Jo runs 1,000 miles!

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I did it! On Saturday morning, I woke up early, laced up my running shoes for the 196th time this year, and ran up to the top of Acalanes Ridge. On my way back home, I ran my 1,000th mile in 2018.

I couldn’t have asked for a better run to end it on. It had all my favorite things: A mix of road and trail, a big climb, a cruisy descent, a clear sunrise, and the world’s best mutt. It also had texting-while-running, a marauding pack of Corgis, sore ankles, and leash aggression. If there’s anything these 1,000 miles have taught me, it’s that if you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.

But really, look at that sunrise! I love nothing more than this.
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I realized that in the dozens of times I’ve run up here, I’ve never actually run to the true top of the ridge. There’s a hill next to the hill I usually run up that (I think?) is a little taller. So this time, I went up both. What a treat to get a new view of such a familiar place.

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I couldn’t resist some sweaty selfies with Banner at the top. Banner’s selfie game is a mixed bag.

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So that’s that: 1,000 miles. I’m really proud of getting this done, especially given everything that’s gone on this year. More importantly, I had a (mostly) fantastic time doing it. So much so that the next morning, even without a goal to reach toward, I laced up my shoes and went for a run.

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Jo runs Bentonville

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A bear mauling a fish in Bentonville, AR.

Bentonville…Arkansas? Yes.

Ok, this was admittedly a random running weekend. Morgan had a work meeting in Tulsa, OK scheduled for Monday, and a mere two hours from Tulsa is little Bentonville, AR, the world headquarters of Walmart. Walmart unequivocally sucks, but Tom and Steuart Walton, heirs to the Walmart throne, suck less in that they are super into mountain biking. And this weekend, we discovered that when you combine staggering wealth, a passion for bikes, and the rolling hills of rural northwest Arkansas, some pretty good things can result.

Specifically, some of the coolest urban-meets-rural singletrack I’ve ever seen. Miles and miles and miles of it.

If you want to read more about the Waltons and biking in Bentonville, this story has been well-covered in outlets like Outside and Pinkbike, among many others. [Aside: If you’re wondering whether Bobby Newport from Parks and Rec was based on Tom Walton, my answer is I don’t know/definitely.]

So Morgan decided to tack a little mountain biking weekend onto the beginning of his work trip, and I decided to join him. Because one of the great benefits of this stage of life we’re in is that we have the time, money, and total lack of responsibility to do whatever the hell we want.

I’ve given up on being a real mountain biker, so I hit the trails of Bentonville on foot instead. On our first morning, I scoped a few awesome-looking loops in Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area and drove over to check them out. But alas, my English failed me: when the Hobbs State Park website told me that the area was closed for deer permit hunts that weekend, I read closed for deer hunters, as in, closed with respect to deer hunters, or no deer hunters allowed. But that’s not what for means. When I pulled up to the trailhead, the parking lot gates were locked and there was caution tape across the trail entrances—the area was closed for deer hunters, to the rest of us.

Damnit. I seethed for a minute, considered jumping the caution tape for a half-second until my brain kicked in and reasoned that I would have a very high likelihood of being shot if I did this, and ultimately drove away, unsure what to do instead.

Luckily, while renting Morgan’s bike the day before, I had seen a flier for the Back 40 Trail Run & Ride, a crazy-sounding two-day race that would be held on the trails behind Bella Vista (just north of Bentonville) the next weekend. There were 40-, 20-, 13-, and 3-mile singletrack options, so I figured I’d be able to piece together a decent loop without much planning. I was right.

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This area and its trails were glorious. The Back 40 appears to be a true 40-mile singletrack loop (!), but I devised my own 11-mile route because that’s all my legs could handle. Since it was Saturday afternoon, I expected to be dodging bikers and runners left and right, but I barely saw a soul. Instead, I saw 11 miles of rolling Arkansas woodland, always with a ribbon of trail curving out of sight in front of me. My favorite view in the world.

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Though it felt like I was way out in the back of beyond, I was actually within a stone’s throw of someone’s backyard for most of the run. I find this use of space to be really wonderful: somehow, the trail builders and planners have created the feeling of peace, wildness, and solitude in spaces that are snugged right up against houses. It reminded me of Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language”, where he describes how humans need to live within walking distance of wild places in order to thrive.

This run was amazing, but after 11 singletrack miles spent slipping on dry leaves, dodging hidden ankle-rollers, and dragging my tired legs up and down bike features, I was ready for some beer. And some fantastic bread and cheese. Bentonville’s 8th Street Market had all these things, and we took full advantage.

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Sampling the delights of Bike Rack Brewing Company at Bentonville’s 8th Street Market.

