The muscular aftermath

This morning I felt old.

Last night’s sleep was a time of bodily reparation. I was in and out of dreams, processing the experience of the race.

For those of you curious, I finished the race in 4 hours, 46 minutes, and 43 seconds. I ran the last two-tenths of a mile. Some new energy came coursing through my body once my feet stepped over the large chalked “26” on the asphalt, like my legs hadn’t been jelly worms for the last six miles. I crossed the finish line and finally stopped moving my body. For the first time in nearly three months, I drank a beer. A cold, bubbly, local microbrew, for free, out of a plastic Coors Lite cup, while I stood in an ice water kiddy pool and soaked in the feeling of doneness, all this shared with several dear friends.

Some of the more memorable aspects of the race were the entourages that accompanied me near the beginning and near the end. I started the race in the beautiful sunrise time at Emigrant Lake. I ran slowly the entire race. It seemed like almost everyone passed me in that first mile or so. Frank and Elizabeth were at the bottom of their driveway, cozied up in sweatpants and drinking coffee, cheering me on and giving a few last hugs. Their encouragement boosted me all the way to the intersection of the bike path and Mountain Avenue, where in the distance I saw my beloved bike. Not only my bike, but a young, strapping lad atop the bike. Not just any young, strapping lad, but my friend Travis Puntarelli, who had borrowed my bike to greet me and ride with me for a time. He had a tambourine and a big smile. I took the melodic shaker for a while, rattling it as I ran.

Travis and I had made it to around mile seven when I heard a cheerful ding from behind. I turned and saw B-Flat John and our friend Scott-from-Bend on old mountain bikes, cruising with the morning sun at their backs. It felt wonderful to be able to chat for a time. My energy was boosted and I felt loved and encouraged. They left me at one of my favorite stretches of the bike path, the several miles between Wellsprings and south Medford. I had been training on this section for the past few months and had ridden it countless times. It felt familiar and welcoming.

How did it feel to run for so long? It felt easy. I never felt like walking or slowing down. I never told myself I couldn’t do it, or that I could be running faster. Pains came and went: incredible all-encompassing knee pain, persistent pain in both feet, shoulder inflammation and tightness, headaches, stomach emptiness. Eventually I had those jelly worms for legs but somehow they kept pumping, back and forth, a seemingly tireless rhythm of forward motion. It’s not that I felt particularly strong. What kept me going was a blessedly still mind. I felt completely at peace for the entire race. I smiled at everyone along the track who was there to encourage or provide water, I smiled at the creek and at the trees and the warming sun, I smiled at my progress, I smiled at the other runners. I felt like my inner smile is really what carried me gracefully to the finish line.

When my body carried me over “20” I almost started crying. I spoke aloud: “Mile 20! So amazing!” I was awash in emotions, so proud of how far I’ve come in the race and in my life. Running this year has changed everything for me. And, in all honesty, I was pretty thrilled that there remained only 6.2 miles. That was nothing! A blink! And the surprises weren’t over.

I was between Medford and Central Point when I saw two hooligans approaching me on bikes. It was Dan and Jacqui, come to ride with me the rest of the way. They are, hands down, some of the best cheerleaders around. After running with them for a bit, I heard a familiar voice say “passing on your left”. It was Ian, wearing only boxer briefs and an old white shirt, running up next to me. Finally, about a mile from the end, Dani and Eowyn popped out of the grass with signs: “We ❤ U!” “Go Sara!” This six-person conglomerate followed me to the finish, Ian sprinting with me to the very end and all joining me for the foot ice bath beer experience. Elizabeth came with a little vase of roses. Eowyn eventually stripped down to swim in the foot bath. We all sat in the sun and relaxed together.

I fell into bed last night with the beauty of accomplishment and of a circle of incredible friends who wholeheartedly supported me through one of the most thrilling physical endeavors of my life. I woke up this morning barely able to rise up to join Dani in a cup of coffee and gingersnap cookies, but somehow I managed to join one of my dearest, most beautiful friends in a steaming mug and sweet delights before her daughter came bumping down the stairs, sleep in her eyes, wanting to snuggle.

Already planning my next marathon.

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I’m running it tomorrow!

My first marathon, tomorrow morning at 7:10 am. From Emigrant Lake to Central Point, I’m going to enjoy this stretch of the Rogue Valley on foot in the beautiful morning air. Feeling relaxed, excited, and ready! Thanks to all my friends and family for your support and encouragement!

Choices

In every situation you are blessed with the ability to make a choice. You have been given free will to make decisions to express your true self in any given moment. This is a great gift, your greatest gift, choosing in each moment how to live your life.

When the misguided notions of “wrong” and “right” are gently laid aside, the world becomes your oyster. Naturally, you will begin to make decisions that feel harmonious and clear. Outcomes of your decisions will present themselves and you can use these as tools to make the same, or different, choices down the road. There is no condemnation, there are no pats on the back. Your life is exactly the way it is, or is not, because of all the choices you have made along the way.

Better to believe it: you are the creator of your life. Are you courageous enough to live a life of utmost integrity, grace, and authenticity?

