Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Skate Skiing on the Dry Farms, AKA Crust Cruising

Sometime I'll have to write a post about how I've fallen in love with skate skiing.  I learned many years ago (1988-89) when I was a freshman in high school.  Gulp.  That makes me feel old.  I was on the skate ski team and had one whole season of coaching and racing.  Since then, I've only gone a handful of times.  This past November Jeff and I signed up the whole family for an all-day cross-country ski clinic in West Yellowstone.  Jeff and I were in the skate ski group and got some excellent coaching.  Also, this is the first time that everyone is at school so I have had time to ski in the mornings, between 9 and 10:30am, home by 11am to get Charlotte from kindergarten.  Finally, we actually had enough snow this year for a skate ski trail to be regularly groomed and skiable at the local golf course (thank you, Randy!).  Oh, and Jeff taught me how to wax my own skis, giving me some autonomy.  All these things combined to make for a WONDERFUL winter of skate skiing.  It's been delightful.  I've watched myself progress in skill, balance, speed and stamina and believe it or not, have not missed going running one bit.  Instead, I've skate skied about 5-6 times a week, between 5 and 20 miles each time, averaging about 8miles each time.  I even entered a race, my first since that freshman year in high school. It's thrilling to move over the snow so fast.  It's rejuvenating to work my whole body.  It's lovely to be out in nature.   Yes, sometime I'll have to write that post about falling in love with skate skiing... Or maybe I just did write it?  :)

Jeff's ski buddy (and my high school friend's dad) Randy, introduced me to "crust cruising."  He saw how downhearted I was at losing the skate ski trail at the golf course (since the snow is melting, and the groomer broke down).  He took me up to the Dry Farms and showed me that I can still skate ski as long as the nights get cold enough and there is still snow on fields.
Now that I know it's possible to keep skate skiing, I'm taking every chance I can before it all disappears.  Saturday while Jeff took our oldest son Sam to a meeting, I took the other three out to the fields.  We live about a mile and a half from the wide open farmland, so it's very convenient.  Everyone donned their snow pants, hats, mittens and ski boots, clipped into their skis, and strapped on their poles without any need of assistance (except tying the girls boots)!  This is a big deal for me.  For over thirteen years I've been helping at least one child or usually hopping from one child to the next, making sure everyone has everything they need.  They're growing up!  They're also used to getting themselves set for skiing.  Wow.

Oliver is working on his skate ski technique here on the dry farms.  I think it's awesome.

Charlotte is working on making Oliver pull her along as he skate skis.  She thinks it's awesome. :)

Giddy-up, Mom!

The reason I like this picture is that you can get a glimpse of just how happy I am to be out with the kids on a perfect day, sharing the fun of skating.  My only regret was that I missed having Jeff and Sam with us.

Eleanor urged me on with encouraging words like, "Go, Big Red! You're doing great, Big Red!"  I know, my coat is orange.  But my hair is red, so maybe that's where I got this equestrian nickname?  I'll have to ask Eleanor about it, or maybe I'd rather not know.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter Report

Jeff won the "Best Costume" award at the Spooky Cross Cyclocross Race.  I think a man in a skirt is a little spooky myself.  ("It's a KILT, not a skirt!" he yells in a thick Scottish accent.)

Oliver ("Vector" from Despicable Me), Jeff (sans skirt, oops, I mean "kilt"), Eleanor the Medium Good Witch, Sam with his invisible Butterfly Wings (he really has them on), and Charlotte the Little Good Witch.  I had a Witch's hat on, too, so I was the Big Good (good, right?  not bad!) Witch.  Spooky Cross Race in Victor, Idaho around Halloween time.
My cool boys on the cool winner's podiums at the Spooky Cross race.  Now compare their smiles to the girls in the next photo.

Thank Heaven for little girls  :).  Aren't my little witches fun?

After the Costume Race (they had to do one lap in costume), the real race began.  Here's Jeff doing the cyclocross thing.  Without his skirt.  I mean kilt.