The next morning I almost skipped running because I was pretty wiped. But Morgan had talked up the Razorback Greenway (which runs through downtown Bentonville and connects the town to points north), so I trotted out for a no-expectations, slow-as-I-wanted exploration run. These runs always end up being the best decisions.

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On the Razorback Greenway, descending toward Crystal Bridges.

The Greenway, as promised, was delightful. It follows a creek and is super well-maintained, wooded, a peaceful. I wasn’t planning on running through Crystal Bridges, but it looked really awesome as I passed by, so I decided to poke around on my way back.

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Heading back, entering Crystal Bridges.

Crystal Bridges was unexpectedly awesome. It’s an art museum, two words that usually make me want to die of boredom, but this is the kind of art I can get behind. Like a giant dome created by Buckminster Fuller to simulate a fly’s eye (above, in the distance). Or like this little rock chaise lounge, overlooking a little stream by itself in the forest:

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Or my favorite, this horrifying spider. Here he is lurking as I ran up the eastern path:

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And then from the overlook at the top. Aaah!

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The best part of Crystal Bridges was how beautifully the trails were woven through the space. Some were paved, but most were dirt or DG, and they were well-signed enough that you knew where you were going but not so heavily signed that you knew what you’d see around every turn. So you just kind of came across all these art installations laying around, tucked into corners and overlooking appealing landscapes, like the art was doing its own thing, taking in the view. And meanwhile, there were singletrack bike trails with intricate, impressive features running around the whole area. So it felt like all these things were coming together—the landscape as it naturally was, and the trails for outdoor recreation, and the art pieces nestled in, and tons of rock benches and nooks where you could sit and read or watch the riders or the art ogglers or just enjoy being there. You didn’t have to choose which way you wanted to enjoy this place—you could enjoy all of it at once. It was really great, in a way that I totally didn’t expect. And once again, I got to have this great experience because I laced up and went for a run.

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THANKS RUNNING.

That night, we drove back to Tulsa, OK so Morgan could head to his meeting on Monday. I don’t have an overwhelming number of great things to say about Tulsa. After the many delights of Bentonville, it was a little rough. But even in this place that was not my cup of tea, I happened into the best mac ‘n cheese I’ve ever had at The Tavern (I know! such a lofty claim! but it is true). The next morning, I ran six frigid miles along the Arkansas River on the somewhat-bleak but super well-maintained and impressive River Parks trail system (take note, Reno!) and wound up at the Old School Bagel Cafe, whose sign made me smile.

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The other side said “Good morning hustlers, let’s get that bagel”

From this humble establishment, I had a bagel that fundamentally changed the way I thought about schmear. What more can you ask? While I may not come back to Tulsa, I’m grateful for the short time I spent there, and I’ll think about its cheesy carbs as long as I live.

The proudest turkey in the whole trot

On Thanksgiving morning, like about a million of my fellow Americans, I ran a turkey trot.

For context, here is a brief history of me and running: Starting in 7th grade, we had to run the mile in PE every week. I hated it down to the marrow in my bones. Running even a few yards was hell and made me feel like my body was consuming itself from the inside out. The best feeling in the world was finishing the mile, because that was the farthest I’d ever be from having to run next week’s mile. In 8th grade, to get an A in PE, we had to run the mile in under eight minutes. Again, this was pure firey torment, but I did it because I would rather have chewed off my own hand than earned less than an A in any subject. After that, due to a combination of Stockholm Syndrome, peer pressure, and the desire to be thin, I took up running on the semi-regular. But I always felt like a slow, bad runner, and I never really liked running for running’s sake until a few years ago. I haven’t run many races, and the ones I have run haven’t been great experiences. I always put a weird amount of pressure on myself, and I’m never able to run as fast in races as I can on my own, and I usually feel physically terrible afterward (fun!). Worst of all for my comparison-addled brain: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come in 4th in my age group. 4th! You know, the first place to win no prize. It happened often enough that it started to feel symbolic: I was just outside the door of the club, looking in at the all the cool, legit, fast runners, but my access was denied.1

UNTIL NOW.

I won’t break down the 5K race mile-by-mile, because there were only three miles and the story of each one is: it was kind of hard. But there are a few moments I’d like to remember:

  • Just after we started, Morgan casually asked if I knew where the route would take us. I replied, “Yes, but I’m not going to tell you,” because even 30 seconds into this race I was out of breath.
  • The snow on the foothills in front of us as we ran west during the first mile was so beautiful it took my already-limited breath away.
  • In Idlewild Park, I passed a father and daughter just as he asked, “What hurts, sweetie?” and she replied “Everything.
  • On the straightaway on Idlewild Drive, I participated in and lost a legit footrace with a young child. I guess they’re lighter so they’re not working as hard? She was maybe 9 years old.

