Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wander Years

The Wander Years

I am in the middle of a forest.  The trees are thick with a vibrant shade of green, but peaks of sunshine still manage to seep through.  Purple, pink, and orange flowers line the either side of the trail.  To the east I can hear the gentle babble of the sparkling blue river I just crossed.  To the west, large purple mountains clash with the clouds, dotting an azure sky.   When people talk about things being beautiful, a day being perfect, this is surely what they mean.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to fully appreciate all the natural wonders around me.  I’ve gone mile without picking my head up.The constant chatter in my head blocks out the chirping birds, the light wind brushing the leaves, and even the crunch of my footsteps on the soft dirt trail scattered with twigs.  My vision is skewed, not because of a lost contact, but because I am too busy searching for another trail. 

I passed another trail a few miles back heading towards the south, and another a few miles before that heading toward the east.  Neither felt quite right, so I kept going.  Now I am second guessing that decision. I know there are a few more side trails coming up ahead, but will they lead me in the right direction?  Where am I going anyway? I think I am…


Well, maybe no quite lost.

I am….Wandering.


The term “wander” probably best explains the past 2 years of my life.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means to:

1a : to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal

  b : to go idly about

2: to follow a winding course

3a : to go astray (as from a course) : stray <wandered away from the group>

  b : to go astray morally : err

  c : to lose normal mental contact : stray in thought <his mind wandered>


Aside from 3b, I’d say, yes, that is about right. 

After college, I thought I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  How quickly that all became blurry.  For starters, things happened that I couldn’t have predicted.  Then I began to learn more, read more, and do different things.  My thinking began to change.  This took effect on the ideas I had for myself and my future.

Many times, I became frustrated.  I knew I was on this Earth for a purpose, but what the heck was it!?  Too many times, I let my frustration turn into disappointment, bringing me to tears.  Running was not the answer, nor were the two jobs I tried out.  Life satisfaction was a far off concept for me. 

So, I wandered.  And I’m still wandering.  But I think I’m getting closer to that one path, that one trail that was meant for me and me alone.

Funny thing is, I’m getting there because of all the things I’ve learned along the way in these past two years.  I’ve learned I hate driving an hour to work, in a busy and crowded city.  I also hate dressing up and wearing heals.  On the other hand, working with kids in an unstructured environment isn’t for me either. 

I’ve learned people can’t read my mind.  Sometimes, I just need to say how I feel, even if that’s not that natural thing for me to do.  Communication is key.

I’ve learned to be me, and I’ve learned what I value.  I like to be warm, happy, an d well fed…but I don’t need a whole lot.  I don’t really like BIG things, just small, simple things…and things that are as eco-friendly as possible.

I’ve learned I love running...but not when it becomes my forefront.  Then it becomes work, and with that comes unnecessary pressure.  I like running for its serenity, and how it enhances who I am.

I’ve re-learned what my values and my morals are.

The list goes on and on. 

All these things have helped shape who I am, and expanded my horizons.

If only I would have slowed down, picked my head up, and enjoyed the views along the way...
Yes, I was wandering.  But, as it turns out, wandering is what I needed to do.  I may have gotten a few bumps and bruises along the way, but my wandering wasn’t really such a bad thing after all.


I haven’t done too much research on the subject, but I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of these “wander years”.  Actually, I think the majority of the population goes through the same thing.  Usually though, it’s given a negative connotation.

For adults, it’s most often known as a mid-life crisis.  For teens and young adults, they’re either lazy or “dreamers” who need to come back to “real world”. 

There are the exceptions of course…

There are the child prodigies and young entrepreneurs, some millionaires before they reach adulthood, who know exactly what they were born to do.  Then there are those who have a calling so strong that they know, even when still playing in the sandbox, that they were meant to lead, preach, or heal. 

It’s hard not to be jealous. 

But truth be told, we are all meant to be on this earth for some reason, and most of us have to do quite a bit of digging to get there.  And that’s okay!  Because it is when we wander that we make mistakes, we fall, and we learn.  It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and beauty…if only we take the time to pick our heads up and enjoy it.

