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Strength Stories – Cassandra

It’s funny how happiness is less connected to events than it is to attitude. Some people are miserable despite having everything they’ve ever worked for. Some are constantly beaming sunshine in the face of hard times. It’s all in one’s outlook, and one’s outlook depends on how each and every thing in life is handled.

“A happy life consist not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” –Helen Keller

I first heard this quote a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. It is just undeniably true. Fighting for a purpose develops focus, determination, and toughness. Overcoming obstacles fosters pride, perspective, and humility. Through dealing with challenges and loss, a person grows. It’s not something that can be phoned in. It’s dark. It’s painful. It’s real.

Cassandra is a friend and a notoriously bubbly personality in our Auburn-to-Bay Area trail race scene. She is always smiling and cracking jokes, as she undertakes bigger and bigger challenges. She is one of the running junkies who uses races as a way to tread new ground, both on earth and in her life.

On October 15, 2012, Cassandra was diagnosed with IDC-Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer. She has battled it ever since, undergoing chemotherapy while steadfastly refusing to compromise her lifestyle and goals. Cassandra has gone through every emotion a person can feel, and has used the challenge as a springboard to accomplish more, find love, and live life more fully.

She carved out a little time from her insanely busy schedule to give us some insight:

How did you feel at first?

Shocked. Numb. Pissed off. I found it difficult to believe that someone like me who lives a healthy lifestyle and runs long distance could be diagnosed with cancer.

Did/do you feel any sense of loss or grief?

Yes. I went through the ‘why me’ stage when I was first diagnosed. For the first five months I didn’t go public with it. I only told a small handful of people because I didn’t want to deal with the questions, pity or emotions that the questions may evoke.

What has been your lowest point emotionally?

When I realized the chemo really was going to take my long hair and my eye lashes. My long hair was part of my identity for most of my life, and to lose it felt like I was losing a part of myself.

Was there a specific turnaround moment? If so, what triggered it?

When I completed a trail half during chemo and saw all my old buddies again. I felt strong and I felt loved. I realized that I CAN live life on my terms. I went public with my diagnosis after that race in March and felt stronger for it.

Do you feel as if you are running toward something or away from something?

Both. I’m running towards the bling at the finish line (as always) and running away from my fears, leaving all the garbage behind me.

Is it difficult to maintain your determination? Are there times when you feel overwhelmed?

It is only difficult when I am not working out or running. When I am not active, my thinking gets muddled and I lose focus and perspective on everything.

Yes, there are times when I do feel overwhelmed. Right now I am trying to plan my wedding, which may be 18 months to 2 years in the future. Being this young in my diagnosis and trying to look that far ahead is quite a task for me and can be very overwhelming at times.

How do you motivate yourself? What kind of goals do you set?

I keep races on my schedule, volunteer at races and keep in contact with all my running friends. I draw off their energy and enthusiasm from their races and training. I am trying to pick up where I left off last year when I was diagnosed. Always having a race to work for keeps me training and working towards something, instead of just aimlessly running.

What or who has helped you along?

My mom, my fiance, a few close friends and RUNNING!!!!

In retrospect, what has been the hardest part?

Admitting that I have cancer.

What has been the most rewarding part?

Taking on the challenge of beating this thing.

What has brought you joy during the journey?

Having people share their stories with me about themselves or loved ones going through cancer, and finding out who my friends are and discovering that I have so many people who love me.

What have you learned about yourself and the way you handle things?

I am stronger than I even I knew. This is teaching me patience and how to rely on meditation and relaxation techniques.

What has it changed about you?

I have stopped taking things to heart. While I care about my friends, I am not changing who I am for anyone! Gone are the days where I worry about what others think about me. What other’s think of me is really none of my business. I have a life to live. I am focused more on living and getting the most out of each day. I have stopped rushing through my day and now appreciate the small things in life and believe in the song “Love Like Crazy”.

How has it affected your view of other things in your life?