Running through downtown at the end of the race was really fun—it’s always a treat to run along a closed city street. For the last half-mile, I was pretty tired but could tell that I had a chance to beat my 25-minute goal, so I counted my paces and ran as hard as I could. I was definitely suffering in extreme disproportion to my fellow runners—most of them seemed to be cruising along, having fun, dreaming of turkey, while I was Yuki Kawauchi in the Boston Marathon finish chute. But I was sick of coming in 4th, sick of all the setbacks this year, and sick of petering out in races. So I stopped worrying about looking like a fool, ran my little heart out, and was SO HAPPY to see a 24:something on the clock as I crossed the finish line! It ended up being better than I imagined: my chip time was 24:10 (!), just 10 seconds off my 5K goal, which I never thought I’d even come close to given this wacky year. Even better still, I came in 3rd in my age group!

So what if it was a day when most people were just out there to have a fun, relaxed jog with their children and elderlies? So what if the age groups were sliced so thin, you could see through them when you held them up to the light? So what if the 5-year-old in the photo below is clearly gaining on me? So what if my barely-runs husband dusted me by 40 seconds? I started as a chubby 7th-grader whose stomach would cramp into knots at the thought of having to run a mile in PE, and now, a mere 19 years later, I am an award-winning runner. Friends, we can truly accomplish anything.

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Hey, that’s me! See, the secret to great running form is to really torque the shit out of your upper body. You’ll do a quarter-turn with every stride if you’re doing it right. Photo Credit: The brilliant Raise the Stakes Photography

I don’t think anyone has ever been so proud to earn 3rd place among females aged 30-34 in their local turkey trot. I laughed out loud at how happy it made me for the rest of the day.

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Swag for days! While we have not used our sweet medals as actual gravy boats, my award mug has become a daily favorite. Morgan found an abandoned mug as we walked home (clearly, pride in turkey trot results varies among participants), so now we both have bitchin mugs.

One of my favorite outcomes of my watershed turkey trot success has been, surprisingly, the cardboard coaster I received as my 3rd-place age group winner trophy. Every morning at breakfast, Morgan goes to set his coffee down and says, “Oh, do you mind if I use this coaster?” To which I reply, “Hmm, did you recently win 3rd place in your five-year age bracket in your local turkey trot? No? Then I guess you cannot use that coaster.” And I take it for myself. And my coffee is sweeter for it.

1. Of course, there is no club, race places are arbitrary, speed is relative, and no one cares. There are people out there who would be thrilled to come in 4th place in their age group in a local race, just as there are people who would be laugh-out-loud appalled to run as slow as I do. Eliud Kipchoge just ran at a faster pace for 26.2 miles than I could dead sprint for 100 yards with a jungle cat chasing me, so obviously, we are each on our own journey with this whole running thing.

Schrodinger’s dad

A few Sundays ago, I ran the second annual Dirty Wookie 10K in Reno. Morgan ran it too, and some friends, and since my parents were visiting for the weekend, my dad jumped in as well, signing up the day before.

The course was gorgeous—it runs entirely along the river, so the fall colors were out in force and the scenery was the best Reno has to offer—but it was an unseasonably hot day and the race didn’t start until 9:30am, so I struggled from the outset. I had my sights on an 8:15 overall pace, but realized after about two miles that that was not going to happen. I ran with Morgan for four miles, then fell a few feet behind, then a few more. The last two miles were mentally rough, and I struggled to keep my pace below 9:00. I managed a lame little kick to the finish, passing a few people during the final .2, and crossed the line in 53:34—nowhere near my goal time and slower than last year, but at least I was done.

I looked up to see Morgan standing just beyond the finish line with our friend Becky, who was volunteering that day. Becky looked stressed. She came up and grabbed my arm.

“Jo, look at me,” she said. “Your dad collapsed on the course. They took him to St. Mary’s in an ambulance. I’m going to take you and Morgan there now, ok?”

I am amazed at how much those words still affect me. I’m shaking as I write them. I understood what she was saying, though I wondered for a few seconds if this was a twisted joke—would Becky really think this was funny? Would Morgan?—but I couldn’t believe that what she was saying applied to me, that she was talking about my dad, about something that had just happened. I felt like my experience went into split screen at that moment—I was in my body, feeling a deep river of icy fear run through me at the thought of my dad, maybe unconscious, getting loaded into an ambulance, and at the same time I was looking in from the outside, observing: look, this person is getting bad news, she looks terrified, she’s rushing to get her things, this must be one of the worst moments of her life.

