Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bubble Expanding Reading

In times of stress, I turn to reading. I turn to it to learn and to escape. Given the results of the recent election, my thoughts are all over the place. Everything feels chaotic and wrong and reading is my happy place. I desperately just want to curl up on my couch with a big, fat, juicy book and sink reading teeth into it. But again, right now, I feel more than ever, my reading needs to be purposeful.
Over the last year or so, I found myself DNFing (did not finish) a number of books. I generally prefer literary fiction and two factors contributed to the abandonment of so many books. First, I am raising my first child and last year my attention span was pretty depleted. Second, it seemed like too many of the books I’d quickly grabbed were what I call “white people with pretend problems” books. These are books about white, middle to upper class people who are facing some sort of crisis in their lives. The books are often beautifully written with richly written characters and dialogue, which is why I’m attracted to reading them. But I found myself increasingly annoyed and decreasingly sympathetic to the characters. I stopped wanting to read about some guy who wasn’t sure if he’d chosen the right job, the right wife and was contemplating an affair. Or some depressed housewife who’d become entranced with a new neighbor. These aren’t real problems. They are pseudo-dramas created by the bored who have never really experienced hardships in their lives.

The worst offender was The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. I’d just finished her Olive Kitteridge which I’d really enjoyed. The Burgess Boys was supposed to be about how a teenage boy commits a hate crime against (called a prank) the Somalis living in his town and it affects the community and his family. I thought, “Oh, this could be so interesting! What would happen if someone I love committed a hate crime? How would I react? Hopefully I’ll learn more about the Somali culture through this book too.” What it was instead was how these white affluent characters tried to wiggle out of blame for this kid’s crime. One lawyer had to give a hollow apology to the townspeople and then made a hasty departure and worried over the fact that his reputation had been ruined. His brother moaned all book about what his role had been in their father’s death as a kid and how he’d been in his brother’s shadow his whole life and that he wasn’t as successful of a lawyer. Really? Poor guy. Ugh. And then the Somalis in the book are given very little actual time. In this 300+ page book, I’d guess maybe 10 percent of it had anything to do with the Somalis. Some of the townspeople would say demeaning things about the refugees and the author did little to counter those comments. I said more than once out loud, “Is this book racist?” It felt racist. It cared more about the two white, affluent lawyers and their lame ass personal crises and their sister and her kid (who, by the way, gets sent to Europe to live with his rich dad and finds confidence and happiness, woo-fucking-hoo, lucky fucking kid) than the Somalis in the town who remained uncomfortable and scared. One Somali man seemed to try to find a connection to the people of the town, but it felt so much like an afterthought. I really felt like Strout missed a major opportunity here to discuss cultural relations and to show how a community could open its arms and accept a group of people who are seeking asylum. But nope.

So that was it. Since then I vowed to only read books about cultures different than mine, or with characters who are people of color, LGBTQ or about women who are not always white and middle to upper class. This means that I will still read books written by men, but I make an effort to choose books written by women and by people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. I’m a little suspect of white people writing about other cultures, but I’m willing to give it a try if someone recommends it. I need to hear different voices and while I still need to read books that speak directly to me as a women, I also I need to read about things outside of my own personal bubble.

Reading diverse books can do a few different things. The existence of diverse books gives everyone the opportunity to read something that reflects their own reality. This is why I find reading books about women very important. They speak directly to me and can validate my experiences and make me feel normal and not alone. Diverse books can also help expand the human understanding of other humans. It can give an education on historical events or current events, which in turn can help you understand how that’s affected a culture and perhaps someone you know. You’ll probably have a “I hadn’t considered that before” or an “oh, okay, I understand that a bit better now” moment. Your capacity for empathy will grow. Can you imagine if we all had a better understanding of each other? Of where we all are coming from? And why we are the way we are?
I’m finishing the perfect example of this right now: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (thanks for the reco, Heidi Mills). It’s about an 11 year old Iranian girl in the 1970s whose family has moved to the United States a couple of times because her father works for an Iranian oil company and he is placed in Newport Beach, California. Zomorod, like any kid, wants to fit in and changes her name to Cindy. She spends the book making friends, being embarrassed of her parents and trying to navigate being Iranian in the US. She’s mistaken as Mexican and has one person say, “It’s a shame you don’t remember your Spanish.” People ask her about her camels and she’s constantly asked by her teachers if she’ll do extra class presentations on current events in Iran. And this is where it gets even more interesting. Dumas delves into Iranian history and the reader learns about the Iranian Revolution. The shah was overthrown and thrown out of the country and another leader took over and built a more Islamic government. When President Jimmy Carter allowed the shah to enter the US to receive cancer treatments, a group of activists entered the US embassy in Iran and kept 52 hostages for 444 days. In the meantime, Iranians were fleeing their country and trying to seek refuge. Americans began to openly hate Iranians. Cindy’s father loses his job and they become targets of hate crimes. Everyone in her family is scared for themselves and their families back in their home country and they go deeply into a depression. This book does a fantastic job of showing what it would be like to be Iranian and living in America during such a tumultuous time. It is a children’s book, or perhaps a young adult book, so it can be a bit cutesy at times. But it’s an easy read that gets the reader to really think outside of themselves and to develop empathy.

Another book I would highly recommend is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. This nonfiction narrative takes you to New Orleans where the warnings of Hurricane Katrina are just starting. Zeitoun, a Muslim Syrian-American, opts to stay in New Orleans while his wife and four kids flee to stay with family in Baton-Rouge. The hurricane hits and the city floods. Zeitoun paddles around the town in a canoe rescuing people who are trapped and feeding stray dogs. It’s completely heartwarming, but then it takes a Kafka-like turn when Zeitoun is arrested and thrown into a prison camp. He’s not allowed to contact his family or a lawyer and no one knows where he is. It’s indicative of the racist paranoia that followed 9/11 and you will have trouble believing that this is a true story.

Those are just two of the books I can think of, but below is a list of books and authors I would suggest.

