Posts Tagged ‘healthy-living’

I hadn’t been planning on signing up for it for a long time before I found myself on Ultrasignup.com entering my information to get onto the waitlist.  A good friend of mine, Samantha, whom I have run lots

the runners gathered around the fire before the race as a traditional Navajo blessing was given for our run ahead

the runners gathered around the fire before the race as a traditional Navajo blessing was given for our run ahead

of great miles with, had mentioned it a couple of weeks before while on a recovery run after Rocky Raccoon.  It sounded cool then, but I had no idea how cool it could be.  I happened to see she when she had signed up through an early morning Facebook post after registration for the race opened.  Genuinely curious, I looked at the website, and immediately knew this was a race I had to run.

The site talked about this run as being one the would focus on the spiritual aspects of running, specifically

through the eyes of the Navajo people, and it would take place in a Canyon that is rarely seen from the Canyon floor by individuals who are not Navajo.  I looked at the number of people signed up and it was at about 50, halfway full… I figured I would have time to get to work and sign up right?  Nope.  In the 20 minutes it took me to get to work, the race filled, but I managed to get in on the waitlist, number 2.  That was March 22nd.  As the months passed, I held my breath, waiting.  It wasn’t until August 12th that I got

headed into the Canyon

headed into the Canyon

the email letting me know I was in.  I could not have been more excited.  Of all the races I had planned on, or had run, this had been sitting as my #1 to run since I first looked at the site.

Once I was in, I prepared myself like I do for any race, and honestly felt like I would be perfectly prepared.  From what I could tell from the GPS track, and Movescount data posted, it would be uphill on the way out, with maybe 300 ft of gain, until one big 1200ish ft climb between mile 16 and 17, then turn around and head back.  There was mention of sand for the first several miles, but how bad could that really be?  After a summer full of races like Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush, Jemez 50k and the miles I completed at Leadville 100, how bad could this be with a total of around 1600ft of gain?  I kept running and training, but definitely didn’t push much specific types of training. As much as anything, I was just excited to get to see this amazing place, and be a part of all the history in the Canyon.

The drive was beautiful with lots of new sites for me, and warm ups for what I might see on the run (or thats what I thought). I had never driven through Utah, so going through Moab was incredible, and by the

The sun hit the ruins in the cliff right as me, and a group of runners rounded a corner and this came into view.

The sun hit the ruins in the cliff right as me, and a group of runners rounded a corner and this came into view.

time we got to the town of Chinle, Arizona, I was ready to go!  We hit packet pickup and grabbed a campsite before heading back for the best pre-race meeting I have ever been in.  There were no slogans, no dramatic large scale productions, but the information was brilliant and kept my attention completely, which says a lot given my very unmedicated ADHD!  The Race Director, Shaun Martin, gave a heartfelt and moving explanation of why he wanted this race to happen in the first place, followed by some heads up in regards to the significant technical nature of the trail in Bat Canyon (an arm of the main Canyon) and some mention of our feet getting wet…  Again, I wasn’t too worried…

This was followed by a full cultural explanation from a park ranger who talked about the history of the canyon and its importance to history and the Navajo People,.  He talked about the 5000 year history of the Canyon, and its inhabitants spanning from the Anasazi (the ancient Pueblo) to the Pueblo as well as what it means to the Navajo Nation today.  This was followed by a more detailed discussion of the meaning and importance of running in Navajo Culture by a very wise and funny gentleman named William Yazzie. By the end of the meeting, every person in the audience seemed to by buzzing with into the lightanticipation for the experience they would be running into in the morning.  We would be running in the way of the Navajo, we would be running into this ancient Canyon that had experienced 5000 years of life and human history as the Navajo had for so many years.  On top of that, we would have the rare experience of being able to be on the Canyon floor, unguided and alone surrounded by this history.

Waking up to the cold morning air was easy when I could feel what was coming.  We had shared a campsite with Jennifer Johnson and her friend Rhiannon so we headed over to the start together where there was a bonfire, coffee, tea, and traditional blue corn mush.  In the glow of the bonfire, William Yazzie sang a traditional Navajo song, which was followed by an opening prayer as first light spread across the horizon to the East.

We all lined up on the start line, and were reminded that as we run through the canyon, to yell out our joywater and walls sepia as we go through which would cleanse our spirit for the day ahead, but our race would start with a shout to announce ourselves to the Canyon.  So, with yells, we headed out through the wash towards the mouth of the Canyon where the walls started lifting upwards.  The recent water had caused the sand to turn to mud, which stuck to the bottom of our shoes adding weight, but the beauty of the canyon over whelmed the weight on our feet.  Within a mile we were in the walls of the canyon, and echos of runners yelping bounced throughout.  We made our way through the now thick, beach like sand up the track.  As the sun presented itself by spreading light across the red rocks of the rim, runners yelped even louder.