This winter's highlight:  Eleanor's baptism!  We are so lucky to have such a sweet and lively girl to sparkle up our lives.  She's a keeper!
Eleanor-the-Lamb and Charlotte-the-Chinese-Girl in the local Nutcracker Ballet.  They were thrilled to put on make-up,  but that excitement didn't last once they learned how irritating it can be and how annoying it is to remove.  Phew!  That's a lesson worth the three months of ballet practice!

I sure love my bunch.  Oliver, Charlotte, Eleanor, and Sam, building forts in the forest where we found our 17' Christmas tree.
I don't know anyone else who has ever had a pet Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.  Eleanor's pet Sally (who was once named Crunch until we discovered her gender), passed away this winter.  Eleanor was heartbroken.

We crafted a coffin out of tissue paper-filled medicine cups.  

The Funeral Procession.  Eleanor's friend Lydia dropped what she was doing to run over and support Eleanor in this difficult time.  Charlotte was a sweet addition, too.

Our grow box now holds the remains of Sally (to be exhumed at a later date and disposed of).   It was a very sad day at our house.  Thankfully, Eleanor decided to hold off on replacing her pet.

For Christmas, Eleanor asked for (and received) a camping trip with Dad.  They skied in to a Yurt in Harriman State Park (it was late so they skied w/headlamps), spent the night, then spent most of the day hanging out in the Yurt and cross-country skiing around.  She maintains that it was her favorite present EVER

Eleanor in the Yurt, whittling away.  Literally.

Sam, who is really enjoying cross-country skiing.  Really.  Right?  Maybe just a little?  Or not...  And Oliver, taking off like a madman.  He wasn't really mad that I made him ski, was he?  Naw...  

Charlotte with her bunny ears, having a blast cross-country skiing.  Maybe if we gave her brothers bunny ears they'd be happier?

So I insisted on buying a copy of this awesome picture of my awesome husband. That means I can use it on my blog, right?  Jeff  raced in the 25K Rendezvous Race, had a blast, and did amazing.  Great form.   

I took the kids out skate skiing on Saturday.  The snow is melting but there's still enough on the dry farms to do some "crust cruising" as our friend Randy calls it.  Charlotte took this picture, tilting it to make it look like I'm really strong pulling Eleanor up a big hill.  I wasn't sure what to think as Eleanor urged me on, "Come on, Big Red!".  I've always liked horses, just never wanted to be one...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Regarding September

Race recaps:
Did I write about the RUSH triathlon?  Probably not.  It was fun, I finished first in my age group and either 8th or 10th or 12th overall for women (I really don't remember).  The thing I do remember was the my heart leaping when I saw Jeff as I ran out of the water.  He was waiting in the corral to help me through T1.  His presence and support turned the day from "just another race" to something entirely different.  It was a chance to include him in my goal, which, since I was still fighting pneumonia, was simply to finish happy.  Well, I didn't just finish happy, I raced happy.  And all because Jeff was there.  Cheesy?  Maybe. But I don't care.
Jeff and four friends raced in the Logan to Jackson bike race known as LOTOJA.  It's over 200 miles long.  He and the guys registered for the relay, thereby splitting the race into about 30 mile increments.  Even with Jeff's lost 12 minutes of flat tire repair, the guys finished right up in the top few (for a while we thought they were first, but with recalculating times I'm not so sure anymore).
For a nice, romantic, relaxing 16th anniversary date Jeff and I rode in the AMA Challenge - a supported bike ride to raise money for diabetes.  Jeff started in Ashton at 10am with the 50 mile group.  I waited at the turn-off to Mesa Falls (just past Harriman) for the 11am start of the 30 mile group.  At 11am, the 30 milers took off but I still waited.  Within about 2 minutes Jeff came peeling around the corner, with two friends following, who were all in the lead.  They stopped to pick up a banana and a drink and me, and then we were off.  Jeff let me draft the entire way (except on the steep uphill where drafting doesn't work, so he just rode by my side and talked me up the hill).  We rode so fast!  It's a fast course, although a few uphills were thrown in. Even though I slowed us down on the uphills, with Jeff pulling me we were able to finish just behind KJ (who was the first 50 mile finisher).  That made me the first 30 mile finisher!  Now before anyone says anything, I need to disclose that many of the other 30 milers were quite young.  As in 10 or so.  And at least one was old enough to have been Jeff's and my high school seminary teacher.  Oh, wait, he WAS our high school seminary teacher!  It was great fun to see Brother Parker (who, by the way, was our matchmaker) riding out there with many of his grandchildren.
Next race?  None planned.  I'm just keeping fit to keep happy.

