My First Wildfire

This story does not end well, but I’m going to try starting it off on a lighter note.

Since I’m recovering from a running injury, I decided to give aqua-jogging (yogging) a whirl. I bought myself a temporary gym membership and found an incredibly helpful list of aqua workouts for runners.

It was a bit awkward getting started, trying to get the funky foam floatation belt to fit properly without knocking off my bikini top, but after all the kinks were worked out, I was happy as a clam. Trading my crutches in for a floaty was a very positive step for my physical and emotional health.

It felt sooooo good to finally be able to use those muscles I’ve been resting for over two weeks now. Picture the look of pure bliss on a puppy doggy-paddling with a trophy stick in her mouth, or a toddler splashing around in her swimmies. That was ME! Running in little circles around the deep end of the pool, trying to avoid collisions with the other old ladies doing aqua-robics, I just could not stop smiling.

That’s the happy part.

Yesterday, I tried out the gym in Weed for the first time, since I’ve heard great things about the salt water pool they have there. Soaking in chlorine for hours is not my cup of tea.

As I was getting my aqua workout on with the usual crew of old ladies, we all noticed the smell of wood smoke. Moments later, dark clouds of smoke blocked the sun from shining through the large glass windows. Since it was a pretty blustery day, the wind would blow the smoke in gusts. Blue skies one second, dark reddish-grey the next.

One of my pool companions decided to open the door marked “KEEP CLOSED” (that rebel) to scope out the scene. “Oh, it’s BAD,” she exclaimed, “I’m getting out of here!”

Being a newbie Californian, I don’t have very much experience with wildfires, but I did know that oftentimes the sky fills with so much smoke that you can’t even see Mt. Shasta. Naturally, I assumed that this smoke must be coming from a fire about an hour away. I was safe because nothing bad ever happens in my naive little bubble.

While the other pool dwellers hastily packed up and left, I delighted in having the entire pool to myself. I figured that if there was a fire, a pool was the safest place I could be. I mean, wildfire only floats on water in Game of Thrones, right?

But then, the gym manager rushed in to fetch me, warning that the building was being evacuated.

I spent a few years working in elementary schools and am very familiar with fire drills. However, all that practice must have slipped my mind, or I was far too deep in my imaginary bubble of safety, because I took my sweet time getting out of that pool. I even stopped to use the restroom, during which event the gym manager rushed in to the locker room, once again insisting I leave the building ASAP and appearing far more flustered this time.

Finally picking up on the urgency of the situation, I ran for the first time since breaking my foot.

As soon as I got into the parking lot, I saw towering flames and plumes of fiery smoke- right across the street. I’ve gone to burning man, but never in my life have I seen a wildfire up close. As much as I wanted to take a photo, my fight or flight instinct moved me out of there more quickly than my body would normally be capable of right now. As I drove down the windy road that leads to the center of town, small fires were blazing up on each side of my truck.

It was terrifying, but I did stop to take some photos once I was a safe distance away:
fire in weed

That hardly shows anything, but much better quality shots are available on other internets.

As I drive out of there, my brain struggled to comprehend the scene. Giant pine trees roared with hot angry flames directly behind the elementary school while a small group of teens strolled beneath an otherwise blue sky. My little safety bubble completely disintegrated. I was witnessing devastating reality.

At the end of the day, my mom texted me to check in on how my foot was healing. I replied, “Foot is getting better. I started aqua jogging. The gym I was in today burnt down, but I’m fine.”

It’s so extreme and close to home that I still get a little nauseous thinking about it. Nothing humbles the soul and incites charitable action like a disaster that affects thousands of people. Aside from a newly re-swollen foot and a major nerve-shaking, I am totally fine and counting my blessings.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the Boles Fire and I’m happy to do whatever I possibly can to help anyone in need.

Unrelated: there was a very confused bear wandering around the pasture yesterday!

bear in the field

Love Hurts: Headwaters Ultra 50K Race Review

My day started out as usual. Woke up at 6, ate my typical pre-long run breakfast of toast, almond butter, honey and banana and washed it down with some strong espresso. I was really pleased to look out the window and see that my prayers had been answered. The hazy smoke from nearby wildfires that was building up in the sky all week had miraculously blown out of Shasta. It was an exceptionally beautiful day for a trail race.

