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Into the Wild…

It was supposed to be just a simple training trip. The Warner Parks had given us some good hill training, but we needed the physical and mental fatigue of long sustained miles of up, and significant altitude gain, in preparation for the Grand Canyon. So we headed to the Smoky Mountains for a couple of back to back hikes.

IMG_5348It was 2:00 in the east by the time we hit the trail to Rocky Top. Ten minutes in we had our first surprise. Mike was in the lead, but I saw her first. “Stop,” I whispered. He continued. I grabbed the back of his shirt and said, more helpfully, “It’s a bear.” He stopped. We were already closer than advisable so we backed up a little. Then the first baby tumbled out of the brush. We backed up some more. But not so far that we did not see the other two come chasing after their brother. They rolled and played, bounded and pounced, and mom mostly ignored them. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere, so we just watched. And I tried to remember if I had any food in my pack that was not wrapped. Anything that might make me smell tasty. Once they finally left the path, we began to move tentatively forward, keeping an eye on them. As it turns out, they were keeping an eye on us too. The little guys stretched up onto their hind legs to see the tall funny looking people with humps on their backs. Mom, though, had apparently written us off as harmless. Good.

We climbed, mile after mile, practicing our rest step, hydrating frequently, stopping occasionally to remove our packs and relieve our feet. When we connected to the Appalachian Trail, the path began to go down, then up again, then down, as we moved across the crest of several mountains to get to the one we were after. This was more mentally fatiguing than you might imagine. It is difficult to give up altitude painfully gained, knowing you are about to have to climb it again. But then there was the up that was only up, and we ascended past the trees and onto the rocky crest and the world opened up all around us and it was so glorious that I thought I would gladly do it all again, though, in fact, I can’t imagine that that would have even been possible, but in that moment you feel invincible and will promise yourself almost anything. We dropped our packs and spread our arms and let the wind cool our hot, weary bodies. And it was so quiet. And still. And lovely.

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The descent took roughly half the time. Still, darkness overtook us. We pulled out flashlights, listened as the song of crickets joined the gurgle of the stream, dodged a few diving bats, and tried to remember exactly where it was that we saw the bears. Mike wondered aloud if they locked the picnic area where the trailhead was located at night.  As it turns out…

We suspected we were in trouble when we saw no other cars. We knew we were in trouble when we drove up to the gate. With the padlock. As we tried to figure out exactly who one might call in such a situation, I got out to see if just maybe the padlock was not locked. I suppose some ranger had gotten tired of being dragged away from his family to rescue crazy hikers who did not bother reading signs about parking areas closing at dark. Thank God for that. I slid the padlock out, Mike drove through, and I carefully replaced it just as I had found it and breathed a thank you to kind, practical human beings everywhere.

After a shower and a late supper, we looked at the forecast one more time before setting the alarm for an early wake up. No change.

RAIN

A light mist fell as we commenced our ascent to Mount Leconte. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude and thought how silly we would have felt for backing out for something as innocuous as this.

Though the Smokies are littered with waterfalls and cascades of every sort, Rainbow Falls is the tallest. That, and the rainbow it produces on sunny afternoons, are its claim to fame. But as a general rule, the output is rather meager. As a general rule…

IMG_5375A couple of miles in, the rain picked up considerably. We pulled on rain jackets and carried on. We noticed how the colors of the leaves became more intense when wet. We looked out through openings in the trees at a world swathed in mist. We gave thanks for the canopy that withheld much of the water. Several streams crossed the trail. There were log bridges for a couple. The rest were crossed by stepping on larger rocks that stood above the water. We remarked early on how even the trail itself looked like a dry creek bed. As we neared the top, it wasn’t dry any more. Rivulets of water had begun to course down the center of the path. A curiosity. A slight inconvenience. For now.

By the time we reached the summit, our breath poured out in clouds of vapor and there were bits of ice in the rain. A fire burned in the lodge. We poured the water out of our boots, wrung out socks and jackets and hung them over chair backs to dry, and snuggled up to the stove. We devoured our lunch and drank our weight in coffee and hot chocolate. The memory of that warm coffee would be a comfort to me for some miles after.

