Saying F It

My mom (who was recently featured on Yahoo! Finance) does a lot of public speaking and one of the themes she constantly returns to is "Say Yes."  I think the movie "Yes Man" owes her some kind of royalty because she was teaching that way before that movie came out, but unfortunately not when I was a teenager.  I have taken this motto to heart, but instead of saying yes, I say "F it" (and since my Grandma reads this blog, the abbreviation will have to do).  In the spirit of saying "F it," I took a bet during football season and when the Chargers lost to the Steelers, I lost my dignity and since I promised to post a sexytime picture of me in the bet-losing hot pink belly baring baby-T last week, here is,

That's me with friends Vince and Adam (who didn't lose a bet...he really IS an Orioles fan)

Not at all related to this post, but the kid's shirt is awesome

It was a great game with the Padres winning in walk-off style.  That shot was taken the night and a bunch of beers, chicken wings, and nachos before the mud run, but that's pretty much the best way to prepare for a mud run.

I was asked to join a group for the Camp Pendleton Mud Run and again I said "F it" and joined the team.  We ended up taking first place which was a pretty awesome experience.  This was my fourth mud run and it is one of my favorite races, and not just because of the huge co-ed post-race showers.  The race is lined with Marines yelling at you (I guess for some this is motivating) as you climb walls and jump into pools of mudsludgesewagey goodness while trying to keep your mouth closed as the mud splatters and drenches your clothes and shoes, weighing you down as you try to run up Suicide Hill, climb through tunnels, up the steep Slippery Hill as a firehose sprays you, trying to force you back to the bottom, swimming through a lake that washes most of the mud off only to have to crawl through a final mud pit on hands and knees.  Our team was the Dirty Vikings because two of our team members are Swedish, and here is a picture of us at the awards ceremony (thanks to some creative Photoshopping, we are all wearing Viking helmets).

The Dirty Vikings in all their glory

Not all of these posts have a moral, but I guess this one does: sometimes it pays to say "F it" and sometimes it doesn't.

Night Pacing at the San Diego 100

Only an hour outside the city and the stars are amazing, layers and blankets of light with the Milky Way cloud splitting the moonless sky.  I parked in the mountains East of San Diego off Sunrise Highway after driving the spaghetti turns of Julian.  Waiting and pacing with caffeinated blood and anxious feet, glad that I was here in the cold, huddled with a wool blanket around my shoulders and inhaling the smoke of a welcome fire-pit, waiting with others, peering into the night and searching for the pinpoint glimmer of headlamps in the dark, the lights of runners with 80 miles of trails in their feet and legs, 80 miles of fluid in swollen redblack blisters, running to the aid station of fire, RVs and chicken soup, scraping off their socks as the foot doctor goes to work, popping, soaking pus and blood, bandaging, and powdering.  The runners, most smiling a crazy, tired grin of excess, down the salt of chicken soup, the sugar of flat coke, and the calories of chocolate maltodextrin syrup, eating pretzels, grilled cheese sandwiches, filling spin cycle stomachs with whatever they can keep down.  These bleary-eyed, staggering ghosts of the night leave the comfort of the fire, the food, the volunteers and the inviting and tempting chairs where it would be so easy to say enough and drift off to sleep after 18 hours of trails, climbing through the mountains and stumbling over rocks, it would be easy but none of them do.  I wait for Kara and Jeremy, two headlights in the darkness, about a mile away winding down the hill, bobbing points of light in the black, and as I wait I talk to Becki, the 2:50 marathoner and fellow pacer, about Kara, a friend I would run ahead of, alongside of, and behind for the next 20 miles, the final 20 of her 100 mile journey and try to make it to the finish before the Earth has had a chance to rotate once on its axis, to finish as the campers are waking up, adding logs and bacon to their warm fires, pausing to stare at these athletes who they may have seen the day before, and wondering why the stinky joggers are wearing the same clothes as yesterday and why some of them are crying.

I have paced Kara's husband, Jeremy, at two different races, once at Miwok 100 in the Muir Headlands and the other time, last year at the San Diego 100, but he doesn't need much motivation, being a Marine, a cancer survivor, and all-around bad ass, he just needed someone to be on the trail with him, someone that would break the monotony of miles, and I fit the bill. I had never run with Kara before, but I offered to help and Jeremy asked if I would pace the last 20 and try to get his wife to the finish in under 24 hours for the silver buckle. I love running at night, but I have never run through the night before so I jumped at the chance.