Before I left my house for the starting line at Lake Siskiyou, I gave myself a middle school-style temporary sharpie tattoo on my upper arm.

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Because I neglected to snap a photo of it before the race, credit goes to my friend Jason, one of many wonderful volunteers who made the race so much easier for us runners. This was taken at Aid Station 3/4, right after I shoveled some PB&J and watermelon into my sweaty, salt-encrusted face. Since I was certain not all of it got into my mouth, Jason was so kind as to keep my head out of the photo :)

Leif is the owner of the mountain shop that I work at, and has been in critical condition for the past few weeks. It’s been a really difficult and intensely emotional time for those of us who work at The Fifth Season as well as many members of this beautiful community. Leif is a very strong and driven man who many of us look up to as a father-figure rather than simply just a boss. Although it’s been a tough time for all of us, the love and support that this community has provided is thoroughly heart-warming and makes me feel so grateful to be here. I figured dedicating my first 50K to Leif was the very least I could do. In fact, it helped me to finish.

I started off strong. Maybe too strong. For all the long runs I’ve done, I honestly have never pushed my body so hard that I found its breaking point. I decided that Saturday was my opportunity to really see what I could do. I didn’t want to bring my GPS watch because I didn’t want to know how fast I was going, I just wanted to listen to my body and focus 100% of my energy on finishing the race as fast as I possibly could.

At the starting line, I ran into our Smartwool rep, who I had met at the shop the day before. We had joked that I was going to pack a sleeping bag so that I could nap comfortably at the finish line while I waited for him. So, of course, my nickname for the day became “sleeping bag.” Hated it/couldn’t do anything about it/learned to love it.

I pushed really hard for the first few miles just to establish a spot for myself. That spot happened to be among a pack of alpha males that included Smartwool. After running together for the first several miles, it became clear that they were all pretty well seasoned ultrarunners, one of whom was chatting casually about trying to win a silver in a very famous 100 mile race. That’s where I found myself. Little newbie blonde girl’s gonna try to keep up with the big boys.

When they slowed down to walk up a hill that I knew was nothin compared to the hills to come, I decided to push past and jog up it with the short stride, high cadence approach. Clearly, being expert ultrarunners, two of the big dudes immediately began critiquing my technique, referring to it as the “granny shuffle.”

“Hey,” I yelled back at them, “this feels so easy, I might as well be reclining in a La-Z Boy!”

Not only did that shut em up right quick, I also heard one say, “Shit, I can’t believe I got chick’d so early in a race.”

He got chick’d. I LOVE IT!

But they were right. I was pushing at an unsustainable pace. They flew ahead of me at the first aid station, and I didn’t hear their hoots and hollers again until I hobbled across the finish line, greeted by giant smiles and hugs.

Why was I hobbling instead of running? Somewhere around mile 22ish, I busted my right foot. I just had it x-rayed yesterday, and definitely have a stress fracture in my second metatarsal, which is evidently a common injury for ultrarunners. I blame myself and my shoes for this injury. I’d been training on the race course, and knew that my old, beat-up barefoot Merrells weren’t nearly enough to protect my footsies from all the rocks on the course. I tried to order myself a new pair of trail shoes with some cushioning and a rock plate, but the delivery failed, twice, and I had no choice but to use what I had. I suspected it might be a problem, and I only made that worse by bounding down a rocky slope at full-speed before I reached the halfway point of the race.

It was straight-up masochistic and egomaniacal, and I paid the price.

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I love my feet.

Every time I set my right foot down, I felt searing pain. After 9 or 10 miles of this, including a second trip down the rocky slope I had totally killed the first time, my pride hurt just as much as the foot. I worked so hard to stay ahead for the first 2/3 of the race, and now suddenly people were passing me.

As they ran past and saw that I was limping, other runners would try to cheer me up, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I was angry at myself and on the verge of tears, but I kept going. There was no effin way I was going to drop out of that race.

I kept fuming silently, and occasionally crying out loud, until about half a mile before the finish line. Somewhere around this point, I realized that I was about to finish my first ultra. The notion brought a smile to my face that stayed with me until I dragged my gimpy ass across the finish. My time was 7:05 and change, which I’m pretty pleased with, considering the circumstances.

I set out to challenge myself and find out what my body can do. It was the first time I ever finished a race feeling like I couldn’t go on any further, and that feeling is intensely satisfying. Mother nature beat my swollen ego back into place and taught me that I am NOT, in fact, a superhuman. My body is breakable, although my spirit sure as hell ain’t.