Tearing ourselves away from the fire was painful. Shoving my feet back into those cold, wet boots made me want to cry a little. But it’s amazing how quickly the body acclimates. We started back down the way we had come, but we soon recognized that a considerable change in the trail had taken place while we rested. The rivulet was now a stream four or five inches deep. We straddled the path walking on its sides where we could, occasionally finding large rocks in the middle, avoiding stepping into the water at all costs. We would eventually give up on that.

The first water crossing was the worst. It had occurred to me by then that the rocks we had crossed on before might be difficult to find now. It had not occurred to me that they would be buried under a foot of roaring water tumbling headlong down the mountain. We walked up and down the creek looking for a place to string together rocks and make a crossing above water. It was not to be found. We dared not cross on the higher rocks for fear of being washed off and carried over the cliffs below. So we walked behind them figuring that if the water took us, the rocks would stop us. The freezing water came up to our thighs. We held our breath and held onto one another and pushed through to the other side. My heart was filled with gratitude and my boots were full of water.

Mike made me jump across the second stream. I didn’t think I could do it. We were jumping from one wet, mossy rock to another and it was a big gap and the pack made me feel like a rhinoceros on stilts. But he would not let me be a coward. He jumped first and did not die. He promised to catch me if I fell. I also did not die. I was very glad about that.

We continued to dodge water in the paths until the last mile and a half or so. It was mentally exhausting, all that navigating. It took us as long to get down as it did to get up. That never happens. But, we were rewarded by a view of the falls that most people never get. People who were only hiking as far as the falls were turning back because a couple of the water crossings were on that side of the falls. Perhaps we would have turned back if we had started then, I don’t know. I am glad now that was not an option.

As a training hike, it was far more effective than we planned. We learned a lot about packing for rain and are making some adjustments in our gear. Though the Grand Canyon is in the desert, sudden thunderstorms are always a possibility. As an adventure, it exceeded anything we might have hoped for.

Mike said to me, “When I am old and can’t remember anything any more, will you tell me the story of how we almost died but didn’t?”

“Yes, my love, I will.”

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls after

Rainbow Falls after

Boston

A week ago yesterday, while my husband attended the home opener of the Boston Red Sox, my son and I climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill memorial, photographed squirrels playing in Boston Garden, and strolled along the wide lanes of Commonwealth Avenue, just a block and a half from where two explosions rocked the world yesterday.

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I grieve for those who lost their lives, and for those who love them. I grieve for the injured, some of whom are fighting for their lives even now. I grieve for runners who dreamed of this day all their lives – a dream I understand only too well – who trained for months, years maybe, just to qualify, and had the clean joy of this moment stolen. Mostly, I grieve for a world that is broken. A world where hate is sometimes nourished to a point that this is an inevitable result.

And yet, even in the grief, there are reasons to give thanks: For first responders who once again ran toward while most of us would run away. For capable, dauntless medical teams on the ground and in hospitals who provided, and continue to provide, the best medical care in the world. For ordinary heroes; runners and spectators who put themselves in harms way to aid the injured, doctors and nurses who flew back from vacations to assist, hundreds of volunteers, including marathon weary runners, who are offering to donate blood.

The running community is a generous community. Always. Being part of it is one of the things I love most about being a marathoner. But this is far bigger than that. At the precise moment when we witness the worst of which we as humans are capable, we see, in startling relief, the most ordinary, extraordinary heroism. The mark of God in us all.

May all of us seize this opportunity to love better. To feed generosity and not hate.

“Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.”
~
from the Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem, the Syrian

My love and prayers are with those who grieve in Boston and beyond, and with those who continue to care for them. Shalom.

Acadia: A Photojournal

Saturday, October 13: We rise before dawn for the trek up Cadillac Mountain, to be among the first people in the U.S. to watch the sun climb out of the Atlantic. We huddle in the clean, cold air as the sky warms to soft rose and apricot. Low lying clouds pulse with gilding as the disc of the sun begins to emerge. An audible gasp ripples through the crowd. I am startled by how fast she climbs. Maybe two minutes, rim to rim. Magic.