The Family:
Sam gets his Eagle award next week.  I am so proud of him.  And so relieved to have that over with.  Oliver got his Arrow of Light and advanced last month, then turned 11 last week.  Time flies!  Eleanor-the-bug-lover is in the Discovery (gifted and talented) program, as were Sam and Oliver.  It starts in 2nd grade (she's now 2nd grade!?!?!?).  Charlotte is a kindergarten student who reads chapter books (she just finished the 30th Magic Tree House book) and does Eleanor's homework if we're not looking.  I had to start printing out separate homework papers for Charlotte so she'd stop doing Ellie's.  The boys are still doing Parkour and the girls are doing ballet, and they all take piano.  Add scouts to the mix (including me as a Den Leader and Jeff as the Scoutmaster) and homework and lawn mowing, there simply isn't much discretionary time.  Which is why my blog is suffering with sporadic, superficial, and brief posts.
One of these days I'll get back to writing thoughtful or insightful posts.  In the meantime,  I'm just satisfied to keep track of these things.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of Broken Noses and Cold Cereal Dinners

Summer is ending and what a ride it's been!  Although it's been fun, I hope we are never this over-busy again.  I would like to have some time to just be bored.

Gymanstics, Parkour, piano lessons, art camp, art lessons, soccer games, soccer camp, family visits, scouts, Eagle project, swimming lessons, marathon, half marathon, 10K, and (hopefully) a triathlon, lawn mowing at Grandparents' properties, putting in a playhouse, putting in a paver pathway , scout camp, cancer camp (Jeff's the camp doc), bike races ("rides") I missing anything?
I wish I could recount it all, but it'd take too long.  I haven't even blogged about our Ukraine/Paris trip!  That's on my to-do list.  

Last week we hosted two great guys (Nathan & Rhys) from Wales who had come to coach our kids (and other kids) at an all-day all-week soccer camp.  They were easy to have around and were very gracious.  While they were here, my kids were either recovering, in the midst of, or getting sick with flu-like symptoms.  The day the coaches left, the disease hit me. Hard. Four days later, still with my fever, aches, chills, cough, laryngitis, and an excruciatingly painful sore throat and ears, Jeff left for the week to float the Salmon river with River Discovery - a camp for teens w/cancer.  We dropped him off Wednesday at 11am at the Idaho Falls airport, to be flown by a private pilot who is part of Angel Flight (they volunteer their plane and piloting time for things like this).  My kids, especially Oliver, have been badgering me all summer to take them to IJump, and indoor trampoline park in Idaho Falls.  Since we were in Idaho Falls already, I figured I could sit and watch them in my fevered state, so we went.  Within five, maybe ten minutes, disaster struck.
 Sam was showing me a double front flip into the foam pit, and he sort of went in wrong, and came up with a panicked and shocked look on his face - and a whole lot of blood.

We got to the bathroom sink to clean it up and spent another 10 minutes holding his nose to make it stop bleeding.  I texted Jeff, who must have been in the air by then, who sent me contact information for Dallin, a very good friend and PA that works with Jeff and was in the Idaho Falls office that day.  Dallin said to bring Sam in, so I gathered the kids off the tramps and into the car, found the office (my first time at Jeff's IF office, and Jeff wasn't even there!), and managed to explain to Dallin in my croaking laryngitis fevered state what had happened.