The best part of all, is that while I was relaxing with some beer and pasta after the race, apologizing to all the passing sweethearts that I had growled at in my painful, self-loathing misery during the last leg, the dude I made the La-Z Boy comment to called me a STUD. This, to me, made it all worth it. I will break a foot any day to have a gorgeous, tall, broad-shouldered, athletic male ultrarunner call ME a stud. Instant ego re-inflation, my friends.

I will be back on the trail in about 6 weeks, or whenever my bone is healed up.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: with a golden heart comes a rebel fist

… I can’t help agreeing with those that would not quit.

In less than two days, I will run my first ultramarathon.

The past several weeks have been intense, fun, hellish, painful, liberating, terrifying and astoundingly transformative. I’ve observed my body and mind undergo drastic changes throughout the three months I’ve spent training for the Headwaters Ultra 50K. I’ve lost 10 lbs since June, and my legs are finally starting to resemble the powerful, sinewy structures they once were.

More impressive, though, is the attitude adjustment I went through very recently. A couple of weeks ago, I had a full-on anxiety attack about this race. I was convinced that I had somehow messed up my training schedule. The one 26 mile run I was supposed to do turned into an 18 miler due to an extensive hunt for spring water in this awful drought. My morning runs before work were embarrassingly slow despite all my effort. Everything was WRONG! I was doubting myself and feeling scared. I started telling myself I couldn’t do it… again

You see, this is the second 50K I’ve registered for. I had a similar freakout moment before my first one, and ended up dropping down to the 25K version of that race. Although it was probably a good idea overall, being my very first trail race and everything, I’ve never felt proud of that decision. I guess you could say it haunts me a little bit.

But then, everything changed.

Everything.

I started listening to my friends, who would praise and support my dedication to running. I would respond with, “anyone could do it, you just have to want it!”

When I took a new friend on her first 3 mile run ever, I assured her that, “your body is so much stronger than your mind wants you to believe!”

Meanwhile, I was telling everyone else: “I won’t place in this race. I’m a slow runner. I’m not ready for this. I’m SOOOO out of shape. blah blah blaaaaaahnegativeblah.”

I was pulling tarot cards that represented false illusions and unhealthy habits, wondering who was trying to dupe me… but then I realized that I was encouraging everyone else to try to do something that I was clearly afraid of failing at, miserably.

Then I was all like, “oh honey, dat don’t make NO SENSE!” and I slapped myself. Real good. Then, my tarot cards started representing courage, triumph, and adventure.

Conveniently, this attitude adjustment lined up with my body finally falling into athlete mode, and I was running like a goddamn gazelle. It just happened. Like BAM!

I decided to deviate from my training “plan” and go out for 26 miles on a week I was supposed to be taking it easy. I ran most of the course, through a thunder-hail storm, and did NOT stop or turn around despite all my wilderness guide training that told me to get the eff away from all those trees and lightning. I was very nervous, but I pressed on, and I finished strong.

Watch the weather change

Watch the weather change

 

It was intense, but I feel happy. I’m ready. It’s go time. In less than two days, I’m going to run my first ultramarathon, and I’m going to fucking rock it.

 

To see farther, climb higher

 

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The view from Mt. Eddy summit, looking down on Black Butte (the little peak in front of Shasta)!

It’s been quite a while since I last updated this blog. That’s only because I’ve been directing all of my energy toward a major transition (yes, another one).

Shasta is just so utterly, undeniably wonderful- I decided that I wanted to move here indefinitely. Oddly enough, I meet people with similar stories almost every day. People who came to Shasta for a visit and have now been here for over 15 years.

They say Mt. Shasta is an energy vortex. She either sucks you in or spits you out. Well, I guess I got sucked right in, because within a couple weeks of falling in love with this place, I was able to find a sweet job at the coolest mountain shop in town, a great room to rent on a homestead, and an amazing group of new friends.

A double layer of icing on that cake- my room has green shag carpet and there’s an ultramarathon happening only a few miles from where I live!

But it hasn’t been all hunky dory over here. With all of these changes occurring in my life, I was starting to feel a little out of control. A little frazzled. A little bit like I needed to start training for a race!!!

