I wrote a little something that doesn’t start to even cover it. Very best wishes today and every day.
I wrote a little something that doesn’t start to even cover it. Very best wishes today and every day.
I didn’t actually die during the Portland Marathon, but it was probably closer than I’d ever like to admit.
It’s taken me forever to finally get down in writing what happened out there, but I finally did, and you can read it over at Run Oregon.
Today’s long run ended in tears. I’m not getting into whose, but we can assume it probably wasn’t the dog’s. Let’s not get hung up on that just yet since I’ve got more fun stuff to focus on. We might come back to it if only to explore, for some twisted reason, exactly how and why I ended up short of my planned 20 miles (let’s call it close enough that rounding up would be perfectly defensible, however) with such an unmerciful running beat down. Anyways, back to putting a pin in that whole sobby messy running business for now because I’m overdue in recapping how cool and fun the Priest Lake Tri was. REALLY. Here we go.
I’m alive and in one piece after finishing my first triathlon. Pretty exciting stuff considering my resting state of clumsiness and general lack of spatial awareness. As if I had any business asking for more than that, I thoroughly enjoyed myself through the entire thing, with only minimal episodes of hyperventilation and even single digit fatalistic thoughts. As it happens, the only injuries sustained were en route to the event, where I forgot how to move a bicycle without actually riding it (see aforementioned misapplication of objects in space and confusion re: gravity.) So my pedals mauled my left calf. More than once because I am obviously a quick study.
As they are wont to do in these events, things started out wet. Acknowledging the swim to be the most nerve-wracking of the activities, I had plenty of time to stand around on the beach being anxious about it. Full disclosure here though- I actually did do something right in choosing Priest Lake for this event. If you’re going to stand around being nervous somewhere, Priest Lake is the place to do it. Here’s the other thing – this particular body of water and I have heaps of history because I like to return to the scenes of childhood shenanigans when trying brand new and potentially scary things. Am I hoping familiarity breeds bravery? In any case, it helped. There was something comforting about the big grains of sand under my feet, the deep shade of blue green water that always seems to match how I have it parked in my memory, and old, friendly peaks I’d climbed and cavorted around on countless times surrounding me. Occupying yourself with this kind of scenery before undertaking something moderately bonkers is highly recommended.
Despite boldness borrowed from this home court advantage, the swimming went just about as un-smoothly as you could imagine. I watched throngs of athletes cross through the feather flags into the water, dropping farther and farther back in the pack until I was the dead last swimmer in the lake. And when I threw myself all in, there was a totally foreign sense of panic at all the wet stuff around me.
I’d like to tell you the water was particularly cold (it wasn’t) or that it was the anxiety of being surrounded by hoards of swimmers (by this point, most of them had already passed the first buoy) or that I’m a brand new swimmer (I’ve -historically at any rate- been more than comfortable in the water) or that I’d forgotten my goggles (I almost did, but remembered just in time to run back to the bike corral with mere minutes to spare) or that I was scared I’d lose a contact (this has never.once.happened. ever.) What I have to tell you instead is that I couldn’t manage to get my head underwater for a single, solitary stroke, I probably dog paddled a good portion of it, all the while sporting wildly out-of-control breathing for no good reason at all.
I somehow managed to slosh my way back to the beach, in what I’m certain was a spectacularly ungraceful series of thrashy, aquatic maneuvers, where I found my legs eager to the task of running. Getting them under me quickly felt easy, I can only imagine because they were so totally relieved to be out of the water, and I was off to the first transition.
Navigating any lingering resentment I had about the bike and its uncanny ability to manifest open leg wounds, I found I was pretty excited while toweling off, grabbing a snack of sport beans, and a quick drink of water. So excited I almost run-walked my bike out of the transition to the trail.
