Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If we aren't following our hearts, then what are we doing with the blessing of our lives?

(This is split up in three sections: Beginning thoughts, places I’ve gone, and some self reflection)

An adventure would not be an adventure without low points along with the high points. Without low points, it would be a vacation. While I may be doing some things people do on vacation, I know that I am really on a journey-physical, emotional, and spiritual. All the people I love are with me in spirit, but physically, I travel alone.
To better start off this chapter of my adventure I’d like to start with the wise words of Star Blackford.  It’s some of the best advice I have ever gotten and sums up a lot of the kind and loving support I have received from many people:
“We are who we are, Sandi, and we don't owe anyone any explanations, excuses or rationalizations. Each of us, in our own lives, has to figure out what it is we need to do to live more fully into the people we were created to be. It isn't always easy, and the world at large often has plenty to say about it, but we always know the answers in our hearts. And if we aren't following our hearts, then what are we doing with the blessing of our lives?”
With that said, I truly feel like I am following my heart completely and fully for once. After making a very hard decision to leave TFA, I can say that I have honestly not regretted the decision once. Considering I tend to over think absolutely everything this realization has been a blessing. However, there have been plenty of time where I’ve sat in my car freaking out because I don’t know where the heck I’m headed (at the moment and in life), I miss loved ones, little moments of heart ache, I’m afraid of being alone in the dark, and whatever reasons I unhelpfully come up with at the moment.
This is my way to “figure out what it is we need to do to live more fully into the people we were created to be.” It’s definitely not for everyone who is having a life “crossroads” moment (I feel like everyone will have this moment(s) come sooner or later), but for me, it’s what I need and am lucky enough to be able to do.

The Beginning (What I’ve done so far):
Not to say the desert isn’t beautiful in its own way, but I will be quite happy if I never have to go back to Phoenix. Sorry, cacti, rattlesnakes, 110+ F, birds that screech instead of sing, etc. etc, etc, but I am head over in heels in love with big leafy green trees, green grass and plant life in every directions, running through rivers, and seeing all types of animals that don’t threaten to poison me.
I headed out after getting mobbed by first graders telling me they love me. It was a nice way to go to say the least. I had to take care of some things in Colorado yet I still had enough time to see the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.
I started off at the Grand Canyon, in which I gave myself a huge surprise. I knew I only had a few hours to spend there and all I really wanted to do was run the rim trails for 2 hrs. Thus, when I saw it was $25 dollars whether I wanted to spend a few hours or a week, I was not happy. I drove up to the ranger in the toll booth and asked him if it was possible to turn around because it’s crazy for one person to pay that much for a few hours when nature should be enjoyed freely to begin with. (This is completely out of character for me). The park ranger just shook his head and told me to just go and enjoy the park! Success! So I ran around the rim looking at absolutely gorgeous scenery (my legs weren’t ready to go down in the canyon and back up from WS100). I would have loved to have camped but I had to move on.

My second day of the trip I headed to Mesa Verde National Park. Of course, there was a fee but this time I felt like the $15 was well worth it (The $15 pass is good for a week but I only had a time to spend a day). I have loved learning about the Native Americans in the area since I was in elementary school. I remember being fascinated that people actually lived in homes built on cliffs and I would gladly do it today if I could. There are 3 main cliff dwellings in the park. In order to go in and get a tour it is $3 but it is well worth it. (There are also plenty of cliff dwellings along the canyons that you can only see if you really look close) I swear if past lives our possible, I was Native American. LOL. Seriously-the culture is beautiful. The bond that these people had with the land is something that is hard to imagine it today’s society. It’s such a pure and simple life. Every rain drop, plant, and ray of sunshine is appreciated because that’s where life stems from. Mesa Verde was the true start of me feeding my need to explore. I spent hours exploring the land from going in the cliff dwellings, learning in the museum, and running/hiking the canyon trails.

Now it was time to head into Denver. After having two days of being surrounded by nature with my spirits soaring I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the city. The purpose of this side trip was to pick up the things that TFA stored for me. When I went into the storage room I tried to hide my shock from the guy helping me out. “Did I really have this much stuff….There is no way this can fit in my car.” I put everything outside of my car and then began my game of real life car Tetris. I won the game, fitting everything, but I couldn’t see out of any of my windows. This wasn’t going to work- I couldn’t waste money on storage, but I had to down size. I spent a good hour worrying about what to do when I finally stopped at a Goodwill. There went 5 boxes of things I really didn’t “need”. Much of it was kitchen appliances from a toaster oven, containers, baking things, etc. I was quite sad to give up the wine glasses but unfortunately they’re not really necessary in the woods. My car was still a little too packed- I spent a good day thinking about giving up the TV and microwave and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I could not part with these things. It’s not that I really care about having these things- but they are the most expensive things I own at the moment. I actually am starting to despise TV. I have barely watched it for 2 months now and I love it. The hours I spent watching dumb TV shows about people who appreciate expensive things rather than loving relationships was ridiculous. Almost every meal I ate was in front of the TV, not exactly what I call healthy- when I was done with my meal I would then sit in front of the TV some more and maybe even get more food even if I was full. Now my meals are spent appreciating nature. When I’m done eating I get up and take a walk or climb on rocks. Yet the TV stays for now in my packed car.