After breakfast, we head out for an explore. We drive the marathon route. It is much more hilly than we imagined. And stunningly gorgeous. We drive through quintessential New England villages with their frame and clapboard houses. We drive along the sea where waves hurl themselves into the rocky shore with a roar and flurry of foam. We pass under golden Aspens, sturdy evergreens, and maples and oaks aflame with orange and crimson. All against a cloudless sky of excruciating blue.

And I wish the run was today. And it is difficult to imagine that tomorrow it will rain. And I try to remind myself to breathe in now, and let tomorrow take care of itself…

Sunday, October 14: We wake to the unmistakable sound…of rain. And I want to turn over and go back to sleep. Because rainy days are wondrous for sleeping. But not this rainy day. I will myself to pull on clothes. We join one other couple for the early “runner’s breakfast”. They are young and precious. This is their first marathon. They seem slightly terrified. The innkeeper brings us warm banana pancakes. “It’s pretty rough out there,” he says. Yep. Pretty rough.

There is a break in the rain for our walk to the start. A mercy. We will have two others during the race; neither more than ten or fifteen minutes in duration. The temperature will never climb out of the forties.

At first the rain falls steady but easy. But eventually it gets harder and begins to seep through all our layers. I have nursed an ankle injury all through this training. It never hurts when I’m running (because my body is warm). Only after. Today it will hurt. I can’t get warm. By about mile 16 or so I am doing a lot of walking. Mike is kind and assures me he couldn’t be doing much better himself. It will be our slowest time ever. Six hours. Even the sweet young couple from breakfast will require almost five hours. We had no time goal. The real rub is that for six hours we will have no relief from the wet and cold.

And yet….there is beauty. Even here. Even now. The yellows and flames of yesterday are luminous against the gray. The sea is shrouded in a mystery of mist. Sodden evergreens drip fragrance. Men and women, boys and girls, stand in the cold and damp dispensing nourishment and kindness.

Most of all, I am grateful for the man running beside me. He and I both know that, difficult as this is, compared to some of what we’ve gone through over the past few years, this is a cake walk. So we keep putting one foot in front of another. We complain. Sometimes. We share treats squirreled away for moments of greatest need. And we laugh. A lot. And when it is over, we know today has been important. And next time life throws the impossible at us, we will remember today. And we will put one foot in front of another. One day–one minute–at a time.

Monday, October 15: Walking down the stairs is the hardest. We move like old people. (We are grandparents, after all.) We laugh at one another moving like old people. :) We head out for one more romp through Bar Harbor and Acadia before leaving behind the land of lobster and fresh fish and chowder, and heading home. The morning is blustery, but warm. Sixty degrees before breakfast. Sunshine is intermittent. Sky and sea are sapphire and slate. And I can’t help thinking to myself, “This would be a lovely day for a run…”

*All photographs in the post taken on the days before and after the run. Cerulean skies are Saturday. Skies of slate are Monday. All but 4 were taken along the marathon course. We obviously did not take photographs during the race. I intersperse them throughout the race day account, in part, for irony. See more photos if you like in my Facebook album.

**Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. It owes its birth largely to Theodore Roosevelt who also oversaw creation of the carriage road and its beautiful stone bridges. It is located on Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine. Find it on a map HERE. (about two thirds of the way up) Prior to the French and Indian war, “Acadia” composed a large region of French settlement reaching well into Canada. The British drove out the French settlers and renamed most of the area Nova Scotia. You can read one account in Longfellow’s tragic poem, Evangeline.

Letting Ideas Out to Play….

Blame it all on the Bobcat.

When he sauntered across the path ahead of me, I first imagined he was a dog off leash. But he did not move like a dog. Fluid. All grace. Too big to be a fox, and not nearly so dainty. I followed him along the creek bed for a piece. Then my foot found a loose stone. He glanced back at me for a breath, and was off.

My heart pounded. Only now did curiosity give way to awe. It was gift, this. A sacred moment. And I wanted to luxuriate in it. Ruminate. Drink deep.

I never could quite bring myself to pull out the ipod. I did not want to sully the moment with anything not of these woods.