I don’t take anything or anyone for granted.

Do you consider yourself a better or stronger person for having gone through the experience?

I don’t know about being a better person, but as I approach my one year mark (Oct 15) I know I am a stronger person. You can’t deal with cancer, chemo AND run an Ultra and not come out a stronger person! 

Cassandra recently completed her second 100 miler at Run De Vous here in Northern California, which is exceedingly appropriate in that the race is pretty much a gathering of friends who support each other as they all struggle to reach their goals. It is about loving the journey and living life on your own terms, with your own goals.

Life isn’t fair, and often it throws difficult things at us, but knowing that there are people in this world like Cassandra can serve as a reminder that it doesn’t have to rule you. It doesn’t have to steal your identity. You can find strength you were unaware of and deal with hardship with tenacity, hope, humor, and class.

Thank you, CC.

P.S.: I will supply her with a link to this blog, so feel free to leave any thoughts or reactions for her here.

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Deja Vu!

BEERSPLOSION!!!

Ok, not quite. But I narrowly avoided one. Some of you may remember an incident which took place with one of my very first batches of homebrew, the “IPA Gone Wild”.

beersplosion

The crafty yeast threw me off with one day of showing no activity, then faked right, threw an elbow, and sunk a layup as I sprawled across the blacktop. I awoke the second morning to find my airlock clogged and launched, my clothes covered in grain bits, and my shoes and guitars soaked in an overflow brewpuddle.

That is one of the saddest words on earth. Brewpuddle.

Anyway, I transferred the batch to a larger fermenter, sopped up my own puddle of tears over the wasted beer, and the rest of the process went swimmingly. Since then I’ve done things a bit differently, mostly using a 7gal container for the primary to leave room for any rogue frenzies. However, this is the first time I’ve had two batches fermenting simultaneously, so I had to use a carboy for the second batch. Since it’s a relatively simple recipe, a Bavarian Hefeweizen, I just made the batch a tad smaller and planned to add more water later, probably just before kegging.

I checked on it just 12 hrs after boiling and it had already foamed up into the airlock and was spitting everywhere. Luckily I caught it before it blew the top off and really made a mess. I wrapped the carboy in towels to save the floor from drips, cleaned the airlock, cleared some foam, and set it up again. By that evening it had calmed down a bit, but That brew is still churning away under the surface.

That’s what I love about a glass carboy. It’s just plain cool to see bubbles and grain swirling in a yeast induced frenzy!

Anyway, crisis averted. For now…

 

 

P.S: I played around with the recipe a bit, adding freshly sliced orange, a splash of cinnamon and a few cloves into the boil during the last ten minutes or so. I likely taste it at keg time, and may drop a stick or two of cinnamon in the keg so the spicy taste grows as it ages.

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Just One Blog About This Whole Injury Thing

What do you do when you’re a runner who can’t run?

You wake up excited to see what the plan has for you, then wake up a little more and grab your crutches in hopes of making it to the bathroom in darkness without impaling a cat.

You obsess over races a year away, researching and planning which lotteries to enter and which fallback races will be just as incredible.

You fill your time with more things. More guitar work, more experimental beer brewing, more movies, more texting, more reading, more friend visiting, more dog petting, more cat sparring, etc.

You work out everything you can. It all feels like substitution, but in the end it makes you a more well-rounded athlete.

You keep an eye on the big picture. You have to. The truth is that it’s a temporary condition. Whether or not there is a definite end in sight, a running injury doesn’t last forever. There are loads of people who suffer serious injuries and illnesses from which they’ll never recover, at least not to the same condition as before. If your only problem is that you can’t do one thing you love for a little while, your life is pretty damn good.

You settle into the rhythm of a journey, one in which you progress a little each day toward an eventual goal. You don’t need to live for the future; just focus on living now and one day it will lead to where you want to be.