While in Denver I stopped in the humungo REI store. After talking to some old men who for some reason admired my journey instead of thinking I was nuts, I bought my new home on the go! I must admit, I am quite fond of my little tent. It’s quite cozy and so simple I have no problem putting it up in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, by the time I bought the tent it was dark out and there is no place to camp in the city. I decided to sleep in a motel one last time. On the way to Denver I slept once in my car. It still had room and I made a bed out of my trunk. It was quite nice compared to the motel I chose! Staying at the motel was by far the most scared I have ever been on this trip that I was going to get raped or have my things stolen. The room smelled like smoke, paint was chipped, and there wasn’t even toilet paper in the bathroom. There was a “No Refund” sign at the office- I understood why. I got a blanket and pillow out of my car and slept on top of the bed. Next to me was a kitchen knife. I have had no desire to stay in anything but a tent since.

I woke up at a little before 4am and immediately was excited for the Buckeye Trail 50k. So what if I was across the country- most of my east coast running family was all there. I started texting Rachel about the race and for constant updates. I tried to go back to sleep but no luck, I wanted to get the hell out of the motel anyway. I ate a quick breakfast then headed to Boulder to go running.

As an ultra runner, I was curious to see why so many of the “great” ultra runners choose that as a place to live. It is a very lovely place and is alive with energy. The town has street performers (from mind readers to musicians) and tons of great window shopping. The main spot for trails is less than 5 minutes from the center of town. I was in Boulder a few days before I started TFA and enjoyed it, the trails were beautiful, but waaaaayyy to crowded for my liking. Wanting to see if there were any more low key places I actually emailed Anton and he was nice enough to let me know about the trails. He said if I got there early enough it wasn’t as bad, to definitely try Green Mountain,  and about a few other places a bit farther of a drive.  I have to admit running Green Mountain has been my favorite run in CO. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The area is full of life, colorful flowers, and breath taking views. Yet, I still saw way more people than I am used to when trail running. I’m glad all the people were out there running or hiking, but I missed getting lost in the scenery and going for long amounts of time without seeing another person.  It was still enjoyable, but it wasn’t my normal trail running “mediation/therapy” session. There are some other really great trails off of Canyon and Magnolia road, but the trails weren’t long enough for a really solid long run. With that said, I’m sure there are still tons of places I did not explore so I’m not exactly sure what my opinion of Boulder actually is.

Boulder was also my first night of camping. I always seem to have a hard time actually enjoying my first night of camping because it’s an adjustment to sleeping indoors. This was no exception. I didn’t know where to camp, if I could actually put up a tent by myself, I’m really scared of being alone in the dark (I don’t like not being able to see what is around me), and it was hailing when I was trying to decide what to do. After some pointless driving, a really bad nosebleed, a sad phone call, and some frustration tears shed, I camped off Magnolia Rd. (A long, steep, winding road and driving up it may qualify for car abuse) I lucked out and camped not too far from a family (easing my fears of being alone) and I set up my tent at the exact time it started to rain.

Sandi Nypaver, Mountain Climber:

One thing I knew I HAD to do in Colorado was climb a 14er. I didn’t know where to start or where to go. I put Leadville in my GPS and hoped that by getting farther in the mountains that I would I could just find a place to stop and ask, which is exactly what I did.  I stopped at a forest ranger station and two of the rangers all too happily explained everything to me in unnecessary detail. It was decided I’d start with Grays and Torreys (two 14er summits that could easily be done in one day). This was my first test of using a map because my gps can’t find mountain trail heads. Much to my surprise, I headed in right direction and found where to go without any problems. Up another long Colorado winding and rocky road I went. After saying sorry to my car a 100 times I got to the trail head and texted Rachel where I was. Of course, no service. I felt awful-  I hadn’t texted anyone in awhile and I knew I would be causing worry. But it was getting late and there was no way I was going back down the hill.