Steep, winding logging roads of mostly large rocks, sand, smaller rocks, and tree roots were the order of the course, with intermittent single track trails that quickly became my favorite portions. It is easy for me to overestimate my prowess on a bicycle which is borderline delusional because I have zero practical basis for this confidence. As a younger person, I used to barrel down a very steep trail we aptly referred to as “Death, Doom, and Destruction.” On one such descent, I managed to bend the frame of my then bike, narrowly missed vaulting ass-over-teakettle-over-handlebars on multiple occasions, and accumulated a matching set of bright purple contusions and various abrasions. In hindsight, this was probably the best possible preparation for the mountain bike course.
Full of this manufactured but not-nearly-recent-enough-at-all swagger about the mountain biking thing, after the first long, grueling climb I quickly found myself in white-knuckle, hand sweat situation. Tires skidded out from under me in sandy patches and gravity launched me over large rocks before I could manage to steer completely clear. I can only say after the first descent that I got extremely, mind-boggling lucky in not ending up completely laid out on the gravel with my bike god knows how far down the trail in front of me.
From the bike I assumed I’d be home free. I should just stop assuming things. Forever. I can’t explain it, but somehow the intense climbs and heart-stopping serotonin floods that followed were over too quickly. I’d been nervous about losing my way on the course, so just about the time I started fixating on what I’d do in my own version of Get Out Alive – Selkirk Edition, I was grateful to come across a race official and discovered there was less than a mile left to the finish.
Happily escaping to park my bike with every bone in tact, I thought the 5k run would be a short, fun, and manageable way to cap off the morning. These days my short runs are longer than this! My overconfident self narrated. I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly right, either.
There is a particular, unsteady sensation that wobbles my legs right after a long bike ride, completely unique among the fatigued feelings I’ve yet encountered. Since I hadn’t exactly trained to manage this, I can’t imagine what my first staggery steps out of the bike corral must have looked like.
After reteaching myself how to walk for a good few minutes, I slowly managed to get things under control. If the bike was over too quickly, then the run certainly was, though I’ll admit I was more than relieved when I reached the turn around to head for the finish.
I ended up finishing in just about 2 hours, walked away with the most useful race medal I think I’ve ever encountered, and can’t wait to do another one.
[yes, it’s a bottle opener.]
Cornered by the first bits of daylight, Mt. Hood is a golden ghost on the horizon. The eastward pull of these roads, roomy in the vacancy of early morning, is reflex. Deep breaths try to soothe out pre-race jitters creeping into my stomach between bites of what has to pass for last-minute race morning breakfast (zucchini bread toast with peanut butter). I can feel air catch – like there’s something siphoning it off before it can reach the ends of the awkward triangle beneath my ribs.
On its best day, marathon training (for me at least) can be an exhausting, blistering endeavor. On a bad day, it results in fundamentally reconsidering my decisions. Initially I planned out every training run, intent on adhering to a schedule, convinced it was the only key to success. After injuries, and the resulting mockery they made of plans for marathon number 1, maybe the compulsion to exert my will on attempt number 2 rebounded.
One, two, three, four. Counting repetitively almost quells tremors in tired legs, almost frees me to fixate on the sun tracks through the trees and the quiet morning trail. Cool mountain air skims into my veins in winded intervals with the steepening trail. My feet periodically stagger to a walk while my eyes wander off the edge and down the misty fingers of the Columbia. (more…)
I suspect that most people might begin thinking about triathlons before doing them. I also imagine reasonable people might even consider training for these events before they happen. I am not one of these people.
In fact, I can credit the only preparation I have so far been successful in to my sister/ tri benefactress for gifting me new goggles and bike gloves for Christmas. Also, I got in the pool once (possibly twice).
My excuses are many. I’m too tired from marathon training! I whine. But single-tracking is HARD and etc.
