really care. I started. I finished. I was glad to be in the mountains. I was no worse for wear. Is that so bad?

I think I may be have fallen into a self-inflicted state of "wus-endom". It's not an evil state to be in. It's just very different than where I lived for many, many years. I've lost- or perhaps, surrendered- my "come hell or high water" competitiveness, at least in this season of life. Rather, I am content to face challenges on my own terms; do my best for the day and enjoy the journey.

I'm not saying I'll never be a focused competitor again. (The new age group of 60+ is right around the corner and with it may come new goals.) I know the courage it takes to run on the brink of disaster and failure. I've been there and done that. It certainly has its rewards and being at the top of your game can be a worthy undertaking. But I have to admit, being a contented, laid-back wus is a lot less stressful and a whole lot more pleasurable nowadays. So on April 30, 2016 at the Promise Land 50K, I embraced my wussiness.