Finding my inner peace

Since last fall I have struggled with finding my inner peace.  I started to focus more on being competitive and less on having fun.  I started to feel like I had to be super fast to keep my sponsors happy and I was losing control of my life.  On a run with a friend in November I took a fall that literally gave me the smack in the head I needed.  There is nothing fun about a concussion and I have a few friends who are also dealing with taking a swift hit to the head this winter.  The recovery sucks.  The headaches were awful and every once in a while one comes back slightly to remind me to appreciate what I have.  The lump still hurts but, I have been able to train like I used too for almost 3 weeks now and that means a lot to me!  My short term memory is shot, so if you ask me to repeat what you just said I probably won’t remember it until tomorrow.  Our winter has been a battle with piecing together jobs and barely being able to pay the bills, but then there is the truth about what is more important- time or money?  So, we have enjoyed having time to spend with Ryans daughters and get to know each other more.  I have had time to recover and reflect on what really matters in  my life and most importantly confide in friends and look deep within my soul to locate the inner peace I carried for so long but lost in the chaos of last fall.

Ryan and his girls on the sledding hill
Ryan and his girls on the sledding hill

What did I learn!?  I love being a step mom!  I am so blessed to be able to be a part of Ryans daughters lives and it is exhausting but so fun doing new and different things with the girls!  We have been hiking with them, sledding, ice skating, tubing at Gunstock, doing crafts, building snow tunnels, snow sculptures, playing games and so much more!  I had no idea what I was missing out on by not being able to have children, it is incredible!  These girls are cute, funny and do sometimes test our patience but Ryan and I focus on always staying calm and explaining things to the girls instead of just saying no or yelling at them.  We don’t know what we are supposed to do so we just focus on having an honest relationship with them and to expose them to fun healthy activities and hope to one day get some vegetables in these girls!  So far pasta and butter are the favorite meal!  Last week we took them on their first winter “mountain” hike up Mount Blue Job and we all had a blast!  Ryan and I agreed that we should expose them to different healthy outdoor activities and let them pick what they like instead of just what we like.  His oldest is taking an interest in running, we think his youngest may be the mountain biker and both seem to enjoy hiking!  Zoe wants to be a professional runner and Hannah wants to climb Mount Everest someday!  Hey, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big!  I told them they can do anything they want as long as they put in the effort and practice.

My runs have become fun again and I look forward to getting out and enjoying the outdoors!  The cold weather has made some runs harder to get through than others but that is a part of winter!  I am not going to lie, spring sounds really good right now!  Ryan and I are hosting the Bear Brook Snowshoe race this weekend which is also the Granite State Snowshoe Series Championships.  Come out and play with us for one last romp in the snow!  Ryan has been working hard on making sure the course is in great condition and myself and some others are helping to make the trails great on Saturday!  The course is awesome and will have you cursing and smiling at the same time, so, are you tough enough to take on this race!?  Come find out!

Exeter Race, photo by Scott Mason
Exeter Race, photo by Scott Mason

Since Kingman Farm time flew by so quickly!  I got in some good runs, some nice time with friends and lots of time with Ryans girls during their school vacation.  They don’t quite understand why we run so much but they don’t have to.  We just tell them that we want to be healthy and exercise is important and fun.  Hopefully when they are older they too will appreciate being active!  There is a lot of snow on the trails and the snowmobile trails are in incredible shape!  I love how they make the trails nice enough to run with only screw shoes!

The next race was Exeter Hullabaloo and it was so much fun!  There was plenty of snow and the course was mashed potatoes from the warm weather but it was so much fun!  I love when the courses are challenging.  The tougher the conditions the better I do!  The conditions were perfect for me that day and I was shocked at how things played out!  For starters I was feeling pretty good and was happy!  The sun was shining, the air was warm and so many friends were there to chat with before the race!  We started on some double track and it was the usually push and grind to the singletrack.  Snowshoe racing is like going into battle.  If you have done one, you understand.

Coming down the hill at the Nationals!  Photo by Gianina Lindsey
Coming down the hill at the Nationals! Photo by Gianina Lindsey

I slipped into my happy place and found a nice rhythm.  Soon I was passing people and I pretended I was a machine just plowing my way through the woods.  I couldn’t believe how good I felt!  I got a glimpse of about 6 runners which included Chris Dunn and locked in on him.  I have wanted to catch him in a race for years and when I found myself right behind him I was thrilled and in shock!  He politely let me by and cheered me on which gave me a bit of a boost!  I then got into a passing dilemma with a few guys who were new to snowshoe racing and didn’t quite understand the etiquette involved with passing.  Yes, you need to earn your pass but when passing means trudging through knee deep snow it is not fair to sprint when someone tries to pass you just to slow down again.  After getting very agitated and literally clicking on a few heels I took a deep breath and charged around the two guys blocking me.  I ran on pure frustration at that point and was not about to let them catch me.  I blew up hard charging to the finish but grabbed a womens win and 5th place overall finish!  It is rare that I have a race that feels that good so I enjoyed the whole experience.  I did have a chat with the two guys after the race and felt that we left the conversation on good terms.  I don’t like conflict but blocking happens more than it should at the snowshoe races and isn’t fair.  I can’t stand someone clicking on my heels, when they catch me I ask them what side they want to pass and I either slow down or hop off the trail for a second and cheer them on.  Good sportsmanship is so important!  Something was once said to me that  is so true, nobody is going to care about your time or where you placed a year from now.  Just go out and enjoy the experience!  There is always someone faster and someone slower than you!