You marvel at how incredible the human body is. It is a machine with thousands of parts working together to keep you going, and often all you need to do to repair it is to leave it alone. It repairs problems every bit as efficiently as it adapts to any task expected of it.

You pay more attention to other facets of life, because you have to. For me at least, the choice was not unlike teetering on a fence. On one side, there was complete immersion in injury. On the other, there was complete refusal to obsess. One or the other. The fact is the former reeked of self-indulgence, which is really not my style. I don’t even like it when people ask about my leg. I would much rather be productive and pour my energy into other things. I am constantly excited about running, but rarely linger on the thought that I can’t run right now.

All in all, this has been good for me. It’s given me a chance to step back and gain some perspective. Life is contrast, light and darkness, peaks and valleys, joy and sorrow, and each one illuminates its opposite. I don’t really think any of it is good or bad; the easy times make you grateful, the hard times make you strong. It’s all part of being human, which is a pretty fantastic journey in itself.

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If It Ain’t Right, Make It Right

A couple months ago I finished constructing my first violin. Or fiddle. Or whatever you prefer to call a tiny shoulder mounted cello. I began to learn to play and achieved a few decent phrases in the midst of the bumbling screeching of a man’s first attempts to play the fiddle. The thing is, I could hear that something was amiss. I am so used to listening intently for the way an acoustic instrument is resonating that I couldn’t ignore a certain brashness in the tone. A rawness that seemed inappropriate for the age old singer of melodies. Frankly, it sounded like a stereo with the highest slider on the EQ thrown up to 11.

 

I realized that just sealing and treating the wood with tung oil is not enough for a violin. I immediately did some research and ordered some proper violin varnish. A couple days ago I finally got around to disassembling the thing and applying the ground coat to the body and headstock.

 

The varnishing process will take weeks to perform, but here is some photographic evidence of the first step!

 

Before, with just Tung Oil. I like this finish a lot, not for its ease of application, but because it lets the wood really speak without being interfered with. However, a violin needs a bit of taming.

fiddle before fiddle before 2

 

 

And after the first coat of varnish.

fiddle after

 

 

I am very interested to find out how this will affect the voice of the instrument!

 

Laters,

Kynan

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Ukulele, Baby!

A few months ago I undertook a fun little project. I had always wanted a ukulele to take to the beach or to take backpacking, but never got around to buying one. I suppose I thought of them as toys instead of real instruments. Later on, being exposed to some amazing uke players changed my mind and I decided it was time to add one to my little music family.

 

What better way than to make one?

 

Here are a few pics of the process. It was really fun and turned out really well. The mahogany just sings in a sweet, mellow voice. Plus, it’s a scientific fact that a frown is impossible whilst strumming a ukulele.

 

 

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Experifermenting

“Hey. How’s it going? I want to do something special for this party. There are going to be bands, comedians, fire dancers, a burlesque group, and like over a hundred people. Will you help me brew a special beer for it?”

 

As I heard my brother’s voice on the other end of the line, it struck me how perfect the idea was. Everyone was encouraged to make or bring something, and creating a keg of unique custom suds seemed like just the kind of unexpected and generous thing we Matzes are fond of. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and we started brainstorming.

 

The plan ended up to be to use a Lagunitas style IPA as a base and add a bit of herby goodness. The trick would be to add the right amount, just enough to be interesting without becoming like a mouthfull of weird bubbly medicine. We followed a recipe I’ve used many times,  but thinned it out a bit with extra water and added a fresh branch of Rosemary cut straight from the giant mutant bush in my backyard in the last five minutes of the boil and during the cooldown. Later I pitched the yeast and capped it, setting it in the cool shade of my closet to bubble away.

 

Throughout the next two weeks I enjoyed the aroma of the yeast’s work every time I opened the door. Those little organisms feasting on an abundance of malt extract created their signature scent, which I only hope doesn’t stick to my clothing too much!

 

When it was time to keg, it was anyone’s guess what it would taste like. I siphoned and strained the golden nectar into a 5gal keg and cooled it for a couple days before tasting. I poured a bit from the tap and tasted. BINGO! JUST RIGHT!