Too make this a little shorter, I woke up early the next morning to the trail head being filled with people. Within 2 hrs I got o Grays Peak and less than 40 minutes later I was at the top of Torreys. As expected, the views were spectacular. Yet, I was disappointed it only took a less than 3 hrs to get to the top of both peaks. I don’t want to say it was easy, hiking up for hours will always leave you breathing hard, but I wanted more of a challenge. Thus, I began my “I am a mountain climber” 4 day period.  I headed to Buena Vista and climbed 3 of the collegiate peaks. I started with Mt. Yale, thought it still didn’t take me long enough, and then went for Mt. Harvard and Columbia (both can be done in the same day) and I had finally met my match! Mt. Harvard wasn’t bad; I got to the top within a few hours and then debated Mt. Columbia. Being type A, I of course could not pass the chance to do another summit. I knew from talking to people there wasn’t exactly a trail to Mt. Columbia, but I knew it was possible. I thought I could just follow the ridge line between the mountains and it wouldn’t be too bad, boy was I wrong. There are a few karens to get you started but after that it’s a bit of a guessing game and looking at the snow to see if there footprints. Right off the back I started boulder hopping. It was a little scary but mostly fun. Then I saw a karen that led me to a steep downhill. I didn’t realize how steep and long it was until I had been sliding down it for ten minutes with still a long way to go. I slid for 45 minutes, praying I could catch something to slow down on the way, and caused a few rock slides. I’m still not sure this was the right place to go but there were foot prints when I reached the snow.  For another hour I boulder hopped on unstable rocks and slid through snow that I knew could very possible give and have me falling down into the rocks beneath it. I know no one else was going to be on the trail that day and was all too aware that if I got hurt no one would find me until the next day or longer. I knew I had to stay smart, and I had to stay positive.

From there, it was another hour of going back uphill. This was the steepest climb I had. I climbed up using my hands the entire time. I even had to stop and catch my breath a few times. I would have liked to have taken a longer rest but the clouds were getting really dark. It’s storm season in the mountains and your suppose to summit by noon. I finally reached the summit a little before one and was met by (I think) a marmot. It was great to have made it, but I heard thunder and it lightly hailed for a minute. I knew there was a trail down Mt. Columbia to get me back to my car but as I looked around I couldn’t find it. I started to worry and said a quick prayer to find my way. The marmot caught my eye and he walked about 20 feet to my left. Not knowing what else to do I followed. When I got close, the marmot again started moving and I followed. Five minutes of this and the marmot stopped, right where the trail started. I can’t prove this was my prayer being answered but this trip has certainly made me trust God more than I ever had before. Every time I have said a prayer when I got scared of where to sleep or where to go it has somehow been answered. At times I have gotten lonely, but I have never felt truly alone on this trip. For me, this little experience showed me that I’m not alone.

(Side note: There are ups and downs to climbing alone. Here of course it was scary being alone on such technical terrain. I’m sure it is also very special to share the experience of reaching the summit with others. However, I really appreciated being able to go at my own pace- pushing myself when I felt good and taking it easy when I wanted. I also love the mental challenge of pushing myself through it and developing that mind body relationship. Same goes for ultras)

I was grateful to find the trail, but I found out that it was again another mile of sliding down hill. For parts I could slide sideways standing up but after falling a dozen times I opted for the crouching position. It probably would have been way more of a blast if I wouldn’t have known that if I got hurt being alone that I would have been screwed. I got back down to the trees. Out loud I professed my love to the trees, telling them how much I missed them. Walking the next few miles to my car I knew it was time to stop my mountain climbing for awhile. I really missed running… it was time to get my speed and running confidence back.

I spent one more night in Buena Vista, a great little town, and so far my favorite little town in Colorado. Many towns are a little too “touristy” and there are plenty of tourists who come, but you still get that small town feel that I haven’t found in any other places in CO. There are also plenty of places to camp (free of course) and places to do laundry, check email, and shower. After running the CO trail (not very easy to do with an hour of uphill until you reach over 10,000ft) I headed out. I thought I knew where I was headed and then kept changing my mind with a “something isn’t right” feeling.  I ended up in Utah that night finding a place to camp just in time on a pretty lake. I was supposed to pay a fee but I just wanted to sleep there unlike everyone else who obviously were spending the weekend, so I didn’t pay. (This may sound bad, but I have gotten quite good at this. If you come late and leave early no one is there too notice if you paid or not. Most of the places you pay its more expected that you are staying for awhile- since I don’t and am on a budget- I honestly feel no guilt for not paying. It’s nature anyway- should be free.)

