The Fourth Thing I Learned From Cycling

You will get injured.

In my case, you will hit the pavement head first going 22 mph and end up looking like this:

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Now that I’ve caught your attention with a graphic pic, I’ll start by saying this: injuries suck, but there are certain parts that I love about them. I was blessed with a black eye and a HUGE growth opportunity – let me elaborate.

On Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and I set out early in hopes of riding a century before turkey & gravy. We were cruising for the first 20ish miles of the ride. “Okay, this feels fast, but nothing I can’t handle”, I thought. It was a sharp 40 degrees out, maybe even colder in the valleys. My hands were so cold that all I could focus on was trying to ride harder to distract myself from my fingers going numb. Note to self:  riding faster will not make your hands warm up.

After a long descent we reached a flat section – the scene of the accident. This was going towards Nicasio after the “Golf Course Hill”, for all you Bay Area friends. I was drafting really close to Cassidy’s wheel at that point; something I had been working on becoming more comfortable with. Suddenly, my front tire hit his back tire, ever so slightly. Such a minor mistake came with a huge consequence. Before I could even correct my wheel, I had flown off my bike and hit the hard concrete head first, shoulder second.  It hurt so freaking bad. I didn’t know I could scream like I did, but wow I’m sure I woke up a few neighbors.

The road I was on was definitely not highly trafficked, so it could have been a while until help arrived. Luckily, someone called 911. I don’t know you, but huge thank you! A cop car came first, then an ambulance. Key takeaway here- if you are not about to die, get in the cop car over the ambulance to save thousands of dollars! The cop drove me and my (un-damaged, somehow) bike home.

There is a fine line in my mind between “you’re fine” and “you’re f*cked”. Later in the day I went to the hospital to get checked out. Come to find out I had fractured my collar-bone, my thumb, and got a concussion. Could have been a ton worse, could have been better. The classic cyclist injury.

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Happy Thanksgiving- from Cassidy and I at the hospital!

Anyways, this blog is not meant to focus on how I hit the ground, but instead, about what I’m learning on my way back up! My favorite part about injuries is how much I end up learning about the body and mind from them. One of my favorite areas to study is the workings of the body. It is the most complex, amazing system ever- don’t you agree?!

So, I want to share what were, in my opinion, some of the most interesting and useful tidbits that I learned about healing concussions and fractures.

Depression linked to concussions 

In the first two weeks post-concussion, it was really difficult for me to sit with the fact that I did not feel like my usual self. I couldn’t do simple tasks like putting my socks on, washing my hair, or lifting anything. I felt so frustrated and useless.

Furthermore, I felt this overwhelming sadness for seemingly no reason. I felt like I couldn’t control my emotions to the extent that I usually can. Looking back on that time, a few weeks removed now, it makes complete sense why I was feeling so depressed, even though in the moment those feelings were miserable.

I learned that there are a few things about concussions that can trigger depression. Broadly, hitting your head hard causes a change in neurotransmission. Your serotonin levels decrease, and on top of that, not working out lowered my usual level of serotonin even more.

Also, concussions cause growth hormone production to shut down, which can lead to depression. I first heard about that one on a Rich Roll podcast featuring Mike Mahler (highly recommended if you want to learn more).

Lastly, having a concussion and not being able to do many of the things that bring me happiness is downright depressing, no justifications needed. Extra compassion and self love goes a long way when dealing with head injuries.

Laser therapy in concussions 

Shine a laser into your head and zap away the concussion. Skeptical? I was too at first, but when you’re injured you’ll do anything for the cure.

My PT/Chiro/medical guru, Kane, is one of the most incredibly knowledgable people that I know. He  seems to have a sixth sense of knowing exactly the root of bodily ailments and how to fix them. He was the one who introduced me to red laser therapy.

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Note Kane’s wife’s art in the background #powercouple.

As pictured, I shined this 5 Watt laser on the front/back/sides of my head for 30 seconds at a go. 5% of the laser’s wattage is absorbed through the skull.

From Kane’s explanation, boiled down to my understanding, here’s how red laser therapy works:

After a concussion, your brain’s goal is to get back into homeostasis. Homeostatis is maintained largely by the sodium potassium pump. This pump needs ATP in order to operate. The red laser excites electrons – which is a critical step in APT production. When you have a concussion, electron excitation can be hindered by nitric oxide build-up. The laser’s role in recovery is to break up these nitric oxide bonds, so that the electrons can be stimulated, and ultimately, so that the brain can return to homeostasis quicker!

Ideally, I would have used this laser more frequently in treatment. But I didn’t have one at my disposal every day. Might be a worthwhile investment though – the 5W lasers are sold for just under $100.

Fascia’s affect on recovery 

I don’t think I have ever seen Kane without him mentioning Fascia Fuzz. Let me explain.

Think of this fuzz as thick cob-webs built up in your body.  Stretching, and moving your body (as well as massage) melts the fascia “fuzz” that builds up between the sliding surfaces of your musculature. You can have weeks worth of fuzz built up – like I did in my shoulder.

