On the late afternoon of Thursday October, 1st my children and I flew to Las Vegas to meet JB. He was saving us 8 hours of driving as he left that morning from Reno with our camper trailer to pick us up to begin our super epic camping trip. We planned on running in Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, camping with Roch Horton and friends near the Tetons and then finishing off in Yellowstone for a total of 2 weeks. We were pretty stoked to set off into a simple way of life, pursuing some of the finest running routes and family camping a trip could offer.
We arrived late around 1 am on Friday the 2nd and got to the Flagstaff KOA where they gave us campsite number 91. I immediately thought of my brother as that was his college football jersey number. I thought to myself- well that should be a good sign for the Flagstaff race on Saturday.
After about one hour of sleep, I was holding my baby boy by my side when I could hear JB talking on the phone at a frantic and half asleep voice. He kept repeating the phrases “No, No, No, No, What? What happened, Oh My God.” He was crying and as I sat up in bed, he could barely get the words out, “Bub is gone, Bub died.” I am not sure what happened at that point. I barely remember him handing me the phone and my mom screaming in my ear. Something about his heart stopped in his sleep. I could not even process what she was telling me. My stomach fell to the floor and everything I knew was changed forever.
That early morning in Flagstaff, I could and (even still now) can barely understand what happened. Our first reaction was to get home, to be with my parents and sister. Yes, I lost a brother, but even more so, my parents lost a son. For anyone that is a parent out there, that is just unthinkable. My heart hurt for myself, but it hurt more for them.
Bub holding Asher
JB and I began to make arrangements to get home, but JB was toast after 13 hours of driving and now not a minute of sleep. We had no choice to but to stay at least one more night. Later that day, I began thinking more and more. Bub (real name, Michael, but no one ever called him that) was 33 when he died. The Flagstaff Sky Race was 33 miles (which is odd in itself, as most races aren’t typically set to be that distance). I felt like I needed to run, to search, to find an answer and maybe even better, to find a place to speak to my brother. I didn’t eat much that day and I am not sure if I ate anything the morning before the race, but hell with it, I was going to try. I needed to try.
I set off that morning, my heart in my stomach, not really caring about the race itself. It was really cold and my hands went numb quickly and at times I wished my brain would go numb as well. But there was some comfort in running near other humans, breathing, talking, moving together. I decided to set forth that morning with the intention of running each mile and reflecting on my brother’s life for that mile. My brother had been one of my best buddies. In early life, we were pretty much a team of mud throwing, mischief seeking, covering each other’s back kind of sibling duo. My mom told me I dropped him on his head when he was only 1. I’m sure I tried to mother him his whole life. When the climb really began around mile 3, I thought of him, a sweet little boy running around with his Easter Egg basket and me helping him collect his eggs. Around mile 7 I realized that was the year he probably collected Garbage pail cards and the first year he played Pop Warner football. Since, the run was a US Skyrace and boasted over 10k of vertical in 33 miles, there wasn’t much to do but go up. I think around the top of Mt. Elden, where the light of Flagstaff was a glory of pink and pines and views of God’s great country, is where I realized my legs were already giving out. But at mile 12 or my brother’s 12th year of life, I was just getting to the good stuff. The times when he snuck in a huge snake into his room in a backpack thinking my mom wouldn’t notice. Or when he shot his own window with a BB gun and claimed someone else must have done it. I had too many memories to try to get through and I couldn’t stop running.
Eva’s godfather and Uncle Bub.
Even though we were on a downhill around mile 14, it took everything to keep a running pace. I just focused on each step and just let gravity carry me down. Another memory from his life just enveloped me on the trail and then I found myself laughing. I brought my brother with me to high school Senior parties when he was just a freshman so he couldn’t tattle on me to my parents and by the end of the year, he was best friends with my then boyfriend, my now hubby of 13 years, JB. JB gave him a bottle cap that year as a Senior and my brother kept it and gave it to JB when he toasted us during our Wedding.
I saw JB at mile 17 and I told him I wasn’t sure if I could continue. He hurried me out of the aid station and I realized these were the years of my brother’s best moments in life. He was such a great athlete. He led his high school (also my alma mater) to two State Championships in both football and basketball. As defensive end, he made the game winning sack for the Football AAA State title in 1999. In fact, it was the subject of JB’s first full documentary, “It’s All About Us.” He was recruited nationwide to Division 1 College schools and in the end he chose University of Nevada Reno because he was truly a home body and loved his hometown.
Bub’s football team reunited at his funeral.
Sometime around mile 20 I was just tired of all the walking I was doing. When Bub was 20, his college football career ended in injury. He hated that he couldn’t play anymore, but he still loved the game. I always took a huge piece of inspiration from him when I toed the line in a race. Why shouldn’t today be any different? I had walked and cried and walked some more. I finally took a gel and actually drank some gatorade and tried to run a little bit more that I had. I needed to find the fight in me.
I saw JB at mile 27 where the 4000 ft climb stood in front of me. I had no idea where I was in the field. I could have cared less. But JB and my sweet Eva and Asher were there waiting for me. Smiling at me, encouraging me on. Eva said, “But mommy you are in 3rd place and JB chimed in with, and she’s only a few minutes ahead.” There it was again- the number 3. I gave my family kisses and found some strength in seeing them there. I knew I had to keep going. I thought about how my brother came to my first 100 mile finish when I was 28 and he was about 25. He saw me suffer and he was there to make sure I was okay. I always wanted him to come to a race where he could watch me have a great day. I realized that would never happen.