[Again, it’s unfortunate that our society looks down on wanderers, instead forcing many people to take on jobs that they really don’t enjoy (yes, you can find meaning in those jobs too, you can find mean in your life  in anything you do, but that’s another blog!).  Recently, I listened to an audio CD, “Thrive” that listed Copenhagen, Germany as one of the world’s happiest places.  A huge reason for this is because people have the freedom to try different job without fear of debt or others’ opinions – the sacrifice is that the majority of a person’s income goes to taxes, but hey, who cares if you’re happy!]

My hope in writing this blog is to encourage others to embrace their “wander years” because they are an important part of our lives.  It takes a lot of trust in oneself, and maybe a Higher Calling, but there is no point in worrying or getting down on yourself in these years.  Our wander years having meaning and purpose, whether they are spent exploring the mountains or working at a restaurant just to get by.  As long as we don’t give up and believe in ourselves, we will all find the direction we are supposed to be traveling in and reach our destinations…or destinies.

So wander on my friends, and enjoy the adventure.

(This is a necklace Sandi got for me towards the end of college)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Post Race Recap: Black Hills 100

Post Race Recap: Black Hills 100
“Hills Make You Stronger”

From my pre-race blog:

 “Do I have a time goal for Black Hills 100?  Yea, I have an idea of what I’d like to run.  But I know there will be struggles.  If they’re small enough, I know I can reach my time goal.  If they’re big, probably not.  But then I get to prove my strength by overcoming those obstacles, and I will be just as satisfied with my efforts.”

The last two sentences rang true for Black Hills 100.  Unconsciously, I think I knew that this was not going to be my race, that I was going to have to fight.  And fight I did…for all 100 miles.

The race started at 6:00 am on a beautiful morning at Woodle Field in Sturgis, South Dakota.  I started out slow, really slow, as the first 1.2 was on a paved bike path and I needed to make it to the trail without stopping to stretch without having to stop and stretch my leg/hip.  I succeeded, just barely. 

After that, the race would follow the Centennial Trail for the next 40+ miles.  It started off with beautiful rolling hills of green grass and wild flowers, with endless views into the horizon.  I couldn’t help but smile. 

We didn’t enter the woods until about mile 6.  At mile 7 I thought “my leg is really f*d up” as it still felt tight.  Luckily, we hit a climb after that and the discomfort subsided.  My breath was unusually heavy for the slow pace, but I shrugged it off, thinking I just had to shake out the cobwebs from my taper.  The course was completely new to me, more gorgeous than I could have imagined, so I just need to relax and enjoy it.
By mile 20, I had already fell hard twice and dealt with 3 side stitches.  By mile 29, I was already feeling exhausted and knew my only goal would be to finish. 
Already, I was praying for strength and repeating my mantras in my head. Trying to match it with the “hih-huh” of breathe, I repeated “believe” over and over again.  At large steep and rocky hills, I told myself “hills make you stronger”, even if at the time I just felt like they were breaking me down.

At the Dalton Lake aid station, I saw Steve and could tell he looked a bit concerned.   I had just blown a nice downhill, but my legs just wouldn’t let me take full advantage.  He tried to push me out of the aid station, but I told him I didn’t need to rush.  “I’m sooo tired babe” I said, as I tried to stuff very low calorie watermelon down my throat.  I knew I was going to finish, I just knew it was going to be grueling.  Already, I had no hopes for placing.

I was almost in tears hiking up the rocky ATV trail, which would last for the next 13 miles (being tired, the rocks even made running on flats difficult, and I often walked the downhills to avoid gorging myself with a stone).  In thought “He doesn’t understand!”  I felt like he was pressuring me.  Well, he was actually.  All he kept telling me is that he wanted that darn buffalo head that the top 3 men and women would receive.  I felt like top 10 would be a stretch.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that Steve believes in me, but I just wanted to run to run.  And I wanted to run with no expectations.



I kept going, shuffling as best I could, walking when the rocks were too much to pick my feet over, or when I crossed paths with a 4-wheeler.

After 6-7 miles, I reached the Nemo Aid Station.  I was not amused when Steve told me “just keep swimming”.  Then it was another 6-7 to the next aid station.

Finally I reached the aid station at 42.5 and stuffed another 4 slices of watermelon down my throat.  I knew from reading the course description that the next few miles would be some of the most runnable on the course.  Still, I left the aid station walking.  However, I was getting close to the turn-around.  I knew if I made it to mile 50, I could make it to 100, no matter how much I suffered.  I began to access some positive thoughts (I had already tried many of my other positive thought mechanisms earlier, such as gratitude list, but I couldn’t fully grasp them) and started to run-maybe shuffle- a tad faster, with a smile on my face.  I can’t say I caught a second wind, as I never really had a first one, but I did begin to feel a little better.