Breaking up fascia fuzz in my shoulder and thumb by movement, massage, and even scraping the affected area, significantly helped me return to normal range of motion.

What I find really interesting here is that there is a fine line of when to immobilize and when to mobilize injuries. Once the bone is healed, mobilization is key to breaking up fascia. I am by no means a doctor, but I think that its very common to immobilize an injury for more time than necessary. This may be because there is still pain in the area with even slight movement. Pain can be coming from tightness from fascia buildup, and stretching it when moved in a way that it hasn’t in a while, not from the actual bone, so in this case the pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Glutathione’s role in concussion healing

Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant that combats free radicals. A concussion creates A LOT of free radicals in your body.

Understanding what free radicals are involves getting into the chemical properties of an atom’s electron layers. From a non-chemical stand-point, how I understand it is that free radicals create stress in the body that can damage cells and lead to diseases and degeneration.

So, it was important to do all that I could to increase glutathione levels post-concussion when my body needed it the most.

I learned that getting enough sleep maintains or increases glutathione levels, whereas sleep deprivation can decrease such levels. EXCELLENT- I thought, sleep is literally my super power; I can sleep anywhere anytime, a gift that I can attribute quick recovery to.

Sulfur is required for the synthesis of glutathione. I made sure I was eating sulfur rich foods such as beef, fish, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale.

Nourishing foods! 

I can not stress enough the power of food as medicine!

While I was healing (and always, really) I focused on eating foods that were anti-inflammatory. I already had enough inflammation going on. That meant, I didn’t eat a lot of foods high in processed sugar (inflammatory) unless of course there was a certain desert that made me really happy.

One of my favorite recipes to help decrease inflammation is a mineral broth from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook. If you don’t have this cookbook, what are you waiting for?This broth is rich in magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese- all essential for speeding up recovery time. It’s basically a bunch of veggies simmered in a pot for a few hours. Bonus points- this broth has a beautiful pink color to it- from the beets.

Know thyself

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There’s a time to rest and a time for intervals.

When it comes to being injured, it’s so important to know your own level of what you can and can’t handle. Everyone’s going to tell you “rest, rest, rest” which is great, don’t get me wrong. However, your version of rest differs from the next person’s. What I’m saying is, rest enough, but also, get on with your life. (Advice from a 24 year old, with the healing powers of youth on tap)

For the first couple of days after the concussion I barely looked at screens. The bright light took a toll on my eyes and head- as anyone who’s had a concussion can relate to. I literally couldn’t do anything but sit and sleep.

That week, I listened to podcasts, and just zoned out, because that was all I could do. I tried to be more like my cat, Tofu. He seems to have this relaxation thing down.

I also would close my eyes and envision the inner-workings of my body healing up. Now, I have no idea what this really looks like, but just think of millions of little red blood-cells with smiling faces all floating to my head, shoulder and thumb where they were needed most. There were proteins, amino-acids, enzymes of all sizes and colors doing their job so diligently. I have no clue if this type of visualization actually helped me physically recover, but it was definitely a form of meditation, which no doubt helped me mentally.

I had over 5 in-person interviews for various software sales roles within a week or two after I hit the pavement. Those opportunities were not going to wait. If they did not go to me they would go to someone else, so I did all that was in my power to make sure that I prepared for those interviews and brought my A-game. End result- I learned a ton and nailed a new job with Twilio woooo!

Now, some may say it’s not the best idea to be interviewing right after having a concussion, but I knew what I could handle, and I worked with my limitations. Google Chrome text narrator, as well as my boyfriend helped limit time spent looking at a screen. Lots of short breaks when studying helped too. It wasn’t easy, during some of the interviews I felt like the room was spinning, but I still had to talk about “why I’m a great fit for the role”. When there’s a will there’s a way.

Flash forward 4 weeks from the accident. It’s Christmas, and I’m back at it. All I really wanted for Christmas was to run again and BOOM thank you Santa for the best gift ever! I can definitely say that I recovered quicker than expected because of what I ate, how I rested, how I moved, and how I thought.

I’ve been scheming some big schemes for 2020! My next goal race is American River 50 mile in April LETSGOOO!!!!!! But seriously, if you’re looking for a 50mi (or even a 25mi option) on part of the Western States course, in Sacramento, this race is your race!!

Keep your dreamz alive, my friends!! And protect your noggin 🙂

3 Things I’ve Learned from Cycling

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Cycling has always been a huge part of my life. In college, I would spend the little free time that I had (#studentathletelife) riding my light yellow cruiser around NYC. Cycling was both a means of exploration and a sort of mental and physical therapy in my college years. Now, it continues to be that and more.