Dallin checked the nose, which was too swollen to really tell what was going on, gave Sam some ibuprofen and ice, and said to bring him back the next day when the swelling would be down (and Dallin would be in our Rexburg office).  
Back at home that night, Sam was doing better, I was doing worse and when I went to ask my dad for a blessing he was too sick himself to even talk straight.  My poor dad has been as sick as me.  So I called our neighbors for help and was given a priesthood blessing to assist in healing.  I loved the words in the blessing that I would "eventually" get better.  Well, that's better than the alternative! Better than never getting better!  :)
Yesterday (the next day) I took Sam back to Dallin.  He looked at it again, then said he'd like to call me back later after consulting with an ENT doc.   When he called later, I could barely talk through my sore throat and laryngitis.  We managed a conversation and decided that although it's most likely fractured, we wouldn't do anything since Sam's nose is still straight (we opted not to get an x-ray since it wouldn't change our treatment - ice and ibuprofen).  While on the phone, Dallin suggested he call in an antibiotic prescription for me since I wasn't getting better and was actually getting worse.  I thanked him for filling in for Jeff and he said Jeff would do the same for him.  It's so nice to have good people around.
My kids have been so good to let me sleep as much as I can.  For someone who normally gets up to workout at 5:30am, it's been an adjustment to drag myself out of bed at 10am just to go back for a nap at noon!  No working out, that's for sure.  I'm a little concerned since I have a triathlon next Saturday.  I think I'm getting better, but I've said that every day this week.  The real test is evening.  Hopefully I really am getting better.  
My neighbor and friend brought me bread and homemade jam (bless her!), and my sister-in-law Jill has offered repeatedly to help (thank you!) and my mom has taken the kids so I can sleep (I can't thank you enough!), but other than that I've been self-quarantiened and am beginning to feel the loneliness of it all.  Maybe I am getting better, because when I'm so sick I don't even think about anything except if I can manage pouring milk for our cold cereal dinner and letting the kids have cookies for breakfast and being thankful for television.  Meanwhile we've continued going to soccer games (thank you, ibuprofen and tylenol) and mowing lawns (one more to go today).  I even made a trip to the store (kind of hard to pour milk for cold cereal dinners when you don't have any milk).  
Jeff comes home Tuesday (I miss him!).  By then I'm sure I'll be well again.  I told a friend that we always get sick (or someone breaks their nose) when Jeff's gone.  Honestly, I don't plan it that way, but that's what happens.  He's out of cell phone range, which is for the best - there's nothing he could do and there's no point in worrying him.  It'll all be a dim memory when he comes home.  And if I delete this post, even I may forget this whole week ever happened.  :)

Addendum:  It's a few days later.  Jeff came home from camp yesterday and diagnosed me as having parainfluenza followed by secondary pneumonia.  Well, it's validating to know I felt/feel awful for a reason!  But I'm now on the mend and just so relieved Jeff is home.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Half is better than whole (This time, anyway)