Still, my legs were almost useless, so, I ran with my heart. 

This time, that took new meaning for me.  I realized I had given very large pieces of my heart to several others, so I ran with them.

I knew Sandi was sending all of her positive energy my way.  I pictured her running strong and silent behind me.  I knew she wouldn’t say much, because she knew I was doing all I could to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  She knew I was fighting my demons.  Still, I could feel her strength emanating from her very being towards me, and just knowing she was by my side gave me strength. 

I ran to the aid stations to see Steve, even though I knew he’d try to make me eat more food that my stomach was at war with.  I ran knowing that soon it would be dark, the sun would stop burning my skin, and he’d put on his headlamp and be with me to the finish. 

At times, I even pretended Pacer was there running next to me, trying to race ahead.  In my head, I constantly had to yell “Heal!”, “Back!”, “Slow Down!”, and “You’re not being a very good pacer, Pacer!”

After a short time, I started to see some of the top runners come back down the course.  The top female (who finished second overall and ran under 20 hours!) looked amazing, and we yelled encouragement to each other.  Even thought it was somewhat disheartening seeing the all the runners headed back and knowing where I should be, it was still great to spread some good vibes amongst each other.

Around mile 46, the course hops off the Centennial Trail and takes another trail to the turn-around.  Before I knew it, BAM!, there was another ginormous hill to climb.  I didn’t realize that the “runnable section” only lasted for about 2-3 miles.  The 4 miles before and after the turn-around anything but easy.  For about the 4th time that day, I ran out of water with well over a mile left to go, even with a fuel belt.

In any case, I was pretty happy to reach the turn-around.  I stayed a few minutes to fill up my water bottles, and even managed to walk away eating the Larabar Steve handed me.  Of course, as soon as I did turn around I saw about 5 other women right behind me.  I didn’t really care.  I figured they’d pass me shortly, so I just hiked up the next long climb as best I could.

Here, my thoughts started to drift to my dad.  I had an idea before the race started, and now I was certain.  I wanted to give my buckle to him.  Over the years, he had done a lot for my sisters and me.  Even though I had been a bit upset with him the week prior, I knew he would do anything his little girls.  Without a doubt, I knew that during a near death experience from heart attack 16 years ago, when his heart stopped, he came back to earth because he knew we still needed him.

I knew my medal was not going to represent my best performance, but instead, my best effort to overcome adversity and prove my ability to persevere.  I wanted that buckle for him, as just a small token to say “thanks for everything Dad”.  That thought would fuel me the rest of the race.

Back at 57.5, I asked Steve if he would begin running with me there.  He said “no”, he had already worked out a car arrangement with some other people. I was somewhat disappointed, but I left that aid station in good, trying not to thinking about how I was going to kill myself running through the next section in the dark.

The next 7 miles were more runnable than I had remembered, and I made it to the Nemo aid station still in daylight.  To my surprise, Steve was there waiting for me in his running clothes, having rearranged the car deal.  The only downfall to this was that I didn’t have enough time to tell him I wanted my arm sleeves.  (Luckily, it turned out I didn’t really need him.  The only time it really got cold-cold enough where I could see my breath- was when we reached a section with Native American spirits.  At the time, I didn’t want to know anything about that.  Looking back, I wish I would’ve been a bit more relaxed and intuitive there, as I very much respect their spirituality, as it mirrors my own in regards to our oneness with Mother Earth.)

I was happy to have the company as I had been running on my own nearly all day.  We were even able to get in a bit more daylight running before I had to turn my headlamp on somewhere on the top of the hill. 

The next 10 miles weren’t easy, but I was able to do a decent amount of running, even on limited calories. 

Then I hit rock bottom.  Even with under a marathon left to go, the distance seemed almost unbearable.  I didn’t stop, but I began to panic as I ran.  I felt light-head and nauseas, my breathing was sporadic. I began to trip, stumble and fall. 

Once, I fell on to my hands and knees, crying to the ground.  It took all my will power to stand up again and keep moving. 