Honestly, the moment I learned about the Headwaters Ultra, I was 100% convinced that I was meant to be in Shasta. I’ve found Home.

Training for my very first 50K has helped me restructure my life and stabilize myself in this amazing new place. It forces me to take very good care of my health, to wake up early every day, and to spend hours running through the mountains, breathing fresh air and drinking wild water from mountain springs. It teaches me to quiet my mind and focus my energy on moving forward. It provides me with the confidence that I can, in fact, commit to something that I love even though it hurts and sometimes keeps me from doing other fun things. It gives me perspective.

Every other week I do a long run exceeding twenty miles, which always proves to be a transformative experience. Spending several hours running through the wilderness makes me feel completely at peace and madly in love with the mountains, while simultaneously making me feel like a savage beast who can rip your face off with my teeth. Sometimes I get hungry enough to do so.

This past long run took me up Mt Eddy, one of the beautiful mountains I admire every day. I parked at Lake Siskiyou and ran a few miles down North Shore Rd before getting on the Sisson-Callahan Trail. By the time I got to the end of that trail, I was about a half mile from turning around. I had planned on only going 24 miles, but some tourists I spoke to told me that I was only about a half hour hike from Mt. Eddy summit. There was no way I was going to turn around that close to the top. No_effing_way, baby. That is NOT my style.

So, I added a couple miles to my route. I ran out of water on the way up the summit and had to beg for a bottle. I was almost late for dinner. But all of these things were worth it for the incredibly spectacular views from the top!

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I could have gone down to Deadfall Lakes and refilled my water bladder at a spring, but the summit was too tempting. Maybe next time, lakes.

You can see Lake Siskiyou, my starting point, in the distance. THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!!!

You can see Lake Siskiyou, my starting point, in the distance. THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!!!

 

Starting point: Lake Siskiyou, 3,185 feet

Turnaround point: Mt. Eddy Summit, 9,037 feet

When I say I “ran,” I mean I power-hiked up and actually ran down. That’s just how I do. Hell yes!

Learned to let go of the things we can’t control…

Left em behind, and followed rock & roll.

This morning I saw a man dressed in a button down & tie for the first time since moving to Northern California. I think I love it here.

After that unusual spotting, I had breakfast in the café attached to my favorite locally owned health food store (there’s more than one within two miles of my house). Breakfast consisted primarily of fresh organic veggies and fair-trade coffee, and cost less than a taylor ham egg & cheese with crappy coffee would.

While I ate, I was entertained by an incredibly intelligent and eccentric older gentleman at a nearby table who claimed to have been John Adams in a past life. He kept my attention with several stories of how he saved people’s lives, including Ron Paul.

He told me that I was a Native American from upstate New York in a past life, and I take that as a compliment. I always thought I’d make a killer squaw. He told me women had much more power in that time and place. I don’t know why he told me this, but it really resonated with me.

I feel this inherited power guiding me sometimes. Life has thrown me a few curveballs recently. Last week, I learned that the farm job I had lined up for this summer fell through, so I once again find myself thrown into the whirlwind of transition. The gig I had counted on for housing, food and money vanished in a puff of smoke.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried so many different career paths, different places to call home, different shoulders to lean on and trails to run.

I can’t help it. I’m a mover and a shaker. And a music maker. World-loser and world-forsaker. (I’ll stop writing other people’s poetry, now.)

But I’m getting very, very tired. I feel like I’ve been running down a steep hill for a long time. Very consciously placing every step, because I never know when a rock will slip from below my feet. Focusing my full attention on maintaining my balance. Knowing that at some point soon, I’ll have relief. But that time is not now.

Sometimes, when I get really tired and worn out and start to think about giving up, I hear this voice in my mind. It’s a frighteningly powerful female voice. She knows me better than I know myself.

She encourages me to kick harder when my head’s about to go under. Sometimes I just feel her love and encouragement. Other times I hear things like, “get up. let go. move on. focus. jump now.” Just like Arya Stark repeating her mantras.

I remember the very first time I heard this voice. I was about eighteen years old, sitting at my parents’ kitchen table. My life was a chaotic disaster and I was just lying on my back letting it pass by. That morning, my mom explained to me that I had one last shot to get my shit together within two weeks or else they were going to send me to a halfway house type of deal.