  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich or pretty much anything by her
  • Missoula by Jon Krakauer
  • The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • Anything by Haruki Murakami
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (young adult graphic novel and so damn good)
  • The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James
  • Anything by Joseph Boyden (although I’ll admit, I have a hard time getting through his dense writing, but I’m always glad I power through)
  • Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, both by Sarah Waters
  • Eleanor & Park and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyosi (Thanks Mindy Denton, it's on my holds list!)
  • Orhan Pamuk books
  • Zadie Smith books
  • Out by Natsuo Kirino
  • How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

That’s just a start. I know I have a long ways to go to make my own reading more diverse. I invite you to do the same. Expand your bubble. Read about people different than you and learn more about them. Fiction or nonfiction, it’ll all help create a better sense of awareness and empathy. If you have book recommendations for me, I’d be happy to put them on my To Be Read list!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No HURT Feelings

This last weekend was Orcas 50K and 25K, which is by far my most favorite event of the year. Thanks to James Varner and Rainshadow Running, about 500 runners get together for socializing, eating, beer, a bonfire, fashion selecting and a bit of running. It was a great chance to see many people and show off my new HURT belt buckle. People congratulated me, but they were also upset on my behalf. In my last posting, I talked about the bandana incident—Meissner had a purple bandana tied to his pack and I held onto it as a way to keep me focused and on trail. We were seen by the course sweepers who misconstrued the situation and reported us to the race directors. In their eyes, I was either tied by or holding onto a rope and Sean was towing me. When I came into the aid station at mile 92 we were pulled aside by race director Jeff Huff who asked us what happened and informed me I was facing disqualification. Although I also wrote about the fact Jeff apologized, I don’t think I emphasized it enough. People told me they couldn’t understand why I’d been accused and why the race directors chose to tell me when they did. While I appreciate their indignation, it is wholly unnecessary. I want to clarify things and explain there are no hurt feelings (I’ll stop using that pun, I promise).

When Jeff Huff was told what the sweepers thought they saw, he wasn’t sure what to do. They, Jeff and John Salmonson never faced this sort of thing before and didn’t know how to handle it. There are rules against towing and certain kinds of assistance, but there aren’t any guidelines as to how to deal with violations or any defined consequences. They couldn’t simply ignore the accusation no matter who I am or how much they like me. They needed more information about what happened since all they had was the sweepers’ story. They needed to know my side as well as Sean’s. Should they wait until the finish line and talk to me while I was celebrating? Or should they warn me of what might happen before I finish? It was a difficult choice to make.

Let’s talk about possible scenarios. Scenario possibility one: they wait to talk to me at the finish. I continue the race without knowing anything might be wrong and potentially continue doing what might’ve been an illegal act. Then I finish, start to celebrate and wait to be handed my buckle. No buckle comes. Instead they pull Sean and me aside and tell me I might be disqualified. I’m tired, delirious, ready to no longer think about this race and all I want to do is lay down and go to sleep. But instead they’re telling me it’s possible none of my work mattered. Now they have to confer for who knows how long and I have no idea when they are going to decide. They have nothing to go on but our word versus the word of their sweepers. I could tell them what happened and plead my case, but they wouldn’t have any other evidence I deserved an official finish.

Scenario two (actual choice): they decide to warn me before my finish. They told me of the accusation at mile 92 and gave me the chance to tell them my side of the story. We showed them what we’d done and then I said I was going to continue. When I left the aid station I was determined to keep moving, yet knowing I could finish and it wouldn’t officially count was such a heavy thing to carry and it really slowed me down for awhile. It put my finish in jeopardy because I was pushing the cut-off time and couldn’t afford to lose much time. I pushed through, kept moving, sped back up and finished because I knew I was in the right. At the finish, Jeff talked to Sean and me again. He said the moment I stated I was continuing and turned away from him and kept going, he knew I was a true ultrarunner and had the aloha spirit he was looking for. He needed to hear my story and he needed that evidence so he could whether determine my finish should be legitimate.

I think they made the right choice. I can understand they needed to see how I would handle the news and that my subsequent actions would answer their questions. Had I cheated, I think I would’ve accepted defeat and quit right there. Yet I knew I’d done nothing wrong and showed them by going back out onto the course. Yes, their decision to talk to me during the race rather than after made the last miles that much more difficult to do because my spirit had taken a hard hit, but that’s what these races are all about. We fight for that finish line through everything that comes at us. I didn’t really need this race to be any tougher, but if I am indeed a true ultrarunner I’m going to fight even through emotional adversity. Hearing Jeff say I had the aloha spirit was almost as good as a buckle. I often question my motivation and whether I’m emotionally tough enough for this sport. It felt like being given the ultimate confirmation that I belong here, that I’m supposed to be doing this, physically and emotionally. I’m oddly grateful for the situation.

All of this calls into question what is and isn’t illegal for runners and pacers during a race. I think about when I paced Rich at Tahoe Rim 100 a couple of years ago. Because it was a USATF event, pacers weren’t allowed, but “safety runners” were okay as long as they stayed behind the runner at all times by a distance of 30 yards! Had anyone enforced that rule, every single runner using a pacer, including the winners would’ve been disqualified. I think about the numerous times someone handed me a gel from their own pack or how aid station workers put things in baggies and tell pacers to carry it for their runners. Is that muling? Pacers have steadied me on the trail when it looked like I was going to topple over. I’ve had my runners put their hand on my shoulder for awhile so they could close their eyes and walk for a bit. At Cascade Crest my pacer, Jamie had to pull me over a few big logs on the Trail From Hell. That’s all physical assistance, isn’t it? We’ve all done things like this, right? I’ve discussed some of these questions with many people and some have thought it should only matter for the winners. Is there a difference between those who are trying to win and those who are just trying to finish? Maybe, but where do you cross the line to determine the competitors and the mere finishers, top 5? Top 10? I don’t have the answers for any of these questions, but they’re something to think about and consider whenever one does a race. How much assistance can we feel justified in accepting and allowing?

I know they’re questions the HURT race directors are now considering. Jeff had explained how this was a learning experience for them and it showed them they needed to review their rules and guidelines so they’d be able to handle things better and differently in the future. He apologized for needing to use me as their learning experience. At the awards banquet it was very apparent Jeff and John wanted to let me know they were sorry and proud of me. I received multiple hugs and kisses on the cheeks from them. Sean and I were both given the documentary about the race. I got a big gift basket, another running shirt and the award for “which girl runner guys most want to see with tattoos on her body”—I’m most proud of that one! I love these guys and this whole community. It was a difficult situation, but it got worked out in the best way it could. Hopefully in the future they’ll be better prepared if something like it happens again. I fully accepted his apology and left feeling vindicated and completely satisfied with the entire experience. I bear them no ill will, so please everyone out there don’t feel you should for me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HURT 2011

This post is obscenely long. No apologies.

When I signed up for HURT 2009 I was doing so as a way to get me through an injury. Big Horn 100 2008 left me with a fractured hip and I needed a goal to help me look forward to training. Still, I was woefully underprepared for HURT. I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have enough experience to understand what I needed to do. I finished the 100K and thought I’d never return. As I lay in shock at the aid station, I was encouraged to attend the post-race banquet. I decided to go and talked with so many motivating people. It seemed everyone tried and failed at this race multiple times and kept coming back for more. I was inspired to do the same and seduced by the aloha spirit the HURT community possesses.