But then I felt my brother. I saw his huge smile and I heard him tell me, “J, I am okay.” In the same breath, I could hear him say as he often did, “You are nuts, sister. You don’t have to run this far you know.” And then I put whatever I had left into my heart and into my legs and I tried to go.
Up and up we went. Straight up a ski mountain. It was a hands on knees effort and I had caught 2nd place. But as we ran down to what looked to be the finish line in a speed of reckless abandon, the aid station workers pointed us back up the hill for yet another 1500 foot climb. My physical body was pretty done at this point and I just hung on and took lots of breaks to turn around and look over the valley. I thought of Bub in those miles. His years of struggle during his life of his late twenties. He fought so hard to find his identity and his purpose. I wished I had been there for him more. I kept climbing and finally crested the summit at 11,500 feet. I took some water and began to cry. When I found myself alone with gravity pulling me down the mountain, is when it hit me. Only 1.8 more miles left to run. Only 1.8 years of my brother’s life left. The tears, the screaming to the heaven was something I couldn’t help. This just couldn’t be happening.
As I neared the finish, I thought last year’s Christmas together. My dad dressed up as Santa Claus to surprise my kids and in the end, it was my brother who was in tears. He was overwhelmed by the moment, the family, the closeness we all had. I never thought it would be his last Christmas.
Our last Christmas
And in some strange way, I felt this huge overwhelming release as I saw JB’s face, my kids smiles as I crossed the finish. And my brother was smiling in his own way at me. My 3rd place finish, a wink from him from afar.
There is a huge hole in my heart. I don’t quite know what and how life is supposed to look like except that each day is such a gift. Hug your brother, your sister, your kids, your spouse. Go look at that sunset, be grateful for your friends.
They say pain is God’s megaphone. Well I am certainly listening. I hope to respond in grace. Love you brother, rest in God’s light.
Michael Edward Yenick 2/1/82-10/2/15
Please visit www.bubhugs.org as we begin a foundation dedicated to helping Athletes find Purpose in Life without turning to drugs or alcohol.
A few of his many accomplishments
Thanks to JB Benna, Eva Benna, Asher Benna, Jason Koop, my Hoka One One family, my amazing friends near and far. You all give me hope.
Thank you to Victor Ballesteros for the very kind interview following the race- you can see that here.
It’s never what you think it will be. Life, I mean. The first three months of 2015 I could have never predicted in my wildest dreams. To think that I would sit by my daughter’s side in an ICU while she fought to recover from a pneumonia that some people just don’t recover from, is almost too much to process. But thankfully, she did get better and was able to leave the hospital after 10 long days. JB and I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t run. We just focused everything on getting Eva better and at times, what our next minute or hour would look like. The present was all we had. There was no worrying about tomorrow. A lesson in family, health, priorities and love. All the love Eva received from friends, family, even strangers praying for her to get better. It reignited my belief in people and in a greater good. Thank you to all of you who sent us messages, prayers and good thoughts. It meant more than you know.
One day before Eva is hospitalized
To leave that experience and still find running extremely important in my life said a lot. I knew I couldn’t race Gorge 100k and would have to let my Western States 100 dreams go for one more year. But I wanted to return to training, to racing, to setting forth my best example to my kids. We are fighters, we do what matters and we do things with fire in our hearts. And that’s how I found my way to this year’s American River 50.
Eva the day after leaving the ICU.
There was a lunar blood eclipse the morning of the race. Apparently that wouldn’t happen again for 20 or more years. It was beautiful. It was also the day before Easter. And so it seemed appropriate that some suffering was about to happen. There was a lot of passion to run that morning despite everything. I was tired, sure. I hadn’t really trained in weeks and felt depleted after our experience. But this was running. It was 50 miles of me being Jen, the runner. It was a hat I could wear with a smile. I kept Eva in my mind and heart, but I ran because I could do it freely.
My dad decided to make the trip down with me as JB took the kids to begin our trip to Palm Desert for Easter. I would meet up with them the evening of the race. This meant I absolutely had to run a sub 8 hour 50 miler to catch my flight in time. I love those sorts of hard lines. I looked at the new course and it seemed about 10-20 minutes slower than the original AR50 course of the past 32 years. So I plotted that with my fitness, a 7:20 finish time would be about the right target. I also just planned on running my style- conservative in the first half and pushing hard on the second half. That was the extent of my planning.
My dad and I enjoyed a fun father daughter evening of chinese food and trips to REI to look at kayaks and found ourselves in bed by 9:30pm. 4:00am came fast and I awoke with a headache, but just ignored it as best I could. A cup of black coffee, and 2 small gluten free maple donuts spread over about an hour of eating seemed to be just enough to get me going. The morning was quite cool and breezy as about 850 runners gathered at the start. Two waves would go off that morning and I made my way to the first wave. I realized I forgot a headlamp and so I just stuck next to a guy with one for the first 25 minutes, hoping I wouldn’t trip on the new singletrack section. The first miles went by quite calmly. I noticed a few ponytails ahead of me but was quite content sticking to my plan of cruising a comfortable pace. I wanted to hit the marathon mark no faster than 3:20. I am not a fast marathoner and so I wanted to avoid the feeling of running past my pay grade early on. I really don’t love pavement running, especially post partum. It really is so taxing for me to run and so I just put my head down and tried to chat with the other runners and get to the singletrack after mile 26. My stomach felt out of sorts around mile 15 and I hung on until mile 20 where I found a porta potty and spent about 3-4 minutes getting things sorted. Right after that, a runner in front of me was about to get mauled by a dog on the bike path and so he and I chased the dog off and kept on running past course markings, finding ourselves lost for a few minutes.