When I moved to California after college, my new mode of transit became a black on black on black single speed that I would use to commute 7 miles to and from work. It was personalized with gold paint WZLPWR on the back frame- of course. Living in the Bay Area energizes me, not only because of the hyper-innovative tech culture, but because of the plethora of trails in my back yard, and even more within a short drive. I can not believe every time that I run or ride on trail in Mill Valley that I live here; the beauty never gets old, and that, to me is an endless source of energy. Soon after I moved to Mill Valley (a little town at the base of Mt. Tam right outside of SF) I began riding my single speed up and down Mt. Tam. It was the only bike I had, so why not stand up and grind one gear up a mountain? Next up were 60-70 mile rides on the single speed down to Pt. Reyes. I learned that bakery stops were essential, if not the entire reason to ride!! That single speed took me everywhere and the joy that exploring faster and farther than running could take me elevated me to a whole ‘nother level of stoke.

Fast forward 6 or so months, a lot had changed, but the single speed remained. Now I had a new #rideordie, my boyfriend Cassidy. Cassidy was the most enthused cyclist I had ever met! He had worked at one of the first Rapha pop-up shops, had created his own cycling team in Texas and revolutionized the style of cycling kits. He had 4 bikes, which I thought was excessive at first, but now I understand the reasoning. Tattoos, tight kits, chizzled calves, tight quads, knowledge of every type of bike race- you get the picture, Cassidy is a cyclist to his core. On Cassidy’s birthday, instead of going out to dinner, he and I picked out my first road bike #bestboyfriendaward. We decided on a deep purple- kind of sparkly depending on how the light hits it- Trek Emonda. The bike is my adventure bb, enabler of the zooooomiezzzz!!

Usually, I spend most of my adventure time on foot; adding in bike rides when I can. But now, a little nagging peroneal tendonitis has cased me to spend more time on the saddle and less time running. At first, and even still from time to time, I was sad that I was forced to take a break from my favorite activity. What seems to be the biggest paradox ever is the balance of loving something so much but also being detached from that thing. Running is a lot, don’t get me wrong, but it is not everything. The Buddhist thought “don’t be too heavy in one place” certainly resonates here. At the end of 2020 I have my sights set on racing a 100 mile race. So, the way I see if now is that I’d better sit the eff down and rest if I want to be healthy and at the top of my game to be able to have the privilege of racing 100mi. In this recovery time I have embraced the sport of cycling in a way that I had always wanted to. If you know me, you know I literally run on a 1000 volt battery. Because of that, if I am not continuously immersing myself in new curiosity I am easily bored. Ultimately I move, whether it is running or cycling, to learn more about myself and the World. So, enough of an intro, let’s get into it. I’ve learned A TON from cycling so far. “3 thing’s I’ve learned” sounds like just the right amount for a blog post, so here it goes!

1. Cycling is EXCELLENT mental training.

To me, mental toughness is all about finding a way. It’s that simple. I mean always having a creative outlook on a situation that involves pain and figuring out how you’re going to deal with it. Whether it’s locking into rhythmic leg-turning while going uphill for several miles, or finishing that last 10 seconds of a 45 second all out sprint on the bike just as strong as the first 10, or being 70 miles into a ride and focusing on maintaining power even when you’re tired, cycling certainly requires a lot of mental fortitude. For me, long rides simulate ultra-distance running efforts. When I ride with Cassidy, he likes to attack, or maybe that’s me attacking first. Either way, surges in the middle of rides seem super similar to competitors making moves in trail races. I think it’s so important to maintain mental sharpness even when on a break from running. Cycling quenches that thirst.

2. Cycling fashion is way more on point than running fashion!!  

This is a big deal for me. Racing, and training is an expression of yourself. Shouldn’t you always express yourself by wearing something that you resonate with, that is truly YOU? I love to race with a bandana around my neck and in a crop top. Usually there’s a schrunchie or bow in my hair too. Aside from a few lifestyle/ athleisure brands (Outdoor Voices, Janji, Free People and Nike to name a few) there aren’t many running-specific brands that encapsulate a young, fun, slightly edgy, female style. A lot of running gear is technical, but to find a technical and fashionable piece of clothing is a real challenge. Cycling brands however, are way more fun and fashionable than running ones. This seems largely to do with the amount of gear needed for cycling contributing to a larger theme of consumerism across cyclists. Whatever it is, if you go to a cycling race, there are so many custom kits to be seen. For example, Ten Speed Hero, Velocio, and Roka and Rapha are absolute fire. Look good, feel good ride/run good. Running clothing brands, let’s step it up!! 

3. Road cycling takes you to the best pastry shops!

I am all about the baked goods. I’ll always pack some kind of treatz if I’m going on a really long run, but because I only do long runs on trails it is rare that I come across a pastry shop on the way. With cycling however, the more miles you ride, the more pastry shops you can get to. That, my friends is a great life metaphor in my opinion! Yesterday, Cassidy and I went on a 100mi ride (my first century) and stopped for a fish sando along the way at Tomales Bay Oyster company- 8/10 would recommend. My favorite is an early morning ride ending up at M&H Bread and Butter right when the morning buns are hot.