Becky—my hero—took charge, grabbing our things, shoving us into the car, and driving like a bat out of hell to the hospital. She gave us more detail on the way: my dad had collapsed and his heart had stopped, and fellow racers had given him CPR until an ambulance came. The defibrillators had come out, she said, and “he was alive when they put him in the ambulance.”

Maybe it was something about the way Becky said it—he was alive when they put him in the ambulance—but during the ride to the hospital, I fixated on Schrodinger’s cat. (I couldn’t remember the name Schrodinger, so I think I blubbered, through tears, “What’s the thing with the cat in the box?” and Morgan, bless him, immediately knew what I meant.) I won’t go into the complexities of Schrodinger’s cat (here’s a decent video explaining the concept if you’re interested), but suffice to say it’s a quantum mechanics thought experiment where you imagine a box with a cat in it, and there’s an equal probability that the cat is alive or dead. Schrodinger suggests that while the box is closed, the cat is actually both alive and dead—either outcome is possible and neither has been observed, so they exist side by side. It’s only when you open the box and observe the cat that the realities collapse down to the truth: the cat is one or the other. I couldn’t shake the feeling that while we were in that car, my dad was the cat. Until we knew he had died, there was a chance he was alive. I was consumed with the irrational fear that by getting out of the car and walking through the hospital doors, I would kill my dad.

But life is not a quantum physics thought experiment, so Becky pulled into the emergency bay and we got out of the car. We checked in and were directed to double doors at the end of the lobby, where I picked up the phone and told whoever answered that I was looking for my dad. The doors swung open and a nurse walked toward us, her face inscrutable.

She took a breath, and I felt like we all opened the box and peeked over the side. As she spoke, all the possibilities collapsed into one glorious reality:

“He’s talking.”

My dad was alive.

Over the next day or so, we got more information about what had happened. [Note: This is what I understand based on everything I’ve been told/pieced together so far, but I haven’t been able to speak to many of the people involved yet, so this is as accurate as my third-hand account can be at this point.] Just before the aid station at mile 2.5, my dad started to feel dizzy and sat down on a lawn next to the course—the last thing he clearly remembers. He quickly lost consciousness, and his heart stopped beating. For the next half hour or so, my dad’s life hung on two things: random chance, and the actions of other people. My family is incredibly lucky—really, mind-bogglingly lucky—that random chance fell our way. We feel even more lucky, and humbled, and grateful, that the other people involved rose to their highest and best to give chance the alley-oop it needed to keep my dad alive.

When my dad collapsed, he had been running just ahead of an ER nurse. Rather than hemming and hawing or running ahead to the aid station to make this Somebody Else’s Problem, she took responsibility and started CPR immediately. Just behind the nurse was another CPR-trained hero, a woman who, as I understand it, has staffed the medical tent for the Tahoe Rim Trail 200 miler. She jumped in as well, and these women took turns administering CPR, keeping my dad’s heart beating for the 10 minutes it took emergency responders to arrive. They unequivocally saved his life. I will never be able to repay my debt to them.

My dad had the good sense to have a cardiac event within 100 feet of an aid station, so volunteers (among them my awesome sister-in-law) were informed right away that there was a man down. This is where I really have to take my hat off to Desert Sky Adventures, the team that puts on this race. We’ve since learned that this team has never dealt with a medical event of this scale in their decades-long history, but judging by how they handled things that day, I would have guessed this was routine for them. Their volunteers and staff acted quickly, kept their cool, and did everything in the right order. It takes a serious commitment to racer safety to keep your staff and volunteers up to speed on emergency action plans year in and year out, race after uneventful race. But they did. I don’t recommend having a heart attack, but if you do, you could choose a worse venue than a DSA race. (JK, please don’t have a heart attack at a DSA race—they deserve a break.)

It wasn’t until we talked to the cardiology team at St. Mary’s that we understood how small a needle my dad had threaded. Had he collapsed out of view of other runners, or had he been running far ahead of the next person, he could have been lying alone, medically dead, for minutes. Had the next runner to come along not been trained in CPR, or had they been hesitant or unconfident in their skills—had they been me—my dad would likely have died. Had DSA not had their shit 100% together so that my dad was on the way to the hospital in an ambulance in the shortest possible time, that delay could have been fatal. So many individual, mundane, excusable failures could have happened that morning that would have killed my dad. But they didn’t, and he’s alive. As you may be able to tell, I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

So what happened? Well, I’m not going to go all HIPAA-violation on my dad, but in general terms: while he has a very strong family history of heart disease (he lost his own dad and granddad to heart attacks, both around the age he is now), he hasn’t been seen as a cardiac risk because he’s so damn healthy. My parents aren’t health nuts, but they exercise daily, frequently run half-marthons or longer, eat healthily, fast intermittently…ok, maybe my parents are health nuts. My dad had effectively managed his numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.) so well on paper that it masked a cardiac issue that had apparently been developing for years. He was immediately scheduled for bypass surgery and I am delighted to report that, after a fun week in the hospital, he’s now back at home recovering. The team at St. Mary’s was generally awesome, but one person really stood out to me: my dad’s cardiac surgeon, Dr. Brandl.