Luckily, we retraced our steps quite quickly and only cost ourselves maybe 3-4 minutes of figuring out the misstep. After that, I came into mile 25 aid station at 3:20 and saw my dad. He had fresh bottles of Tailwind and some salted caramel GU’s for me. He told me the two ladies ahead of me were about 3-4 minutes up. I thought that was just fine with me especially given the eventful few miles before.
I saw my dad again at mile 29 and that would be the last aid station until mile 38. The plan was for me to take 2 bottles from him, but my stomach was feeling super nauseous and I wasn’t taking in as much fluid as I wanted to. So I just took 1 bottle and figured that would be enough. He told me F1 and F2 were 3 minutes up. It was time to start putting the pedal down a little bit.
We got into some super fun rolling singletrack that overlooked the beautiful American River. The temps started to climb some and the water looked so inviting. Then I started craving coke slushees. That’s when I knew my stomach was back! So stoked to be climbing out of that hole, yet I realized I was easily going to run out of water. At mile 33, I passed F2 who was walking up a climb. I gave her some encouragement and kept on going. At mile 36, I saw F1 up ahead, Amy Phillips (she’s an awesome and dominating NorCal runner. You rock girl) and just slowly made my way up the trail and realized I was out of water. We both entered mile 38 aid station at about the same time. I was craving the orange slices and coke and had plenty to get things back together. I took off down the trail and just felt a little flat there. I made my way to mile 40 at Rattlesnake Bar where my dad was waiting for me. I was F1 at that point but not by much. Amy entered the aid station where she was picking up her pacer. I took a minute getting coke and more oranges and went back up the climb. Always at this point in an ultra, your legs hurt. They really don’t hurt much more to run faster, so I did . This was the perfect time to enjoy the rolling trail and finally get to some climbing at the end. I found myself at mile 47 before I knew it and the nice aid station volunteers gave me the best dang icy coke in my water bottle that I’ve ever had. It was exactly what I needed to keep up a good pace up the nearly 1000 foot climb to the finish. I loved every step of that climb. It was the part of the course that I felt was more my strength. I had no idea if F2 was hot on my heels, but I ran with purpose and thoughts of my daughter were leading me forward. I crossed the line in 7:23 (5 minutes off the course record) and Scott Warr announced I was the ladies winner, running EvaStrong! So very very true. That sweet girl and her suffering in the hospital was so great, it makes running an ultra seem so easy.
Photo by Helen Martin
What a sweet day with my Dad and with my family on my mind. I stuck to my plan and stayed patient which is what I have lacked so many times in races. On a good day and with specific training for that course, I am sure low 7’s is possible for me, but I was super happy to have a decent run this year. My garmin also clocked about 5400 feet of climbing- more than I expected, but not really hilly to say the least.
Many thanks to my dad for his fun loving crewing, my coach Jason Koop for his constant support and guidance, my Physical Therapist Todd Eekhoff, my sponsors, Hoka One One, Lululemon, Drymax and Vespa for not only the best in class products, but the kindest and most supportive people running great companies.
Kit: Hoka One One Cliftons, Drymax trail Lite sock, Ultimate Direction Tony pack with one bottle, Vespa x 2, Tailwind 2 scoops in 20 oz bottle x 6, 1 Salted Caramel gel every hour, 1 S Cap every hour after hour 3. (For those mama’s that asked me- no I didn’t pump on this race- it was right at the borderline time frame I felt I could make it. Dehydration does take a toll on supply- and even for a day afterwards I had to really hydrate for a normal supply to return).
Now what? I feel like my schedule is evolving all the time. I’m deciding on a May race now, but will certainly focus on solid training for AC100 on August 1st. But as a family, we are on the road to recovery- Asher is turning 7 months soon and Eva is going back to school. I still don’t think I have fully processed our health crisis, but I only know how to move forward and so that’s what I will do.
Pure elation. My heart was beating so fast. I had the bib pinned on, the Hoka One One kit assembled and Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal blaring from the headphones. The countdown began and I kissed my husband and found a place in the pack set to go for Way Too Cool 50k. A training run, a fitness check, my first ultra since the fall of 2013, and a date with my guy on the trail. This run had a lot for me to love. It had been a bit of a road to just get to the starting line, but finally I had made it there and even before I finished, I fell back in love with ultrarunning just like I knew I would.
6 weeks prior, our family kicked off a string of illnesses like I had never experienced before. Tally up 12 visits to the E.R., urgent care and our pediatrician for both of our kids! 5 month old Asher had 3 ear infections and 3 rounds of antibiotics and Eva had bronchitis 4 times and even worse, was on the road to being diagnosed with pediatric asthma. Besides working full time and juggling work travel and no sleep, JB and I had been tested to the core. I was not even supposed to run Way Too Cool as my race calendar had Salmon Falls 50k the weekend prior as my first race of the year. But alas, the Friday night before the run, JB and I rushed a grey, not breathing very well little girl to the emergency room. No race or run or job mattered at that point. Our daughter was struggling. But thankfully she improved over the next week as her pediatrician got really aggressive with medications. I have hope that we can improve her health, but the future will hold many more visits to the doctor’s office as we get her asthma controlled.
As we got her through the tough weekend, I found myself looking for a replacement race and after some back and forth with my coach, Jason Koop, it was decided that Way Too Cool would be a great training run. Jason and I have known each other for years. But we reconnected at the NFEC 50 in San Francisco in December and I knew his tough and strategic coaching plan would be exactly what I needed to make quick work of getting back to competition and achieving my goals.