 

Ryan in the pack of speedy boys!  Photo by Gianina Lindsey
Ryan in the pack of speedy boys! Photo by Gianina Lindsey

This past weekend was the US Snowshoe Nationals which drew a pretty stacked field on both the mens and womens side.  I realized this week that I don’t do well with hyped up races, my head takes over and I can’t focus.  I love having competition but don’t like hype or people telling me I am going to win.  I race for the experience and to do my best and if I place, that is just a bonus!  Ryan and I got up at 4am to make the drive to VT for the race.  We spectated the juniors race where Ahna got the junior under 14 national championship title!!!!  She is so cute and has an awesome running career in her future if she continues to love it!  For not doing a lot of snowshoe racing she really held her own!  Connor was really cute and was the youngest competitor at the race at only 7 years old.  He finished along with some other cute little kids and got a second place finish in the little guys class!  I got in a small warmup run and almost died when I lined up with the women in my race!  These girls looked serious and I was terrified!  I tried to calm my nerves by chatting with Amber and Melissa.  These girls are nice and fun!  Joe Viger got a great picture of the womens start where me, Amber and Melissa are laughing and the rest of the competition is looking fierce!  I wore my La Sportiva Crossovers, Choucas blue swirl sparkle hat, Julbo Groovy Sunglasses, and carried a flask of First Endurance EFS gel- vanilla flavor.

Amber is laughing because she knows she is going to demoralize us, Melissa and I are laughing because we don't know what the heck we are doing here!  Everyone else is ready to get the job done.  Ya, I was terrified!  Look at these girls, they look like machines!
Amber is laughing because she knows she is going to demoralize us, Melissa and I are laughing because we don’t know what the heck we are doing here! Everyone else is ready to get the job done. Ya, I was terrified! Look at these girls, they look like machines!  Joe Viger Photography

We took off and I focused on staying steady.  Amber dropped the field within the first few seconds and I hung back in about 10th place.  I wanted to treat this race like an ultra.  I took my time going up the hill and slowly started to pass the other girls on the way up the climb.  This course did not suit my style of running at all, but it was a beautiful course!  It was mostly groomed which meant it was fast.  I am tough on snowshoes, not fast.  After a couple of k’s into the race I was in second place and could see Amber putting us all to shame!  I started to make a bit of ground on the singletrack but then we were back on the groomers and I never saw her again!  I focused on being happy and took in the beautiful trees covered in snow, the light shining into the forest, the sound of my snowshoes hitting the ground and the feeling of snow coming down the back of my shirt.  I listened to my breathing and ran this race just above my comfort zone.  That was a huge risk because I could completely blow up at any moment.

Goofing around before the finish  Photo by Andrea McCusker
Goofing around before the finish Photo by Andrea McCusker

The singletrack section had me laughing and making dirtbike noises around the twists and turns.  I couldn’t help but have a blast!  I opened up the gap between me and third place on the singletrack and then found myself back on those groomers where I felt like a slug!  Finally I stood on the summit and asked Danny what the heck he fed Amber for breakfast!  He just laughed knowing she absolutely destroyed the competition!  I hit the last long descent and that was it.  My quads were trashed.  I wanted to walk so bad and instead prayed for strength, thought of my friends, family and people who have touched my life.  I thought of how cool it would be to stand on that podium and snag a spot on the US Snowshoe team (which I really didn’t know anything about other than it sounds cool).  My body finally gave into my mind.  I was running purely on my mental strength at that point.

Joe Viger captured my playful descent to the bottom of the hill!
Joe Viger captured my playful descent to the bottom of the hill!

I finally got to the top of the last descent to the finish where Amber crossed the finish line just as I crested the hill.  I had never seen so many spectators at a race before!  It was crazy!  I charged down the hill playing on the fun switchbacks!  It was an absolute hoot jumping and laughing down the hill!  I somehow forgot that the finish was not at the bottom of the climb and my heart sank when the course turned left and I still had more racing to do on flat groomers!  I looked back and saw third place just cresting the hill and ran so hard that I got tunnel vision.  Everything started to turn black, my legs were shaking and I just kept praying to not pass out until I crossed the finish line.  I made it!  I finished over 2 minutes behind Amber and about a minute ahead of third.  I had to drop to my knees for a bit after I stopped because my legs didn’t want to work and I was getting dizzy.  I never knew I could be capable of pushing that hard, to the point of almost not functioning but for the second time in my racing career I did just that and it got me on the podium!