Well, I originally was going to make this blog “5 Things I Learned from Cycling” but now I want to go ride so 3 is it for now. I guess the fourth would be that cycling is addictive!

Get after it, my friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giddyup partner, we’ve got a race to run! Bandera 100k Race Report

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T’was the night before I travel to Bandera Texas, and all through my parent’s house in New Hampshire, I am running around, fully outfitted in my race gear- a velvet schrunchie, turquoise crop top, and two Nathan handhelds- full stoke mode activated! I was about to travel to a place I had never been to, race longer than I had ever raced before, and meet new people- a recipe for a fantastic weekend. I had accomplished a consistent training phase in the months leading up to this race, so I was feeling ready to celebrate that, and see what I could do at the 100k distance.

Flash forward to the day before the race. My travel companion for the weekend, Chris, had picked me up in a vehicle that was anything but the truck he should have chosen to cruise around in- but alas. We made a stop at the local grocery store to pick up some pre-and post race essentials- most notably a gigantic loaf of cinnamon raisin bread. Little did we know that our motto of the weekend, or the year for that matter “Get that Bread” #GetThatBread would be inspired by this very loaf.

After a dinner of pasta with quail (a Texas specialty) Chris and I headed back to the hotel for the pre-race rituals of prepping our handhelds with electrolyte mix and some of our favorite race snacks. It’s always a little difficult to sleep the night before a big race but I managed to get in a few solid hours of zzzz’s before waking up at 5am on RACE DAY!!

The course had gotten moved from the original town of Bandera to Camp Eagle, about an hour and a half from our hotel, due to park permit complications. Within days the Tejas Trails race organizers completely re-routed the course and pulled it off seamlessly- big thanks to them!! Chris and I blasted TSwift’s best (non-debatable) album – Reputation- as we pulled up to the race course, ready for any challenges that the day would bring.

The start was a little chilly for a crop top and no gloves, but within a few miles my hands became warm enough to open a Spring energy gel. For the first 20ish miles I ran with a pack of 6 female crushers who were just as amiable as they were strong. One of the topics of conversation amongst us was the current momentum of female distance runners. Hearing about women chasing the marathon OTQ standard is increasingly more common, as is hearing about women outright winning ultra races. I am incredibly excited to be part of that momentum, not only as part of the lady train in this race, but every day when I run and think about my trail sisters out there putting in the work too.

Around mile 30 I saw my friend Jeff (who was out there crushing the course as well) dad at an aid station. Jeff’s dad- known on that day as Race Day Rick- was a godsend, as he provided me with a fresh hand-held waterbottle set. I was desperately needing more electrolytes at this time. In retrospect, I will say that I could have eaten more in the first half of the race. Dialing in eating can be a tough thing, but as I am getting more races under my belt, eating enough at all times is something that I know is directly correlated to race success.

The middle section of the race was the by far the most physically draining. Until I drank a copious amount of Mt. Dew with about 20 miles to go, it was a bit of a grind to say the least. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy every mile. If I am completely honest, every step of this race was meaningful, and the culmination of all the emotions I felt through out 62 miles brought me the most intense joy.

Just as I was finding my rhythm and closing in on the 5th place female runner, I took a wrong turn. At the Windmill aid station, I was informed that I was only supposed to have shown up there twice, not three times. I clearly just wanted to hang out at that aid station and kept coming back for more! At first, I panicked and had a bit of a diva moment which consisted of an extremely shocked expression some “noooo, whaaaaat, whyyyy’s” but keeping any frustration in my mind was not at all productive to the task at hand- getting back on the right trail, so I quickly zoned back into focused race mode. Down the trail I blazed, the one I had just ran up, missed the side trail again, asked another runner where the heck I should be, ran back up, and finally found the side trail- success!! Getting lost in trail races has been a common theme of mine- and thus a source of nerves. As much attention as I think I am paying during a race, it clearly isn’t enough. Anyways, I was back on the course with only adding about 3 miles onto the 62 mile race, and I was on a mission with a new fire ignited beneath my feet (or maybe that was my feet starting to burn from running over so many rocks).

There was a series of wooded single track that followed by “getting lost” episode. There, out of the woods, popped my friend Frankie, who was at the race to pace his friend who had ended up dropping out. Frankie’s appearance was such a gift at the time. We chatted for a few miles as he pushed the pace over the rocks and root- just like he and I had done before in the White Mountians.

With about 7 miles to go I came through the last aid station of the day. It was pitch black then and my headlamp was in Chris and I’s rental car doing me no favors at all. Luckily a kind soul at the aid station lent me his headlamp with no knowing if he would ever see it again (I gave it to the RD, I hope you got it back, kind soul). At this point in the race, I had been running for about 10 hours, longer than I had ever ran in my life. I could not believe how strong I felt even at this point. I firmly believe- as this race confirmed- that the human body is an amazing machine, capable of moving faster and further than we can ever imagine, simply if we allow it to. Moreover, I felt then, and every day that I have the privilege of running, that running is what my body was made to do. Nothing else brings me such bliss. Even though I was in a state of pure awe and satisfaction, I was very ready to cross the finish line as I was about 3 miles from it. My left leg was definitely tweaked in a few places from galloping over rocks all day, and I was feeling the effects.