Since I wrote such a gloomy post on my marathon, I thought I better clear things up with a good report on my half-marathon last Saturday.  My Ogden Marathon blog post was therapeutic.  After writing it and getting out all the frustrations of a bad race day, I felt so much better.  I realized (again - this happens over and over) that gee whiz, it's only a race and not my eternal welfare at stake, and that I want to run for running's sake - and have fun doing it!  Since Ogden (almost 4 weeks ago), I've returned to being a much happier runner, I'm a whole lot more relaxed, and ..... drum roll.... running is fun again!  Hooray!
This past Saturday I ran in a local race - Teton Dam Half Marathon - and spent the entire 13.1 miles grinning in giddy glee because I was just so happy, so incredibly happy, that I wasn't running the Full!  :)  I practically bounced the whole race because it was "just" the half.  Don't get me wrong - 13.1 miles is a long enough distance to be a tough race, especially this race course that has four miles or more of uphill - three of the uphill miles are consecutive ("Summers Hill"). And on Saturday it was three miles of uphill into 15+/- mph headwinds (then another mile climb with crosswinds).  My splits on Summers hill are a full minute longer than my other miles.
My brothers Jim and Jon and Jon's wife Kristen and I started the race together.  I can't even begin to tell you how funny my brothers are.  If only Don could've been there, too, it would've been perfect (his back has been bothering him so we didn't want to risk having him sit in his running chair).  Jim was just running the first half mile or so with us before he had to dash off to play practice, but that first half mile was enough time to have me doubled over in laughter (hard to do when you're running) which totally removed any anxieties about racing.  Those boys are silly. I love running with them.  My sis-in-law Kristen ran an awesome first-ever-half-marathon race.  I was amazed she did so well on such a tough course, coming in well under 2 hours.  Jon, who has so little time to train, beat the 2 hour mark, too.  Nice.
My husband and kids were at the 11 mile mark with a great big sign, "Run like a Mom!" and cheering me on.  I loved it.  One of them said, "Run faster!" I thought I was smiling back as I returned, "I'm trying!" But apparently it came out more like a bark and a growl, "I'm TRYING" with a glare.  That was NOT what I saw on my end of things, but with earbuds deadening my hearing and a body gasping for breath, I can see how it may have come out wrong.  :)
Speaking of glaring, I admit that despite my cheerful attitude during the run, I found myself glaring occasionally at the young ladies (all 12 of them) in front of me.  They were all in their twenties or just barely thirty. I threw my irritation at them in silent grumpiness, "Just  you wait," I told them in my mind, "Just you wait until you are almost 40.  Then we'll see how fast you run."  Hmph.  I sure told them, didn't I?
All childishness aside, I was happy to run this race just for the fun of it.  It certainly helped and gave me the advantage that this is the course I train on and I have run Summer's Hill in 35-40mph headwinds with gusts over 50mph, making the 15mph winds seem like a walk in the park (sort of).  I knew the course and knew my capabilities.  I ran smart (learned my lesson after a dumb race start at Ogden) and started slow.  First mile was 8:50, next miles were around 8:10, Summer's Hill miles were around 9:10, Poleline mile was around 8:20, my last two miles were 7:29 each.  I don't know if I could have run faster, but I do know I ran comfortably hard and had enough steam to run fast at the end.
Turns out that I was 13th (I think) overall for women and first in my age group.  I got a nice wooden "First Place" plaque.
By the way, I do have a bone to pick with the race director.  The volunteers were great, but....  The aid stations were practically bare, the runner's corral was bereft of post-race fuel, the schwag bag was nothing, and there were like two booths at the "Expo", and the first aid station didn't even have salt tablets!  And gray shirts.  Again.  I have so many gray race shirts that I could wallpaper a room with them.  Fifty bucks and that's what I got.  But I guess the $50 was worth the healing - I needed a fun run after such a terrible time at my last marathon.
I finished it in 1:50, averaging 8:26 min/mile.  With Summer's Hill and its accompanying headwinds, I'm pleased.  I'm pleased anyway because,  cliche as it sounds, I really mean it when I say "At least I had fun."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eleanor asked for a story...

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Eleanor who loved everything about nature.  On her way home from school one afternoon, Eleanor somehow spotted a baby bird stuck upside down in a bush at the end of the driveway.  The little finch was still, and Eleanor thought it was dead.  Gently she scooped up the tiny body, her heart breaking as her mind whirled about what to do next.
But then the bird moved!  It was not dead after all, but it was only barely moving.  Eleanor dropped her school bag and coat and rushed into the house, sobbing for help.
Over the next few hours, the baby bird began stirring more and more.  Eleanor named it Frederick.  Frederick was not hurt, only dazed, and confused.  He didn't like being put down and would panic unless someone was holding him.  Eleanor took the bird to a Wildlife Officer who lived around the corner and got some expert advice on taking care of a wild baby bird.
Eleanor's dad brought home commercial baby bird food and a bird cage he found on Craig's List.  Frederick began chirping, a sure sign that he was hungry. He didn't understand how to eat the bird food (which resembled baby rice cereal) and couldn't figure out that it was food in the dropper.  The dropper wasn't working, so Ellie's family tried other tricks - using food on fingers worked a little bit, but the best was actually feeding the baby bird with a spoon.
By the end of the day, it was clear that Frederick needed feedings about every hour.  The sun finally set and Frederick, Eleanor, and Eleanor's mom were exhausted.  Frederick slept soundly on a hand-made nest in his cage (thanks to Eleanor, her sister Charlotte, and their friend Sadia).
Frederick got better and better at eating off the spoon, and within a few days he was eating seeds mixed with the rice formula.  The first day, he could only hop/fly a few feet.  By day three, when Eleanor and her siblings Sam, Charlotte and Oliver took him outside, he was flying into the trees - but he couldn't seem to get down.  He'd stay in the tree and chirp, chirp, chirp until someone offered him a hand to stand on and get him down.  More than anything, he loved to stand with his feet wrapped around someone's finger while being fed.  Many of the children's friends came to meet Frederick, and he was never shy or scared.
The time came to release him back into the wild - he'd been with Eleanor for about four days.  His cage was set outside with a stick propping the door open, and Frederick placed on the stick.  He didn't move.  He made no attempt to fly away, but sat there chirping, eating (the spoon was taped on the stick with food on it) or sleeping.  After more than hour, Eleanor and her mom watched as another finch (maybe his mother or sibling) came and fluttered around him.  It had come to get him - the bird was beckoning Frederick to follow.  Frederick flew with the bird into a nearby tree, then sat there for another half-hour or so by himself as the other bird flew off.  Then Frederick flew off toward the sounds of the other bird's chirping. Following Frederick, Eleanor's family watched as he flew up into trees at the neighbor's yard. There, following Frederick's chirps and the chirps of his family, Eleanor's brothers climbed the trees and found Frederick's nest.  He was home.
True story.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Life Lessons Learned: Ogden Marathon