 

Granted it was quite a strong beer, probably around 9% and with an herby, hoppy punch, but everyone at the party seemed to like it and I heard quite a few say they preferred it to the Racer 5 IPA which was also there. A statement like that will make a brewer’s heart proud! In fact, I went back to retrieve the keg the next day and it was bone dry. The experiment had worked out and my head is swimming with possibilities for the next infusion to try.

 

LONG LIVE THE UNKNOWN!

 

 

 

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A Long Road With a Distant Goal

 

Recovery is an interesting thing. I mean that in many different ways. It is interesting how it is not given a second thought if one is not immediately faced with the need for it. It is interesting how there are a million different methods of tackling it, and every individual finds their own way through it. It is interesting that it can be a catalyst for change in the person as a whole.

 

I’ve been going through a period of mixed feelings. On one hand, this feels familiar; there have been countless times during races when things have been low and I’ve had to just keep grinding forward, focused on the upswing to come. On the other, running was such a big part of my life that I do feel an underlying loss, and I think that has to be recognized and accepted as part of finding my way through this. I am going to be out of commission for a while, and I plan to handle recovery with every bit as much dedication and common sense as I normally try to handle training. I’ll try to check in often and share the journey with you, whom I know understand my mindset more than most.

 

In the meantime, an idea has taken hold and I’m going to move forward with it. Through running I’ve been fortunate to meet a thousand people with different stories. One common theme, at least in the long distance stuff, seems to be long term struggle. In more cases than one would think, the runner has dealt with a devastating injury, a complete change in lifestyle, a serious drug or alcohol addiction, or a plethora of other hardships which has forced them to learn the trait of decisive determination. They then set off on a long road with a distant goal, and fight their way there in a gradual process.

 

I also know that inspirational stories are often given a “lifetime network” connotation, and are somewhat dismissed as less than relatable. Maybe this is because the experience doesn’t coincide with our own. Perhaps it’s because really taking a close look at hardship makes us uncomfortable. Well, sometimes it is good to be uncomfortable. Sometimes considering something collectively, with its good aspects and bad, results in more meaningful insight.

 

I’m going to try to bring you these stories, in the runners’ own words so the genuine story is laid out to see. The details are not always pretty, but they are undeniably positive.

 

A new project!

 

 

 

Run happy and healthy, friends!

 

Kynan

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Well, I guess this detour is happening.

Hey everyone! It’s been a while!

 

Things have been pretty static for me. In my last blog, the Double Dipsea RR, I mentioned that the bum hip had never gone away. In fact, it never even improved, so I got it checked out by a dr, then an orthopedic specialist. She diagnosed a labrum tear and ordered an MRI to confirm the diagnosis and determine whether surgery would be needed.

 

In the meantime, I had gotten seriously stircrazy from not running at all. I am so used to having a lot of miles in my life that my body chemistry goes a little screwy without it. I went through the moodiness that often accompanies a taper, but I’d like to think I’m pretty adept at recognizing it and controlling it. Most of the time, at least. The thing that surprised me, though, was that my mind began to go. I became forgetful and spacy, which is something I have no tolerance for!

 

I decided I had to do something. On Friday I texted DW, “It would be crazy to ride a century on the spin bike, right?”

You can probably guess her answer.

 

Saturday morning DW left for her long run in the hills and I got up to begin my experiment. I would ride an hour, then get off and stretch to evaluate how things felt, then proceed if everything seemed fine. I alternated between a couple TV series on Netflix as my legs spun away, and every 20 miles I found the hip had not gotten any worse. Finally I hit 100 miles and called it quits! My legs felt absolutely fine but my arse was killing me! I am not used to six hours on a bike seat!

 

After having waited a couple agonizingly slow weeks for insurance to approve it, I got the notification call while in Arkansas on business and immediately scheduled it for the day I returned.