Another time, I kicked a small boulder into my left ankle, and I curse the night sky.

Steve said relatively little.  He knew I was working hard to keep it together.  I knew I couldn’t afford the wasted energy. 

I kept thinking “Things have to get better.  Low periods have their end too.”

I was wrong.

At mile 10 my stomach could take no more.  I managed a few grapes and some FIZZ.  A volunteer had been nice enough to make some of Scott Jurek’s ultra bars from Eat & Run and I took one with me, but as soon as I took a bite I immediately spit it out.  It was a very adamant “NO!” from my body.

I was hoping to throw up, anything to get the terrible feeling out of my stomach.  Worse was that Steve and I were approaching daylight with a long section of rolling downhill.  I didn’t want to run.  Even the thought was agonizing.  On the other hand, Steve had let me know earlier that  I was 3rd place, and he wanted the buffalo skull.  I could stand getting passed, but I couldn’t stand it knowing I didn’t give it my all.

So I cried and I ran.  I must have been whimpering like a wounded animal, praying that my stomach would settle just a little bit, just enough to keep from passing out from the awful feeling inside of me, mixed with the huge caloric deficit. 

We completely by-passed the last aid station.  There was no point, I was going on fumes.

Steve asked me what was coming up, but all I could really remember were some pretty views and rolling hills.

Somehow in the past days, these “rolling hills” changed into a series of long climbs.  One felt like a wall in front of me.  I thought of the quote “When you can’t run, walk.  When you can’t walk, crawl.”  I was all but literally crawling. 

The last 4 miles of trail were agonizing with more small hills popping into view.  I had never wanted to reach a road so badly in my life.  When we were almost there, a herd of cows were spread out on the trail.  As we got closer, most moved out of the way, except one.  I looked at the cow, and then at Steve.  Both had the glint of charging bulls in their eyes, but I was not about to be less than 2 miles from the finish had not make it because of two testosterone raging animals.  I told Steve to c’mon, and he followed, possibly realizing the potential harm of 1,000 lb cow.

It wasn’t until we reached the bike path that I really began to calm down.  I could finally feel how close we were.  However, with .7 left to go, Steve then kindly informed me that I had 7 minutes to make it to the finish in under 25 hrs.  I didn’t really care, but at the same time, it’s not really in my nature to back down from a challenge.  I tucked in behind Steve shoulder, letting him pace me in.  We reached the 100 meters left on the track with less than 30 seconds to spare.  It took everything I had left, but I finished in 24:59:44.  I got that damn buffalo head for Steve.  Immediately after crossing, I collapsed into the the grass.  I didn’t move for 30 minutes.

The next few hours were a blur.  Walking to the car, it was all I could do to keep from passing out, experiencing periods of fogginess and blackouts.  I laid down in the back of the car, and could hear Steve’s voice, but couldn’t open my eyes.  I did smile when I heard him at the McDonald’s drive thru, and he cursed as they told him they weren’t serving fries yet and the milkshake machine was down.  Later, with me still in the car, he even went a coffee shop and ate breakfast, without me even knowing.

Mentally, I had never been so depleted.  Without ever feeling good in the race, I had used up every ounce of mental energy I had.  I didn’t want to think about running, let alone racing ever again.  I still don’t.  This may sound a little silly of me to say, but I feel “washed up” and I need a break.  I don’t know if the urge to race will come back.  If it does, great, but I’m ready to make a mark in other ways.  The past 2 years have been a struggle to find my path, my purpose.  While I still don’t feel like I have fully uncovered that path yet, I do feel like I am getting closer.  Perhaps my years of wandering are coming to a close and running will shift out of my focus, to something I do simply because I enjoy it.  Because I love where finding out where my own to feet can take me.

To close, here is a ripped article clip on Lynn Bjorklund  from Trail Runner Magazine  I've kept with me for the past few weeks, and constantly thought back to as I was running.  In it, she offers advice to female runner are nearing their training and racing limits:

"Eat real food, enough of it.  Keep your period.  Train under a coach. Don't betray the long view for a single event.  Train and race with enough caution so you'll still be healthy in 20 years. FIND YOUR WORTH INSIDE OF YOU, NOT IN SOMETHING EXTERNAL LIKE A RECORD OF SOMEONE'S OPINION OF YOU."

Happy Adventures,