Dr. Brandl is, in his words, “just a heart surgeon.” He could have rushed through a pre-op rundown with my dad, showed up on the day of the surgery, sliced and diced, and peaced out. And we all would have been grateful to him just for doing his job. But he went so much farther than that. The day before the surgery, he sat with my immediate family—my dad, my mum, my brothers, and me—and talked us through exactly what to expect. Beyond surgery, he explained to us how this disease progresses, how it could have progressed so far in my dad’s case without detection, and, critically, what this means for the next generation—for me and my brothers. He talked to us—not his patients, but the children of his patient—about our diets, how we exercise, and how we live our lives. He talked us through how we could and should start being our own medical advocates at the ripe old ages of 32, 37, and 38 so that heart disease doesn’t drop an even more devastating bomb on our family by picking one of us off far too soon. He let us ask him a zillion questions and gave thoughtful, non-rushed answers, even though I’d imagine he’s a pretty busy guy. He kept asking, with his arms out and his palms open, “What else do you want to know?” until, fully an hour and a half later, we were out of questions. We all still have a lot of research and some trial and error to come individually, but I feel like that discussion was a watershed moment for our family. He gave us that, and he didn’t have to.

I’ve felt so many emotions and had lots of time to think about things over the last few weeks. Far above all the other feelings and thoughts, I am grateful that my dad is alive. Each time I walked into his hospital room and saw his big smile take over his face the way it always does when he sees one of his kids; each time I saw his name pop up with a text or a chat; each time I read an article or had a conversation and thought, “I should tell dad about this,” and realized I still could; I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I am uncomfortably aware now that my dad won’t always be here, but to me, that discomfort is worth it because of how acutely aware it’s made me that he is here now. He is still here.

But beyond gratitude, there’s a realization brewing that I’m struggling to put into words. Here’s my best attempt: We are a family that values self-reliance. The ability to get what you need and do what you want without help is a core tenet of my upbringing. I’ve always believed that the feeling that you’re in charge of yourself is a good thing, and for the most part I still believe that. My dad’s feeling of responsibility for his own health drove the thousands of early-morning gym sessions, healthy eating decisions, and other lifestyle choices that factored into his survival.

But when my dad’s heart stopped beating during that race, he couldn’t help himself out of it. And neither could any of us. Me, my brothers, my mum, my husband—we were all too far away. Even if one of us had been running right next to him, there’s no telling whether the very specific skill that was needed to save his life—CPR—was developed enough in any of us to have helped him. When my dad needed help more than he’s ever needed anything before, the person he needed was a stranger. And, incredibly, just the right stranger was there.

I don’t know what to do with that. I’m sure my understanding of this event and the way it impacts how I see the world will evolve over time. But for now, my working theory is that other people—the rest of humanity that’s not my immediate family or my closest friends—are not necessarily the annoyances I thought they were. Yes, some people are evil, and some people just kind of suck. But some people will go above and beyond their extremely stressful jobs to give you critical information about your health so you don’t die young. Some people will continue to prioritize emergency preparedness even when it feels like it’ll never be needed so that when your family needs it, it’s second-nature. And some people, given the chance, will kneel next to your dad on the side of a trail and keep his heart beating instead of letting him die. This experience has exposed me to a level of generosity that I’ve never felt so personally before—that I’ve never needed before. So I think I can—and should—make a lot more room in my own heart for other people.

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My brilliant, funny, sensible, all-around great dad. I’m very grateful to get to eat many more apples and build many more Adirondack chairs with this guy in the years to come.

Jo runs Portland

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At the beginning of this month, Morgan’s company held a retreat in Portland, OR. Spouses were invited. When someone else is paying for a nice hotel and fancy food, I can be relied upon to attend.

We flew in midday Wednesday and left early Saturday morning, so I had two and a half days to enjoy Portland by myself. There are few sentences in English that give me more joy than a sentence like that: I had two and a half days [the perfect amount of time to see a place solo and not get bored/lonely] to enjoy Portland [insert any major metropolis with great neighborhoods here] by myself [my favorite way to be].

Naturally, I started each day with a run. Since I only had a few days, I was hoping to find tried-and-tested routes that would take me to some of Portland’s running highlights. Luckily, the heroes at Portland Running Company have written a series of blog posts called PDX Runs that details 21 of the staff’s favorite routes around the city, complete with maps, directions, and notes. Perfect! On my first morning, I modified the Pittock Mansion route so that I could run from my hotel and still maximize my time in majestic Forest Park. This run did not disappoint.