The runners I found myself with were completely enthralled with the beauty we were surrounded by.  It seemed that my pace and placement in the race was putting me exactly where I needed to be.  As we turned corners the sun would reveal a new sight.  We crossed the river over and over again, but I barely even noticed, splashing through joyously early in the race.  A large group of runners stayed together

this was my first view of Spider Rock, which you can see pointing upwards between the Canyon Walls

this was my first view of Spider Rock, which you can see pointing upwards between the Canyon Walls

through the White House Aid Station, where the Race Director had set up a bin for us to drop our warm weather clothes.  I realized I was still in my long sleeve shirt, and it was going to be time for that to go soon, so I ditched that and my sleeves thanked him for what he had already given us, and I was out.

I was making great time, but had already decided a PR was not my priority here.  The course was too beautiful, the opportunity too rare, and honestly, the Canyon had a feel to it, I cant explain it, but it was too much not to enjoy.  The 2nd Aid Station ended up being only a little more than 2 miles from the first because of the mud at one of the many creek crossings.  The vehicle was very stuck, but the volunteers still had huge smiles on their faces, greeting us, letting us know it would be around 9 miles before we hit the turn around, so despite having just gone through an aid station, I refilled and headed out with another runner.

His name was Flint, and we chatted about the depth and beauty of this place we were, the depth and the spider rock and the sunbeauty of running, and wound our way through the experience.  He was definitely one of those people who felt like a kindred spirit in running and I was a little sad when I dropped back to tend to business briefly, and after that was completely alone in the Canyon.  No one that I could see ahead or behind me.

I kept a good pace, the trail, with the exception of the frequent creek crossings was very runnable.  We were out of the sand, so now it was just me and the Canyon.  This was when things got cool.  It seemed like the Canyon was in sync with itself in a way that American culture refuses to allow.  When I caught sight of Spider Rock for the first time, reaching up, visible only briefly, but perfectly between the winding walls, I stopped dead in my tracks. I heard a horse whinny loudly.  It was close by, in the trees to my left, and I felt a surge of energy run through me.  I know it may not seem like such a big deal, but you would have had to be there.  It felt like the horse was trying to tell me something.  There are things in this world I do not try to explain.  This was one of those moments, and I just let it be.  I smiled and started running again (after getting a couple of quick photos).

another runner took this shot of me at the turn around with the Canyon below and behind

another runner took this shot of me at the turn around with the Canyon below and behind

I kept up the pace, but was feeling my feet.  I had worn an older pair of orthotics coming into the race, and they were clearly feeling the impact of all the water crossings.  I kept focused, but came to a screeching halt when I got to the bottom of the Bat Canyon climb to the turn around.  I have run some technical stuff, but this was not getting run.  The trail was about as technical as you can imagine.  I have never been on anything rockier, and that includes at races like Jemez and Dirty 30.  This was a 1200ft climb from the Canyon floor to the rim, and a seldom seen overlook.  For the last couple hundred feet it was all out scrambling to the top.  Still having fun I worked my way up and managed to catch up to Samantha for the first time in the race.    We chatted for a moment.  I dug through my drop bag, hoping for some Tylenol, as my feet were now fairly upset at me, and I knew they would take a beating on the descent.  I couldn’t find any, so I chilled for a minute, asking others if they had any with no luck so I went to refill my Camelback before heading out.  After filling it I could hear a leak.  Yup, it was leaking.  Not much I could do, and happily the leak was on one of the top seems so I took a deep breath and headed out.

stone wallsI caught Samantha again as I headed down, and we got to chat for a while.  I was actually feeling great, and we cruised for a couple of solid miles, but as we started crossing the rivers again, my feet started screaming.  It got to a point where I told Samantha not to hang back.  I was a little sad I wouldn’t be running with my friend any longer but I needed to focus on keeping moving, and didn’t want to feel like I was holding a friend back.  A couple of folks passed me in the next 6 miles between there and Bubble Man Aid Station, but I otherwise had the Canyon to myself.  No other people in sight, nothing but myself, and the world around me.

Even with my feet hurting about as badly as I have ever experienced in a race, and my worries about running out of water, I was able to stay pretty Zen about the situation.  The place I was in was amazing.  I could hear birds around me, saw more wild horses (one I could have sworn was the same white one I had seen earlier), and just did my best to enjoy where I was.  Unfortunately I was hiking a lot more than I wanted and was eking out 14 minute miles which frustrated me because my legs felt fine, it was my feet that just couldn’t take it in those moments.

Jenn was at the White House Aid Station, which is the only publicly accessible area in the Canyon.  I was happy to see her, let her know what was up with my feet and that the last 5-ish miles might take me a while, but that I would see her soon.

I got going, and managed to eventually catch sight of the two runners who had passed me earlier.  I felt

Jenn took this of me finishing

Jenn took this of me finishing

like it would be a nice goal to see if I could catch them by the end, but was still struggling to run with my feet hurting as badly as they did, and now I was back in the sand.  I didn’t notice I was limping some to compensate for my left foot hurting so much more than the right, and starting feeling the pain elsewhere as well.  My brain went to the ‘I guess you may have to walk it in’ place ever so briefly before I thought to myself that self-pity is not why I was here. I was here to experience where I was at.  Sure, my shoes and feet were water logged and hurt, but a pity party wouldn’t help.  I thought of where the referral pain from liming was happening, and thought of a yoga pose that would open that area again.  I stopped dead in my tracks and proceeded to get into reverse dancer pose in the middle of the canyon.  As I held it I could feel my muscles releasing and energy surge back into my spirit.