At night, the headlamp halo illuminates the trails and jumps off the rocks and over the bushes as I try to locate the source of the scamper, freezing a field mouse in the beam.  I didn't want to look too hard into the dark and see the reflection of my light, bouncing off the glow of two hunting and hungry eyes because this is mountain lion country and cats love the night.

The first section was difficult, all the sections were difficult, but that first one was a 7 mile stretch of some rocky, technical portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada.  Climbing the hill, I asked Kara about her kids, and she talked about swimming, school, and living in Yuma where 100 is a cool summer day, and hopefully not thinking about the climb or spotting the headlamps above us, seemingly in the sky, a pair of stars where we were headed.  We didn't see many other runners on this stretch and would go for long sections of trail without seeing the orange ribbon that marked the course.  I would scan the branches, searching for that neon orange guide and reflective strip that would let me know that I was leading Kara down the right path, praying that I didn't take a wrong turn and would have to give her the bad news that we needed to retrace some hard-won miles, but the orange and reflective strips would eventually shine, hanging from a tree branch and I was able to breathe again.

I haven't seen dawn in years, and I have never stayed up all night to see dawn, never had that experience that should be fueled with drink and dancing and ending up on a beach with some curves maybe on some island in Greece with sand in my toes as the sun rises over the Aegean.  This experience wasn't like that, but it was just as beautiful as the sun rose over the Laguna Mountains and the stars faded into the blue orange, the darkness faded into light, and we were able to turn off our dimming, battery-drained headlamps and the light-less abyss became a lush valley of pine trees and blooming white flowers.

We would pull into the aid stations and Jeremy would be ready with the precision taught by years of military service, taking care of his wife, feeding her, filling her bottles and offering encouraging words of support.  He would then come over to me and whisper "push her as hard as she can go" with a little threat in his voice and I pictured finishing at 24:01:00 and being forced to walk the ten miles back to my car as penance.  I started to push a little harder the last five miles, telling her to imagine Jeremy at the finish, imagine her oldest daughter running a 5K, stretching out her legs and gritting her teeth the way kids run before they know about pace and conserving energy, I told her to imagine the look in her daughter's eyes as she crosses the finish line, only a mile or two away and the pride in the eyes of her husband.  She ran most of the last four miles, finding a place deep down in an empty tank, crying a little as we ran through a meadow on a narrow trail, past the campers and through the campground and towards the yelling voice of her husband, echoing off the trees, and towards her daughter who ran to meet us, crossing the line with her mom as the red digits of the finish line clock read 23:44:21.

Kara was the 4th woman to cross the finish line and was 23rd overall.  149 people started the race and 90 people finished before the 31 hour cutoff.

Kara and Jeremy leaving the aid station

Night running

Headlamps in the night

Sunrise on the trail

Running single-track through the meadow

At the finish

Kara at about mile 93 - I had just told her that we can't go much higher

Everything You Need is Already Inside

Nike has some great marketing, and this video gets me every time.  It makes me want to push, I don't know if it's the song, or the flashing images of people doing superhuman things, but it really inspires me. "Just Do It" has become cliché, but as slogans go, it has gone beyond the commercials and entered the athletic lexicon. It has defined a generation of athletes from Bo Jackson to Michael Jordan to Lance Armstrong, athletes who push the boundaries of possible.

My favorite comment about this blog came from a friend of mine the other day,

"I read your blog."

"Did you like it?"

"It was okay, but I'm glad I know you and I know that you have other interests because if I didn't know you, I would think this guy needs to get a life."

This is from a guy, we'll call him "Adam," who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains in a house full of cats and without TV or internet. He goes to something called a library for computer access and I like to send him links of male strippers dancing to loud techno music, so when he opens them in the library, everyone around knows how awesome he is.

Adam and I made a bet during the football season over a Steelers-Chargers game (I bet on the Chargers).  The Steelers did, in fact, beat the Chargers, so next weekend I will be attending a Padres-Orioles baseball game in a pink Steelers women's t-shirt, size belly-exposing-small (I'll post a sexy-time picture next week). With Nike's "Just Do It" drilled into my head since adolescence, it's hard for me to say no when confronted with a challenge.