2010 I was much better prepared. I knew what I was in for and had put in the training. But damn it, three weeks before the race my foot started to hurt very badly during a training run. I imagined the worst, but my doctor and one of my crew, physical therapist Tonya Olson assured me it was only tendonitis. I didn’t run for three weeks except for a three mile test two days before the race. It hurt, but I thought I might be able to get through. However, by mile 60 my foot was so swollen it looked like it might burst out of my shoe. My pacer, Daniel Probst had to keep his arm out for me to hold so I wouldn’t crumble. Turns out, foot was broken and I have the lump to prove it. Another 100K in the bag.

2011 had to be it. Three years is a long time to think about something. As I explained in my last post, training wasn’t easy. I was dogged by injuries and fatigue, but I remained positive and determined. Arriving in Honolulu, I felt as ready as I could possibly be. I know this course, the weather, the people, the atmosphere. It helped I was surrounded by my best crew to date. I don’t want to take away from my previous crews. Jessica Mullen was fantastic in 2009. I thought I was lucky with Tonya and Daniel last year. But this year my crew seemed to grow and grow and was filled with people who I can’t believe I even know personally. I’m going to brag and blatantly name-drop now: Jeremy Henkel (only non-runner, but could kick your ass physically and philosophically), Chris Rennaker of Rogue Valley Runners, Montrail boys Sean Meissner and Gary Robbins (HURT course record holder), and Michelle Maislen (total bad ass sexy hot mama). Thank you, all of you, for everything!!

We got to the start, took pictures and traded hugs. Judy Carluccio, a training partner and previous finisher threatened me with physical harm if I ran a first loop faster than 5:30, so I sought out a few familiar people who might hold me to that pace. Sarah and her sister Mirian said they’d help me out and offered to put a tow rope on me to hold me back. (That statement will prove very ironic later.) I still took off, but didn’t go crazy. I ran to feel comfortable as I chatted with Gary Marr and Johnny Landeza. When on my own, I let my thoughts wander and before I knew it, loop one was done, pretty close to 5:30. Gary, in spite of being on crutches insisted on getting my drop bag. He warned me not to stop eating after I complained of the Clif Vanilla flavor (so gross!) and gave me my first power hug in the hopes the previous year’s tactic would work for me this year.

Side story—last year at the race briefing a few of us were discussing the little things that can give motivation. Gary mentioned receiving a hug at an aid station that gave him juice for hours. I half-jokingly suggested we hug every time we saw each other. Because of the lay-out of the course, I knew we’d see each other several times so figured Gary might hug me once and call it good. Instead he really did hug me every time he saw me. I stopped counting after 7 hugs and batted him away on his last attempt after he’d stated he was ahead of course record pace telling him he could hug me later. It seemed to work because he did indeed break the record. None of this is in his race report, but he assures me it will be amended to give me the props I am due.

Second loop was more of the same. I slowed down deliberately now that I’d banked some time. Though not horrible, the course was muddy and mucky. It was the most troublesome coming down Manoa Falls where there are big boulders that became slick and precarious. I got slower and slower on this section each lap and discovered I was faster going up here than down. I saw Chris and Sean, who were crewing both Amy Sproston and me at a couple of the aid stations where they were very helpful getting my bags and dealing with my Carbo Pro. As I was heading toward mile 40, I ran into Amy who looked worried. When she’d last switched her pack they’d forgotten to give her salt tabs, so I gave her a few of mine and told her she looked great. I continued on anxious to get to pick up my first of two pacers, Michelle.

Michelle and I have a reputation for our, um, interesting conversations. We embarrass people and have to censor ourselves in certain company. Otherwise, no topic is off limits. We don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind, or at least talking about it. In prep for this race, we’d stopped talking much so we knew we’d be full of conversation. The tactic worked. There was a lot of giggling and a lot of wondering if certain things were overheard and what people possibly thought of us crazy girls. I was excited to show Michelle the course and knew she’d love the terrain. She’s no joke—mega adventure racer and 3rd female finisher of Plain 100 ever. I could tell she was enjoying it.

It was dark and I wore Alvin Crain’s heavy-duty Remington headlamp he’d so graciously loaned to me (in the hopes I would “see the light”). A few runners commented on its brightness and I appreciated how much it lit up the roots and rocks and other things. “Look!” I exclaimed to Michelle, “A kitty!” “Are you hallucinating?” she asked me. I was not. There was a little gray kitty staring at us through a fence, her eyes shining in our lights. We saw either her or another kitty just like it later. I swear it. Michelle swears it. Believe it, Meissner. The bugs and crickets were deafening and not pleasing Michelle’s ears. Otherwise, we continued to have a great time together. We hammed it up at the aid stations, made people laugh and trucked on. I noticed the ground was getting slicker and decided I needed a shoe change come mile 60. I adore my Montrail Masochists, but have always found them to lack traction which I desperately needed.

When we got back to the nature center, I sat for the first and only time the entire race in order to change my shoes (at least the only deliberate sit, not counting the times I slipped and fell on my butt or had to sit to slide down a rock). Michelle worked on my pack while Gary took off my shoes and helped me switch. Then we paused for a message from his sponsor. “These (Montrail) Rockridge will be better for you now as they have better traction and a wider toe box.” Well said, Gary. He started in on the casualty list. Amy dropped due to blistering and tibia issues. Ben Bruno had fully broken his ankle. Last year’s winner/course record holder Tracy Garneau dropped after falling on the evil rocks after Manoa Falls. Gary said it was carnage and people were dropping all over the place and then generously told me I looked better than anyone else out there. I liked him for that and squeezed him extra hard when he gave me my power hug. I was about to move onto mile 67, still feeling good whereas in years past this next seven miles had been my death march.

I was still in a good mood, but fatigue was setting in. Michelle was armed with gads of good stories. Her days in adventure racing provided some hilarity as well as inspiration. We went through Pauoa Flats and noticed a young runner wrapped up in a garbage bag asleep next to Cindy Goh. I’d seen him before and he’d looked strong. Now he looked thrown out with the trash. We hit Manoa Falls and the hated rocks. I lost so much time here and got frustrated. These seven miles had taken me 2.5 hours earlier in the run, but were now taking me four.