I have been working only about 3 months with him at this point and I can honestly say it has been the hardest running and most rewarding results I have had in such a short amount of time. I love going for a run with a purpose each and every time. I skid into my day off each week, but find the workload really balanced and just what my body needs. It’s reignited a fire and belief system that with hard work comes good results. Also I believe in working smarter and I think this type of running is a lot of that as well. He also has been huge in my race selection and timing with what I deem to be my “A” races/major goals of the year.
The week of Way Too Cool, JB and I succumbed to the upper respiratory sickness that was floating in our house and even got ear infections as well. (Seriously our luck is awesome…) By Way Too Cool, I had been on antibiotics for 3 days and was feeling a bit better. But it didn’t matter to me, I was going to give it a push and just enjoy every minute of the run. The amazing energy of the 1200 runners on race morning was palpable and I shivered in the cool and breezy air. Yep, those were nerves. I had no idea what would happen that day. How exciting. The goal was to keep the gas pedal down but comfortably, and just work on getting the kinks out. So I kept it mellow for the first 11 miles and didn’t push too hard, savoring the sweet and easy singletrack and the fun conversations with the other runners. I was well aware it was a super fast race right up front, but my leg speed compared to those of 2:30 marathoners is totally laughable in a fast 50K. I only worried about how I was doing and used this time to work on pacing, on smooth biomechanics and fueling. Basically, all the things I had forgotten on my time away from racing. But it came back right away and my body found it’s rhythm.
By mile 13, I found myself step for step with Tim Twietmeyer. JB and I chatted away with him and our paces seemed about right. He’s built like a solid granite rock, runs smart and is a real inspiration. A slight crush, perhaps? Well maybe. Anyway, I digress. Those miles flew by and soon enough we were nearing mile 20. I started loving the small climbs and the distance felt really good. I would pass Tim and then he would pass me and we did this a few times. It made for a fun last hour and half. As I crossed Highway 49, I headed up the singletrack and knew there was only about a mile and half left. I did the obligatory Goeff Roes look over my shoulder and saw no one imminently behind me. It’s no fun to get passed in the last mile. Regardless, I felt the barn calling and a cold beer with my name on it was surely awaiting me. I tried to give one more push and in all honesty really wanted to come in sub 4:20 but alas, the finish line read 4:25. I really enjoyed such a fun day. It was good to be back out there. I headed straight to the car where I found the breastpump and was immediately reminded of my kiddos who were at home with the grandparents. After some refueling with great post race food, JB and I headed home. The trucker hat went from forwards to backwards. Kids make me work harder than any run, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks Julie Fingar and all the volunteers for the great race.
To see some resemblance of fitness after a few hard months of training was so satisfying. There’s plenty of work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I will take the little rewards like a good race when they are there. Many times in the run, I was thanking Koop for the hard V02 max repeats or the tempo runs. Intensity not quantity, might be my theme for the year.
It’s as if one could tell a runner’s life story with a quick glance at their Ultrasignup results. We forecast how a runner will do, we decide what makes someone “elite,” we compare, we judge, we examine. I am okay with all of these things on a surface level, but as a runner who did not decide to actually be competitive until a few years ago, I feel that there is so much more to the story than a simple finish time, a placing, a ranking or a DNF. There’s a journey. So it then occurred to me- Ultrasignup should offer a comment line next to each race. Not as a source of excuses or finding ways to creatively type out sandbag stories, but as a way to add color to moments in a runner’s life in a summary of a few sentences. Not everyone has a blog! I’ve spent over 10 years running- I would love to comment on what each day felt like to me. Plus how fun would it be to read someone else’s summary of their day? It would be pure gold.
I thought I would take a few of my races and do exactly that. It was like I walked down memory lane for each race, reliving it as I thought about the highs, lows, the pain, the freedom, the perfect race, the worst race. It was me, a runner, over a decade of growing, learning, living, loving and my ultrasignup results became more than a number- they told a story about me:
Comment: 70 miles of pure highs and lows with crazy thunderstorms, chasing the leaders, working hard in the middle of the night. Vomiting for a long time at mile 70, a long nap in the car, followed by my crew- Roch Horton telling me- “You can’t quit, you can’t run, but you can walk.” And walk for 30 miles, I did. I lived a whole year it felt in those 8 hours. One of my top 3 most memorable and proud runs. I draw on this run over and over again.
Comment: The most beautiful red mountains, crazy slickrock, totally hard course. Being passed by Larisa Dannis, then passing her back and running my best race ever. I felt strong at mile 85, which is always my goal. To push, to run with fire in my heart and to have so much fun with my crew. This stands out as a my best race yet, and I would love to come back here to live this day one more time.
Comment: If you haven’t raced against Jenn Shelton, I highly recommend it. What a day. What a course. Hal puts on a hell of a race and this was so much fun. My dad crewed, I flew, than I bonked hard, then I got lost several times. I got to see what I was made of with a beast of climb at mile 85. Then I cried for the last 10 miles and swore off 100 milers. (Yeah right). I will definitely be back to try this race again.
This is where I learned how to use my breastpump on the uphills in a race. This is also where I lost that same pump on the Bolinas Ridge. What happened after that is hilarious. Eva was 7 months old. I got to see her in the carseat as JB tried to crew me. I felt stronger than I had prior and had a glimpse of a better runner in me. A gorgeous day in the hills of the Headlands and I was so stoked to be there.
Comment: My 30th birthday was on this day. I celebrated with having JB as my pacer, my parents and I saluting my day with Red Bull at 3am. Dancing on the trail, laughing, loving the day. I also learned Ensure is a bad thing for me and I also solidified my love for 100 milers here.