Last week I asked if Kara, a friend and ultra-runner who is running the San Diego 100 (that's miles), needed anything.  I was talking about extra gels, maybe some gaiters, a few prayers, but this friend emailed back, saying if I'm up to it, would I pace the last twenty miles.  Of course I said yes, I would love to pace the last twenty miles of a 100 mile race through the middle of the night.

A few days ago I got an email asking if I would be the 5th member of a team competing in the Camp Pendleton Mud Run next weekend. They were looking for someone with a 5k time between 16 and 20 minutes, which is a pretty big range, so again, I said yes.

I tend not to think about these decisions too much before I make them, the self doubt will come later, sometimes it comes on the course.  But, as I prepare for a 50 mile race in October and a double crossing of the Grand Canyon in November, I try to remember why I do these things, why I don't have much of a life and why I am so passionate about running.  It's the challenge, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with taking a challenge that I know I may not be able to complete, overcoming the doubt and surprising myself..that is the feeling that I am addicted to.

That is why I am so excited to pace my friend to the finish of the San Diego 100, because even though I am not yet ready to take on the challenge of a 100 mile race (I have a few other goals I want to focus on first), I would never turn down the opportunity to stand at the finish and witness the accomplishment and the emotion that accompanies this type of challenge.

Trail Running in the Nepal Himalayas (with video)

After a few weeks of slow group trekking, acclimatizing to the high altitude and losing about 15 pounds using the very effective dysentery diet, I was aching to get out on my own and run these amazing Himalayan trails.  I checked with our group leader and head guide privately and received permission to take my life in my own hands and embark on a run from Namche at about 11,500 feet to Lukla at about 9,000 feet covering nearly 13 miles.  This stretch took our group two days and about 15 hours on the way to Base Camp, and it was supposed to be one of the easier days on the return trip.  It was the last trekking day and was listed in the itinerary as a 7-8 hour hike.

After some group drama and discussion, and with the head guide deeming it unsafe to run the night before, I woke up determined to go, breaking out the running shorts, trail shoes and gaiters and ready to defy the head guide's advice because I have never been good with being told what to do.  I ate a quick breakfast of porridge and a hard-boiled egg, spoke clandestinely with the group leader and set out alone on the trail.

Due to the drama, I took the initial steep descent much more carefully than I normally would have because I really didn't want a twisted ankle and an "I told you so" from the guide.  The trails varied from crude stone steps, to smooth dirt, to slick rocks and streams.  It ended with a seemingly never-ending stair and rock climb into the airstrip town of Lukla.

Along the way, I passed porters carrying a few hundred pounds on their backs, over bouncy suspension bridges, yaks and the dung that goes along with them, and people staring at the crazy runner and asking "marathon?" because the Everest marathon was later that month, and I just shook my head no because, for the most part, I couldn't catch my breath enough to give a coherent answer.  I passed some kids walking to school and was impressed that they could just pick up and run with me, laughing, racing, and enjoying the trail that they walk every day.  I stopped halfway in Phakding and downed some chicken curry, rice and tea at one of the more scenic aid stations I have passed through.  I wanted to run through, but the owner of the lodge wouldn't hear of it, he jumped out in front of me on the trail, asking if I was with the big group, and wouldn't let me pass until I ate.  I was glad I did, because the curry tasted great and I'm sure I needed the salt and the caffeine.  It was slow going after that, with a lot of uphill and a stomach-full of curry, so I ended up walking the uphills and jogging the flats and the downhills when they weren't too steep and rocky.

Towards the end I talked to a local girl who I had passed earlier, and she caught up to me on the steep and long climb to Lukla.  She taught me some Nepalese and I could tell she wanted to practice her English.  She was walking to the hospital in Lukla because she was sick and everyone walks everywhere in the Himalayas.  Her name was Khumbila, like the sacred mountain in Nepal, the mountain no one is allowed to climb.  She walked up the hill, keeping a steady pace, encouraging me to keep up, teaching me slowly, slowly, in Nepalese, but in the end I was too slow.  I passed under the Lukla welcoming arch and crudely painted sign reading "Enjoy Your Trek" three and a half hours after leaving Namche.  I sat there at the base of the arch, massaging the cramps out of my legs, recovering at the same spot that I passed under a couple of weeks before, not realizing the beauty, the suffering and the change the experience would bring.

Along the river

Nepal aid station

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