 

I literally landed in Sacramento and drove straight to the imaging center for my appt. Upon checking in I learned I had not one, but TWO tests scheduled. Lucky day!

Honestly, I was down for whatever gave me answers. I had never had a problem that lasted this long with no change whatsoever!

 

The first was a hip arthrogram. It’s where an x-ray monitor is focused on your hip joint and a specialist inserts a needle through your muscle and into the joint, piercing the fluid sac inside the joint. Contrasting fluid is then injected into the sac, and the color helps the dr see any tears and also helps later in the MRI.

 

The second was an MRI, which was comprised of seven different scans. All in all, I spent about 90 minutes in the tube, listening to the radio through headphones and picking out the different instruments’ melodic lines. (It’s a mindful meditation thing I do occasionally if I have to be physically still. You pick out one instrument and follow it independently from the rest of the noise, then add another, then another. If you can follow three or four simultaneously, you don’t have much attention left for anything else. At least I don’t.)

 

 

I got a call the next day, and it honestly caught me off guard.

 

“Hi, this is Mindy from Othopedics.”

 

“Hi, how are you?”

 

“I’m fine, but you’re not too great.”

 

“Okaaayyyy…”

 

“I’m really sorry, but you’re not running any ultramarathons anytime soon. You have a stress fracture through the ball of your femur inside the hip joint, which is why we couldn’t see it in the X-rays.”

 

“………. Well that’s not what I expected.” (Facepalm)

 

“I know, me neither. I’ve only seen this a couple of times; it’s a unique location for a fracture.”

 

“So I need to just cycle then?”

 

“No.”

 

“…”

 

“You can’t walk on it. Stay off of it 100%.”

 

“What can I do?”

 

“I’m really sorry. Not much.”

 

“Well, thanks for not sugar-coating it.”

 

“I don’t do that. Plus, you distance runners never like that.”

 

 

And that’s pretty much it. I later called back and got cleared to swim if I use leg floats. Maybe in 6 to 8 weeks I can cycle and build up to running again, but the crack is in a very risky place. If it gives way and breaks completely I’ll need screws to reassemble it, and I want to avoid that at all costs.

 

Frankly, I’m shocked it hasn’t fallen apart already. I ran two tough races, went through lineman training, and have been working steadily on it for two months! I am grateful for the fact that I am intact, and need to find my way back to running through a few month journey through the forest of other activities. For now things will strictly be upper body, then I’ll ease into more leg stuff in the coming months. It’s not ideal, but life’s not always ideal. I’ll do what I can and hopefully come out of this a better, more rounded athlete and person.

 

 

Run happy and healthy, my friends! It is a joy not to be taken for granted!

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Double Dipsea 2013!!!

Double Dipsea! Of all the trails in our little corner of the country, the Dipsea trail holds a very special place in this runner’s heart. It has a personality all its own, at once constant and varied. It can be depended upon to provide an interesting run every time. It can be depended upon to give you a wide variety of climates within a 7 mile distance. Being able to run it twice, out then back, only adds to the fun of traveling on foot through several microclimates.

Last year, Laura and I got to meet up with friends Brad and John for this race, and this year continued the meetup tradition. This time, Brad returned to tackle Mt.Tamalpais once again, and the reclusive Mr. Bacon had traveled all the way across the freaking country just to run this race (I guess he also had some anniversary trip or something going on, whatever). I’ve always enjoyed reading his blogs, and when I snagged the chance to hang out with him in PA a couple months ago he turned out to be one of those people you just click with. Conversation and humor was easy, so I was looking forward to some Baconian good times on the mountain. Or at least before and after the race, as I expected him to drop me on any kind of flat parts.

To add to the greatness, Megan had recovered spectacularly from her brutal first 50 miler just one week before. She was cheery and ready to attack the mountain with her usual saucy flair. We even got word the day before the race that Will, who had been there for the TrailFactor 50K extravaganza back in May happened to not only be in California, but would be there for the race. So many friends at one race!