Yesterday I ran the hardest race in my life.  It wasn't my slowest time and it wasn't a difficult course, but it was the toughest battle I've fought in a marathon yet.

Let me preface this by saying that the Ogden, UT marathon course is the most beautiful all-around race course a runner could hope for.  The first 8 miles are a gentle downhill, so you get a good, fast start without trashing your quads and with little perceived effort.  Miles 9-13 can be disheartening after such a pleasant beginning as the road turns from down to flat to rollers and you actually have to begin working to keep anywhere near your pace if you've gone out fast.  You find yourself on a quarter-mile uphill at mile 14.  With the reservoir to your left and mountainside on your right, and canyon walls looming ahead, it is a lovely place to see if you can remember to lift your head to look.  Miles 15-18 continue alongside the reservoir until you cross over it on a bridge and begin the descent down the narrow canyon road.    Green-treed canyon walls and a river on your right nestle you in the chute down to the final miles.  The road is a bit steep down, which has potential to be fun if you have any energy, motivation, and muscle strength left.  Out of the canyon around mile 22 you end up running on a footpath and through two dark (disconcerting) tunnels, and eventually out on to the city street.  Mile 25.  You can see the finish line a mile-point-two away.  People line the street, cheering you on with what they think are motivational cheers, "Just seven blocks more!".  But yesterday to me, that seven blocks might as well have been seven miles.

At the start: Cris and me,
one of our many times
in one of the many lines
to one of the many port-a-potties.
I ran this marathon two years ago.  I loved everything about it.  I ran this marathon yesterday.  I loved everything about it except the running part .

Unfortunately, the "running part" of a marathon is kind of what the whole thing is about.  What happened?  I can name probably ten variables that may or may not have ruined my race yesterday, all excuses or justifications.  I could've run this 4:02 marathon a good 20 minutes faster if only... What?  If only I had trained better, if I hadn't struggled all winter with chronic asthma and insomnia, if I hadn't been sick all last week, if I had fueled better, if I had hydrated better, if I had eaten more pre-race/if I had eaten less pre-race, if I had worn my lucky shirt, I had slept more than two hours the night before, if I had run less on the treadmill and more outside.  Yep, that's ten variables.  And I have even more, but I'll just leave it at that.

Some days you have it, some days you don't.  Some years are better than others.  I know that.  It was an off day, it's been an off year.

I think what bothers me most, though, is that I never found my runner's high.  I ran (and walked) 26.2 miles yesterday and only occasionally glimpsed on the periphery of my soul the thing that keeps me running: joy.  I nearly grasped it during the first 8 miles but it was elusive.  I thought I just had to be patient and then it'd kick in.  I saw it again around mile 15 but that didn't last.  There was a shadow of it at mile 24 but it melted.

The best part of the day?  The company of friends.
When you fall off a bike, you get back on.  When you have a bad race, you run again.  So although yesterday I kept telling myself it was my last race, and that I'd never run again, today I'm registering for another race in three weeks.  It might not be a marathon, it'll probably be a half, but I need to try something.  I need to show myself that the elusive part of my soul I couldn't ever hold on to yesterday is still there because that's a part of me I don't want to lose.  Not yet.