The race is in one week from today. I’ve spent the past nine months preparing for this! The last three weeks spent at high altitude have been great for my training. This week I plan on staying hydrated, rested, well-fed, stretched, and positive. Marathon!

Running in Moab


The photo above features my favorite scarf of Jacqui’s, blowing in the breeze as we drove through Arches National Park. Dan, Jacqui, the rest of the Patchy crew, and I had left Pagosa Springs on Labor Day and began the drive to Sisters, Oregon, for the Sisters Folk Fest.

The gnome car, as we call Dan’s Totoya Camry, camped near the Utah border late last night. We assumed it wouldn’t rain, as we were in the desert, but of course it did, announcing itself with a loud crack of thunder in the middle of the night. Three naked humans popped out of two tents, head lamps lighting the way to rain flies. We managed to stay dry but lost a good deal of sleep listening to the desert thunderstorm.

In the morning I groggily strolled the campground, drinking water out of a large jug and processing the weekend. It had been a magical, music- and love-filled time. Rainstorms pounding huge tents while sweet young women serenaded the huddled, wet, happy masses. Huge savory crepes and thermoses of dandelion tea. Family in the trailer base camp. Smiling, silly dancers….

Around 10 am this morning the gnome car found itself in line to enter Arches National Park. We drove slowly through the park until we reached the end of the road at Devil’s Garden. There lay a beautiful trail system through striking sandstone formations of all descriptions. I took off and found myself running the five-mile loop. I was the only person running among teems of tourists. Folks expressed cheerful encouragement and a sweet Austrian woman insisted I drink from her Camelbak. I ran around boulders, over trees, through sand, among arches and strangely perched rocks. I ran until I was heaving air in and out of my lungs. I ran with the knowledge that the marathon was less than two weeks away and that it would probably be easier than running through the desert at noon with no water.

After we left the park we found access to the Colorado River. This section was the color of the surrounding sandstone and was delightful to swim in. Dan and I reached down to the silty bottom, covering ourselves and each other in thick layers of clay and admiring our briefly brown, shining bodies.

Now we find ourselves back in the gnome, heading towards Salt Lake City, listening to Jim Henson’s autobiography on tape.

The run in the desert was the most beautiful and perhaps most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. I really felt like a runner.

What did you see?

I came around the corner, 14 miles in, home stretch, and saw it growing like manna from heaven. A Bosc pear tree, right on the path. In all honesty, I have known about this pear tree for four years, ever since my then-partner Michael Henry and I discovered it on one of our first bike rides together. Henry has an enchanting habit of picking a fruit off a tree, taking a big bite, and letting it kind of dribble out onto the ground as he chews. I thought about this as I picked the largest, ripest-looking pear and chomped. I became an animal munching on this pithy fruit, not quite ripe…but wild animals can’t be picky.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) running, Namibia

When I arrived at my house a mile or so later my four-year-old niece Eowyn struck up a conversation.

Eowyn: How was your time?
Sara: You mean, how was my run?
Eowyn: Yes, what did you see?

Four-year-olds are exceptionally adept at asking wise questions. I thought about it for a moment…what did I see? I told her I saw asphalt and cars and other people and trees and I saw the creek flowing by and blackberries and pears…but what I also saw was my body pushing itself beyond prior limits, my focus narrowing to a sharpened point, my confidence in finishing the race deepening. I witnessed wholehearted self-encouragement and self-love practice. I saw other folks running and pushing themselves to their limits and practicing self-empowerment with every step. I saw all this beauty.

I’m running my first marathon in 32 days.

I’m not quite sure what I want to write about this inevitability, that I’m pounding asphalt for over 26 miles in 32 days, but I know I want to share that I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m intimidated.

I went for a bike ride this morning, cutting north through the valley along the Bear Creek Greenway. This is the path of the Rogue Marathon, held on September 20th at 7:10 am. The initial intention of the ride was to meet up with my friend Deanna for biscuit sandwiches at Buttercloud Bakery in Medford, but I realized that I was also feeling out the marathon course along the ride. I’d see the Mile 19 marker and think: great, by the time I get here I’ll have done 19 miles! And then I’d think: great, by the time I get here I’ll have 7.2 more miles to run! And then I’d think: great, holy shit.

Since freshman year of college, running has been casual for me. This past January my friend Jacqui and I started to sign up for local races to motivate us to run more. In spite of running five races in six months, it all still feels casual. In spite of training with longer and longer runs (six miles to 10 miles to 13 miles), I still don’t feel like I can call myself a serious runner. Although this sounds silly even to myself, I feel like I can officially proclaim myself a runner when it gets easy. But I don’t think it will ever get easy. Running miles and miles and miles without being chased by a wild animal or trying to save a loved one’s life, potentially permanently compromising your knees and ankles, dehydrating and exhausting yourself…why?

I’m not sure yet. For me, writing is like a slow leakage of brain junk that, if not purged, can begin to fester and direct my life in unideal ways. I feel inspired to write about my self-created training experience, my relationship with running, and perhaps to provide an answer to why I’m becoming obsessed with running.

I hope you enjoy and are inspired by the purging.