We all met up in the crisp morning air at the foot of the mountain. The atmosphere was buzzing and smiles abounded. Before we knew it the first waves took off, and soon after Brad’s group hit the bricks. A couple minutes later the lovely ladies sped off toward the incline. Bacon and I stood around, trying to guess where an appropriate position in the incredibly diverse crowd might be. We settled on a place about midpack, behind the twitchy dudes made of beef jerky and ahead of the paunchier guys wearing 3L packs for this 14 miler. As the “scratch runners”, male 39 and under, it was the most varied group of all. The clock counted down and the crowd rushed forward toward the first bottleneck of the day!

Start line

As we began climbing, I wondered how our different past experiences and particular niches in running would translate into performance in this one race. Sure I run more of this kind of thing, with long inclines and technical terrain, but he’s obviously a lot faster and has been running for a lot longer than I have. That kind of long-term conditioning helps out in general endurance. We found ourselves talking about our ailments pretty early on. Hernias on his plate and a bum hip on mine. As it turns out, we had both decided to ignore them, push the whole way, and enjoy the ride.

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The first half went extremely well. To my surprise, Bacon and I actually fell into a decent rhythm and stuck together. As you probably know, I usually run with Laura and by now we’ve got a mode so natural we hardly have to talk about when to hike, drink, pass, etc. Besides her I haven’t found that rhythm with another runner. But there we were, approaching the stairs down through Mill Valley, passing Brad and the girls on their way back, totally in step and cruising.

The return trip was just as fun, but really began to warm up as the sun blazed down on the exposed parts. However, the beauty of the Dipsea Trail is that there are so many little pockets of different surroundings that you feel like you are on an epic journey crammed into a much shorter distance. As we chugged up inclines, bombed down hills, hopped and skipped over roots, and dodged around hikers, the joking and stories made the miles fly by and the continually changing climate kept things fresh.

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My hip continued to bother me, but not so much that I was willing to stop. I pulled Bacon on the ups and struggled to keep up on the flats. All in all, it was a perfect balance. Before I knew it the trail popped out onto the short three blocks of pavement before the finish. We both gave it a strong finishing sprint and crossed the line at 3 hrs flat, a 6 minute course PR for me. On a hot day and a bad hip, I’ll take it. We could have killed ourselves to catch the others, but I’m glad we didn’t. I had a great time.

Everyone had run a strong race! Brad’s recent initiation into his area’s trail goat community had paid off with a speedy effort, Laura had blasted her way through the miles in signature badass girlie style, and Megan had evidently shaken off the previous week’s 50M to beat us all across the line. In fact, we all finished within a six minute window!

Megan and I hung around the finish line to cheer in Will, and unfortunately Bacon had to get back to his darling better half, so I missed giving a hearty goodbye handshake and sweaty runner hug to one hell of a running buddy, but the rest of us headed down to the beach (a whole 200 yards away) for some post-race beer.

A huge reason for my loving trail running so much is the feeling of dirty legs, good friends, and aromatic hops. The combination is magic, especially when you are looking out over the expansive and beautiful Pacific ocean. Simply breathtaking.

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Here’s to another wonderful memory in the bank!

 

 

P.S. I’ve since seen an ortho specialist about the hip problem which plagued me at the Marin Ultra Challenge and Double Dipsea. It is likely a torn Labrum, with an MRI soon to confirm. I haven’t run since this race and am getting restless in my inactivity, probably annoying DW more with each passing day. Please kindly direct all sympathy to her.

Run happy and healthy, my friends!!!

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Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Miler Race Report

Somehow Megan got talked into running her first 50 miler.

Somehow she decided that it wouldn’t be no easy peasy race.

Somehow it came about that she would run it with us Matzes, in San Francisco.