I have to admit, I kind of knew why I felt bad driving west when I started. I was driving farther away from Ohio. It’s not that I had any plans to stay in Ohio (this is my time in life to try out new places), but this weekend is Burning River 100 and Rachel is running it along with plenty of other people who have supported me along my journey. I really wanted to be there to show my support and see the people I have been missing. I talked to Rachel the next morning crying from a rest stop because I didn’t know what to do. I really wanted to go run in Cali, but I really wanted to see the people I missed. It’s not in my budget or time frame to go back to Ohio and visit or Cali. Of course, Rachel told me it was okay I wasn’t going to be at BR100 and to continue my adventure. I went on my way to Cali, not feeling quite right. I don’t want to say I regret this decision because I definitely learned that seeing and supporting loved ones is more important than pretty scenery, but I do wish I was going to be in Ohio this weekend. I got to see the redwood forest which I wanted to see for a long time, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. I also spent 2 days driving in Cali, not really sure where I was going. It took until this morning for me to truly appreciate the experience and except that I made a “mistake” and it was okay, I’m only human.

So that’s the “quick” summary of my adventure thus far. It has continued my experience of jammed pack learning in a very short amount of time. As I stated at the beginning, I have not once regretted my decision and it’s obvious to me as to why. I have felt more myself these past two weeks then I have since I was a little kid. I have always had this side to me of just wanting to go and explore and I feel like that part of me is finally being fed. I have felt more at home and alive in nature then I have ever felt living in Parma. No offense to Parma, but this experience in nature has given me the chance to make things right within myself.

A little self reflection:

There have been so many moments where I felt so at peace with myself. This often comes from me trail running, but never lasts long after I stop running. To be honest and open, my mind has worked like this for half of my life: Negative thoughts come into my head and then I fight and fight and fight with my own mind to make my thoughts become positive. I usually win, especially since I have started running, but it is still quite mentally exhausting and it’s never a good thing when I lose the battle against myself.  There have been plenty of days within the past two weeks where I haven’t had this problem. It’s such a wonderful experience. I’m finally learning how to become my own best friend when I need it. Meaning when a problem comes, instead of beating myself up I can actually process what’s going on and how to help myself whether it be talking to someone else or being able to look at the situation and give myself advice and support that I normally only had for others.

The time outdoors has also allowed me to reflect on my own traits. For instance I know I am tough (that’s obvious through ultra running) but I have finally been able to appreciate that as tough as I am, I am also an extremely emotional person. I always thought this as a good thing when it came to trying to help/ guide others, but when it came to myself and my personal feelings I always despised this part of me. In response to the feelings I didn’t want to deal with, I would mentally shut down and spend my time alone or pretty much being a ghost of a person to the people I was with. I didn’t know how to respond to myself. This problem isn’t fixed but it’s been much better. I have just let myself just feel whatever emotion I have (good and bad) and then let myself think about it and adjust. If I need to cry because I am mad at myself for something, hurt because a certain family member has barely talked to me (only about school loans), or I am feeling unwanted from a recent heart ache, I just let myself do it. I take it all in. Then I remember that this is the most support I have probably ever had in my life. I have these words from Star Blackford posted in my car:

 "You are a strong, intelligent, talented and determined young woman - I have faith in you, I believe in you, and even in the darkest nights of your soul, you are never alone. You are loved, supported, and even understood."

I can then start to believe these things about myself (something I could never do before) and take care of my emotions till I once again feel at peace. This process is still a little unnatural, but I realize how positive it is for me. It’s allowing me to love myself more, as well as learn lessons that will not only allow me to help myself but also all of the people around me. It’s helping me to experience a peace and happiness within myself. I must admit, however, I am extremely scared that this won’t last once this little adventure ends. Yet I am thoroughly determined to set my life up so this process can continue.

To end this already:

I am currently in Truckee, California ready to explore the Pacific crest, Tahoe Rim, and Western States trails. It’s a nice change from running at 10,000 in Buena Vista and I’m loving all the trees. The one thing better about CO is that mosquitoes were not a problem. I am getting eaten alive out here! I have a great job lead in CO but I’m not sure what I think about it. It’s absolutely gorgeous out west, but I think that the mountains out east are just as pretty. I still think the most fun I have ever had running has been in Virginia. The Western States (CA) and Promise Land (VA) courses are tied for the prettiest courses I have ran. Virginia, however, is quite a bit cheaper. I must admit living in the North Carolina Mountains has crossed my head plenty of times (if you know a bit about me you will know I enjoy warm weather which is why I said NC). I have no idea where I will actually end up yet. I’m worried, bu I’m alive, I’m learning, I’m growing. I’m excited to see where my life will take me.