“You can’t get lower than this,” the voice in my mind said, “so get up and start trying. You have nothing to lose.” If I could think of any one moment that changed my life, that would be it. My inner voice’s introductory statement on that dark and lonely day. Whenever I need confidence, I think of this day and how far I’ve come.

Right now, I find myself in a somewhat similar situation: essentially jobless, homeless, running low on cash and starting to sense a looming deadline for when I need to get my ish all sorted out. The main difference is that this time, I’m so much stronger.

I have a decade of experience behind me now that’s only made me tougher, wiser, and self-assured. I was jerked around, and that makes me angry, but every loved one that I’ve shared the news with has pulled through with more love and support than I’ve ever felt. And this time is different because I feel like I have nothing to lose without feeling like I have nothing.

I’m surrounded by beauty, delicious spring water, perfect trail running and a community full of friendly, positive and creative individuals. I literally live in a whimsical world of elves and fairies. I think I’ve found my people in this magical area of northern California and southern Oregon that comprises the mythical State of Jefferson.

Shasta is the first place I’ve called “home” on the West coast. After living like a gypsy for the past few years, I finally discovered a place I don’t want to leave. My job termination was a blessing in disguise.

Right now, I have no idea what I’m going to do, but for some reason, I’m overwhelmed with joy. I haven’t felt this determined to dig deep and work hard since that day in my parents’ kitchen. This time, my social support network is a million times stronger than it was back then.

I’m living in an energy vortex, the moon is waxing, the clock is ticking, and I’m pumped. It’s go time.

I’m really excited to see what I can do this time.

I know this was a lot more personal than most of my posts. I just want everyone to know that I’m hangin tough.

Title quote by The Bouncing Souls

What danger is there if you don’t think of any?

I have a truly horrible sense of direction, but I hear that getting lost helps you find yourself. One sunshiny day last week, I woke up feeling hungry for adventure.

About twenty minutes of internet research had me set on hiking the Castle Crags Dome Trail. I remember reading about Castle Crags in Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, and the view of the crags from I-5 is pretty stunning. I was stoked.

The Crags! Heavily edited.

The Crags! Heavily edited.

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I ate Gregory and don’t feel bad about it

WARNING: This may offend some people. And if it does, I encourage you to continue reading with an open mind.

Sometimes, when I’m in a rush or otherwise not paying attention to the buttons I’m pressing or where my mouse is, the image of a severed goat’s head in a cage pops up on my laptop screen.

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Oh Hey! Let’s pick on the positive marathoner battling cancer! JERKS!

Normally I avoid popular media at all costs (because I prefer to think for myself and also because I’m sucked in to the Game of Thrones books), but this article was shared by a trail running group that I used to be a part of back in NJ: Magazine Makes Fun of Cancer Survivor’s Tutu | NBC Chicago.

I just have to comment on this because I’m so rarely pushed to this level of exasperation by the superficial, subjective advice of those “Do and Don’t” type features in popular magazines. Sometimes they’re called “Hot or Not,” or “BS-meter,” I guess. Normally, that kind of dribble doesn’t phase me, but this made me mad.

Maybe it’s because I’m also a runner. Maybe it’s because I also made my own tutu, which I enjoy wearing on occasions I deem appropriate. Either way, I have to express my utter revulsion for SELF magazine for letting this one slide.

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It’s not cool to pick on people, ever- cancer or no cancer. I post a lot of my own opinion in this blog, but I still look it over carefully before publishing anything because I don’t want to inadvertently commit such a faux pas. The fact that this woman is a cancer warrior and makes the tutus for charity just adds to the heap of shame that every person involved in the creation and publication of this article should be hiding beneath.

One of the amazing things about running is how liberating it is. Especially when taking on something big, like a marathon, the amount of time and commitment that one must put in is enough to transform the body, mind and soul. Personally, I’ve heard many types of criticism for my decision to devote such a large part of my life to running. It seems like people will look for any reason to hate on people who are trying to do something positive for themselves.

On top of that, this mockery was published in SELF magazine. I don’t read SELF (and I don’t see why I should) but I assume that a publication entitled, “Self” might want to focus on content that helps individuals to empower themselves? I mean, that’s what I would do, but maybe that’s only because I’ve developed emotional intelligence beyond that of a middle schooler.

**I was also picked on a lot in middle school. This article is really getting to me.**

Furthermore, WTF is wrong with running in a tutu?!?!?! WTF is wrong with doing anything in a tutu? That’s a cute outfit! I’ve definitely run races in costume before, and it makes the whole experience so much more fun! Plus, you’re more likely to get your photo in the news!