11 hours after I started, I crossed the finish line as the 6th place woman. This 100k left me knowing that I could take myself deeper, mentally, in a race than I had ever gone in any other race. Pushing my own boundaries while in pain is what I live for- a sucker for pain- I know, but isn’t every ultra runner??

Takeaways:

  • Always buy the cinnamon raisin loaf that catches your eye in the market.
  • Fuel early and often- thanks Spring Energy and Mt. Dew for bringing me out of a low point!
  • Running with a pack of women is one of the most empowering and fun ways to race.
  • Traveling with a friend- especially one who is way on top of race/travel details and exudes positivity – is 100% the way to go.

A Trail Runner’s Guide to Yosemite

Featured on Sufferfest Beer Company!  If you haven’t tried their beer, what are you waiting for!?

For decades, climbers have gravitated towards Yosemite Valley to live out adventures, and to push the boundaries of what is deemed climbable. Great walls like El Capitan rise over 3,000ft from the Valley floor, captivating the attention of anyone who passes by it, and tempting intrepid climbers to ascend it. I had always been intrigued by the stories of Lynn Hill- who made the first free ascent (with ropes but without aid) of The Nose of El Cap in 1993, or Alex Honnold’s free solo (no ropes or aid whatsoever) of in 2017. But beyond the astonishing climbing feats, perhaps the best part of Yosemite National Park is the fact that everyone- from skilled climbers, to skilled couch potatoes- can have the chance to live a different style of life and explore the unknown. Sometimes the mountians call, and answering that call- as I’m sure anyone who has answered would agree- is something you’ll never regret. My friend Leah and I answered the mountain’s call and drove to Yosemite for a weekend full of trail-running, exhilarating climbs and friendship- all fueled by a healthy dose of Sufferfest beer, of course. Follow along for some trail recommendations, adventure anecdotes, and a bit of mountain- inspired wisdom.

Day 1: The Half Dome

Run, climb, run. That was the plan. Leah and I stuffed our climbing shoes, harnesses, slings, prusiks and quickdraws into our backpacks as we prepared to run to the Half Dome, climb up and down it, and run back to our rental van. I was certainly testing the limits of how much gear a Solomon Sense Ultra backpack could hold and would soon test my own limits as I had never done anything quite like climbing the Half Dome before. During the off-season, the cables going up the Half Dome that are usually raised above the rock face are lowered so that they are lying flat on the rock. Leah and I had heard that you can still clip onto the lowered cables to assist yourself up the Half Dome, but since we hadn’t seen it done we weren’t sure exactly how it was going to work. With our gear packed, we headed off to the trail-head and decided to assess the cable situation once we got to the Half Dome. Starting on the Happy Isle Loop trail we made our way to the Mist Trail. Luckily it was a warm day because we were drenched from the waterfall by the time we made it up the aptly named trail. IMG_1200.JPG

We dried off from the Mist Trail as we ran along the John Muir Trail, to the Half Dome Trail. This gradual uphill trail was much less trafficked that day than the Mist Trail. It seemed like the stunning waterfall view was a great turn-around point for people wanting a shorter day hike than the Half Dome. About 8 miles up from the start we had arrived at the base of the Half Dome. Although climbing up the cables looked a little sketchy at first, there were about ten other people who seemed to be of a variety of skillsets climbing it at the time Leah and I got there, which assured me that it couldn’t be too bad. A quote from a TED Radio Hour podcast that I had listened to on the drive to Yosemite popped into my head as I gazed up at the wall. In the podcast, Tim Ferris- author, entrepreneur, and dooer-of-all-things-challenging, said that when he is thinking about stepping out of his comfort zone he asks himself “if anyone else in the history of time, less driven, has figured out how to accept the challenge”. In most cases, and in this case involving the Half Dome, the answer is yes.

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Since Leah and I only had one prusik loop to tie onto the cable, I attached myself to Leah by linking two slings together and Leah tied herself onto the wall. The prusik knot would act a source of friction, so that if Leah and I leaned back on the knot, the loop would pull tight against the cable and would prevent us from sliding down. As we climbed up the wall in unison, we slid the prusik knot along with us. By the top of the wall, the grade was gentle enough that we could unclip and walk the last 50 meters to the summit.

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We reached the top of Half Dome, marveled at the expansive views, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches then slid our way down the rock similar to the way we came up. To my surprise, the climb was not nearly as scary as I though it would be. The prusik knot on the cables seemed to be a safe way to go.