Really this is it:
Words cannot express how much all the support I have gotten means to me. You are constantly with me on this journey and I hope my pictures and Facebook and my blogs help you feel part of my adventure. I miss everyone so much it can be a bit painful at times, but thank for understanding this is what I need to do right now.
Good luck to everyone running BR100 this weekend- I rrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllllllyyyyyy wish I would have made the decision to go, but know I will be there in spirit.

Sending my sincerest love,


Sunday, July 10, 2011

L E A P I N G: Dear God, Please let me make it to the other side.

leap of faith

The act or an instance of believing or trusting in something intangible (

            After a month of learning a priceless amount of things, deep personal debate, and I’ll admit…plenty of tears…I have decided to resign from Teach For America. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.
                Teach For America is an absolutely extraordinary organization and I am extremely proud to have been accepted and gone through a month of the program and a half a year to just prepare for it. I know there is a lot of controversy with TFA but if those against it would come to TFA institute or really listen to the people working for TFA, all controversy would be gone. There are obviously plenty of amazing teachers who have not gone through TFA, but there are not enough. TFA is making it so low income schools are packed with amazing teachers. TFA doesn’t just give members the skills to be a teacher, it gives members the skills to get every single student in the classroom a shot to have a bright future and to truly have the opportunities to pursue happiness.
                It’s easy to think that any teacher with a good work ethic can push his/her students to greatness, but over the past month of teaching summer school I know a good work ethic isn’t enough. Knowledge and experience is everything, and TFA relentlessly finds and uses ever bit of it. Over the past month I’ve learned to be humble enough to know that if a student didn’t do well on an assessment that it was completely my fault. I have then learned how to figure out where I went wrong for students and how to give my best shot at doing a better job. I learned that if a kid isn’t paying attention I might need to be more entertaining, that I need to figure out a way to make my lesson more understandable, I need to give better directions, or I need to teach students how to listen.
                For example my co-teachers and I had one student who was all over the place the first week of school.  We spent so much time trying to control him we didn’t have enough time for other students. This is the student who normally would be labeled as the trouble maker who doesn’t want to learn. Then we taught him how to listen. During carpet time we gave him his own special chair to sit in and he could rock side to side when he felt the urge to move. A week and a half later I gave him a classroom culture survey and I asked him what he had learned. He told me “I learned how to listen.” (side note:  when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he said a bird because he wanted to fly. I did too. He also told me he wanted to go to college.) This may not seem big, but when he learned to listen his grades had a drastic improvement and he participated willingly in class.
                I also learned how to change a kid’s mindset. I helped teach kids they could go to college if they worked hard. The first week of school one girl told me that when she grew up she wanted to work at McDonalds. Last week she was set on going to college.
                One of the hardest lessons I learned no matter how hard a kid’s life is that he must be pushed as hard as every other kid. Let me explain. On Friday a past TFA teacher told us about a boy she taught who was  4 years behind his grade level.  The first year she taught him he lived in foster care and he made about a year and ¾ worth of growth.  He was still behind grade level and so he repeated the 4th grade. This time he was back living with his grandma. His personality changed. He wasn’t always being fed, he missed a lot of school, he’d come home from school to people drinking and paying no attention to him. The TFA teacher loved him as much as she possible could. His life was so hard however that she stopped expecting him to do his homework or other little things she expected from other students. By the time his second year of 4th grade was over he was still behind but the school had to move him up to the fifth grade. That student will remember his teacher as loving, but because she expected less from him he may now never have the skills to ever get himself out of poverty. As the TFA teacher was almost in tears, I realized that all of the other teachers in training will make sure that every student is pushed to their best no matter their circumstances.
                There are also the students who some people say are lazy and don’t want to learn. I’ve seriously heard principles say don’t waste your time on that one.  It’s probably more likely that no one in his/her family has ever done well in school or has taught him/her the importance of an education. That student has quite possible thought he’s dumb or school isn’t for everyone for years. I’ve learned skills to help get these students to college and have seen proof that “these” students can go to college.
                Obviously, I cannot say enough good things about Teach For America. What I’ve said above is only a very, very small portion of what I learned. I deeply appreciate these things and I will be sure to use them. It is also why this decision was so incredibly hard. I am head over heels in love with the kids I have taught, I think TFA and its purpose is incredible, but I hate being inside all day, working 13-16 hrs days, and most importantly I don’t love teaching. My passions have no longer been at a balance. Barely any time for running and when I did have time, I was exhausted.
                I’m not normally one to ask for help but for the first time in my life I asked for it. Many people told me to try TFA for at least a year, but whenever I heard this advice I was unhappy. Then I had 2 people tell me it was okay if I didn’t feel like TFA was the right fit. That it was okay if I wanted to pursue other dreams and find a way to balance both passions. That it was okay to find other ways to guide kids and still have time to run. I noticed I instantly relaxed when I heard that. I then talked to my faculty advisor for a few hours about how my life would be at a TFA the next 2 years.  I realized that if I decided to fit in running that I would be choosing running over family and friends and I would probably be tired even when I did run. Then he had me make a pro/ con list and rank each point of importance from 1-10. The pro TFA side went like this: I LOVE the kids (10), Help close the achievement gap (7), Resume builder (5), Teaching license (4), Stable Salary (3). A lot of the things I had on the con list that I would be giving up were ranked pretty high and I had a long list of things I wasn’t happy about. I also realized that teaching wasn’t the only one way to guide youth to a better future. It took a month for me to realize that it was okay for me not to feel like I was meant to teach in this wonderful organization and to not beat myself up over needing to find a balance to pursue other dreams as well.
                With that said, it’s time for me to learn how to be genuinely happy. There are some “demons” I have left that need to be gotten rid of once and for all. I know it’s time for me to defeat them. It’s also time for me to get the hell out of Arizona. I realize that some people think AZ is beautiful, and it is in its own right, but it is in no way my type of beautiful or trail running. And I HATE rattlesnakes- they freak me out! I need trees!  Seriously- I love trees. Lol.  A cactus just doesn’t cut it for me. I have absolutely no desire to do Badwater any time soon. =)
                So I have thrown away a stable salary/life for the next two years++. I bet you’re wondering what exactly I am planning on doing and what I feel the best way for me to learn how to be happy is. Well I have sent applications in to some wilderness therapy programs for troubled and/or low income youth. (I feel like that has me written all over it and I bet you do too). I have already gotten 2 phone interviews set up. One is back in the east coast in the mountains. Until I see where that goes however, I am doing a west coast adventure. I don’t have much money, but I have some money saved that was going towards a teaching license and so I’m getting myself a tent and some camping gear and going exploring. I probably shouldn’t have read Into the Wild, Lost Girls (3 girls quit there NYC jobs for a year to travel around the world), and Becoming Odyssa (Jennifer Pharr Davis’s first Appalachian Trail hike through- She’s actually doing in again for the record right now!) all in the month before I left Ohio. Lol. I have wanted to do something like this for a long time though and I’m not about to pass up this chance. I’m going to climb a mountain in Colorado, head into Wyoming, run in the Redwood Forest, and only God knows what else. I completely realize doing this alone is going to be hard, scary, and lonely, but I need this. I know I do.
                I know I’m throwing away a lot, but I think I have a lot to gain. If you read my last blog it was probably easy to tell I wasn’t happy. I thought I was a bad person for not feeling happy about being a teacher. I felt really bad that I didn’t want to sacrifice my running. I never want running to come before people, but I hope you can understand that when I started trail running, something in me just felt at peace. I started becoming more of the person I wanted to be. I need running in my life right now. I think working with youth outdoors might be by answer to finding a balance.
                Obviously, my first 6 weeks away from Ohio have been way harder than I ever could have imagined. Thankfully, I am now at a place where I can reflect back and be thankful for all the incredible lessons I have learned….and boy did I learn a lot!