The biggest and most unnerving excuse though, is sleep. I seem to have forgotten how this nightly event works. Made even more disconcerting by the fact that, historically, I have been an absolute champ at this. I could have competed in Olympic napping so gifted I was at falling asleep before head contacts pillow. Flash forward to present, and nights are filled with fixating on critical topics like:
It takes an absurd amount of effort to divert these thoughts from my internal monologue. And usually if I manage to, legs will start twitching or aching, or joints will remind me they are uncomfortable, as if physical symptoms grab the baton from mental agitations in an “awake all night for no good reason” relay. (Potentially saddest, most soul-bruising relay ever.)
By this time, it’s past 2 am, and I’m wide eyed and punch drunk on managing, on average, a few hours a night going on a week. I begin to discover unpleasant and uncomfortable things about myself, like just how cruel I can be without enough rest. The answer is pretty dang cruel. Or how waking up feeling hung over beyond words each day is starting to get VERY, very old.
Peeling lid from bloodshot eye-ball and pouring coffee down my throat, I vow each day I will try another method promised to deliver me to an actual night of sleep. With few herbal or pharmaceutical stones unturned in the quest, I have managed to saw off a few more logs each night. Things are slowly starting to improve with a new sleep routine, and I’m convinced that once this sleep thing is managed, I will start training.
In April, I was fortunate enough to work at TEDxPortland. Since it was my second year as a volunteer, I was prepared for a long, busy day of pretty much !ALL THE FEELINGS!!! I was not disappointed. But through the crazy greatness of the event, I managed to hear something keynote speaker Macklemore had to say.
Near the very end of the event, in a state of functional exhaustion, this made it into my brain over the live feed from the main auditorium:
“Go out and make stuff, and be happy doing it.”
– Ben Haggerty; AKA Macklemore
Making stuff has seemed like such a hassle lately. Writing stuff, especially. I’m disgusted by most things I can manage to make myself get down on paper. The labor of it too quickly overwhelms me, often to the point where I want to give up.
But I’ve been fighting through it, fighting because it has felt more like a battle than I’m used to. I made this. Whether it means I’m winning the battle or not, I don’t know. But I am almost, maybe, proud of it, and that’s a huge step for me.
More to the point of Macklemore’s advice, it made me happy, which I think is a more positive result than I could hope for. That and I’m now very, very excited to be able to expand my role at Run Oregon. Which also leaves me feeling !ALL THE FEELINGS!!!
To the battle. And more importantly, the friends we meet along the way.
There’s a house I often jog by. Describing it that way is probably generous. It’s the picture of ramshackle and I’ve always had a strange feeling running past. Not strange enough to stop me. Sometimes I’ll cross to the other side of the street to put some distance between me and the unpleasantness. Other times I’ll slow down and stare at its boarded up windows and wonder what it might have been like years ago.
Before it was a meth kitchen or hoarder’s den or someone’s neglected burden. There’s a giant plywood sign in the sprawling yard with the address in stilted block letters, pieced together by what looks like duct tape. As though this is a destination people must be looking for on a regular basis. Behind this muffled bid for attention, choking shrubbery tightens its grip, ready to reclaim the house for itself. Indifferent to whatever has taken place inside it.
Weeks would go by, and notices would accumulate on the door like layers of dust. I could almost watch the English Ivy spread its strangle hold across the slanting garage, the same way the sidewalk cracks seemed to widen with each run.
I stopped cold the last pass I made, feet tripping to a sudden halt. Where the structure had been no more than a day or two ago, smoke spilled up from a crater of earth. Debris littered the once green grass, as though however it went, it had been explosive. There’s a new sign nearer the road, “Future Site: Denny Community Gardens.” I stay there, staring until it hurts. Watching the rubble smolder into the rain, smelling the crackle of singed grass. I’m exhausted, miles from home while the rain reaches the point of chuckle-worthy downpour.
The feeling on this stretch of sidewalk is still strange, a mix of relief and incredulity. One day I’ll jog by this lot to find raised beds full of tomatoes and squash, strings of snow peas and starts of spinach, all abuzz with a life that seems completely ignorant of, and totally dependant on, the past.