So I ran.

I listened. I watched. I prayed.

My heart was glad and free. And the freedom began leaking into my brain. Thoughts. Ideas. Fast and furious. Creative solutions to problems that have plagued me for a while. Completely new ideas. From out of nowhere. I found myself wishing I had my Moleskine to write them all down. It was a wonder, really. Sometimes I felt like I was watching it happen from somewhere far away.

It’s not the first time.

I know this power of running to lose ideas. To “shake my tree”, as my friend Patsy likes to say. Perhaps it is the increased flow of oxygen. Perhaps it is the inspiring beauty all around. I believe, as much as anything, it is the ability to think without interruption. No one asking me for anything. No cell phone or computer. No laundry or dishes. No distraction.

Thank you, my beautiful, furry friend, for compelling me to run in quiet. For creating a space for my brain to run free while my body did the same. I very much hope we meet again.

How about you? What is a setting that frees your brain to play?

P.S. My feline encounter happened at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville. I asked the ranger about it after my run. She said she has seen them there before, but that sightings are extremely rare. There are people who have worked there for 30 years who have never seen one. She said I was very lucky. I knew that. :)

It’s the Journey…

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.
~Ursula Le Guin

It is good to have an end…

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~Goethe

I could just run. Without the races. I know people who do. Well, not many. But the race gives shape. It makes demands. It looms out there like a great Leviathan that wants slaying. And I rouse myself, and find that I am capable of things I never imagined I could do. Or not. Either way, I am stretched and made deeper and more real.

This year the end is the Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor Maine, one of the most beautiful marathons in the United States, on the outskirts of the stunning Acadia National Park. It will be my 6th 26.2, and my 8th state (if you lump in an ultra, and a half-marathon to the top of Pikes Peak).

It is the journey that matters…

“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Training for an endurance event always brings understandings that I do not anticipate. Revelations. Amidst the fatigue and frustration, the astonishing beauty, the miracle of putting one foot in front of another over and over and over, a deep knowing grows. I want always to be fully present and available for this.

On a somewhat less mystical level, there are disciplines in training that make me a better runner (and a better human being, for that matter). More capable. Healthier. Stronger. More resilient. These I constantly re-examine.

This year, I am revamping my approach somewhat to honor my aging body and protect my sometimes finicky joints. I am studying the Chi running method; very harmonious with all I am learning and practicing in yoga. I will also incorporate Qigong, an ancient form of “moving meditation” that centers the body and invigorates the immune system. I am ramping up my core and upper body work. In fact, I have focused almost exclusively on this during the off season. I will run only 3 times/week. The other days will be spent cross-training ( a combination of yoga, core, weights, swimming, biking, hiking, etc…) I also plan to do as many of my long runs as possible on trails to minimize joint fatigue (and maximize oos and ahhs :) ).

Nutrition always plays an important role in training. As part of my joint protection strategy, I am focusing on anti-inflammatory foods and drinking lots of green tea (and water). I am also participating in a local CSA, and have expanded our vegetable garden to insure a steady supply of clean, organic produce. I eagerly anticipate Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run, (available 5 June). Jurek is a superstar ultra-runner, and a remarkable human being, who fuels his running and his life on a strict vegan diet. (Kenzie is crazy about his chocolate adzuki bars.)

Running, with it’s seasons of building and recovery, creates a wonderful sense of ebb and flow in our lives. A skeleton to hang other things on and around. It is difficult to imagine life without it.

Just for fun…

Mike and I keep a list of dream events for the future. Here are a few of the “ends” we hope to lay out there in the not too distant future:

Marathon du Medoc 26.2 kilometers through the beautiful French wine region of Medoc. Wine tastings and samples of culinary indulgences all along the way. Ironically, given the timing and proximity, we have thought of pairing it with…

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela The way of St. James. A pilgrimage. Not a running event, but an endurance endeavor to be sure. And a spiritual quest. Dreaming about fall of 2015…

Big Sur International Marathon California redwoods, Stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and a breathtaking run across the Bixby Bridge are just a few reasons why this one sells out almost immediately every year.

The Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race A total of 60 miles over three days of running on gorgeous trails in the mountains of my native East Tennessee. If this goes well, then there is this little stage race in Tibet…. :)

A rim to rim to rim hike across the Grand Canyon South to North in one day. We would probably give ourselves two days for the return, spending the night at the Phantom Ranch.

The Inca Trail to Machu Pichu

Of what ends do you find yourself dreaming? What might pursuing that end make possible?

Trail Song

Early morning exudes a distinct scent. Especially when the night has been washed by storms. Clean, earthy, dark. Cool.

Just beyond the bridge leading me away from the asphalt and into the woods, shards of sunlight stab their way through the trees to the misty clearing below. A warren of rabbits scatters frantically like we are beginning a game of tag. I, apparently, am to be “it”.

A swallowtail flutters over a thistle blossom. The hillside is covered with them. I think how many summer days my brother spent with a mattock eradicating these hazardous menaces from our cow pasture. Here they are welcomed. Nourishment for butterflies and birds. Context.

Queen Anne’s Lace forms a brilliant fringe all along the dark green edge of the forest path. Like a petticoat. As a little girl, I used to bring their cornmeal scented blossoms home to my mother. I remember tugging at their woody stems til my hands were raw. Most often, I ended up extracting them by the roots, leaving their grooming to my mother. I also remember that sometimes there is a single, tiny violet blossom in the center of all the white. I have never known why this is so.

A pair of mourning doves have planted themselves atop a fanciful bend in a very old tree. They look for all the world like an elderly couple perched on the front porch with coffee and newspaper. Surveying their world with aplomb. Underneath them, a busy squirrel skitters about frantically. I imagine he has been sent out on a breakfast run.

I have been pondering mushrooms. They distract me with their exuberant extravagance of form, texture, and hue. My favorites are the dark gray ones that nod atop slender white stems. Whimsical little things, they, with spidery tracery corralled by tight, gray curlicues. I am also intrigued by golden torpedoes that open into delicate, lemony parasols fit for a geisha. A very small geisha.

If silence could be gathered into melody and sung from one person to another, it would sound very like the music of Arvo Part. He has been singing his liquid silence to me since my run began. It is rather peculiar how the music screens out distant car horns and screeching brakes, but manages to admit birdsong and the beating of wings. Synergy. This music. This place.

As I run down the hill, my eyes wander to a spot in the grass, by the side of the river, where earlier this week a man took his own life. And I wonder, what caused him to despair? To whom did he surrender his last measure of hope? How deeply must one be hurting to come to this place throbbing with glory, and still want to die? My heart hurts for him. And for those who love him. Lord, have mercy.

And I carry all these things inside me. Grief, yes. And blossoms, and butterflies, and birdsong. Whimsy, exuberance, and joy. Gifts from the trail. Sustenance…for whatever comes…

The Road Less Traveled

Dawn is painting the sky with a soft wash of rose as we begin. Laughter belies the fact that we have a daunting task ahead of us. Some will push ourselves to limits yet untried; finding answers to questions we never thought to ask. It will be a rigorous journey. And extraordinarily beautiful.

The path up Fred’s Mountain snakes back and forth amid alpine blossoms. Trees along the path appear as silhouettes against the warming sky. I stop here and there to attempt to capture the stark beauty of it in a photograph. I fail at this.

The lodge where we commenced becomes a child’s building block as we climb higher and higher. Beneath us lies a patchwork of fields stretching ever further into the distance. Suddenly we reach the eastern border of our mountain, and we get our first glimpse of them: The glorious Tetons. Just there. Almost close enough to touch. Almost. Now I know why the sun is so long in coming. She must climb over these. I feel her pain.

Columbine and wild geranium give way to stone fields as we near the crest. I feel like a mountain goat picking my way between stones as we climb along the spine. Light is playing in the valley below, spotlighting one thing at a time. I can’t stop looking at it. Except, I must stop looking at it. Every step matters along this treacherous precipice.

Summiting is exhilarating! I drink in the view while one of the generous volunteers refills my bottle. I grab a quick snack and am off. Just around the bend, I am astonished by another intimate view of the glorious Grand Teton, and his friends. Then the path carries us away from them and back to the base.