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I climbed gently for a little less than three miles from my hotel to the park and then hopped onto the Lower Macleay Trail at NW Vaughn Street. From there, I climbed up to the Wildwood Trail and took that all the way to Pittock Mansion—almost 900 feet on singletrack in just under 2.5 miles. This trail was not joking around. Luckily, it was gorgeous.

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I think I could happily run this trail every morning.

The fog and greenery was like a balm to my desert-parched Reno eyes. Sometimes I can’t understand why I don’t live in the PNW—it feels like the habitat I would design if I were born into a white climate-less room and told to make one up. Then I remember who I’m married to—a man who sees the presence of rain and gray skies as personal attacks—and I console myself with thoughts of the Sierra Nevada and Black Rock hot springs. If nothing else, not living in this phenomenal Portland climate makes it that much more delightful to visit.

On the flip side, the fog made my arrival at Pittock Mansion a little anti-climactic. Apparently you can see all of Portland from up there, but I will never know for sure.

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Enjoying the famed views from Pittock Mansion.

I was pretty beat by the time I’d made the descent back to Lower Macleay, but I couldn’t resist hanging out in the forest a little longer, so I continued along the Wildwood Trail for another mile before bailing out to the neighborhood via the Aspen Trail. Teeny Aspen ended up being my favorite part of the whole route—it was a smooth and gentle descent and even though I was more than seven hard miles in, I felt like I was floating.

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The beautiful ribbon of the Aspen Trail. Is there a better sight on the planet than cruisy singletrack stretched out ahead of you, just waiting to be run?

No way I could run all the way back to our hotel though—I cooled down for a few blocks in the neighborhood and then settled into a walk. I was beat!

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Sweaty, tired, happy.

I wandered down Thurman Street and came to St. Honoré Boulangerie, which I remembered reading about in the PDX Runs post. I bought a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino and snagged a section from the last weekend’s New York Times from a nearby table. It was warm and bright inside and there were just enough people creating just the right amount of din. The soundtrack must have been Nina Simone Radio or something like it. B.J. Novak wrote a piece in One More Thing that I always think of in moments like this:

[One type of perfection] is the type that seems so obvious and intuitive to you and everyone else that in a perfect world it would simply be considered standard; but, in reality, in our flawed world, what should be considered standard is actually so rare that it has to be elevated to the level of “perfect.” This is the type of perfect that makes you and most other people think, “Why isn’t everything like this? Why is it so hard to find…” a black V-neck cotton sweater, or a casual non-chain restaurant with comfortable booths, etc.—“that is just exactly the way everyone knows something like this should be?”

After a long run on a cool October morning in Portland, St. Honoré Boulangerie felt like that.

I loved my run in Forest Park so much that I almost went back there the next day, but in the spirit of exploration I thought I should try something different. Instead of picking out another PDX Run, I chose a 6-mile loop from a different source, an article promisingly titled “Great Runs in Portland, OR” on Medium.

Well, this was a good lesson in not taking advice from strangers on the internet. My route through Forest Park the previous day had been recommended by the local running company—presumably an institution that I could visit and could also complain to if they sent me on a wild ride. The fellow who wrote the Medium article answered to no one and boasted no credentials, so he could have just put together a nice-looking route from Google Maps without even running it himself. I suspect this is what he did.

The run started with a relentless 900-foot climb over three miles—it was hard as hell, but nothing I didn’t sign up for. But then, the route wound down through neighborhoods with streets that twisted like angry serpents and had absolutely NO shoulders—as in, the white line that marks the side of the travel lane butted up against thick bushes on one side and occasional vertical cliffs on the other. And since it was a neighborhood that obviously doesn’t see much foot traffic, locals tore through it in their cars. I don’t often get sketched out about safety while I run, but on this morning I legitimately worried about being hit. The kicker was that the situation started out as a little less than ideal and then disintegrated into near-deadliness as the miles ticked by—all the while, I’m running down a steep grade with no outlet other than my planned route. I finally made it down to the Oregon Health and Science University campus with my life intact and looked for the cut-through to Terwilliger Boulevard that was clearly marked on the map—only to find that the cut-through was pure fantasy. Not only was there no trail through the woods to Terwilliger, but it was impossible to believe that there had ever been a trail, since the road I was on was bordered by a concrete barrier and overlooked woods that began 30 feet below. So I had no choice but to continue along Sam Jackson Park Road, which is more shoulderless high-speed twisty windy nonsense. This whole route would have been ideal if cars didn’t exist, and if in the future I somehow find myself the sole survivor of the zombie apocalypse, I will definitely head back and enjoy it. But until then, I’ll do more research before pulling running routes from random listicles on the internet.