Leah and I descended the same trail that we came up for a total of 24 miles and 5,910ft of vertical gain that day- according to Strava. Since we tacked on a few extra miles at the beginning of the day while looking for the trailhead, it was a higher mileage total than we had expected. In my opinion the best kind of day is one spent running around on trails with friends. With the added element of climbing, this trail run was certainly one for the books. I highly recommend the route, especially during the park’s off-season when you don’t need a permit to climb Half Dome.

At this point it was time to relax, so we kicked back in the parking lot near Camp 4 with a post-run brew. Few things in life taste better after a hard effort than my personal favorite, the Sufferfest Shakeout. I only wish I had planned better and brought a cooler. Cheers to all-day runs, the simplicity of car-camping, and the opportunity every day to step out of your comfort zone. IMG_1158 2.jpg

Day 2: Eagle Peak and El Capitan

The feeling that making pour-over coffee outside with the anticipation of a full day of adventure ahead of you is unparalleled. The goal of the day was to run/hike up Eagle Peak, a 13 mile total out-and-back, and save time to hike up the approach trail of El Capitan before having to drive back to San Francisco. We took the Lower to Upper Yosemite Falls trails, which at almost 4,000ft of vertical gain in the first 6 miles was no joke. More vert, more fun was true in this case. The summit of Eagle Peak overlooked Yosemite Valley from one side, and the part of the National Park that is much less charted from the other side. We did a quick touch-and-go at the summit, before bombing down the technical trail as fast as we could, just for the fun of it.

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Next, we ran to the approach trail of El Capitan, which was about a half mile in from the road. Looking up at El Cap, with it’s unimaginable height and exposure, was awe inspiring. It made me think about human potential in anything- not just climbing- and how challenges, like the wall, shape the trajectory of our lives. Either we can rise to the occasion of creating something grand out of a challenge, or we can succumb to the grandiosity of the obstacle and deem it too big, too powerful and ultimately immobilizing. The walls, like tremendous goals, remind me to not be immobilized, paralyzed by fear of the unknown and to accept goals as exciting opportunities to push beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking in order to achieve the most grand accomplishment that you can ever imagine. And then, once that goal is accomplished, celebrate with a Sufferfest beer!

 

 

 

 

 

The Run-Commute: One of Life’s Greatest Teachers

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It’s 8:37 on a Monday morning in Boston. The sky had just finished spreading a fresh coat of snow over the countless existing layers that had formed on the footpath snaking along the Charles River. I’ve got exactly 23 minutes to make it off of the footpath, across the Boston Common Park, through China Town, the Financial District, to school, up 13 flights in the escalator, and finally to my seat in the front row of classroom 3 at General Assembly all before 9am. Oh and I need to save time to quickly change in the tiny bathroom stall into a outfit more presentable than my damp running clothes. You see, all of these details need to be carefully planned out when you run-commute. I turn my music up a notch, and this time, the song “Choices(Yup)” fills my ears. “Everybody got chooooices….”  wraps E-40, as I think, he’s absolutely right! Everybody does have a choice about how to spend every single second of the day. The choices that stem from questions such as “how will I get to work on time?” or “how will I have time to train, or furthermore, to do what I love?” shape the trajectory of our lives. I would argue that choosing to run-commute is one of the best choices that I make each day, and something that I highly recommend that everyone tries- especially if you live in a city. By striding to and from school with a backpack strapped to my shoulders I realized that the concrete jungle is my playground, that my body is am amazing machine and the most reliable form of transit, and that time limitations are actually opportunities for creativity. The following are some lessons that the great teacher- the run commute- has taught me.

“Toughness Training”

Finding a way to deal with challenges calmly as they come is what I call toughness training. Run-commuting presents many excellent opportunities for toughness training because no one run is the same and you never know what challenges might be around the block. Maybe your backpack- stuffed with your laptop, clothes and plenty of snacks- will lurch side to side as your feet hit the pavement. The added weight isn’t always comfortable, but carrying your belongings certainly is toughness training. Or, it rains, and you lack the comfort of showing up to work warm and dry. You might even be running- literally- a few minutes late and are forced to push the pace while weaving through unassuming pedestrians on the sidewalk. Either you can think of these scenarios as obstacles- maybe even as reasons not to run-commute- or you can embrace the toughness training.

Methodical Planning

Admittedly, I am not a natural type-A, list-maker, extremely detail oriented thinker. However, run commuting definitely helped strengthen my planning-in-advance skills. When you are carrying your belongings on your back for a few miles, you are forced to think methodically about what you really need for the day.  When you are limited to what will fit in your backpack, and how much weight you are willing to cary you adopt a minimalist approach to packing. Once the checklist of items in your backpack becomes small you become less likely to forget things, because everything you are carrying is essential. That being said- I did forget to bring a change of shoes, a hair-brush, and even a dress that I planned on wearing to a meeting once or twice amongst the countless run-commutes. I found that leaving a spare pare of shoes and an emergency outfit at work saved the day in those situations.

Life Training

Perhaps the most obvious gain of run-commuting is the fitness gain. Instead of allotting time each day to “training” run-commuting has taught me that I am constantly training. Training my body to adapt to being frequently in motion, training my mind to accept the fact that my body is my main mode of transit, and training on a personal level so that the best version of myself shows up each day. There is no better time to train than now. While run-commuting you may have to accept running at a slower pace than you normally might. But even so, consistently logging miles while carrying weight on your back will certainly help to build a base.

One of my favorite memories from run commuting in Boston was crossing the MIT bridge on my way home from school at around 7 or 8pm each night. It was pitch black at this time during the winter months and on most nights there was a strong side-wind blowing across the bridge. After a long day of learning to code I would unleash my competitive energy out onto this bridge by envisioning myself crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of the North Face Endurance Challenge, or powering steadily through a flat section of Leadville 100, or even out-striding any competitor in a imaginary race I’d make up in my mind. I don’t doubt that when I compete in those races in the future I will draw upon my run-commuting experiences.

Finding Hidden Trails

If I had to choose to run on either trails or the road, nine times out of ten I would choose trails. So, on my way to school I would try to seek out the hidden trails that the city of Boston had to offer. By “secret trails” I mean the single-track dirt path along the Charles River that is much less frequented than the main pedestrian path parallel to it. Or the loose rock/grassy area in-between the curb and the sidewalk. Every city has hidden trails if you really search. When you don’t have the luxury of a plethora of trails in a wooded area on your run commute route, these less-than-ideal trails suffice. I made it a game on my commute to run across as many different terrains as possible, whether it was wood-chips, grass, playground-rubber, or concrete.

Extra Boost of Energy

By run commuting in the morning, I felt energized by the sense that I had already accomplished something before work. While some automobile commuters may still be groggy at the start of a work day, getting some energy out while run commuting made me feel focused and able to accept the fact that I would be sitting down for most of the day.

Heightened Awareness of Environmental Impact

During my run-commute through Boston, I would often pass cars stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Seeing so many cars lined up day after day made me think of what I am bringing into the city as I crossed the river from Cambridge. Instead of bringing air pollution, and a need to take up valuable street space- as automobiles do- I focused on bringing an energy of positivity and low-impact with me.

To sum it all up, the benefits of run commuting always outweighed the challenge that choosing to run commute sometimes was. Run commuting is an opportunity to put in the work while traveling to work, that enables you to not have to sacrifice your race goals because of a lack of time to train. If you are debating whether or not to run commute, try it out! It’s a life changing decision that I don’t think you’ll regret.

 

Igniting the Fire

This is a story about one of the most fantastic 24 hours of my life. It involved a lot miles ran, even more Sour-Patch Watermelon consumed, and, most importantly, marked the day where a seemingly insatiable fire was ignited inside of me. Those three details will come into play soon, but first let’s set the scene to where it all began: Catawaba, VA.

 

After a 22 mile day on the Appalachian Trail my dad and I blew into our inflatable sleeping mats and laid them out on the floor of an old garage next to a dog-hair covered couch, a collection of rusty tools, and a man named Puddle Jumper. It was my fourth night on the AT and my first in a hiker hostel. The distinct smell that dances through the air right before it is going to rain was strong, so my dad and I were thankful to have a roof over our heads for the night and intrigued by the eclectic group of hikers that was assembled at Four Pines Hostel. Soon after we settled in, Puddle Jumper revealed that he was carrying an extensive collection of nail polish and that he would gladly paint the grubby nails of any hiker who obliged. Let’s pause the story for a minute and touch upon some seemingly odd details. First, “Puddle Jumper” is a trail name. Every hiker on the AT gains a trail name, usually given to one hiker from another based on a silly-yet-noteworthy occurrence, or a consistent personality trait. A trail name encapsulates a hiker’s identity on the trail and leaves birth names obsolete. My trail name is Weasel and my dad’s is Plow- the names to which we will be referred for the rest of this story. Second, the fact that Puddle Jumper carried over 10 bottles of nail polish is almost insane. When you carry all your belongings on your back each day ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain. Jumping back into the story, the nail polish was certainly a luxury item to see on the trail, and for that matter I was excited to have each nail painted a different color by my new friend.

About halfway through the manicure a group of 6 or so hikers including Plow had congregated on the concrete floor. The conversation amongst us soon evolved into trail folklore- and stories of what to expect in the upcoming miles- as most hiker-talk does. We might have discussed the lack of town crossings in the upcoming miles, animal sightings in the shelters, or what creative ramen concoctions we had cooked up with our ultra-light stoves, but really the only thing that stood out in my mind was talk of the “4 State Challenge”. The challenge, as Puddle Jumper described, is to cover ground in four states- Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania- in under 24 hours. In total, the 4 State Challenge is 45 miles of hiking. It is safe to say that all hikers who cover that 45 mile stretch of the AT know of the challenge, but few actually attempt it. Even to those hiking a 2,190 mile trail, 45 miles in one day seems absurd. The hikers in the manicure chat laughed off the topic of the 4 State Challenge, deeming it too unreasonable to even consider attempting. To me however, a seed had been planted in my mind. I was going to complete the 4 State Challenge. No, not complete, crush it. It was then that I decided there was no point thinking it over, the decision had been made and there was no going back.