                If people want me to, I will write about my adventures for the next month. Just let me know. Also, I’d appreciate it if you keep me in your prayers… I’m a little nervous being a 23 yr old girl, not exactly sure what I am doing, and being out in the wilderness by myself. =) I promise to keep you in my prayers as well!

So here I go on my BIIIGG ADVENTURE! If someone wants a tv or stereo let me know…. I need to get rid of things I don’t need.

Again, THANK YOU to anyone who has supported me and taken the time to help me out. =)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” –Helen Keller.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Western States 100 2011

~And I’ll find strength in pain~

(Lyrics from The Cave)

                When I put those lyrics as my facebook status the night before Western States 100 I expected to have to fight through some pain at some parts of the race, I didn’t expect to be having to dig up every little bit of strength I’ve had only a few miles into the race, and I didn’t expect I would have to have someone else find my own strength for me when I was too exhausted to find it.

This isn’t my most glamorous race, this isn’t a race where I felt fast or even came close to winning, but it’s the race I’m most proud of. Here’s my Western States 100 story as well as some insight to my big move across the country:

                When we start getting big dreams in our heads we only focus on that dream and getting there. I highly doubt that anyone say my “My dream is…” and then thinks about how hard it is going to be even when you’re on a direct path towards that dream. Until that dream is approaching reality, we don’t realize how much we have to give up. Not that it isn’t worth it, I know I needed an adventure… I just didn’t think that it would be such a rough start.