Comment: My very first 100 miler. David Horton’s race! Not sure I knew what I was doing, but man it was fun and hurt all at the same time. The course was quite long- “Horton miles,” I quickly learned. Oh yeah, and I beat my hubby here by a few minutes:)
Comment: The only 100 mile DNF I’ve ever had. I learned what hyponatremia is, what peeing blood looks like and what your mental status does when you know you are done. I learned what it’s like to be F11 at Cal 1, just to be derailed by the river. A race that taught me so much and a course I hope to make proud in the future.
And with that, comes so many smiles, some tears, some laughs but most of all, it tells more of who I was, who I am and what running is to me. That’s a little of what some races looked like for me… What are your memories of your race days if you only had a few sentences?
I never thought I could be this busy. Ever. I am back to work, back to training, back to everything times two! So sorry I haven’t gotten to this blog. I am finally able to put the past 4 months in perspective and take a breath. The obvious- my little man arrived. Asher is 16 weeks old and yes, I’m smitten with him. I mean to write up a separate post on his birth story at some point. Mostly because I learned so much this time around and if helps anyone, then awesome. The biggest takeaway for me was learning when it’s best to stop fighting (both physically and mentally) and to let nature take its course. In summary, I had a 13 hour labor (quick by my standards), 45 minutes of it was scary as his heart decelerated and a team ready to take me for a C-section hovered around. I gave in, stopped fighting and got an epidural so that he could turn to face the right way (anterior). My running mind only knows that feeling when shit is going wrong, to start fighting for the finish. But in this case, I had to relax into the pain and lean into something I didn’t want. That lesson is one for the books for me- being stubborn is a virtue, but learning to adapt is what makes you live. I was happy my doctor, an avid runner, and a patient man, gave me the encouragement to get my son out safely. And all resulted in a crying, sweet little boy being laid upon my chest as I cried those tears you never forget when you meet your child for the first time. I quickly got over my plan to go 100% natural and instead was thrilled my son was okay and I left my ego right then and there.
My initial recovery was a little complex- easier than last time, but harder because now I know I can handle more, push harder and my fitness was better throughout my pregnancy. So when the doctor tells you not to run for 6 weeks, you nod and cross your fingers behind your back. I began hiking 3 miles a day starting on day 3 after birth. I ran 7 miles a few days after that and I still had stitches, and my pelvic floor felt like moving rubble. So I backed off the running and kept up the hard hiking. Around day 14, I began running with regularity. 3-5 miles most days, some on trail, some on treadmill with Asher in a baby swing next to me. I kept this up but had continued pelvic floor/low back and hip soreness and just tried to work through it. By the time Asher was 6 weeks, I was logging a few 50 mile weeks and on week 10, I ran the CIM marathon where the wheels fell off completely. I had this inkling that maybe it was too much, too soon, but being the stubborn and much too eager runner, I wanted to run. I started that marathon with a ton of will and determination to maintain 7:15-7:20 pace, but by mile 13, I had to walk, stretch, hit the porta-potty and repeat every couple of miles. These were all issues with hip and postpartum pelvic floor issues that I realized the hard way. Needless to say it was a terribly slow (3:54) painful run that really did cause me a setback. Thanks for embarassing shout out at the finish, Eric Schranz:) I painfully walked my broken body to the car, cried for 10 minutes, slammed a burger while nursing my son and then finally saw the light I needed to take a different path and so I made a list- .1) getting a coach to guide me or actually micro manage the crap out of what I was attempting 2) moving my ultra plans back a few months and 3)getting back on strength training.
So here I sit, 6 weeks post CIM of which 3 weeks were spent completely healing and the last 3 weeks into serious training. My hips are responding really well to the workload. I have long time friend and excellent coach, Jason Koop from Carmichael Training Systems guiding me constantly throughout the weeks. I mean checking in after intense workouts to see if things feel right. We both know that taking the proper time to heal is a priority. But so far, I am feeling really great. I am in physical therapy and pilates every week. I put my first A race ultra on the books for end of March at Gorges Waterfalls 100k. I think I can be ready for that race, and if not, I will know soon and can adjust.
I really want to race Western States and finish and do well. I think it will be on my mind until I do just that. I realize this plan may take a few years and I am okay with that. Having my little boy is worth the time it may take to comeback. But I really hope to make my way to Squaw sometime soon. If not, there are plenty of races to keep me excited and going until then! One is AC100 which I am lucky to be in this August. So now, its just going as hard as I can with juggling my work and my priorities as a mom. More blogs, more regularly I hope!
Yes, I’m still pregnant (39 weeks) and yes, I am still running. It’s just taking me a lot longer to cover the distance. So of course, this means I have lots of time to think and reflect on those trails. I ran 6 miles on Sunday to my favorite meadow and baby seems pretty content in there for a while longer, but as I tend to be impatient, I found some reflection points that I hope to come back to even when I am not pregnant:
“God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”
― John Muir
If you’ve ever been 10 miles away from a 100 mile finish, you know what I’m talking about. You hurt, you breathe a bit harder, you almost wish away those miles because you feel the finish line and therefore, the end of the suffering. It’s hard to stay in the moment. But you also know, those last 10 miles are where the work is done- not so much the physical work, cause let’s face it, your body is cooked, but this is where the mental work, the soul revealing, this is-who-I- am moments lie in your race. These are the moments you think about forever. What do you have left?
As I sit here, likely still a few days (or even longer) away from giving birth, it seems so easy to wish away these last days- to want to hold my baby, to want to run for hours and hours on the trail, to get rid of the constant heartburn, achy hips, large belly and all the other ailments I could sit and focus on. But instead, I find myself having acknowledged all these things, wanting to let myself be okay savoring the uncomfortable feeling for a bit longer. I have talked about this before, but running a 100 miles is akin in some ways to being pregnant. But more than ever, I have found this pregnancy a real lesson in ultra running patience that I hope to think about when I am hurting in my next race.
Things I will think about over the next few days and in my next 100 miler:
1. Find a spiritual focus and tap into it throughout.
2. You will suffer and you will get to the end of it.
3. Flow, don’t fight.
4. Go inward when you need to and likewise, use the energy around you to help give you power.
5. Smile, even when you hurt
6. Make your plan and then get ready to ditch it
7. Have a mantra and repeat it
8. The things that hurt are the things that make memories
9. Be grateful, always.
10. They don’t call it labor for nuthin… nor is ultrarunning supposed to be easy.
I do have a coach, and a good one at that (thank you Ian Torrence). But as I was thinking about how things have evolved for me as a runner in the last 4 years, I notice that many of the lessons I take with me on the trail were given to me by my daughter. I wanted to share a few things that she gave me.
1. Love for sunshine, dirt, mud and plain fun. So many workouts prior to Eva, were just workouts. Not saying I didn’t love them, but I did “work.” for them more times than just enjoy the hard challenges. I got to watch my daughter fall in love with grass and dirt and mud pies and the intrigue of being on singletrack with her mama. I began to find myself smiling more on my daily runs. I would actually see and look for bugs, plants or I would stomp in a muddy puddle on purpose. Just cause it’s fun. Running done just for fun is the best kind. You can still work hard and smile.
2. Helping others is such a privilege. All Eva wants to do is to help me. Can she water the garden, can she help me cook, can she wash the plates in the sink? Always asking to help me. I got to thinking, if all adults were as eager to help as a toddler, we would live in a different world. I apply this to my running when I am in racing mode and instead of running against someone, for the sake of competition. I think about running with them and beside them. Helping each other achieve our best day. When I ran Pine to Palm in 2012, Jen Shelton and I were together leading the race. In the hottest part of the day, she started puking. Yeah it was a race, but I stuck with her to make sure she was ok. It felt wrong to leave her at that moment. I see this happen every time I’m at an ultra. We are constantly helping one another. I love this sport.
3. Sometimes its better to just lay down and nap. Work, running, chores can wait. The hardest thing for me to do is simply to be. Eva, though a usual bad sleeper, would throw her hands in the air and try to resist a nap, but would give in, sleep away and wake up a different person. When your day is going to shit, try taking a nap.
4. Put down the phone, the facebook, the twitter and just go do and be. The greatest reward to watching Eva grow is to learn to be in the moment. Stop multi-tasking, checking instagram and zoning out. One of the greatest weekends our family had, was backpacking and crewing a section of the JMT while our friends were out setting the FKT (Hal and Mike). No phone, no zoning out, just talking to one another and being in nature made for a slow feeling moment in life. Kids are always in the moment. They capture each minute and go with it.
5. Practice makes you better. When Eva has tried to do anything: walk, crawl, draw, paint, ride a bike, she has practiced it over and over and over. She taught me that we are all rookies at things until one day we aren’t. I am not sure when you cross the line over to expert, but it takes a ton of dedication, practice and patience to get there. If Eva wants to do something, she does it. Failure isn’t an option. As I think about next season in running, and my return to competition, I think about this the most. Practice and then practice some more.
Ok, well here we are, a bit over 24 weeks pregnant. I have to say this pregnancy is zooming along. The pace of life is keeping me going. My biggest struggles have been a few things-1) work responsibilities are growing as big as my belly (i.e. travel, then a 70 hour work week on the East Coast is getting harder and my heart breaks to leave my daughter more than ever), 2) The realization that I cannot and will not be able to do everything once this baby arrives mean I am more reflective now than ever about how I want to prioritize my life and 3) on a very superficial but related to running note, I struggle with accepting the needed pregnancy weight gain. They say when you have a breakdown, you have a breakthrough. Much could be said about juggling so much you begin to crave simplicity- running in the mountains, being a mom, productions with Journeyfilm are still the most important things. More on that later- but let’s just say, I am looking at my life no longer through only my eyes, but now with the vision of my two kiddos. I want them to be clear who their mama is.
Smores of course
The pregnancy health wise, has been spectacular thus far- I only had one little scare when I thought I had appendicitis, but later confirmed, no in fact, it was massive acid reflux. A lot of Pepcid AC later, and I am back on track. At 6 months, my scale is telling me I weigh about 16 pounds more than training weight and 19 pounds more than racing weight. I can honestly say I have never eaten more clean however- and often wake up wanting only greens and blueberries. So this amount of gain perplexes me. But just this week, I made peace with it and have stopped complaining (sorry JB). I don’t feel super heavy- though I notice it much more on the steep climbs on the trails more than any other time. I am trying to just accept that yes, I will gain about 35 pounds in total and just like with Eva, I will lose them again. The major difference is that my belly is smaller this time round- maybe its that whole boy vs. girl thing or its just plain different. That only means one thing thus far- I haven’t had to break out the running support belt yet. I’m sure its coming. I do feel more fit this time and so I am grateful for that. Running volume isn’t much- still about 30-40 miles a week. But usually 30. I am trying to keep up squats, side lunges, push ups, side planks, tricep work about 2-3 days a week. I am also getting ready to take some ballet/barre core classes and other ways to diversify and keep it fun in the summer heat.