I drove down with three friends the night before.  Cris, Tonya and Jennica, all of whom have also struggled with various and debilitating issues this past "off" year.   With injuries and life stressors that nobody should have to carry, these ladies ran the marathon knowing it would be a battle.  All of them are incredibly fast.  We've all at least qualified for Boston: Tonya on this very course during her first marathon, Cris and Jen multiple times, and me?  Well, once when I got lucky on a race.  In my mind and maybe in their minds they were thinking we could do it again.

Jennica and Tonya at the start
I got my hopes up as I stayed with the 3:35 (3 hours, 35 minutes for finishing) pace group for the first half of the marathon.  My friends had taken off and were running ahead with the faster runners.  I was happy to shoot for a 3:35 and for that first half it was looking like a real possibility.  It wasn't hard to keep up, although I didn't ever feel like I was light and flying (that's one way to describe how I feel the runner's high).  But knowing my body and how it takes a long time to warm up, I wasn't too worried.  I kept waiting for the feeling to flood my body and set my legs free.  And I waited.  And waited.  Around mile 9 I began to suspect something might not be right - I should've switched into that "happy runner" zone by now.  I wasn't there.  I wasn't happy.  And I wasn't getting any happier.

I began to get discouraged as the pace group I was running with slowly edged ahead.  I was all alone with my playlist that wasn't motivating me one bit.  My fuel (gels) tasted horrible, my legs were getting heavier, and I just wanted to quit. I remember looking around at the occasional car and wondering how I could manage a little accident where the car hit me just barely enough to twist my ankle or something equally non-fatal but bad enough to justify the race officials taking me out of the race and driving me to the finish.  I didn't find a complying car, so I was stuck on the course as, by now, runner after runner began passing me.

It's usually been me, at this point, that begins to pass runners.  They become goals for me to reach and the race turns into a game.  Instead of being the hunter though, I was the hunted.  And I got caught time after time until it just didn't matter to me anymore that people were passing.  I remember thinking about something Jen had said the night before, that running can be a great time to pray.  I needed a spiritual experience like I needed air, so I prayed, "Oh, please, Father, get me out of here.  Or at least help me make it to the end."  Within a mile of pleading for help, I looked up and saw the mile 14 hill in front of me and my friend Tonya.  She ran the race on an injured, very painful foot.  It was two days before the race that she finally decided she'd try, despite the injury, so she knew it might be tough.  Seeing her ahead gave me someone to go to.  Thank you, Father.

I inched my way toward her, slowly closing the gap, focusing on reaching her instead of focusing on my own misery.  I needed her.  Running with her took me out of myself and we made it up the mile 14 hill together.  While I couldn't carry on a conversation, at least I could feel her strength and that kept me going.  I found some more energy, caught a fleeting glimpse of joy, and ran on ahead at mile 17 to the aid station (read: potty break).  There was rather a long wait as people tend to take their times in the potties sometimes, but finally a door opened and I was in and out in no time.  It was another mile or so before I saw Tonya up ahead.  And she was walking with an arm around Cris.  Cris was spent.  She has had the "weight of the world" (so to speak) bearing down on her, with moving and packing and dealing with so many things, that her body just said it was done.  I felt done, too.  I think we may have all felt somewhat beat before we even began - beat up, anyway, by things we can't control and that test our limits.

But she wasn't beat, she wasn't done.  None of us were.  Jen was up ahead somewhere, fighting her own battles as she somehow managed to run a 3:28 PR.   3:28!?  Amazing.  Cris, Tonya and I were struggling just as hard as everything screamed, "STOP!" Yet somehow we kept going.  I stayed with Cris and Tonya as we walked and jogged off and on for a few miles.  It really was akin to a spiritual experience as we mentally battled with the very loud body and mind that hollered NO! while a tiny little voice whispered, "Just try."

So we tried.  I knew we were at least pointing our bodies toward the finish, which was about all we could hope for right then.  Good grief, the Finish Line was still so far away and didn't seem to be getting one bit closer.