The next leg of our run meanders for a bit through grassy fields before plunging us into a fairy forest. Deep, dark and lush. And mythical. Only the most persistent shafts of light manage to penetrate. My feet are happy to be running on soft soil and pine needles. The burble of a creek flirts with us, until we finally reach the bottom of the valley and cross it. The forest occasionally yields to a clearing of wildflowers and sunlight, before pulling us back in.

What goes down must come up. We climb for 3 miles along the road before returning to the forest. I tell Mike I am glad we are doing this together; long doesn’t seem so long with him. We are now seventeen miles in, and fatigued legs protest the brutal, relentless uphill.

When next we enter base we are two thirds of the way through. But Mike’s stomach is betraying him. He decides to stay and rest, and sends me on ahead. We will finish the race alone…

Have you ever seen a rag quilt? My grandmother made them of tiny scraps of floral calico and feed sacking. There would be hundreds of strips; a marvelous cacophony of color! Imagine spreading that out over acres and acres of rolling hillside. Then imagine that you can step inside it, winding your way between the strips. A patchwork of wildflowers nodding and swaying all around you. This is Rick’s Basin.

Two or three miles in, the path winds into a grove of Aspens. Clean white trunks thrust their silver leaves against an azure sky. Birds play in the branches. Tiny animals rustle through the undergrowth, unseen.

Openings in the trees give me glimpses of Fred’s Mountain. Impossibly far away. And I keep moving further away. I wonder if I’m lost. But the trail markings tell me to keep going. Eventually the path bends back into the field of flowers, and before I know it I’m back to base.

I am now five and a half miles from finishing my first ultra marathon. But those five and a half miles will be a return trip to Fred’s Mountain. Alone. But not really alone. I cue up Gungor’s new album, Ghosts Upon the Earth. Good friends have put it into my hands for this trip. It sings the story of the people of God, from Creation all the way to God’s relentless pursuit of His wayward lover in the minor prophets. It will sing me up the mountain; intensifying…if that is possible…the glory around me.

Chris, a volunteer, meets me several yards below the aid station with the best Coke I have ever tasted. He tells me I am doing great and that it’s all down hill from here. I joke with the volunteers at the top, knowing at this point that I will finish. Even if I have to roll down the mountain. :) I scarf down a turkey and cheese roll up, savoring each delectable bite. I drain my coke, grab my full water bottle, and begin the descent.

My heart is full. Full of beauty. Full of the glory of God, which is so very evident in this place. Full of gratitude, for life and health and strength.

This day has been prayer, from beginning to end. Sometimes with words. Sometimes with song. But mostly the walking, the breathing, the every moment. A ceaseless inward prayer of awareness, of Presence, of joy.

I run through the finish with my hands in the air. Jay, Lisa, and all the kind volunteers cheer me on. They have been gift this day. I am thrilled when Lisa puts the medal around my neck. And even more thrilled when, only a few minutes later, Mike follows me through the shoot. We did it! We did not get et up by the grizzlies. ;) We finished alive.

Thanks be to God!!

Two roads diverged in a wood and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost

*My profound gratitude goes to Jay and Lisa, and their fabulous team of volunteers for the most beautiful event I have ever been part of. The organization and support were extraordinary. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!

**Particulars: Grand Teton Trail Ultra. We ran the 50k (31 miles). Roughly 8,000 feet vertical (gain and loss). Altitude: between 6,500 and 10,000 feet.

***All photos are from the first trip up Fred’s Mountain. I regret there are no photos of the rest, though they would have been inadequate (as are these). I had to put the phone away. Had I not, I would be there still……

The Voices in My Head

I am a big fan of Ansel Adams. Of all his images, this has always been one of my favorites. This time next week I will be somewhere up in those mountains. I can hardly believe it. As I have looked at photographs in preparation I have found myself in tears, imagining what it will be like to finally see them for the first time.

Last week I talked to you about gear I am taking to care for my body in the Grand Teton Ultra. This week, I acquaint you with those friends I am taking along to care for my soul. Unconventional to be sure. Of all the ultra sites I visited, nobody told me which prayers, poems, and music would travel with them mile after mile.

But I know myself.

I chose this event because it is BEAUTIFUL. And I will need words, as much as I need water and food. God will give me words of my own. This I know. But there will be times when I need to borrow the words of another. For a space. So I am filling my phone with prayers and poems and my ipod shuffle with music.

Here is a sampling of the voices who will be in my head as I run…

 

Poems:

Praying by Mary Oliver

O Land Alive With Miracles by Thomas Merton

Point Vierge by Thomas Merton

The Summer Morning by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese by Wendell Berry

 

Prayers:

O Lord, how lovely it is to be your guest:
Breeze full of scent; mountains reaching to the skies;
Waters like a boundless mirror,
Reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds.
All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of tenderness,
Birds and beasts bear the imprint of your love,
Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness,
Which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever
In the land where, amid beauty that grows not old,
Rings out the cry: Alleluia!

You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. We have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavour and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.

~excerpted from the Akathist in Praise of Creation. I am taking the whole of it with me on the trip. I want to read it in the gorgeous places where we will find ourselves. I will only bring excerpts on the trail.

*Portions of Psalm 104 and Psalm 148.

 

Playlist:

Andrew Peterson  Audrey Assad  Beethoven  Bela Fleck  The Brilliance  Cara Dillon  Carl Orff (Carmina Burana)  The Civil Wars  David Teems  Delirious  The Doobie Brothers  Eddie Vader  Eric Clapton  Gateway Worship  Gungor  Herbie Hancock  Iron and Wine  James Taylor  Javier Navarrete  Joe Cocker  Kaki King  Lion King Broadway Cast  Loreena McKennitt  Michael Buble’  Mutefish  NeedToBreathe  Nickel Creek  Norah Jones  Nuns of St Paisos Monastery  Old Crow Medicine Show  Patti Griffin  Ray Charles/Count Basie  Rachmaninoff  Russian State Symphony Capella  Soggy Bottom Boys  St. Petersburg Chamber Choir  Sufjan Stevens  Vivaldi  Yo Yo Ma

 

P.S. My travel reading list (for the trip, not the run. :)):

A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire (re-read)
Thirst by Mary Oliver

Grand Teton Ultra: The Gear

I’ve never been a boy scout. But I like their motto.

Be Prepared

I guess you could call me a gear junky. In preparing for my first ultra, I have read lots of ultra-runner blogs trying to figure out just what I will need with me for every eventuality. I have researched fuel, hydration, clothing, shoes, etc… Then, I tested them out to see what works for me. In the event you are a gear junky too, here’s a look at what will be in my bag. Let me know if I have forgotten anything. :)

Hydration:
With highs in the 90′s for the last two months here in Tennessee, I have had lots of opportunity to experiment with hydration. Hammer Heed will be provided on the course. I like it. Not too sweet. Digests easily. However, a few aid stations will provide only water so I am taking NUUN tablets to drop into it. They will provide a nice change and are easy to carry. Again, not too sweet, and slightly effervescent. Runners are required to carry a hydration system. I will use the same handheld bottle I used in the Pikes Peak Ascent (2 years ago this weekend:)). It has served me well in training runs this summer. I will be very conscientious about hydration, even though temps will be cooler, because the air will be so dry.

Fuel:
Fueling begins days ahead, of course, but I will only address race day. I will enjoy my favorite breakfast: Kashi GoLean cereal with walnuts, fruit, and soy milk. And coffee. Aid stations will again provide an assortment of snacks. But, I will be packing Clif bars, raw, unsalted almonds, and Snyder’s Buffalo Hot pretzel pieces (salty and hard-very satisfying).

Shoes:
I will be alternating two pairs of shoes. My Newtons are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. I can run for hours with no discomfort. And, did I mention that they’re pink? :) However, on a highly technical trail, they are less than ideal, particularly if I am doing quite a bit of walking. So I will use them on the middle stretches where the incline is more gradual and the trails are a bit more accommodating. For the steeper, more treacherous sections I will be wearing the new Saucony Peregrine. I love the way it grips the trail. Very responsive. I’ve logged many trail miles in both.