Robinson Flat, Eva ready to run
Finally, the greatest weekend of the year happened to be just last weekend at the Western States 100 training camp. JB, Eva, Luna (the pup) and myself loaded up our camper trailer (the new HQ for Journeyfilm’s traveling TraiLive show) and we headed to Robinson flat. JB did the bulk of the running with a 20, 48, 5, 20 mile sequential days of running on the trail. I ran each day on the course and found my favorite section by working hard to get up from the creek below Duncan Canyon to Robinrson flat. I also got to enjoy views, stop and look around and basically do all the things you don’t get to appreciate during the race. I reminisced about my race last year- how fit I actually was (I ran most of the Robinson climb compared to my hiking last weekend) and what went wrong. It occurred to me that for some reason Western States is the only 100 mile race I have started, but haven’t finished. Twice. The first year was major sickness that should have been a DNS, but last year was my infamous myriad of mistakes led to DNF at mile 80. I thought about what it means to put it all together- be smart, be fit, minimize the little mistakes. Pam Smith- your name came up as doing that so well. I relished the footsteps I was taking on the course, the mending of my mind and the forgiveness of myself for such a lousy race last year. I came away with that level of stoke that you get right before something great happens or maybe that feeling you get heading into a race that goes well. It was so amazing to be so simple and to sleep under the pines with no particular pressure of my own. I could feel the excitement of the other runners and for this year, that will do just fine. I promised myself that I will be back to that race- maybe next year if I don’t get into Hardrock 100. I will make it right.
JB along the WS trail
The other major accomplishment this past weekend, is that Eva did the Little Bald loop from Robinson- all 4 miles and 1400 feet of climbing all by herself- much of it running. She would say things like- “Mommy, isn’t this a beautiful view?” or “Mommy watch me run over these rocks.” She’s a wild child- her technical downhill skills are pretty dang awesome. No fear, pure foot rhythm and feel. What a joy to watch.
So Hokas are so comfy, Luna can sleep on them
Next up is crewing at WS100 and then a major road trip to Hardrock. Wishing the WS runners a bit more of a push in their training and then a successful and happy taper. See you at the race.
Well, I am almost halfway through this 9 month taper, you could say. It’s a bit of a different taper than the what I am used to, but one I have endured once before. No googling course maps or split times, but there is a definite race date in September. I’ve gained 12 pounds, am really only running about 30-40 miles a week and I tend to google things like boy names and lightweight breast pumps. I’ve totally lost race fitness and crave green apples, lots of them. A pretty wild journey of pregnancy.
There’s the boy at about 12 weeks
We find ourselves expecting a little boy in the fall and we couldn’t be happier. We weren’t sure if it was going to happen to be quite honest. I promised over and over to JB that after Western States last year, I would slow down and be ready to complete our family. Eva is already 3 and we didn’t want to space our kids too far apart if we could help it. But how do you pause in competitive running when you have so many goals left to accomplish? Well, it turns out, you follow the path that is given to you, because running isn’t going anywhere. While the beginning of 2013 started out strong and my body was performing really well, I got a bit too ambitious and derailed the second half of the year. I tried to “do it all,” (mommy, jobs, running, lack of sleep) and well, learned you just can’t. (more on my revelation about that later) After my race at WS100 didn’t go to plan, and a DNF ensued, I felt I needed to make it right. So I hastily ran a few more races and all of a sudden, September and Run Rabbit Run 100 came and went with what was my slowest 100 miler to date. It was at that point that I could see I was at the stages of burnout and my body wasn’t taking my crazy life well any more. Not to mention, my daughter was asking when was she going to have a brother or sister. (Whew, no one ever warned me about that one- its the sweetest and most honest request ever and by the way, it worked). So, I committed to the process and got my head right. I knew it was now or never, and I trusted the path as it seemed so clear finally. We were thrilled to find ourselves pregnant right away. I really couldn’t believe it, I had just run a 100 miles 4 weeks before. A few weeks passed by in the pregnancy and I was out on a short run on the Donner Rim Trail, enjoying the fall colors, when I began cramping and bleeding pretty profusely. The days leading up to this, I told JB, I felt something wasn’t quite right. I was losing the feeling of being pregnant. Sure enough,the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat and he told us we lost the baby. That was devastating to both JB and myself and something I wasn’t really prepared for. It began a time of uncertainty and some anxiety about what my body was capable of. I wondered if we tried too soon after my hundred miler that was so physically out of sorts for me. After waiting the time suggested by my doctor, we felt okay to try again. In early December, I got a positive pregnancy test, only to find out it didn’t stick around for more than a few days after. They call this a chemical miscarriage,where implantation does not fully happen. I was pretty down and sad after two miscarriages and I began questioning my body. My doctor told me, it’s rare to miscarry more than twice and he felt okay for us to give it another try if we were mentally okay to do so. I wanted some reason why it happened, but as life is constantly teaching me, sometimes there aren’t answers for a long time, if ever. I pondered my years long struggle with low ferritin levels and possibly irregular hormones, but neither case seemed too extreme. My doc suggested gaining a few pounds for hormone regulation- (i.e., body fat of runners can affect estrogen/progesterone levels,) adding more iron and to stop stressing. The key in all of that: STOP STRESSING!! Trust your body and it will happen. Plus I am not one to give up. In late January, we were surprised and blessed with the news, we were indeed pregnant again. While this pregnancy felt different right away (strong sense of those pregnancy hormones- fatigue, nausea, hunger pains) I was very, very cautious in celebrating it.
The last of the flat belly, me preggo at 8 weeks.