After picking her up from the airport, we swung by the house before turning right back around to pick up Laura and head west to SF. Anyone who’s met Megan can attest to how fun she is to be around. As we navigated the highways, bridges, and SF streets to get to our hotel, I thought about how quickly some people feel like good friends. We checked in and were put on an upper floor with a balcony, because “That’s where we put special people.” I guess frequent work trips have their perks! Score!

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When we saw there wasn’t a fridge, I called to get one.

“We have them for $32.95 a night, sir.”

“Really? Um… Ok, I guess.” I decided ensuring cold post race beer was a priority for someone’s first 50M.

“Actually sir, I just looked at your history. I’ll send one up immediately on the house.” Double score!

After ordering in some terrible pizza (the “garlic bread” was a buttered sandwich roll), we all began to get our gear ready to facilitate an easy morning roll out for the 6am race start. I went through my drop bag one last time and got out my clothes to do a rundown.

Hat – Check

Buff – Check

Pack – Check

Shirt – Check

Auxiliary shirt – Check

Shorts – Check

Socks – Check

Shoes – …………

Shoes? …….  SHOES!   OH MY GOD I FORGOT SHOES!!!

Laura: “Are you kidding?”

Megan: “Hahahahahaha”

I frantically looked at my watch. 8:30. Briefly entertained the idea of using my NB110’s, but I need way more shoe for a race on that terrain and of that length.

I grabbed my phone and searched for nearby running stores to call. Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed.

REI, Open. I called, they didn’t have my standby distance shoe, the Pure Grit, but they had the update, the Pure Grit 2. Close enough, it would have to work!

By then I had 15 minutes until they locked the doors and my feet were planted in the hotel room. REI was about a mile away. Too much time to get the car out of the garage. Guess I’m running!

I burst from the elevator, dodged through the crowd of Japanese tourists who’d swarmed the lobby, and sprinted down the street, phone in one hand displaying a map of downtown SF.

I’m sure I looked strange sprinting through the city in 501’s, but I had bidness to address!

I rushed in the door at 8:57 and made a beeline to the shoe dept. A green vester tossed the box to me and I checked out at 8:59, a whole minute to spare!

Already sweaty, I ran back to the hotel, holding a shoebox in one hand and the map in the other. Success!

RACE DAY

When the alarm sounded Saturday morning, three grumbly runners awoke. It was very early and no one was very happy about it. We got everything together and headed out for this beast of a race!

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It would be hard, but that’s what makes these things so satisfying. The more difficult the ordeal, the stronger the feeling of achievement afterward. Besides, the reward for all those climbs were utterly spectacular views!

By the time we got there, we were awake and warming up. As usual, the race atmosphere was relaxed and filled with camaraderie.

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We milled around by the starting line, and as I gazed out over the bay I suddenly felt very lucky to be there. I was about to embark on a full day’s adventure with my beloved wife and a dear friend tackling the unknown. To tell you the truth, I felt honored on both accounts.

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Before long the race director began announcing directions and the crowd became thicker. In a flash, we were off!

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The first .85 was on road, and we made a mental note. At the end, 11-13 hours later, it would be very good to know that distance when we hit the pavement.

After that we immediately started climbing. This pretty much set the tone for the day, as we would either be ascending or descending at all times. There is hardly any flat ground in the Marin Headlands.

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A giant cannon barrel! There are bunkers in the hills leftover from WWII, just like down in Monterey and other points along the coast.

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Nearly every race in the Headlands incorporates these steps. They are a beautiful way to gain elevation fast!

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A couple miles in, it had struck me that I was wearing new socks as well as new shoes. Real smart. The socks kept riding down, exposing my achilles to the heel of my shoe. Before long it began to rub skin away, so when we reached our drop bags I snatched a roll of duct tape and MacGyvered a heel guard. It wrapped around under the foot to keep it from riding up and just becoming a garish anklet.

There really isn’t much duct tape can’t fix.