I decided right then and there to listen to what I had been told by a brilliant woman before Leadville when I was worried about my ankle, ‘No Limping!’.  I also realized that I had been happiest on this run when I was running.  My legs were fine, it was just my feet so I could run, though it may hurt.  I resolved myself to run as much of the remaining 2.5-ish miles as possible, and did.  I only stopped once more as I exited the canyon.  I became overwhelmed by the need to thank the Canyon for letting me run there.  Despite my feet, I had an amazing day, full of beautiful experiences as I ran through, many of which I will keep in my heart rather than in a blog post, so I turned, and with my hands to heart center gave the Canyon the most heart felt Namaste and thanks I could.  As I stood straight I felt another surge of energy, and I headed toward the finish a half mile or so down the wash.

I had to stop a few times to walk over the clumped mud as those sections were like hammers on my now very tender feet but otherwise ran it the rest of the way in.

Jenn and I after finishing

Jenn and I after finishing

The turquoise necklace we were given as we crossed means as much to me as any of the buckles I have. We learned that in Navajo culture, Turquoise is a representation of the union between Father Sky and Changing Woman (Mother Earth).  We also learned that this is also how the culture views running as well.  Father Sky fills you with energy and life as Changing Woman carries you across her.  This was how I felt during this race.  Even when it was hard I felt like the Canyon and the sky above me gave me everything I needed.  When something material like my shoes, or my pack put up barriers, the Canyon reminded me of why I was actually there.  This race was an experience I never anticipate being able to repeat.  It wasn’t fast, but I never planned on it being really fast.  It wasn’t the easiest course, and I didn’t feel the best the whole time.  But all of that being said; the experience and the Canyon touched my soul, and that is honestly why I run these races.

I feel like I walked away more awake than when I started.  I also have an even deeper respect for the culture of the Navajo than I did before (understanding I had a huge amount of respect to begin with).  It reminded me that running is a blessing we are given everyday.  It is a blessing that gives us health, it gives us clarity of spirit, empathy, and strength of will and character that nothing can ever take away once it lives in our hearts.  Running in the Canyon… no that’s not how I want to say it.  Running with the Canyon and all of the inhabitants is something that will live with me, and in my soul forever.

Thank you to Shaun Martin, the Race Director, his family, and all the people and volunteers who made this possible.  You gave us all a gift that will live with us and in our hearts and souls forever.

“My mind is empty, and my body is as vast, and as expansive as the sky”

That was a mantra that was given to me during a yoga class on the first week back to training.  I guess I should rephrase that; my first week rebuilding.  I had taken a full month off from hard running, keeping my miles to 4 or less during the week and 8 or less on the weekends.  I was ready to fall in love with running again, I was excited to get back to one of my biggest passions, running.

When the yoga instructor, Jeremy Wolf, guided us through our intention that night, he told

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

us that we would be focusing on finding form by being formless.  Rather than focusing our minds on holding the asana (or the pose), we were to focus on our breath, and on the mantra I lead this post with.  Why?  Well, what I distilled from it was that if you focus on the task, on the idea that you will be holding Triangle Pose, or Warrior 3, or Horse ect for a minute or more when you are already tired, then your mind will become overwhelmed by that idea and your form, and your ability to hold the pose will suffer.  If instead you focus on your breath, and the fact that your body is capable of anything, as long as your mind doesn’t get in the way, then you can hold the pose, correctly, for much longer periods of time, thus truly gaining the benefits that the pose has.

I walked out of that class feeling lifted up, and truly excited about the miles I had in front of me.  In fact, my run home was one of the best runs I had done in a long time.  If I could incorporate this idea into my running as often as possible, how would that help?  What would that do for me?  As I push my miles ever upward, as I move towards the larger goal this summer of finishing the Leadville 100, how much more powerful will the experience be if I can successfully shut off my mind.  What if rather than focusing on how many more miles I have left, or what time will I finish in, I focus on letting my mind empty of these distractions?  What if I do this and I am able to discover (I mean really discover) that my body, and what it is capable of, is truly as vast and as expansive as the sky?

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

As I have worked to rebuild my miles in the month since that class it has been my mantra.  When I have focused on that idea, I have been able to push forward.  When it slips from my sight, so does my progress.  This year, it will be all about destroying the mental barriers that slow me down, that bring me down.

So, as I prepare myself for my first trail race of this season, and as I pull on my Runners Roost singlet, and approach the start line at Deer Creek Canyon Park in two weeks, I will plant that mantra firmly in my head.  It will be my guide, and will open my body up to its possibilities, as opposed to the limits my brain puts in place and no matter what the outcome I will have an amazing race; which is, after all, the point.