Once I went in around the 7 week mark and saw that tiny little heartbeat, I was emotionally overjoyed and relieved all at once. They say once you hit 12 weeks and beyond, the chance for miscarriage is less than 5%. I still pray every single night this little life will continue to grow. Occasionally, I get feelings of caution and well, being a bit scared, but each day is getting me closer to meeting this little love. But I am feeling really good and the baby seems really strong and healthy. Again, finding peace in my runs and in breathing deep. Not to mention, my daughter is so involved in the preparation for her little brother, we both get excited in talking about him, or letting her hold my belly and say “Good Morning brother or sister “(she’s still holding out hope for a sister).
I am really lucky that my sponsors are being totally supportive of this new pause in my racing. Hoka One One, Drymax and Vespa are totally on board. I am also excited to continue my work with Lululemon as they just opened a store in Reno. I am super thankful for all the support from each brand as much of this year will be me cheering from the sidelines. But, I’d imagine with all that extra belly I’ll be sporting soon, their logos will look even more prominent right? I also want to thank my coach, Ian Torrence, for not hesitating to give guidance to his first pregnant ultra runner. We (meaning I) have so much work to do come October.
A little time with my girl. A little belly action at 13 weeks and whole lotta boob. Not my favorite side effect.
My running plans: Since I am one of those people who is unable to take it easy when running with a race bib, I won’t put myself in that situation right now. No ultras, even though I dream about them all the time. Not even sure I want to line up for a road marathon. There is something I am really trying to facilitate here- a true break from racing. But I am still running as much as it feels good. Usually, 3-10 miles a day with the occasional long run and somedays nothing at all. But note, I am still gaining preggo weight like a champ- one of the biggest struggles for me is this part of the journey. I have also amped up some serious cross training and strength work about 30 minutes 3-4 times a week. Focusing on my weak glutes, tight hamstrings and overall core strength. This is the greatest lesson I learned from my first birth- you need all the strength training you can get. It seems to make all the difference in return to fitness.
I will definitely blog often to update and with shameless belly pics as long as I have them. I have no issues freely discussing the ins and outs of navigating this pregnancy- there are so many highs and lows, just like a real race. The good news is that I can’t lament about my state too much as JB and I will be extremely busy this summer- putting together a full on production at Hardrock 100, JB will be running Western States 100 and the new Tahoe 200. We are also in the works of launching a web based live TV show, TraiLive, where I will be hosting occasionally and commenting on all things ultra/trail running. We are also still working on the women’s ultrarunning film- more interviews, race footage and home town footage in production through this year. Not to mention, I still am working my corporate 9-5 biotech sales job with a ton of traveling and stress to boot. I know, its a lot and more than I can probably handle for too long.
Almost 5 months. Oh its just starting.
While I am anxious to begin racing again, I am trying to stay in the moment and relish this really special time in my family’s life. I am growing a tiny person after all, which never ceases to amaze me. I have a new found appreciation for the beginning of life and the journey so many couples are on to conceive. We are so lucky. I have a feeling this baby will be here before we know it and the hard work will begin. But I am up for the challenge. The great parenthood journey is constantly teaching me patience, happiness in simplicity, and acceptance of things you can’t control.
Suggestions on boy names? So far this is alluding me…
Years ago, had you asked me if I trained on a treadmill, I would have scoffed and probably told you some line about how the trails are everything to me. And well, yes, the trails are still everything to me, but sometimes a run is a run is a run and I would always rather get a run than not. Even if that means getting on the treadmill. Here are my top reasons that make me want to make a t-shirt ” I Heart the Treadmill when….”
1. I need to do my speedwork and I need to keep it honest. The treadmill won’t let you cheat the speed or incline. I find a 6mph at 12% -15% incline is about perfect for uphill repeats.
2. My daughter is napping, I don’t have a babysitter and this is as good as it gets today. Let’s face it, this happens- quite a bit. I try to run before or after work or even at lunch, but the best laid plans….
3. Two a days. Treadmills really are great for the second run- I can watch Netflix, or listen to tunes and get a bonus round of miles in.
4. Late night running. After the family goes to bed, many nights I have hopped on the treadmill and gotten my workout in. It’s safe, well-lit and I am not missing anything. (other than beautiful moon-rises and peaceful night trail running, which is always preferable, but sometimes not doable.)
5. Work trips. I travel for my corporate job a fair bit. If I’m flying to a unknown city, a hotel gym gives me the treadmill.
6. Mindless movie watching long running. It’s the dead of winter. There’s snow in every direction and unless I get out the snowshoes, I sometimes prefer to get more speedy miles in for a long run. A great movie and about 20 miles are known to happen here every now and again.
7. I’d rather not run, but I had better. There is something convenient about getting on the treadmill that usually solves the lack of motivation… or sometimes not. This can go both ways. The fresh air and trails can clear my head where a treadmill usually doesn’t. But, if I am suffering motivation, I can get by on the treadmill.
8. You can practically run a business on a treadmill. JB will set the dial at 4-4.5 mph and will work on the treadmill for hours- scanning paperwork, making calls, talking to people, editing, etc. It’s hilarious and yet super smart. I take many conference calls on the machine as well.
9. Overall, I can definitely say time on treadmill has made me stronger and a better runner than before I had one. More miles, more options, less excuses when I need to get a run in. Don’t get me wrong, I’d take a trail run ANY day over a treadmill run, but running on the machine is okay with me. Maybe that’s one result of parenthood.
Ok, Part Deux : The Bad, to come next: Some of the disadvantages I struggle with as a true trail lover.