Around mile 21 I left Cris and Tonya to run ahead in search of another potty break.  Sometimes that's enough impetus to make a body run.  I ran, eyeing all the trees, boulders and bushes along the road in case the port-a-potty proved too far away.  When I finally found an aid station, I didn't stop.  I felt better, but more important was that the 4:00 pacer group had just passed me and I was not happy.  I did NOT want a four hour marathon.  So I kept running until I passed the 4:00 pacer.  I think I stopped for a drink at the next aid station because I later saw the 4 hour group ahead of me again!  How, when, what?  Somehow they leap frogged me and I hadn't even seen them pass.  So I did what any respectable runner should never do in a case like that: I stopped.  Dead in my tracks.  In my head I thought that my race was a failure anyway so why even try to do a sub-four, and I really thought it would be nice to run the last mile with Tonya and Cris.  And I was tired.  And I was bored.  And I was frustrated.  And my iPhone had run through all the songs on my playlist.  Why bother with the last mile, anyway?

I waited a few minutes, pleased with myself for presumably not caring about my race time, pleased that I didn't care I was almost done and was just standing there - as if by not doing anything, I was flaunting my independence and asserting my control, by golly! (Because everyone at the race really cared if I stood there or not, right?  Ugh.  After that much running, I think brains are functioning on the same level as if the person were seriously drunk.)  After another time-wasting battle, I finally listened to that whisper, "Just try."  I pointed my body toward the finish again, picked up my feet and went, running away from the part of me that nearly quit at mile 25.

That's when I heard the crowd cheering the finishers, "You're almost there!"  Or "You did it!" and I kind of believed them until I heard someone say, "Just seven more blocks!"

SEVEN MORE BLOCKS?  Are you kidding!?  I wanted to stop dead in my tracks again.  That was so far I just didn't know if I could do it.  But I knew I had to keep going.  I counted the stoplights down the last mile stretch, one, two, three... I had to not count anymore, it was too disheartening.  I saw the "FINISH" sign and wanted to cry because it looked so small and so far away.  I finally resorted to my emergency mind trick and imagined my family waiting at the Finish and made up a story in my head that I had to get there soon or I would miss them, knowing full well they were in Rexburg (I'd told Jeff and the kids to stay home this marathon so they could go to soccer games and stuff).  My little story, although I knew it was completely fictional, was enough to pull me to the finish.  And guess what?  I even sprinted the last two yards (wow, I usually sprint the last two miles) and passed someone at the finish (I know, bad form.  Sorry.).

I wanted to vomit.  I started to cry.  A race volunteer asked if I was okay.  Yes, I was okay.  I wasn't great, but I was okay.

I saw Jennica waiting there for us.  She'd been waiting for half an hour, poor thing.  She said something like, "You did it!" and I just cried again.  I was so miserably frustrated with my performance and my body that I was missing the miracle that had taken place:  I did it.  I finished.  It was incredibly difficult for so many reasons and so disappointing in so many ways, but I still did it.

Cris, me, Tonya - can you see tears?

I waited for Cris and Tonya at the finish (Jen was in the runner's corral and couldn't come back in).  I stood on my tip toes, trying to see over the finishers until I saw them.  They crossed the finish then stood there hugging.  Back from where I watched I again burst into tears, knowing what it took for them (for all of us) to get to this point.  I was so proud of them and of Jen for each accomplishing a great feat.

I'm still not proud of myself, but writing this has been therapeutic as I realize what it took for me to run that race.  Yes, it was the hardest race I've ever run.  It stripped away all my aspirations and confidence, left me not just naked but bare-boned and showed me exactly who and what I was.  I lost all pride and pretense, lost all hopes and dreams, and was left with nothing but my innermost part.  My worst race (on the best of all race courses, no less!) taught me the most poignant lessons.

Tonya, Jennica, Cris, Steph
The battles that are hardest fought are the ones within.  There are times, of course, when the best and hardest choice is to quit.  The real win comes when you know yourself and conquer your fears and choose to do the best you can.  Yesterday I swore I'd never run again.  Today I'm planning my next race.  (I have to admit, this certainly reminds me of childbirth!)

 Cheers to all you who do amazing things despite amazing odds in your own life's race.  People certainly are extraordinary.