Flash forward about 2 weeks, 280 miles down the trail from Catawaba to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It is June 8th, 4:15am and one of the best days of my life has just begun. I am in a red Ford pick-up truck, complete with a coat of rust and a bench-style front seat- just the kind of truck I can see myself owning. A man whom I met at a cafe in Harpers Ferry the day before had so kindly offered to drive me to the trail-head before the crack of dawn, and drop my 30 pound backpack at an inn 50 miles down the road where I would be ending the day. I sipped some luke-warm green tea from a Poland Springs water bottle as we drove down the winding back road to the trail. Even today, I can still feel the same potential energy boiling in my chest, that I felt that morning. Seemingly everything about that day was uncertain at the time, but one thing that was certain was the fact that I was about to do something that I had never even come close to doing before. The unknown brought me this sense of excitement, anticipation and a hint of discomfort; which is just the state that I thrive in.

I was dropped off at a trail-head just outside of Harpers Ferry. From there I had to back-track two miles uphill to the Virginia/West Virginia border where the challenge officially began. The pitch black woods and rocky terrain paired with my sub-par navigation skills made the trail tricky to follow, but at 5am exactly, I made it to the border, snapped a quick selfie for proof, and began bombing down the trail as the sun began to rise. I remember running across the bridge in Harpers Ferry that saddles the Potomac river with a smile on my face, a cinnamon roll in my hand and the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” playing from my iPhone. In that moment- in every moment of that 45 mile run for that matter- I was in a state of pure bliss. What could be better than immersing yourself in the experience of running through the woods all day, eating candy and listening to music, your own thoughts, and the sounds of nature?

I kept a steady cadence throughout the technical single-track trail, weaving through the trees, with only one objective- to keep moving. I had a GPS tracked map of the trail on my phone, but I decided not to look at it that day because the thought of checking the map and seeing that I had thirty-something more miles to cover just seemed like it wouldn’t be in line with the carefree nature of my journey. So, what seemed to me like 7 miles of running ended up being 21 when I ran into a fellow hiker at what was the only public restroom along the trail that day. My longest run before that day had been 12 miles, so all I could do when I found out I had ran 21 seemingly effortless miles was laugh, eat more Sour-Patch, and feel thankful for the fact that my body and mind were capable of bringing me such happiness through an athletic pursuit. “Go Weasel, go!” cheered Rabbit, my hiker friend, as I departed from the rest stop for the miles ahead.

Now, it may seem like my entire day was filled with rainbows and unicorns, but the truth is, there were a few dark moments. Around what I’d estimate were miles 31-34 was a particularly rocky section. I could hardly run these miles mostly because the rocks were so large that I had to maneuver around them on what didn’t look like a very defined trail. In addition to the challenging terrain, I felt like if I were to stop, sit down and close my eyes I would surely fall asleep right then and there. I had been moving for over 8 hours, and had only taken one break for a few minutes, so my body was rightfully screaming for me to stop and rest. My mind however prevailed, and really, the hero of the day- Sour Patch Watermelons- helped another gear kick in and get me through the rocky slog.

The last mile of the trial was a wide, well-marked (finally), downhill path that would spit me out right at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. At this point I was feeling good, too good for having just ran 44 miles. I thought about how the human body is an amazing machine that flows so well with the rhythm of a trail, if you let it. I thought about what I was going to have for dinner, as I was ravenously hungry. But most importantly, I thought about what completing a 45 mile run meant for me as a runner, and furthermore, as an individual.

Just before I started hiking the Appalachian Trail in May I graduated from Columbia University, where I competed as a middle-distance runner on the Division 1 track team. I had been running track at a highly competitive level for over 8 years and at that point I felt what some might call “burnt-out” from the sport. I loved running for its most fundamental purpose- the simplicity of movement, and the joy in which exploring new places by foot brought me. Now, freed from the bounds of competitive running which oozed into nearly every aspect of my life I was left to define running’s role in my personal trajectory.

I had heard of ultra-running as my time as a collegiate athlete was coming to a close, and was equally as intrigued as I was impressed by the idea of running distances longer than a marathon on typically rough but scenic terrain. I began to follow pro ultra runners on Instagram, tracked their results, and read their blogs. A slight obsession soon gave birth to a goal of mine, to become an ultra-runner myself. As I neared the end of the 4 State Challenge I realized that running such a long distance brought me even more joy than I could have imagined. I was honestly surprised by the fact that my body held up for 12 hours of running, and was feeling even more durable by the end of the day than it did at the start. Striding down the path to the finish, my arms pumping, legs cranking under me, feet carefully striking the ground, time stood still. On that day I had become an ultra-runner.