I almost didn’t run on Saturday morning because we’d been out late the night before and had an earlyish flight home. But I hadn’t run by the river yet even though we were staying just a block away, and I couldn’t resist sneaking in one last quick run.

After well over 2,000 feet of climbing over the previous two days, running along the pancake-flat river loop felt like flying. There was no one else about (I saw one other runner!) and the paths were wide and smooth, so it felt great to just crank the pace up (which, for me, means like 8:00/mile) and hold it there. I did my three miles in 25 minutes and was showered and dressed 10 minutes later. Sometimes those short, fast runs just feel great.

What is it about running on vacation that is so damn fun and satisfying? Part of it must be the challenge and stimulation of new scenery. I love my well-worn routes around Reno, but I know them like the back of my hand, and sometimes when I look back over a week I genuinely can’t remember where I ran without consulting Strava. But while running elsewhere, every turn is a question mark, every storefront is a surprise, and the newness of every mile ends up seared in your brain. Even more than that though, I think running on vacation—especially in a city—gives me a little feeling of what it must be like to live there. This is the humidity that the locals deal with all the time. This is the fog and the sunlight that they see every morning on their neighborhood loops. Here’s the cafe where they meet a friend after their trail run in Forest Park. It’s lovely to feel those things and to imagine yourself living in a totally different place—living a totally different life—once in a while. What would I do if I lived in Portland? Where would I shop? Who would I be with? I don’t know any of those things, but I know I’d still be a runner, and I get to peek into that life when I’m out in the world, on the run.

Running lately

Coming back from a running injury is harder than I expected. Before this, here’s how I thought it went:

run a bunch –> get injured –> stop running –> wait –> feel better –> start running –> increase mileage linearly –> run a bunch

But here’s how it’s gone:

run a bunch –> get injured –> ignore it and keep running for a while –> stop running –> keep doing running-ish things enough to hamper recovery –> really stop running –> mope –> start running –> feel pain, stop again –> start running –> increase mileage linearly –> feel pain, stop again –> start running –> feel weird –> feel ok enough to increase mileage –> waffle –> get sick in a million other ways –> increase mileage a little –> sort of get back to where you were but feel like a different person –> be slow

So that’s where I’m at. I feel a little weird and a lot slow. But I’m running again, 3, 4, 5, 6 miles at a time, and for now my leg is holding up. This has certainly been an education and a humbling experience. The thing I’ve learned that outpaces all the other more technical lessons is that running is centrally important to me, and any day I’m able to run is a good day.

Yesterday was a good day:

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We spent the night camping out in the Black Rock Desert and while deserts in general are not my cup of tea, this one is. I laced up for a sunrise run and made my way out to the playa, which really plays with your head in terms of perspective and distance. I was aiming for an easy trot but when I looked down at my watch I saw I was cruising around an 8:15—basically my 10K pace. The slowest I could convince my legs to go was ~8:45.

I took my first stab at GPS art, and while it wasn’t exactly inspired, it worked! So proud.

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It’s a heart.

The view from our campsite wasn’t half bad either:

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In other news, I’m knitting my first sweater. Any time I set it down unfolded for more than five seconds, Truckee materializes and uses it as a bed. I think he likes it because the colorwork yoke, which is twice as thick as the rest of the sweater because you carry the unused color behind the work as you knit, serves as a built-in pillow.

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Knitting and running are ideal complimentary hobbies. Without running, knitting for me would be a one-way ticket to obesity. Without knitting, I would just be sitting around after my runs doing nothing. Add baking to the mix (which I most certainly have) and you have a recipe for a pretty good life.

Adios, 31

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I’ve just wrapped up being 31. With the exception of one or two years in high school, this has been the hardest year of my life, which is not what I was expecting a year ago.

The worst part of this year was that my husband’s mom died. It feels like we’ve opened up Pandora’s box, and now we live in a world where it’s possible that our parents are mortal. I loved my mother-in-law to pieces and I’m going through my own grief in her absence, but I also understand that losing my own parents will be a much deeper level of hell. How can it not? That’s been one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with—that my husband has to navigate this dark valley and all I can really do for him is listen and observe. I wish I could take a heap of his grief and carry it for him, even as I wish could skate through life never having to feel what he’s feeling.