Clothing:
This area is a little dicey since we are going out several days early, and since weather in the mountains can change at the drop of a hat. Temps at start and finish will probably be in the 30′s, while it could climb to the 70′s in the heat of the day. (Both will be a relief from the sweltering temps at home.) In general, I will pack both shorts and pants. One change of my under layer as a treat when it gets wet. Gloves, headband, and hat to keep extremities warm during the predawn and post sunset hours. Rain jacket/windbreaker with hood. Just in case. A lightweight long-sleeved layer that can be tied around the waist. And a fleece. Smartwool socks. Also, compression socks, primarily for after. But, I might slip them on for the last few miles if my ankles are unduly fatigued.

Accessories:
Flashlight for pre-dawn start and probable post-sunset finish. Not a big fan of headlamps. Used flashlight in Ragnar last year, as well as several nighttime training runs. SPIbelt to carry snacks, nuun tablets, and my phone. iPhone to take pics, store poems and prayers (more on this later), and possibly tweet from the trail, depending on service…and maybe order pizza. :)

The course is arranged in a cloverleaf pattern meaning that we will return to the start/finish aid station 3 times during the race. So I can stock up my gear drop bag with the essentials and just take what I need for each out and back. I will probably stick in a light-weight back pack just in case, but I hope to be able to fit anything I need to carry in my SPIbelt.

What am I missing? Come on, my crazy endurance pals. Help a sistah out!

*P.S. I am refining my playlist. I test drove it today, but it needs tweaking. I also am assembling poems, scriptures, and prayers to take with me. Unconventional, to be sure, but important to me. I will post on this next Saturday.

*P.S.S. Grizzly, Mountain Lion, and Moose sightings are a distinct possibility. As well as rattlesnakes. I welcome any tips on dealing with aforementioned wildlife. Thank you. :)

Lord, Make Me Humble. But Not Yet.

The Holy Fathers say that, unless we humble ourselves, the Lord will not stop humbling us…Until you have suffered much in your heart, you cannot learn humility.

I read these lines. I even underlined them. I talked about them with my friends. Then, promptly forgot them.

The line I remembered is this:

Our holy Father Symeon says that a person who has attained humility of the mind cannot be hurt by anything in the world.

Yes, please.

Both quotes are from Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. It is a rather prickly book. The sort that gets all up in your business. Provoking, inspiring, humbling

I sit in Starbucks on Sunday afternoon with three lovely friends who are also reading the book. I say to them…out loud…that I want this. I want this humility that renders me invincible.

Then, on Monday, God obliges with a generous dose of humiliation…of suffering in my heart. How convenient! And I thank Him. Oh yes, I do! First I thank Him by being hurt. Grieved. Sad. The grief festers into bitterness. Indignity that wrongs committed years ago still cast a shadow across my life, despite the fact that I have repented and am striving to live honorably. I don’t deserve this! (See what I mean.) But the bitterness is short lived. It dissolves into despair. I will never move past this. No matter what I do. And this cloud hovers over everything. And nothing looks right. Nothing tastes right. My stomach hurts. And I cry myself to sleep…

Lord, make me humble.

But not yet.

The phrase is St. Augustine’s, though he prayed to be made chaste. Perhaps he and I both missed the point. To acquire either takes a great deal of practice. And the practice is very like the training runs I am currently doing for an ultra marathon. Painful. Dirty. Smelly. Exhausting. And, did I mention, painful. Very. Painful.

But, just like in marathon training, there is pain, then recovery. A chance to catch one’s breath before plunging back in. And, also like training, when the wounds have healed, I hopefully emerge stronger than before. A little bit closer to the goal.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from running is that you don’t quit just because something is really hard, or because it hurts. And sometimes it hurts like hell. So, I’m not quitting. Even though I have such a very long way to go. And sometimes it seems impossible. And I get angry at myself for not being better at this.

Lord, make me humble. But not

Lord, make me humble. But

Lord, make me humble.

 

*Bolds in the quotes mine.

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