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The first 20 miles went by at a pretty good clip, although I began to feel it around mile 18 or so. We were steadily ticking off 5 miles per hour, which is great but not necessarily very conservative. I worried about whether we could maintain that pace and avoid blowing up later on.

We decided to ease off a bit, and I settled into just moving forward and getting through my “Shit Miles”, as Laura and I call them. Usually, I feel terrible somewhere around 20-27 or so, then click into gear and really start grooving. This was no exception, and it became a goal to just wait it out.

One more hour. BEEP! Mile 25. Oops! No slowing down! At this time I added cramping to my bag of tricks and spent a few miles riding the edge of total calf cramp up, walking when necessary. In all fairness, I got pretty damn grouchy, but the lovely ladies stuck with me through this tough part.

An aid station worker accidentally filled Laura’s pack with Tailwind electrolyte drink instead of water and she found the surprise a half mile down the road. Ahead I heard “Pahtew! ACK! Oh my god it tastes like sweat!!!”

Lemons? Time to make lemonade. We switched packs and I began chugging as much gross sweatwater as my stomach could physically hold. I drank 1.5 Liters in the next 5 miles and it worked! My legs felt fresh again! It was around mile 32 and I was back in business!

The ladies both went through their own shit miles, but we generally kept our spirits up joking and marveling at the expansive views the atypically fogless sky allowed.

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I saw many friends along the course, both running and on the sidelines. As we approached a photographer, he snapped away and then surprised me by yelling “HI KYNAN!” as I passed. I jumped a little, then shouted a cheerful greeting to Myles, who runs Michigan Bluff Photography. He is really awesome at what he does, loves it, and is also a really nice guy.

He shot these next two pics, as well as the starting pic at the beginning.

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Miles 30-40 were just an exercise in perseverance and mental trickery. The sun was out in full force and there was no tree cover at all. We hiked up steep climbs, still averaging a decent pace. I cannot express how much it helps to run with people who lighten your spirit as much as these two.

As we hit 40ish, we all reached the third phase of a 50.

First, your legs and body feel good.

Second, your legs feel decent, your body feels bad.

Third, your body feels good again, but your legs feel worse. You just have to keep them doing what you want them to.

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The joking continued as we negotiated the final steep climbs and managed our blown out quads on the steep downs. It was a lot of fun, but we were all ready for it to be over.

When we switchbacked down the last hill face, I felt the usual surge of happiness and contentment I get near the end, when I know it’s going to happen. This time, though, it was doubled.  I was excited for Laura and I to have completed another one of these brutal headlands races, but I was also through the roof excited to see Megan complete her first race of that distance on a killer course!

We hit the pavement, under a mile left. We raced down the service road, noting how much harder the concrete felt than it had 11 hours earlier.

I turned to Meggers as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and said, “You done did it!”

“Shut up, we’re not there yet!”

The three of us turned a corner and saw the finish arch, a beautiful sight. We burned the last fumes in our tanks and ran strong, flying toward that arch at full speed. In the last 50 feet, Laura and I grabbed her hands and held them high as she crossed the finish line after 50 miles!

It was pretty great.

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There was plentiful food and ice cold Lagunitas IPA, so we plopped down into some unoccupied chairs and hung out in the cool bay breeze, looking out at the Golden Gate and letting the whole day’s events sink in. All in all, the overwhelming thing I felt was gratitude.

This girl is tough as nails, always smiling, and pulls off a bright skirt like nobody’s business. How did I get so lucky?

(I double checked. This photo is indeed from after the race, not before. I guess I sweat for the both of us)

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This girl is crazy enough to take on ridiculous challenges and smash them with grit and giggles. What great company!

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These shoes are not new anymore. They have exactly 50 miles on them.

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Evidence of a long day’s toil. We brought some of the trail back with us!

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Every time I drink from this pint glass or wear this shirt, I’m going to think of ambitious goals, breathtaking views, and the kind of people who make my life as undeservedly sweet as it is.

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Chase dreams and really live life, my friends! You only get one time around!

Kynan