                After being in Colorado for 4 days, having stomach issues, having blood coming out of my nose every morning,   and running between 8,000-11,000 I sat on a log after running up a mountain for an hour. I put my head down and fought back frustration tears. I missed running with a non-upset stomach, feeling somewhat fast, and I rrrreeaaaallllyyy missed all the trees back in Ohio.  Thankfully, a few days later I ran in Boulder, CO which has more trees and I had adjusted to the elevation. Stomach still wasn’t great though

                A week and a half later it was time to move on to the hot temperatures of Tempe, Arizona where I began working 14-16 hour days for Teach For America (TFA). I love the purpose of TFA but a couple days in I realized I hated being inside all day and that going for a run meant getting less sleep than I was already on schedule to get. (I am definitely not one of those people who can thrive off of a few hours of sleep). Two days in and I was fighting back tears because I was unsure of my path, not to mention my stomach was still bugging me and I was losing weight.

                After 2 weeks of working in Arizona for TFA and being exhausted it was time to fly to WS100. I was nervous about being so tired and worried the last time my stomach felt great was in Ohio, but those thoughts were pushed aside, I was going to see people I missed like crazy and love.  That’s the hardest part about my dream to explore and see new places by far is that I left everyone I loved and all my safety was gone.

                My original plan was to try and rest and eat tons of food to fuel up for the race. Unfortunately it was hard to rest with so much going on and hard to eat a lot of food when my stomach wasn’t agreeing with me. Still, I had so much support I couldn’t help but feel positive. On race morning the energy was electric. I loved it. I went and got weighed in… I had lost 6 pounds in about 3 weeks. I admit, I like the weight it put me at, but losing 6 pounds before a race because I was having trouble getting as much food down as normal is not a healthy way to lost weight, or race for that matter.

                The race started, I loved the first few miles of uphill. I hate that people think that being from Ohio means you can’t be good at mountain running. The hills in Ohio have kicked my as on training runs plenty of times.  My strength is long climbs which I proved  that a lot in Virginia. I felt like the climbs in CA were a challenge, but much easier than at Grindstone 100. After a few miles of uphill the course flattened out onto snow. That’s when I began to feel like crap. I hate being cold, but I was ready to fall asleep on it from being so exhausted. Even worse, my stomach had already begun to swell. I tried to shake it off and stay positive but by mile 15, I knew neither feeling would get better. By mile 20 I was walking on and off, trying to fight stomach pain as well as the want to sleep on the trail. I hate to admit this, but I almost dropped out at every single aid station from about mile 20 to miles 78. I was exhausted, and I was sick. Yet every time I went to tell an aid station volunteer I was done I thought of all the people who have supported me and also Rachel waiting for me at the first crew access point at mile 55. Honestly, if a person knows that they are going to feel like crap all day, I think it’s justifiable to DNF. Save your legs to run another day, another race. But this was WS100, I couldn’t have gotten there without the help of my running angels, and Rachel and Steve came out all the way from Ohio to be amazing pacers.

                After denying the urge to DNF at plenty of aid stations, I formed a goal to just get to Rachel at mile 55 so at least I could DNF where the car was close by. (Apparently Geoff Roes had the same plan). By the time I got there I was mentally fatigued just as much as I was physically. By the time I got to mile 55 I had felt like complete shit for 50 miles. I can’t even begin to explain how disheartening it was to be at WS100, a race I worked so hard to get to and perform well at, and have everything go wrong almost right away.  The part that got to me the most was that even if my stomach wasn’t a wreck, I knew that being so tired from working so hard for TFA would still have been a huge set back. That’s what almost took everything out of me mentally. For those of you who don’t know. Teach For America is an organization that aims to end the achievement gap in schools. I was selected to be a teacher in Colorado. I am extremely passionate about the cause and I am head over heels for my summer school students I have been teaching. However, TFA is extremely demanding. My passion of guiding youth on the right path and running have no longer been at a balance. I realized walking into mile 55, that I can’t work 14-16 hours a day and be the ultra runner I know I am capable of being. I am all too aware of the fact that in order for me to be happy, I need a balance between the two, and that balance is not going to happen.

(quick side note: If you run past someone who is walking during a race DO NOT say good job lol I promise you that those are not helpful words if you feel like crap)

                I walked up to Rachel with tears in my eyes and actually sat down. I was so happy to see her, but so frustrated with the day. I had people trying to be supportive, but saying “people wouldn’t do this if it was easy” was not at all helpful. I tried eating, but just like the rest of the day I could not get much food or water down. Every time I forced down something I felt like my stomach wanted to explode.  After having a doctor and Rachel do their best to lift my spirits I used my ipod for the first time ever during a race and was on my way. In 7 miles I would see Rachel again so she could start pacing me.