Once into mile 67 it hit me this is usually where I come to die. This time, I wasn’t going to die; I was going to continue on. Michelle was dealing with my bag and I found myself standing there in the middle of the aid station alone with this knowledge. I put my hands on my knees and had a meltdown. Thankfully, Judy was there and came right over. She knew exactly what I was going through having attempted this race a couple times before her own finish. I’d held a mental image I had of her from the previous year close to my heart. She had determination in her eyes as she’d taken this massive step up the trail. I knew she was going to finish and that image was inspirational. She cried with me and told me I still had plenty of time to get things done. I was exactly where I needed to be. I nodded and made sure we grabbed me some food (sushi rice chunks, oh yum, it’s those little things). I was in new HURT territory now as I took my steps out of the aid station.

Going up Manoa was drastically faster, but my motivation continued to wane. I asked Michelle to ply me with positive chatter. She batted away every whiny word of mine with phrases of strength and encouragement. She should be a therapist. Once we got back to Pauoa Flats I think she’d had enough of my negativity and insisted it was a pacer’s job to be in front and set the pace. I resisted at first, but succumbed to her better judgment. She put her little self in front of me and in her purple shorts and Hawaiian themed gaiters began trotting ahead of me with her adorable gait. My love of her melted every bad thought away and I began to smile at just how flippin’ cute she is when she runs. “You are so cute, Michelle,” I told her.

We made it to Jackass Ginger and moved right back out. Somehow, the boy we saw in the garbage bag caught up to us and asked if he could tuck in behind and follow our lead. We warned him of our goofiness, but he seemed glad to have company. Michelle took the task of adding another charge to her responsibilities with grace and rewarded the both of us with treats and cookies when we did good. We wuvs cookies. The kid’s name was Sean and he was a 24 year old in the Navy. At one point he asked me, “are you still in school or what?” I fell instantly in love with the young lad. He was moving quite well, but kept refusing my offers to let him go ahead. It was quiet for a little while so Michelle asked, “Have you ever licked green ants?” “That’s a very odd question,” I responded. I had and still have no idea where that question came from, but it seemed reasonable to Michelle to ask and put all of us into a fit of giggles for a while. Laughter makes you forget pain.

I was struggling internally. Michelle refused my request for a five minute nap and I’d stopped voicing any negative thoughts. I somehow thought that if they remained in my head rather than being vocalized, they wouldn’t get the chance to solidify. Secretly, I didn’t think I had another 20 miles in me. I’d only have eight hours to do that last loop and the previous two loops had each taken me that long. That meant I either had to speed up or maintain the same speed in order to make cut off. Anxiety was weighing on me, but the desire to finish was still there.

The entire world was waiting for me at mile 80. All thoughts of stopping were quickly drowned out by the noise and excitement of my whole crew. Amy had come back to the race to cheer people on. Michelle’s husband Fabian was there and ready to give us hugs. Chris and Meissner took my things and got us ready to go. Gary gave me my power hug and I asked if he would please meet me at the other aid stations. I saw Michelle talking with Meissner as they were preparing for the changing of the guards. My head was spinning and before I knew it I was being swept back out onto the course and heading back up hog’s back. I’d lost garbage bag Sean in all the craziness and later learned he’d only made it a few more miles before settling for the 100K credit. It was his first 100 mile attempt. I’m very impressed with the young boy.

I’d been carrying a ring Sarah Crosby-Helms loaned to me in my bag. His name is Hoary the Owl and I asked Meissner to wear the big fella. Each time I saw him it made me smile to see the clunky owl ring on Sean’s hand. We chatted excitedly about the day’s events and I explained what we would expect out on the trail. I’ll admit it did my heart good to see elite sponsored runner Sean slip on parts of the course. I was feeling stronger than I did on the previous loop, which is what I needed. Regardless, I slowed way down on those damn rocks at Manoa Falls. I assured Sean it would go faster on the way back up. Gary and Amy were waiting at the final bridge before the Paradise aid station. I ran by them and then heard loud clicking behind me. I looked back and realized Gary was keeping up with me on his crutches. I couldn’t have that and heard Chris yell, “She’s speeding up!” At Paradise I hugged everyone, including Judy and moved rapidly out of there before she and I had another crying fest.

After Manoa Falls I was starting to fall asleep on my feet. We tied a bandana to Sean’s pack and I would hold onto it to regain my focus for a moment or two then let go once I’d caught my breath. I didn’t have much time left and I was stressing out. Sean and I got through Pauoa Flats and headed towards Five Minute Hill (poorly named). I want to point out this is the only year I did not sit and slide down this steep hill, but instead stayed on my feet each time. *Applause* I started to mentally lose it. Or mentally focus, I’m not sure. Words became incoherent and noises were mostly cuss words and grunts of aggravation. I yelled “I hate this” over and over. I felt like I’d gone carnal and all the while Sean cheered me on and said he was going to stay behind me since it seemed to be working. He may have thought I’d gone cocobananas, which was pretty likely, but I think he understood I needed to be this way. I mustered all the strength I had left realizing my legs still felt good and only my feet actually hurt. I superman-ed at one point, or I’d like to think I Wonder Woman-ed, and landed almost fully face down. Sean didn’t make a big deal of it because he knew I’d burst into tears. I got back up and kept going.

All I wanted to do at Jackass Ginger was check in, grab food and water, and go back out. No hugs this time because I was running out of time. I traversed the rocks across the creek less gracefully than ever. Gary was waiting by the water and I’m not sure I even said a word to him. I glanced in his direction but kept up the hill to check in. I went to grab some food when Jeff Huff called Sean and me into the tent and offered me a chair. I refused to sit.

I’ve debated writing about this part, but it was such a crucial point in my race. I also I hope it might bring about some consideration by runners and race directors alike. Sean and I had been seen by a sweeper when I was holding the bandana. In the sweeper’s eyes, I’d been either tied by or holding onto a rope and it appeared Sean was towing me. We both looked at Jeff in disbelief as he said these things. I was being accused of cheating and faced disqualification. I couldn’t believe it. I showed Jeff exactly what Sean and I did, how there was no tension, just focus. Jeff nodded and gave me the choice of dropping there at mile 92 or continuing on even though there was a chance it wouldn’t count. I looked at him and said I was going on. “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” I said with complete confidence.

I left the aid station in a much different mindset. I felt like my race was killed. I refused to let Chris take a picture and stumbled back down to the creek. Gary was cheering, but could see something was wrong. I told him what’d happened. He grabbed my shoulders and looked me in my eyes, “this is a culmination of 3 years work.” I knew he was right. I knew I had to keep trying, but I was deflated and heartbroken. I sloshed back through the creek desperately trying to find the fire I’d had only ten minutes ago.

I feel lucky I was surrounded by such incredible people at this point. Gary’s words stayed with me. Monica Scholz, veteran HURT runner, previous multiple time winner and immensely strong woman listened to me explain what happened. She looked as I demonstrated what Sean and I did and she assured me I’d done nothing wrong. Her words of encouragement as someone I know who loves this race and community meant so much. She gave me some peppermints and sent me on. Every time I mentioned how my heart had been hurt, Sean told me to forget about it and focus on what I needed to do. He wouldn’t let me stay down. He was perfect. I kept thinking how I wished Sean could’ve towed me because I’d probably already be done. Didn’t they know who he was? We got closer to Five Minute Hill (such a stupid name!) and I finally said, “You know what, they can kiss my grits (yes, I actually said this). I love this race, I love this community. I would never knowingly cheat and disrespect any of this.” The fire was back and though I didn’t return to the primal version of me, I was ready to chew up and spit out these final miles. I told Sean to keep me fed and we delighted in Monica’s peppermints.

We were doing so well on time. We went up the gigantic thigh high muddy steps and crossed the road. From here I knew I had less than an hour. My feet hurt very badly and I’d felt a blister explode. I decided to cruise a little and push less, “At this point I could sit and scoot and still make it in time!” Realizing I never had to see any of this course ever again, I said goodbyes and F yous to many of the rocks and roots.

Maybe just over a mile away from the nature center, I saw Jeremy coming up the trail in his slippas. He had a message: “You are not disqualified!” Cheers and applause!!! We sped up, or at least I think we sped up. I felt some rejuvenation and enormous relief. Monica and her pace-e passed us about this time and I shouted the good news. Monica handed me some more peppermints and reminded me I had someone to kiss. I laughed knowing I was finally going to kiss that damn sign at the finish line. Just a little way to go and Sean was still enjoying the views on the course. He pointed to the last stream and said, “That’s pretty.” “I’m over it,” I replied and crossed the last bridge for the final time.

I turned the last few corners and heard everyone cheering. I know I high-fived people, I’m sure I said some things, but all I cared about was getting to that sign. I kissed it, turned around and crumbled to the ground and started to cry. Sean lifted me back up to help me to a bench. I couldn’t stop crying. Someone handed me my finishers’ shirt and buckle. I looked up at everyone around me and saw it had started pouring rain. It had waited for me to finish.

Gary claims I cried for 90 minutes. I’m pretty sure it was longer. I was eventually lifted and carried to a table to lay down and calm my breathing. Someone drilled a hole in one of my toenails while I clenched Jeremy’s hand and Chris held me in place. Chris stayed with me for awhile, helping to keep me calm. He’d put an orchid behind my ear and explained orchid translates to testicle in Greek. Very important information.

Soon, Jeff asked everyone to clear so he could discuss their decision with Sean and me. He said they knew how important this race was to me and understood I would never knowingly cheat or do anything egregiously wrong. There is a rule, but it’s not a defined rule and it lacks a defined consequence. Unfortunately for all of us, they had to learn a lesson through me. They’ll go back and figure out better definitions and better ways to handle such a situation. He apologized for laying such a heavy thing on me at mile 92, knowing he’d put my finish in jeopardy. I whole-heartedly told him how much I love HURT and the entire community. I was grateful for the decision and for the understanding of what had happened. We hugged and he told me he was proud of me.

The rest is just more of me crying and being carried around. Jeremy got me up all million stairs at his house. Gary passed out on the floor while I sniffled and drooled on the futon. Everyone else went out for drinks and eventually Gary got up and made me some stir-fry which I think took me hours to consume. Jeremy put on my favorite movie, UP which was still on when the gang returned. I fell asleep listening to Meissner giggle at the cartoon. Even through the nightmares I had that night of the roots and rocks that are still burned into my memory, I felt a final sense of accomplishment and peace. HURT is done. I never have to do it again. I mean it, too. Never again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I’m getting close to the end of my training for HURT. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a taper quite so much. I feel strong and prepared, but I’m tired and perma-sore. Other 100 mile veterans tell me it means I’m ready. I really, really want to believe them. This is my 3rd attempt at this race. I’ve managed the 100K in the last two years, but this year the 100K cop-out isn’t even an option. Not that I want it to be an option. I want to finish this damn race, all 100 miles of it. My one goal for this year’s training was to stay healthy. It has not been easy. Not at all.

I had a fatty summer of running. It started off with pacing Alisa Springman for 38 miles at Western and built from there. There were weekends to Winthrop, a day in Yosemite, and a “fun run” with the Skagit Valley Runners. Then things got a little out of control. I had an unexpected 60 miles in Colorado and the killer Speedgoat 50K about a week later. I ran Waldo 100K and swept 25 miles of Cascade Crest the following weekend. Then I paced at two different 100s on consecutive weekends—Rich White for 38 miles at Wasatch and Alvin Crain for 30+ miles at Pine to Palm. I just about froze myself solid during the first and just about drowned during the second. Throw in a week of running in Moab between those two pacing duties where I got severely dehydrated and the result equals me exhausted and falling apart.

It took another weekend of running in Winthrop to realize things were not right. I could barely manage to keep up with Varner, et al during a whopping 4 mile run and running the unofficial Winthrop half marathon the next day took much longer than it should. I had both Alison Hanks and Candice Burt work on me and jam their elbows into my psoas and glutes that weekend to no avail. Frustration.

In 2008 I had a disastrous first 100 miles at Big Horn and ended up with a stress fracture on my left femoral head. It took months to heal and I’ve had hip problems ever since. Last year, I dropped from White River 50 due to psoas, hip attachment, gluteal medius… issues. With chiropractic help from Elite Sports and Spine and some massage, I was able to get through Cascade Crest. Things were better-ish. After all the running this summer, these hip issues seriously flared again. For awhile there, every run caused me to tighten up. My back would seize, both hips would feel solid, and my hamstrings burned. After a couple of weeks taking it easy and not running, I still couldn’t get back into it and I started to believe it was more mental. I’m tired of being injured and the thought of continuing to run through injury was holding me back, but it felt an unnecessary hold up. I needed to break through.

Enter Devon. Devon won the national 50 miles championships the weekend before I flew down to San Fran to visit and run with her every day. I love Dev. She never lets me feel slow compared to her super speed. I told her what was going on and asked her to help me and help me she did. She wasn’t a task master, she simply took me running and when I would fade or whine, she’d gently suggest I go a little farther. It was that easy. I mean, as easy as it is keeping up with those long legs, but it got me the results I wanted. I also earned a free session of Active Release Techniques (ART) by assisting with a video her sponsor Psoas Massage was making. A few days of running with Devon and one sesh of getting my hip ripped apart by one of the therapists and my mind was back where it needed to be—I felt like a runner again.

The ART session reminded me I should go back to Elite Sports and Fitness. I made an appointment with Dr Jeff Schwan and he’s been diligently putting me back together for a couple of months now. He’s thankfully focusing on my right knee as well. Somehow I forget it’s also bothering me. It compensates for my hip and takes some abuse. Things seemed to be coming back together; however, about a month ago….

Sisters Belated Halloween Party. A group of runners got together at Sean Meissner’s house for a weekend of running, costumes and general debauchery. I was stoked, although nervous because pretty much everyone at the party was a speedster and I’m a solid mid-pack runner. I’ve run with Sean and Amy Sproston before who’ve been great with me, but I was less familiar with everyone else and it always stinks to be the one person holding everyone up. Yet, it would turn out to be a nonissue. I hurt my back. Or rather, someone else hurt my back. It’s embarrassing, but hell, there were jello shots involved. Dear, sweet Chris is almost a foot taller than me and 50-60 pounds heavier. We were in Sean’s kitchen standing on a wet floor. Chris, with his tallness, picked me up to hug me and slipped on the floor and brought us both down. Lucky for Chris, I broke his fall. Not so lucky for me. At the time, I was worried about the fact I’d hit my head, but it was my back that was the true problem. When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move. It was clear there wouldn’t be any running for me that weekend. I hiked and it felt better when it warmed up, but any period of non-movement caused it to stiffen. I couldn’t bend down, had trouble getting dressed and lifting my right leg was painful. It hurt to the touch and I hobbled around like a little old lady. Chris of course feels horribly horrible and continues to apologize and ask how things are improving. He came out of the fall unscathed though he claims he bruised his heart when he realized what he’d done. (insert “Aw” noises)

I saw Dr Jeff the following Tuesday and he said I had lumbar strain and whiplash and that it appeared as if I’d been in a car crash. I cried on his table as he tried to adjust me and massage out the spasm-ing muscle with some menthol cream. Jeff taped me up with kinseo tape, so my back had pretty pink stripes. He told me to use a heating pad to loosen the muscle so I went home and did so. Oh, it felt so nice and warm, but never too warm. Later that night, being the good little patient, I started my prescribed stretching. I noticed the tape on my back was irritating me, so I pulled a bit off and took skin with it. Holy stinging hell. I left the rest of it alone figuring I should leave its removal to a professional. I decided the tape and heating pad was not a good combo, so skipped its use for the next couple of days. Wednesday, my skin was itchy under the tape and I couldn’t wait to get Jeff to take it off. Thursday morning I woke to go to my appointment and felt my back. Blisters. There were blisters under the tape, a good cluster of dime-sized blisters. What the eff? I felt like such a wreck. Jeff performed some minor surgery and it took a good week to heal everything up. Jeff says the remaining scars resemble the Hawaiian Islands. I take that as a good sign somehow.

I see Jeff weekly and do as he says. He’s pleased with my progress as he continues to work on my back, hip, knee and IT bands doing ART and graston techniques. All the bruises and scratches from trail running and his therapies are starting to make my legs resemble a 3rd grade kid’s, but it’s all working. And if I can quit falling on slippery bridges while out running which just aggravates things and if Chris holds to his promise not to pick me up again until after HURT, I should be good to go come race day. Things are going to be okay. I’ll probably fall apart after it’s all done, but that’s fine. I know where to go to get put back together again. HURT is going to hurt, but I’m ready for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Honey and Eggs

My friend Devon just sent me this blog. It’s a very good read and very hard hitting. My thoughts go out to her and I can't imagine the struggle she went through to come to her decision, but commend her for doing what was best for her body. It hurts my heart that vegans would threaten a vegan whose gone non-vegan. Doesn't that seem like a non-vegan thing to do? Devon went through something similar a few years ago. I don’t know what I would do or how I would react if health reasons meant I had to eat meat. I'm thankful being vegan for 8 years hasn't thrown me out of whack. My blood work is always very healthy and the most my doc has ever suggested is I take vitamin D supplements and even then he says it's because of where I live, not what I eat.

I've been reflecting a lot on what my "vegan" ways even mean. I think it's less meaningful and more cosmetic than most vegans would ever want to admit. The blogger goes much more into depth to illustrate this than I will here. For me, it really is as simple as not wanting to eat an animal that was once walking around, breathing and possibly had thoughts and emotions. That's really all. It’s nice to believe I've saved lives and made some huge environmental impact, but really? I'm one little person who only consumes so much. How much of a difference can I really make?

It's too bad people feel the need to judge others by what they eat. I have maybe one vegan friend and a few vegetarians, but everyone else eats meat. I've always made it a point to let people know my beliefs are my beliefs and to not impose them on anyone. I feel rare in the vegan community though because I don't and won't vegangelize and I’m open-minded to other food philosophies. I thought The China Study was a crappy book and think paleo might be a better way to go. I was there when Devon took her first bite of cheese after being vegan for a while. She looked at me with a face that said, “Please don’t hate me for doing this” and I didn’t. It felt like what she needed to do and I understood that. I'm also afraid to admit to my one vegan friend that I loves me some honey and I don't tell people (until now!) about my day of not being vegan in San Francisco because vegans and even non-vegans will judge me. I grew up Catholic. I’ve lived with enough guilt without people making me feel bad because I want a pb & honey sammich so I refuse to do it to anyone else.

Much like the blogger was saying, it's more important to be local and organic than it is to be plant-based. People should simply be thoughtful about their food. I once overheard a friend at the meat counter ask what the animals were fed and it made me happy. Another friend does this whole sort of penance thing and will kill chickens and turkeys at an organic farm because he believes he should be willing to do something like that if he wants to consume it. It keeps him connected to his food source and I find it admirable. I think that's all I really hope for--that people are mindful of what they consume and choose local, organic, sustainable foods when they can, but also remember to consider their own health.

Meat of any kind will probably never be on my menu. Probably not dairy either. That day in San Francisco (tres leches cake at Tartine! Yum!) and the resulting stomach cramps that woke me in the middle of the night reminded me of that. I do think about eggs. As I train more and harder, I find my energy level waning and wonder if the added and different protein would be beneficial. I might do and I might not. But I will make a thoughtful choice and I would kindly ask not to be judged as anything but someone who cares about animals, the planet and herself.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pacing and Crewing

I love to pace and crew. I love it much more than I love actual racing. This year in particular I’ve had the chance to help out several times at races and speed record attempts. It’s been pretty incredible, sometimes terrible, but it’s what I love to do.

I paced for the first time in 2007 for Rich White at Cascade Crest 100. I met him in the middle of the night at Kachess Lake and brought him in. It was my first exposure to that distance and what it took to organize and help someone complete their goal. I didn’t have to do too much. Rich was a truck and never stopped moving, except for maybe one time. He came to a tree root that had made a natural foot high step and he stopped and contemplated how he was going to get down what probably looked like Mt. Rainier to him. I put my hand on his back and said, “It’s just a step” and he stepped down and kept going. I ended up unofficially pacing for Jamie Keizer at the same time and got to be there to watch them cross the finish line together.

My first real crewing experience was for Devon Crosby -Helms at Vermont 100, 2008. It was unbelievably easy. Devon was super organized (to be expected from my twin librarian) and always knew exactly what she wanted from one aid station to the next. All we had to do was trade her used pack and bottles for new ones, then refill things using the lists she’d made of what she’d want and when. She was predictable, patient, efficient and very grateful. Such a breeze!

I’ve been hooked since. It hasn’t always been so easy as Rich and Devon, but I’ve come to find a satisfaction in every experience. On a basic level, pacing and crewing is a great way to get miles and to see a race course without having to pay the race entry fee. Generally, you go a slower pace so it’s easier on your body, although it can still take its toll when the miles are longer. On a higher level, it’s inspiring to be a part of someone’s goal. I love this sport of trail and ultra running and can understand how important that finish line can be. Helping someone get there, watching their process as they go through lows and highs and fight through so much really gets to me. I think I’ve often cried more at the end due to pride for my runners than they have for themselves. I put these images into my brain and use them as motivation when I’m running my own races. It’s amazing. Being so close to that reminds me what human beings can do mentally, physically and emotionally.

I have so many stories: Alvin Crain and I singing “I like down hills and I cannot lie!” and him making me laugh so hard I really did fall off the trail. Jess Mullen’s one liners like “Sugar makes me want to vomit” and “I’m so proud of my legs.” Pouring an entire bag of ice over Devon as she sat in the tub post-race. Jamie K. thinking she saw a semi truck on the trail. Listening to Meghan Z. and Adam Gifford debate which element is the best one on the periodic table. Becoming buddies with Rich White Sr. and him calling me babe. Meeting a shepherd in the middle of Colorado and playing with his puppy. I could write a book and maybe I will someday.

It isn’t all trails lined with candy and roses though. I’ve been so frozen my joints hurt for days afterward. I’ve been rained on so hard I could still see the raindrops for hours after the downpour stopped. I’ve given away the clothes I’m wearing and suffered rain and wind in a short sleeve shirt. I’ve had things thrown at me. I’ve had to deal with panicked runners who wouldn’t listen to me. I’ve told a runner he was looking good while I was secretly trying not to throw up from altitude sickness. I’ve given away all my food and then been dropped and left alone without food, water or a map for what felt like forever. I’ve been yelled at, snapped at, lectured, and scolded. I’ve cried silent tears of frustration and pain. It’s part of the deal and I deal with it.

Catherine Horton gave me some sage advice—the runner has to take care of himself. As a crew person, you are there to assist and encourage, not to be their servant and commanded about. The runner needs to know what s/he wants and give you the chance to give it to him/her. There needs to be a basic plan and if there is a deviation from the plan, the crew person needs to be ready to adjust, but the runner also needs to be patient through the adjustment. A moment’s pause can mean a huge difference, usually for the better.

When those times have been tough, it’s been important to remember these races are not about me, but about my runner. That’s why those tears are silent and I don’t mention I was trying not to throw up until well after the run. Getting my feelings hurt or complaining isn’t helpful. There’s a grace period for the runner to be less than wonderful. It depends on the length of the run/race, but I usually give at least the day before, the day after and the duration of the race. This gives the runner some leeway to be bitchy, cranky and rude. There are still boundaries, of course, but this grace period is why I’ve managed to maintain some friendships post-event. We aren’t always at our best in the middle of a cold night after tons of miles and climbing. It’s good for all parties involved to be forgiving.

I don’t think I’m the best at this—there can only be one Steve Stoyles, but I show up ready for anything as best I can. I like to discuss with my runner what kind of encouragement works best, what their goals are, and what their favorite foods/treats might be. If I can surprise them with something along the way, like a good chocolate chip cookie, PB Puffins, or that burger and Coke (not Pepsi, Alissa!), then it can be a great motivator. I try to be somewhat familiar with the course and cut off times. I’m ready with stories, from my own to the plots of books I’m reading to full recitations of children’s stories. I’ll sing, although I never know if this is helpful or not…. And I’ll be quiet when asked or if I can sense the runner needs some time to settle. I’ve learned (the hard way) to bring extra clothes and food for myself and the runner. I carry their camera and take pictures. I run up ahead (and sometimes back if they’ve forgotten something) to aid stations to get their drop bags and grab the things they need. And I’m ready to spout as many “good jobs,” “nice works,” “you look goods,” and “you can do its” as necessary. Believe me when I say pacing and crewing can be just as exhausting as running the actual race. There’s a lot to do.

Ultimately, what is it I want from doing this? Just some appreciation. My runner at Western gave me her finisher’s medal (don’t worry, she kept her buckle!). I’ve gotten some cute t-shirts out of these deals. Ooh, and Alvin gave me the headlamp he won—that was sweet. Yet I don’t do this for the tangible things. I have no ulterior motives and am really confused when people think otherwise. What else could I get from doing this, but extraordinary experiences? I’ve been to the best places and seen people do the greatest things. All I want in return is some acknowledgement (not necessarily publicly) and a genuine hug of gratitude. It’s an honor to help someone achieve their goal. I love being a part of it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Food, One Day at a Time

In my last posting, I included a breakdown of my nutrition for the day and it turned out I had eaten just under 2000 calories. I received a number of responses telling me this was way too low for me. Yes, I do know that, but this one was single day in the grand scheme of my life. The very next day I ate much of the same, but added soy yogurt and went back to my two, yes, two healthy bowls of cereal before bed. The point of the whole food for a whole day was to see how it would work for a day and to see if it was something I would want to continue in a reasonable manner. I've stuck mostly to it, but I'd say I'm closer to 80 - 90% whole, with some liberties for added calories and purely because there are some foods I just want to eat.

I really enjoyed eating this way. I'm enjoying it now. I like how it makes me feel and the energy I seem to have. My body isn't wasting energy processing processed foods but is efficiently working on simple foods allowing my body to use its energy elsewhere. But I'm not planning to go all crazy on this. If I started eating so little every day, then that's when one should worry. I want to be healthy and continue having a healthy mindset about what I eat. I've been unhealthy about my eating before and I never want to go back there again.

Warning: shit's about to get real. In 2002, I would say I was anorexic. Thankfully, it was a short lived bout, yet it happened. I restricted my calories like I can't even believe now. Currently, I stay between 120-125 pounds. At the time of my anorexia, I was 105...with shoes on. I looked awful and felt awful. I think about my daily diet and can't understand how I even functioned. The place I worked had lots of food in the cupboards and fridge for us to eat, so my intake began there and was well thought out for my entire day. I can still remember it.

Breakfast: 1 Clif or Luna bar, whichever was available and had the fewest calories.

Snack: 1 piece of fruit.

Lunchtime: I would either go for a run or walk to the market and get some fresh dates to eat from a fruit stand and maybe a meringue or some bread at the bakery.

Snack: 1 small bowl of veggies.

Run or work out.

Dinner: I concocted who knows what and always made sure it was less than 400 calories, the lower the better.

Dessert: one small bowl of cereal or a yogurt.

I subsisted on coffee and tea. I used sleeping pills to help me fall asleep through my hunger pains and then got up with coffee and caffeine pills. I was obsessed with food. I could barely think of anything else. I spent hours on the computer looking up recipes and figuring out how to reduce calories and fat grams. I browsed pro-ana sites. I watched Food Network like it was porn. My eyes always felt blurry and glazed. I was weak and tired and cranky. And I thought I liked it. Feeling hungry was a sign of success. That hunger headache meant it was working.

People started saying things to me and I had to come up with excuses. I was fine. I ate more than they knew. I just didn't want to fall into the typical American way of overabundance (as if anorexia was activism). Oddly, guys seemed to enjoy it...or more likely I was dating the wrong guys. Yet even the concern was reinforcement telling me that I was getting skinnier and it was still working.

Then I ran my first marathon. I had no clue what I was doing and so didn't understand the idea of needing to eat during the race...not that it would've made much difference. I doubt I would've let myself consume much. I stuck with water rather than the sports drink because I didn't want the calories. The only thing I ate for the entire 26.2 was a large tootsie roll. I have no idea how I made it through without falling completely apart during it. After I finished, I weighed myself at the gym and was elated to find I was only 103. But then I did start falling apart. I was wasted the entire drive home. I actually did want to eat, but I couldn't. Everything hurt. Food made my stomach cramp and I couldn't digest it and I got sick. Even with my sick sick brain, I knew this wasn't good.

But I continued to try to stick with it for awhile. I ran more and started to actually train for marathoning. I was so tired and absolutely starving. I found myself starting to binge. I would go out only at night to a grocery store and buy big cookies and start eating them on the way home. I would feel so high and dizzy and would want more and would go get more and eat and eat until it felt like the food was all the way up into my throat. I would be so sick the next day and happy to find I didn't even feel like eating. I tried not to follow this pattern because of how guilty I felt when I ate and how sick it always made me feel, but it continued for weeks.

I was miserable. I knew my obsession with food and losing weight had taken over. I wanted to die. One night after going to the gym, I drove home and parked in my apartment's garage. I looked over at my gym bag which held nothing more than a book and small towel. I thought about how I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to my studio (I refused to use the elevator). I started to cry. It was too hard. I didn't have enough energy to lift my little bag and go up two flights of stairs. That was when I knew things needed to change.

This, thank goodness, lasted less than a year, but it took me a long, long time to work my way back out. I did it on my own, without therapy or really talking about it much with friends. I knew I wanted to run and be healthy and so I knew I needed to feed myself. I slowly crept back up in weight and started to remember how to love food again without the guilt.

I did read part of the book Intuitive Eating. It has such a simple idea. We forget how to eat. We spend so much time worried about weight, about calories and fat grams and carbs, that we stop using hunger as our reason to eat. When most of us were kids, we ate food when we were hungry and stopped when we were done. I remember that. I remember not finishing a soda because it made me too full. I remember pushing my plate away because I didn't want to eat the rest. My tummy was full of food, so why eat the rest? Some where along the line we stop doing this. We clean our plates. We put way too much on that plate or we deliberately don't put enough on it. In Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, he discusses out we are too concerned about the nutrients and not concerned enough about the actual food so we end up eating processed food-like stuff with their health claims (Froot Loops now has more Fiber!) instead of simply eating simple food. We end up eating too much of the wrong things and don't remember what real food is any more. It's confusing and distorted and it's thrown us out of whack.

I started to try to eat healthy foods that I want to eat. I haven't always been great at it. I lose sight of my own health and fall into the Western diet. My weight has fluctuated. I spent a couple of years due to travel and injury much heavier than I'm comfortable. I was 135+ two years ago and it didn't feel good. So about a year and a half ago I started to just pay attention again to what I ate. I didn't count calories, but I switched to eating more fruits and veggies and fewer crackers and snacky foods that had snuck into my diet. I ate if I was hungry and stopped or didn't start if I wasn't. I felt better and the weight melted back off.

It's still tough for me to know what my body is telling me. A lot of people say to me "I never weigh myself" as though that's their evidence they aren't concerned about their weight. But you know what, I do weigh myself a couple times per week. I don't want to ever get back up to 135 again, but even more so I don't want to drop. I used to believe I eat my emotions, but I'm learning I starve them. When I'm blue or stressed or busy, I tend not to eat and my weight plummets. Last fall was rough for me and I ended up at the doctor. I stepped on the scale fully clothed and was only 117. No wonder I'd been feeling depleted and so tired! I upped my food intake and started feeling better soon after. I need that little extra help to keep me on track and I find it is helping me recognize my body's clues. Just a couple of weeks ago when Matt was in town I told him I felt like I was wasting away a bit. He was skeptical, but I weighed myself and sure enough I'd dropped 3 pounds in the week he was here. So I'm slowly but surely learning. Maybe someday I won't need that scale to help me know where I am, but as long as I don't start obsessing about the actual number and am using purely as a health indicator, it's going to remain a tool.

All of this is simply to say that I want to remain healthy and that one day of doing something that isn't ideal isn't going to ruin me. One day of under eating does not represent a trend. I've been through that trend and I never ever want to feel that way again. Nor do I want to end up orthorexic and obsessed with eating nothing but healthy, whole foods. If I want a bowl of puffins or two then I'm going to eat them. And if one day I eat half a tub of Trader Joe's Schoolbook cookies (nom nom nom!) then so be it. One day will not make me blow up. Matt and I are about to do a week's worth of eating from the book Thrive. I think it'll be a fun experiment, but it doesn't mean I'm going to eat that way forever. We'll see. I'm going to do the best that I can, but I'm doing this one day at a time.

Me, Mandi and Mom in Athens, Greece