2014 US Womens National Snowshoe Team!
2014 US Womens National Snowshoe Team!

The women started pouring in and it was just amazing to watch so many talented women tearing it up out there!  I made the US Snowshoe team and can’t wait to represent our country at the Worlds next year with 4 other speedy ladies!  I have some serious work to do because Amber lit a fire in my heart and totally made me want to be able to run that fast with a smile!  Again, finding that balance!  After the womens race I got to watch the start of the mens race!  They had some insane competition!  That field was ridiculous!  The men took off like rockets!  Kerri and Sarah were with me laughing at how the mens race was like a parade with the large amount of competitors!  It was fun to watch them tear through the start/finish area before heading up the hill for a bit!  Before long the guys were ripping down the hill, one right after the other.  It was so impressive to watch them come down absolutely flying!  Lots of friend started coming through and Ryan was right there in the mix with the New England speedies!  He looked really good ripping down the hill and secured a 33 place finish in a field full of olympic athletes and snowshoe champions!

We hung around for the Awards Ceremony and I proudly stood on that hay bale podium with the 2014 US Womens snowshoe team!  I wanted to cry with pride but held it together and cracked a joke with Amber telling her I was going to stalk her during her training to see what she does and that I was going to get her at Worlds!  She laughed  (does Amber do anything other than laugh!?)  and didn’t tell me her secret!  What I love about Amber is she is not only crazy fast, she is so darn nice and absolutely hilarious!  I am not ever sure I will be able to perform at her level but I am going to try my best!

We had a nice dinner with our Acidotic crew before the long drive home where of course we got pulled over for yet another headlight not working.  Our road destroys bulbs in our cars and it seems every time we drive to a race out of state we get pulled over to find that we have another bulb out!  I went for a 10 mile snowshoe run the next day with Ryan and could barely function!  I hammered myself so hard on Saturday and it was worth every bit of pain I endured!  Next up is the Bear Brook Snowshoe race where I hope to see our racing friends for one last romp through the snow!

Gunstock tubing
Gunstock tubing

With all of the stress and inability to train at full capacity until just a couple of weeks ago I have decided to pull out of Lake Sonoma and focus on racing Traprock this year instead.  It will be fun to run with some New England speedsters Deb and Serena!  I am hoping to poop less during the race (last time it was awful!) and to have fun!  It is a great race because the course is fun and I get to see my Connecticut friends that I miss so much!  Each day takes me to a better place.  I am smiling more each day and almost feeling like my old self again!  My inner truths have shown me that sponsored or not, I need to run for fun and not to win.  I need to run for myself and not for others, and I would rather have people like me because I am a good person and not just because I am a fast runner.

I really want to thank my sponsors for helping me out and being patient with my recovery as well as understanding about missing my first two travel races.  It is never easy to hand in a schedule and bail on my plans a couple of months later.  La Sportiva, Choucas Hats, UltrAspire, JulboUSA, Flora Health, First Endurance and Hypoxico- thank you.  Thank you to my coach Jack for sticking with me no matter what, it really means a lot to me!  Thank you to Ryan for understanding and listening to me.  Thank you to my friends for all of your advice and support this year.  I haven’t been my bubbly self and you didn’t abandon me.  You have no idea what that means to me!  Thank you to my Jack puppy for being my sweet little trail buddy.  He makes running so much fun!  I also want to give a huge thank you to the photographers who come to all the races, sometimes in the freezing cold to capture moments that can only be seen on film.  They capture that look of pain, the thrill of a great race, the emotion that the athlete may not even know they show and a memory that we can see forever.  Thank your photographers the next time you are out at a race! I am such a lucky girl and I am happy to have new goals to focus on this year that aren’t stressful!

My jack puppy, photo by Miriam Wilcox
My jack puppy, photo by Miriam Wilcox

Let me leave you with some advice: Don’t hit your head!  Seriously, concussions are one of the hardest injuries to recover from.  They change your personality, they change your drive, motivation and happiness.  The last two weeks have been the best that I have had since the accident.  I am finding motivation again and happiness!  It was hard to be such a happy person and to lose that feeling for so long.  It really made me appreciate the little things in my life.  Look around, what little things are you missing in your life?  Have you done something fun with your spouse or children?  Have you kept in touch with friends you haven’t seen in a while?  Have you stepped outside and looked up at the trees or the sky?  Slow down for a few minutes a day, it is amazing how much you are missing!  Oh, and leave your phone inside.  Those things are so addictive.  I have decreased my time on facebook, email and internet.  I have been missing out on a lot because my face was always buried in my phone or on my computer.  Ryan and I even started doing a puzzle together and it is fun!

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