                I walk into mile 62 to find Star Blackford and Rachel waiting for me. I only got to see Star for second, but seeing her reminded me of all the supportive words she as well as many others have given me. That, and seeing Rachel was enough to keep me going forward. From mile 62 to 78 Rachel and I mostly walked. I attempted to run when I could but that only lasted till my stomach pains got the best of me. By mile 78 my right ankle had also began to swell and I had had enough pain for one day. The lack of eating and drinking caused my energy to be at an all time low. 78 miles was enough suffering, I had no want to go 22 more miles in pain.

                I told Rachel I wanted to drop. I knew she was disappointed. She told me to just make it to the aid station and I can make my decision there. I took a seat at the aid station and I knew I wanted to be done. However, Rachel and a few of the volunteers kept telling me that it was okay if I could no longer run, I could walk the rest of the way and make it under 30 hrs. I don’t think I could have had a more supportive group of people around me. I had almost no want to keep going, but I was given Tylenol, soup, and for the first time all day I could keep down solid food. I was still just wanted to sleep, but Rachel was doing everything a pacer and sister could to not let me stop. She looked almost as upset as I did that I was having such a hard day.

                Rachel and I made it to the mile 80 aid station and I was able to get down a little more soup and crackers. It was a good sign so I decided to keep going and attempt to run. I didn’t feel great, but the food gave me the most energy I had had all day and my stomach pain had lessoned. I told Rachel I wanted to do something a little crazy at that point… I wanted to break 24 hrs. We only had about four hours left and so we ran hard. We ran hard up every incline, we ran hard over rocks, we ran like the race has just begun. I highly doubt many other women have run that last 20 miles so fast.  We even dashed up all the hills the last part of the course. (Who the hell decided to put so many steep hills at the end of a 100 mile race? Lol)

                With 8 minutes to spare to be under 24hrs, I crossed the Western States 100 finish line and had my sister their waiting for me. I gave her the biggest hug I could… I know that if it hadn’t been for her, my day would have ended long before and I would never have crossed that line. I would like to think that I could have pushed myself to keep going, but I know I most likely would have stopped. I learned an important lesson though… when I can no longer find my strength, it’s possible for someone to give me a little of theirs till I can find mine again. I hope I’ll be able to pay this lesson forward. Thanks, twin.

                Post race update:

A positive about not being able to run hard for 100 miles is that my legs feel way better than they normally would.

As for my stomach, I learned I am allergic to gluten. (Not officially diagnosed by a Dr., but 97% positive.) Before I left Ohio my diet was all whole grains (never any grains with wheat), fruits, veggies, and a lot of things were organic. It was the healthiest I ever ate and I had never felt better. As soon as I started my road trip I had to eat whatever was available. That meant eating a lot of things I normally wouldn’t eat and tons of wheat bread, white pasta, and a lot of unnatural snacks. I always knew my stomach was sensitive, but I never knew to exactly what. After talking to a well informed friend, it was suggested I might be allergic. So this week I experimented. One day I avoided everything containing gluten and the next day I wouldn’t. I did it every other day this week. Sure enough, my stomach felt fine they days I avoided all gluten, and felt awful every day I didn’t avoid it. The bowl of pasta and bagel I had the day b4 WS were most likely not good pre race food for me.

This has been a really hard week. I lost two loved ones. For one person it was just her time to go to Heaven, the other, it was time to find happiness that I couldn’t give. I’ve also had a huge struggle of whether or not to continue with TFA. I love my kids so much. I know I was meant to work with kids. All my observation feedback notes say there couldn’t be a more caring teacher, and my students all keep telling me I’m there favorite teacher and hug me when they can. Yet, I am really unhappy not having time to run or be outside. I hate lesson planning, grading papers, etc. I really just want to spend time with all of the kids and guide them on the right path. As I said, I am well aware that in order for me to be happy I have to be able to run to my potential, and work with kids. I won’t be able to do both through TFA. Thus, I am at a loss off what to do right now.  I just turned 23, I don’t want to be so unhappy, I want to finda way to combine my passions. I would love to open an outdoors program for low income youth and/or youth who need some empowerment, I just don’t know where to start. Idk… I could use some advice (hint hint lol). I feel like my legs are ready to take a huge leap, but my hands are holding on with a tight grip.


Shout out to my east coast friends: I miss you all!

Special thanks to the wonderful women who helped get me to WS and Rachel for helping me get to the finish line. You’re my heroes. =)