Sometimes life is totally balls. We all struggle. Some of us try to look at the brighter side and keep laughing despite very serious challenges, and some of us sink into deep, dark tar pits of negativity. It’s the people stuck in the tar that try to cut people down by picking on them.

I understand that the magazine didn’t actually say anything that harsh, but they did ask this woman for permission to use her photo without revealing that it would be used to dis her. That is some straight-up mean girl shit right there. Go pick on Lindsay Lohan.

jk I love you Lindsay!

Cheers to Monika Allen for demonstrating how to rise above!

TUTUS FOR EVERYONE!

It’s easier to leave than to be left behind

Leaving New York, never easy

*long sigh*

I’ve been missing NYC a lot recently. It’s not quite a feeling of homesickness. It’s way more complex than that. I miss home (I’m now calling New York my home because a wise gentleman told me that I should never tell people that I’m from New Jersey. He only walked away with his face intact because he was also from New Jersey York.)

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YES! I aM Crazy! It’s LiBerating, you should Try it!”

When I first started this blog, it was primarily about running. It’s my true love, the thing that saved my life and keeps me going. That’s kind of why I chose the name “irunintotrees.”* Trail running is way better than road running (obviously) and sometimes, when I’m not paying attention (often) or when I run without contact lenses, I might (often) smack into a branch or two. With my face.

*high five*

I haven’t been writing a whole lot about running recently. Not because I haven’t been running, but more because my running routine has gotten much more… routine. I only began running a little over five years ago, so at first everything was new, exciting, and I was pretty darn impressed with my constant improvement. After a while, it started getting more and more difficult to out-do myself. I still remember the first time I ever ran the entire 15 mile stretch of the Columbia Trail in New Jersey. It took at least half a day before I could even believe I had done it. My feet haven’t amazed me like that in a really long time.

One of my favorite aspects of the long runs that used to totally dominate my weekends was the thrill of knowing that, at some point in the ever-increasing distances, I would hit a point where every step I took was the farthest I had ever ran. Today, I would have to run over 31 miles to hit that same point. That ish takes time, yo! Not to mention that I don’t think I could go much farther than 15 miles right now without hurting myself (body and ego). So, needless to say, I miss that feeling.

I haven’t pushed miles in a couple of years, and during the bizzy farming season my body was way too exhausted to handle more than 20 miles per week. In January, when I registered for my first official (timed and paid for and all that jazz) race in over two years, I figured I would probably just be embarrassing myself.. but hey, I LOVE EMBARRASSING MYSELF! It makes people look at me like I’m very special. But I’m really glad I went for it, because the 2014 Trinidad to Clam Beach 8 3/4 mile run started to bring back that warm, fuzzy love buzz I used to get from running.

However! I actually rather impressed myself with my performance. Before the race started, I told this lovely lady pictured with me below that I’d be happy if I ran a 9 min mile for the 8 3/4 race. After saying it out loud, I thought to myself how I might not even make that pace. I’ve hardly bothered to keep track of my times and miles in the past year or so. I used to log that data religiously. My nerdery has decreased substantially with the whole dropping off the face of the Earth, living off the grid, out of my car, in a tent, and on what should have been called, “The REAL World: White Hippie Farmers” kind of thing I’ve been getting into recently.

This is me and the new friend I met at my pre-race breakfast, talking about how slow we're about to "run"

This is me and the new friend I met at my pre-race breakfast, talking about how slow we’re about to “run.” Forgetting my shades was a major mistake.

Anyway, I clearly had no idea what kind of shape I was in, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life is that if you set your expectations way low, you’re much less likely to feel the sting of disappointment! Yay positive thinking!

The race was amazing. It started out in the lovely little coastal town of Trinidad, CA. The night before, I couch surfed with an older (but by no means OLD) woman who is locally famous for her  involvement in environmental activism and food politics. It was honestly the best possible couch surfing experience I could have imagined. Carol was also hosting three dudes who were cycling from Seattle to San Diego that night, but she let me stay in “The Princess Room.” The cyclists were all friendly and I stayed up chatting with them for a bit after Carol went to bed, but I mostly hit it off with this one guy who, of course, turned out to be a runner himself. Even better, a trail runner. Better yet, an ultra trail runner.  I should have known upon first sight; he just had the look to him. The long hair, scruffy beard, and well-conditioned body combined with a general “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. The crass jokes that didn’t really hide the sweetheart underneath. Oh yeah, he was one of us and I knew it.

Obviously, we started talking about running. The conversation, and not just the subject of running, but the opportunity to share this somewhat unusual obsession with another individual, one who felt as passionately about it as I do, roused some pleasant butterflies in my tummy that haven’t made their presence known in quite a while. It felt so good! I missed those butterflies.

“You gotta run like 100 miles per week,” he told me, completely seriously as his travel companions scoffed and rolled their eyes.

“Umm, I would.. buttt I don’t think I have enough time to do that while I’m farming. I don’t even think I’d even have the time to eat enough calories to fuel that much running while working a physically demanding job,” I tried to explain.

“You could do it. Just run everywhere. Stop driving. Run instead.” Something about the way he said it and the look upon his face made me instantly zip my lip. I knew that voice. It was almost like the one I use whenever someone expresses doubt about their own ability to run a marathon, 10K, or even a mile.

It was also exactly what I needed to hear at that time. Not that I’m planning to train for an ultra this summer or anything, but I’m not going to tell myself I can’t either. If I determine that that’s the kind of hell I should put myself through, then I’ll do it. It’s just that most people tell me I’m crazy or some similar adjective whenever I express my burning love for running, especially when the milage gets beyond their own comfort zone. This guy was refreshing because he was ALSO CRAZY and he knew the secret: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A COMFORT ZONE, FOOLS!

He gets it, and I appreciate that. You know who else gets it? Dogs. But they don’t talk, soooo..

I said goodnight to the cyclists and washed up for bed. But before I retired to the “Princess Room” for the night, ultra-runner dude pointed a finger at me from his spot on the floor in the living room, and shouted, “REMEMBER! The only good pace is suicide pace, and tomorrow’s a GREAT day to die!!” Steve Prefontaine might have said this? Either way, it was perfect.

Back to the race: my couch surfing hostess let me keep my car at her place and gave me some “backroads” directions to get to a sweet little cafe where the bus would pick the runners up to shuttle us off to the starting line. It was a gorgeous walk across this beach

Dang

Dang

Two mugs of java and two delicious pastries later- I was warming up by the starting line. The race went pretty smoothly. It was mostly on the road, with some rolling hills in the beginning. I’m not so great at going up hills, but I can bomb the downhill like a champ. Usually, I can gain distance on people on downhills, or at least keep pace with runners who pass me on the uphills. I just let gravity do its thing and hope I don’t fall.

The last part of the race was a steep downhill, then a small river crossing, and then a good couple of miles on Clam Beach at low tide to the finish line. As soon as I got to this last part, every cell in my body knew it was go time. From the steep downhill onward, I was only passed by two people, who I caught up with about a quarter mile before the finish line. All of the road miles up until that point just felt like a big group run, but when I crossed the river I found my race. I ran in my Five Fingers, so didn’t have to worry about taking off my running shoes when I got to the river crossing like a lot of the other runners did. And when I got to the beach, my feet instantly remembered running barefoot on the sand in Costa Rica, where I officially decided to ditch running shoes altogether. “I totally got this.” Was all I could think as I passed one runner after the other. Either I was getting faster, or they were all getting slower, but probably both.

I passed at least four more people on my final sprint through the finish line and was greeted by Humboldt State University’s pep band, dressed in clown costumes and playing Queen on the beach. Gotta love it!

As far as results go, I was thrilled with my 8:22 pace. I was even more thrilled to find out that I had placed in the top 10 of my age/sex group! I know that this is only because I turned 30 last year and am now among the youngest in my age group, but still.. I finished in the top 25% of females overall. Considering the fact that only five years ago, I couldn’t even picture myself finishing this race, I’m going to be pleased with myself. Plus, I have plenty of room for improvement :)

Last week, I took a nice, slow long run around the base of Mt Shasta for about 10 miles. It made me feel so warm and fuzzy to do that again, I have no doubt I’ll get back into it.

*I have another wordpress blog that’s currently for my eyes only because I felt like I was so totally over my “asneuralslime” phase. Maybe I’ll poke through it and maybe bring some (or all) of it back to life.*

POW POW