Sun Mountain and Inspirational Ladies

I am just back from Sun Mountain 50 miler where I set a 2.5 hour (!) PR finishing at just over 9 hours.  I had a day where I felt good and like running was easy.  This was very welcome since 1) I have felt pretty uncomfortable in my body whenever running since Cascade Crest 100 miler last summer and 2) last year I DNFed this race because I was sick and blowing slugs out my nose.  As the race wore on, my mantra became “Sun Mountain is my bitch,” and I am happy that I feel like I completely and totally dominated.

The race was fun and picturesque in typical Rainshadow style; the wild flowers blanketed the hillsides, the sky was blue, the lakes were glassy, the mountains were snow-capped.  I caught up with some really cool people on the trail who encouraged me by chatting or flat-out lavishing praise onto me (Anita, Solana!) and who doesn’t love that?  A highlight was high-fiving a new friend, Jess, at the summit of Patterson Mountain, the top of the final climb, as we soaked in the 360-degree views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

We all let our minds swirl when we are on the trail, and I am no exception.  On this day, I was thinking about the ladies who utterly inspired me in the week leading up to this race.  The thought of these ladies brought me strength and this story is for and about them.

A week prior to Sun Mountain Broeck and I headed to Victoria to be with dear friends, Alicia and Tara, to support them in their qualifying attempt for the 100k world championship in Qatar.  To qualify, they had to complete the Beaver Lakes 50 miler in less than 7 hours which is a very respectable time.  It was Alicia’s day, and she crossed the finish line in just under 7 hours.  As we ran along in the last few miles, she was complaining of dizziness and nausea.  I peaked at her out the corner of my eye and saw her running with her eyes closed and her lips were a faint shade of blue.  I yelled at her ‘Are you OK?’ as I reviewed in my head the CPR/first aid scenarios for if she collapsed.  But she didn’t collapse!  In fact, she never stopped running despite her body’s protest.  She qualified for the 100k world championships, and she won outright among men and women! Alicia demonstrated strength and perseverance during her run and her ability to muster up the will to push through that difficult physical and mental space is admirable.  I am so proud of and happy for her!

Unfortunately, Tara suffered during the race and had to drop at mile 38. Anyone who has dropped 38 miles into a 50 mile race knows the anguish that can bring.  You’ve gone so far, but sometimes you can’t bear to go any farther, even if you are closer to the end than the beginning.  Your mind swirls with self-doubt, with hating the run, especially when you see a friend with who you are equally matched go ahead and run strong.  Broeck and I were with Tara during her drop-lap and it was hard to watch her holding her belly and fully experiencing these emotions, especially because we all knew that on another day, this would be an achievable goal for her. I developed a deep admiration for Tara after she called it quits as I watched her embrace the role of supporter.  She waited for Alicia at the finish line, and I could hear her cheers above all others.  It was as if she was experiencing Alicia’s accomplishment as her own and she was able to stuff the feelings she felt about her own race just hours earlier into the far, back corner of her mind and just share in the moment with all of us and celebrate this accomplishment!

Tara high-fives Alicia as she crosses the finish.  Photo courtesy of Sian Slawson
Tara high-fives Alicia as she crosses the finish. Photo courtesy of Sian Slawson.

I returned from my weekend trip to Victoria on a total high.  As I woke to go to work on Monday, I learned that Jenn Hughes, another dear friend, had decided on a whim, to head out for a really tough run covering 100 miles and  40,000 feet of elevation gain across the Issaquah Alps.  Her reasoning: ‘I have 2 days in a row off from work; why not?’ What a delightful surprise for me to wake up to learn about her goal and see that she had invited me to pace and support her along the way.  I knew this wasn’t an opportunity to miss.  I was able to arrange to meet her in the middle of the night, getting up out of bed at 1 a.m. and going to the trailhead, eventually catching her around 3 a.m. and going from mile 60-70 with her through to dawn.   Those early morning hours can be some of the toughest as sleep sets in and the miles start to wear on the body, and they were tough, but Jenn was strong. She navigated on Tiger mountain through the night.  We chatted away about various things, life, love, pink unitards, travel, and the time passed quickly. My favorite parts were when fatigue would completely consume Jenn and she lamented “I just want to lay down and take a nap right now.” Eventually I encouraged her, “Do it!” She was surprised I said this, but she embraced the ground like it was a pillow top mattress and when she laid down she rubbed the dirt as if she was making a nest to lay her head in saying with conviction, “I love sleeping on the ground.” It was a matter of minutes and we were up and moving again.

The blurriness of this photo captures the feeling at the moment.
Jenn Nesting.The blurriness of this photo captures the feeling at the moment.
Roadside sleeping.  It's normal to feel exhausted!
Roadside sleeping. It’s normal to feel exhausted!

I left her just after dawn after watching over a literal roadside nap to go to work.  I was elated to get the news later that evening that she was successful in her mission and had completed the 100 miles.  She is only the 3rd person ever to have done this! All of this and it was only Tuesday morning!

I began referring to this week of May 10-18, 2014 as ‘Inspirational Woman Week’ and couldn’t think of a better way to lead up to Sun Mountain! I knew another notable occasion was coming up on Thursday– I would be celebrating a friend and colleague bestie, Katie, who is my workplace rock. I do not talk about it much, and I’ll keep this short, but working in primary care is difficult. The time pressure and workload is huge and providing direct patient care comes with a lot of responsibility.  I constantly struggle to maintain the company standard for high productivity while balancing high quality patient care.  The push-pull between these things is stressful for anyone, but throw cancer in the mix.  Yup, Katie was diagnosed suddenly with breast cancer last year and she took 6 months of chemotherapy.  It was difficult knowing that she had this disease in her body and was taking this treatment that was completely ravaging her immune system.

During this time Katie’s care and compassion continued to shine through both her work and her life.  She demonstrated strength and determination to complete the treatment and be well for her family.  To celebrate her, we had dinner on the Thursday before Sun Mountain and the lesson she shared was ‘Just because a person looks OK on the outside, doesn’t mean they are OK on the inside.” Looks can be deceiving. While she was taking chemotherapy and feeling weak and tired, she grew tired of hearing that she looked well (but she did!). She wasn’t well and she knew it.  It is wonderful to sit next to her and watch her come back to life as her energy returns.  I know this goes against her lesson, but I think everyone should know that even in the depths of chemo she could light up a room and her ability to maintain compassion for her patients and colleagues is a lesson all of it’s own. That lesson being that no matter what is happening in your life or within your body, your willingness to stay positive will directly impact the feelings of others around you.  Katie mastered that!

As I ran at Sun Mountain, I thought of the moments I’ve described in this blog and these SUPER inspiring women.  More than once I said to myself during times of feeling tired, ‘Suck it up, you don’t have cancer.’ I also pushed myself to run through nausea, challenged myself to keep taking in calories, and imagined that I was running as free as Alicia and Tara run on the trails (but I didn’t master the running-with-eyes-closed thing). I thought of Tara and willed for her to enter another qualifier and achieve her goal. I saw Broeck at the aid stations who provided aid for me and encouraged me to run strong. I thought of Jenn who accomplished double the distance of what I was attempting and more than 4 times the elevation of the race that I was completing.  And I asked myself, ‘What do I have to complain about?’ as I ran through fields blanketed with wildflowers, gazed at glassy lakes, snow-capped mountains, and blue-bird skies, and met friends along the trail. My answer, ‘Nothing.’

Fields of Wildflowers

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Photos courtesy of Jay Klassen
Photos courtesy of Jay Klassen
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