Everything beyond Nancy’s death should be too petty to complain about, but the reality is that the lesser frustrations of this year came together in what feels like a big ol’ life slump. I started 2018 with high hopes for running, and they have all been dashed due to bad timing, injuries, and weird secondary injuries that popped up while cross-training to get over the first injuries. It was a crappy winter for skiing, and it was a crappy summer for existing as the American West burns. What I thought was a small, innocent burn on the roof of my mouth led to the discovery that part of my skull was missing. I started a new job shortly after my birthday last year, and while I’m now getting into the swing of it (see below), it was a really tough transition that led to a minor breakdown and a solid six months of anxiety. Life this year often felt like an uphill struggle, with obstacles between me and everything I want to do.

But. I am amazed to look back over 31 and see how much good there was packed into this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. When I’ve heard others reflect on bad times in their lives—“2012 was a dark time”; “I was not in a good place in my late 20s”—I imagine that the period they’re talking about was uniformly bad, that they woke up every morning weighed down and felt awful the whole time. And maybe that’s how it is for some people, and maybe it will be that way for me in bad years to come. But this year wasn’t like that at all. On the whole, I could have skipped it, but woven into the bleak fabric of 31 were so many amazing experiences, high highs, and deep feelings of contentment and peace. After a three-decade existence largely marked by ease, optimism, and luck, I learned this year that it’s possible to be having a very hard time and to still experience substantial pockets of joy.

So, in no particular order, here are some good things that happened while I was 31. I dedicate this list to my mother-in-law, who would have loved to read it.

  • We started off the year with old friends on an island in Massachusetts that is one of the most calming, invigorating places I’ve ever traveled. I went for a sunrise kayak on our last morning on the island and I’ll carry the images from that paddle with me forever.  
  • We walked the Overland Track in Tasmania—the best thing I’ve ever done, right in the middle of this bad year. I wish I could give this experience to everyone.
  • I ate two breakfasts at Jackman and McRoss every morning in Hobart, Tasmania and I would eat every bite again. Zero complaints.
  • My brother and his wife announced that they’re having a baby—the first on my side of the family and the second time I’ll get to be called aunt! Watching them prepare and especially seeing my brother’s excitement has been a joy. I can’t wait to see our whole family change and grow into their new roles.
  • Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi won the Boston Marathon. HELL YES this makes the list. Watching Linden during her last mile, pounding like a heartbeat toward Copley Square in the lashing rain while the crowds screamed around her, still puts a lump in my throat. Kawauchi’s face when he raises his arms in disbelieving victory—same. They each saw their shot and they took it. And they won.
  • We discovered a new lake, not accessible by trail and therefore totally abandoned, that’s become our new favorite spot in the Sierra. Then we went back for a second fantastic weekend there with two of our most beloved friends.
  • I spent Christmas break on vacation with my family, continuing an unbroken decades-long tradition. This time means the world to me.
  • I went on a proper business trip and explore the new-to-me city of Detroit, which turned out to be a sleeper hit. I’ve never had better pie than Sister Pie, and I’ve rarely been more happily surprised by a run than I was along the Dequindre Cut.
  • I ran the whole Whites-Thomas loop in Galena—my proudest running victory.
  • Banner sort of became a good dog! Six years in, we’re finally figuring out how to best navigate mornings at the park, and seeing him play with other pups like a g’boy makes my day.
  • I joined a little cluster of dedicated Reno bike advocates, we pushed hard for the Center Street Cycle Track, and the project was just approved by RTC and the Reno City Council. In addition to being stoked about this infrastructure and proud of my involvement, the friends and new contacts I’ve made during this process have been an incredible bonus.
  • During our Miracle March, we had an amazing day skiing off the shoulder of Mt. Rose and I put in some of the most fun first tracks of my skiing career.
  • Two of my favorite friends both had healthy, beautiful baby boys, and it makes my heart swell to see them with their little tadpoles, everyone learning the ropes.
  • In the last few months, I’ve started showing the first faint glimmers of being capable, and maybe even someday good, at my job. I have an incredible work setup and an ideal management structure, and now that my anxiety is ebbing, I can see a way to really grow and improve here.
  • We got to spend lots of time as a Trieger family during Nancy’s illness, and while the circumstances sucked, I love this group of people I married into and I’m so grateful that we all got to be together so much before she passed. It was hard but it felt right.
  • I got to see my granddad. As far as I can tell, he is unchanged from when I first laid eyes on him 32 years ago. It’s always a grounding experience returning to his old house, seeing him in his chair, pulling out the same puzzles I’ve played with since my memory began. My anxiety was so bad before this trip that I almost didn’t get on the plane, but I’m so glad I did—it was just what I needed.
  • I got the last seat available—in the first row—to see Labor of Love with Tamsin Greig and Martin Freeman on a chilly October night in London, and it was perfect.

And now I feel like an ass for complaining at all. This year has been tough and included a little too much death and a little too much painful personal growth for my liking, but it was a year of life. There was lots of good in it. I hope I can say the same for 32.