For now, it’s a stinging reminder that transformations don’t come cheap.
I hate hospitals. I have my issues with doctors. My last begrudging annual physical ended in a very terse refusal of a surprising array of prescription drugs. I’m already ahead of myself.
It began with the nurse asking me a few questions as part of a new mandatory depression screening.
Have you felt down or hopeless at any point in the past two weeks?
Haven’t you? I want to respond. Hasn’t everyone? Surely that’s not a significant litmus test for mental health.
Have you had any suicidal thoughts?
It’s 11 am, you told me to fast for the past 24 hours, I haven’t had any coffee, and I have a serious case of the hangries, does homicidal count? My lingering pause in attempts to find a good way to answer this seems concern enough. She rushes out of the room, my caffeine headache thundering into my earlobes. She returns to take my vitals, and I cough, take deep breaths, and present my tongue for inspection. More waiting. Do people actually read, Reader’s Digest? My doctor appears and we spend less than 20 minutes together. I voice my concerns. I get sick, ALL the time, why? I have this pain in my foot, why?
Some people just get sick a lot, probably a bad year for colds. Could be a tendon thing.
She glosses over. She party lines me until I have to channel my assertive-alter ego and insist that I won’t be taking a “broad spectrum antibiotic” for a cough that has settled deep in my chest. I am loosing the battle.
I’m going to put you on an inhaled steroid, for your congestion.
What?! Yes, i’m congested. It’s generally a resting state for me. I’m used to it. What are the side effects?
Some people get bloody noses, headaches, and occasional vomiting.
That all sounds 100% worse than mild congestion. I’m tired of fighting her and her wall full of I know better than you. She wants to talk to me about my responses to the depression screening.
I sit here weeks later wondering if I should have said something, phrased something, differently, or put on a more convincing “acquaintance smile” in attempts to escape her scrutiny. Feeling out my reaction, and how much of it is response to the weightiness of our societal taboos about mental health, I’ve got more questions than answers. I want to feel happy, Doesn’t everyone? Sure, I want to feel more happy, more often! But this seems like a too-good-to-be-true trap.
Maybe talking to someone is the answer. Maybe running more is. None of these seem like options. Drugs – Paxil – is the answer, the only option.
I escape with a prescription for Flonase (this is a thing – the inhaled steroid – and I swear to you it is actually called that). She chases me down in the hall to give me a card for a podiatrist, and another petition to consider the Paxil. It has taken everything out of me. Confrontation-phobic to a fault (and still sans-coffee), I have mustered all my resources to the cause, to get myself out. I wilt in the face of authority, perceived or otherwise, too often forgetting that I am the authority on me. Thanks, I will. I won’t. I walk away, coaching myself not break into an all out sprint. Even here, now, in the sterile halls of the clinic, just thinking about running makes everything seem better.
Mental Note: Find a new GP.
The mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running.
One of the coolest moments in my racing history happened a few weekends ago. On a cold and drizzly Seattle morning, in the early Sunday fog, we were off through downtown prepared for a hilly, challenging Hot Chocolate 15k. I expected many things from this race. I knew I would be wet, cold, and wobbly- legged from the hills.
What I didn’t except was the eerie, elated feeling of turning up a steep hill to see the course turn dark and serpentine into the Battery Street tunnel. Sheltered from the rain for almost a mile, the light at the end of this particular tunnel was bittersweet. Inside, we were dry. Thousands of running footsteps echoed off the walls, cheery voices welcoming the shelter from the rain, lanes completely empty except for us – runners. Hundreds of us, making our own traffic noises, all blending together as we curved along to see the opening back into the daylight.
I can’t say enough good things about this race. I tried in my post for RunOregon. My crowd-averse self normally registers events like this as a bit of a chore, but RAM Series‘ Hot Chocolate single-handedly revived my interest in, and enjoyment of races. I’ll take hill tired all day, every day when the trade-off is stoked on racing again.
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Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller