Sunday, December 15, 2013

Riffing off Zach Miller

After this year's JFK 50 miler, I read an interview with "previously unknown" winner Zach Miller.  One of his comments really struck me: The interviewer asked him why he ran, and his answer was exactly what I feel but am not eloquent enough to put into words.  Here's an excerpt:

"It's also a bit of a spiritual thing to me. And by that I mean it's like an extension of my Christian faith. It's kind of like singing worship songs in church. I'm not a great musician or anything like that but when I sink into a groove on a rolling country road or a flowing single track trail in the mountains, that's like the sweetest song of praise I can sing! In addition to that running also gives me time to think, pray, and interact with other people. All of those things are very important." (

It's always fun to realize that you're not alone in thinking or feeling a certain way.  I reflected on Zach's quote this weekend as I ran a couple races at Reveille Peak Ranch.  That's probably my favorite place to run in Texas -- or at least it's tied with the Guadalupe Mountains.  Even though I inevitably trip and fall on the granite crags, slip in the creek crossings, and end up feeling beat up the day after, I love running there.  The beauty of the massive rock formations and the wide vistas make me feel like I'm flying, like I'm totally alive, and prompt me to praise God.
My photos don't do it justice.  And it looks much prettier when the sun is shining. :)
(By the way, can you spot the course markings in this photo?  It's a miracle I didn't take any wrong turns!)
A typical trail at Reveille Peak Ranch. Much more fun than jeep roads or pavement!

These rocks are similar to the ones I tripped over earlier in the race, in the darkness. :)
This weekend's race "by the numbers":
8 = the number of runners in Friday's 3-hour race.
3 = the number of runners at the starting line for Friday's race.  (The others were allowed to start early. . . . very casual race direction. :)
16 = number of gels I consumed during Saturday's 60K race.
1 = the number of rosaries I started the race with; also the number of rosaries I lost during the race.
4 = the number of great friends I had the privilege of spending time with over the weekend -- camping, running, chatting, and sitting by a fire.  It doesn't get much better.

. . . And one random story:
About a mile or two into Saturday's race, I heard a man well in front of me yelling "Water!"  I was surprised that there would be an aid station offering water so close to the start line.  Not 5 seconds later, I found myself splashing through a creek. :)  Needless to say, there was no aid station -- just a water hazard.  So much for dry feet and no blisters! :)

Monday, November 25, 2013


The Setup
I've been in a pretty glum mood the past few days -- which I mostly blame on the weather.  It's not like it's bitterly cold here, but I moved from Minnesota, with its six-month-long winters, to San Antonio, with its palm trees and cactus, precisely to avoid cold weather.  So this string of cloudy skies, rain, and 40 degree temps is really starting to annoy me -- especially when I need to spend several hours outside running in it. The fact that it'll be back to the upper 70s by the weekend does little to make me feel better.

My training schedule called for 15 miles tonight, but running in the cold was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.  Somehow -- after much procrastination (Maybe I'll just check Facebook one more time!  Hmm.  I better pack some almonds) -- I finally dragged my lazy butt out the door for my run.

About two miles in, I found myself smiling, singing along to my music, and actually enjoying the run.  And then, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I started thinking about all I have to be thankful for.  (It's amazing, those exercise-induced endorphins, isn't it?)

New Friends
One year ago, when I moved here, I knew absolutely no one in the entire state.  So today I'm thankful for all the wonderful friends I've met: Steph, who makes me a better person by forcing me to run  up hills instead of walking; Ernest, who has helped me explore the state, especially its breweries; Michelle, who thoughtfully packs her delicious chicken salad to keep us all going during our long runs; Elizabeth, who patiently teaches me Spanish words and phrases; Emmett, who regales me with tales from the army and the oil fields; Fumi, who flies down steep, rocky hills like a gazelle; my wonderful co-workers; all the Rockhoppers and R.U.N.ners and Alamo Running Buddies -- the list goes on and on and makes me feel very blessed!
Visiting SoCo cupcake truck with Steph

Horsing around with Asma

"Old" Friends
Instead of forgetting about me since my move, my friends from Minnesota and from Notre Dame continue to include me and think of me (though perhaps not as much as I think of them -- I truly love and miss them all). :)

Tailgating with ND friends
Twins game
Trail Running and Ultras
If you had asked me one year ago if I'd ever run an ultramarathon, I would have said probably not.  And if you had asked me about a 100-mile race, I would have said there's not a chance.  That's the funny thing about our paths in life -- so often I have no idea what's around the bend.  I feel so blessed to have "discovered" trail running and ultras in the past year.  I've never been great at athletics, but here I seem to have found something that I really enjoy and that embraces my "slow and steady" pace. :)
We always look so much happier before the race. :)

Fun times pre-race

Photo taken during CR 100 by my amazing pacer Travis
In the past year, my parents have visited San Antonio twice, and I have traveled back to Minnesota to spend time with them twice.  And, thanks to Google Hangout and Skype, I have gotten to "see" them and my brother on a weekly basis.  I'm thankful for every minute we get to spend together.
My brother and me in MN

At our favorite ice house in SA

The list of things I'm thankful for could continue forever, but I'll stop here for now.  It's fun to think about the mystery of the coming year . . . as this past year has shown, life is full of surprises.  And thank goodness for that, because what actually happens in life is way better than anything I can imagine or plan myself.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cactus Rose 100 -- Favorite Memories

Although I love reading other runners' race reports, I don't really feel like putting one together for all the world to read.  But I would love to share some of my favorite times from this weekend's Cactus Rose 100M.

In no particular order, these happy times include:

1. Squirting a jet of Mountain Dew right into my eyeball.

2. My amazing pacer, Travis, negotiating with me to get me to eat something.

3. My amazing pacer, Rachel, agreeing with me that I'm bad at peeing.

4. Travis reminding me occasionally that I'd now run farther than I'd ever run before.  (And using the term "run" very loosely and generously.  At that stage, I was mostly power-hiking.)

5. Seeing Emmett out on the course (and Liza!), and running with Chris, Michelle, Jason, Fumi, and Jean for awhile.  It really felt like a Rockhoppers Saturday morning training run at Bandera.

6.  Being helped by Ernest, Asma, Rich, and Jeannie throughout the race at the Equestrian aid station.  Many thanks!

7. Seeing tarantulas, a scorpion, and a fox out on the course.
Photo during the race by Nikki Davis

8. The beautiful sunset.  (It was so overcast in the mornings that the sunrises weren't spectacular.  But both mornings I was happy to get rid of my headlamp.)

9. Hanging out with friends at the finish line.  They took such great care of me (chair! food! warm clothes!), and it was great hearing about their adventures during the race.  I'm so thankful to know such amazing people!

10. Going straight to Sunday Mass with Ernest after the race -- with dirty, sotol-scraped legs, sweat-plastered hair, urine-soaked shorts (see #3), and a pronounced hobble.  The second reading was from St. Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy: "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."  Way to make me teary-eyed, God!

Overall, my biggest takeaway from this amazing experience -- the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, for sure -- is my total dependence on God. During that 4th loop, every footstep was ridiculously painful, due to huge blisters all over my feet. Every step I was able to take seemed like a small miracle.  As Liza told me once, the pain during an ultra can give us empathy for those who are in constant pain -- and they don't have the option to quit.  I'm thankful I was able to keep the faith and finish the race.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Mantra

Recently, I read an article in Runner's World Magazine about the impact our thinking has on our running performance.  The author mentions a study by Samuele Marcora, in which athletes were taught certain motivational phrases, like "don't give up," and were reminded to use those phrases while exercising.  The study found that the mantras "allowed subjects to reduce their perceived effort during exercise and increased their time-to-exhaustion."  

Another RW article, "The Magic of Mantras," lists the mantras of elite runners, like Scott Jurek, who repeated "This is what you came for" as he pushed himself to break the American 24-hour record in 2010.  One of my favorite motivational phrases is from Chrissy Wellington, 4-time Ironman World Champion, who wore a wristband that reminded her to "Never, ever give up -- and smile!"

As I'm preparing for a big race next weekend, I'm reflecting on what mantras might motivate me to keep pressing on.  In the past, I've written this Bible verse on my wristband: "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."  But I like to make informed decisions, so before choosing a mantra for my upcoming 100-miler, I did a little research on other Bible verses that could be motivational for a runner or other athlete.  Here is what I found: (all quotations are from the New American Bible)

On endurance:
  • "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Philippians 4:13
  • "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race the lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." Hebrews 12:1-2
  • "Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up." Galations 6:9
  • "He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." Isaiah 40: 29-31
  • "This God who girded me with might, kept my way unerring, Who made my feet swift as a deer's, set me safe on the heights." Psalm 18: 33-34
  • "Rely on the mighty Lord; constantly seek his face." Psalm 105:4
  • "Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31: 6
On taking the right path (good for trail runners):
  • "The Lord will guide you always . . . He will renew your strength." Isaiah 58:11
  • "I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1: 9
  • "In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps." Proverbs 16:9
  • I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk, give you counsel and watch over you." Psalm 32:8
  • "I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them." Isaiah 42:16
On running through the night:
  • "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path." Psalm 119:105
  • "You are my lamp, O Lord! O my god, you brighten the darkness about me. For with your aid I run..." 2 Samuel 22: 29-30
  • "You, Lord, give light to my lamp; my God brightens the darkness about me." Psalm 18:29
  • "I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight." Isaiah 42: 16

On tackling a seemingly impossible task/distance:
  • "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20
  • "Everything is possible to one who has faith." Mark 9:23
  • "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7
  • "Entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16: 3
  • "I will go before you and level the mountains." Isaiah 45:2 (Thanks, God!  I could really use that in Bandera.)
On doing one's best:
  • "Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others." Colossians 3:23
  • "Run so as to win." 1 Corinthians 10:24
On running for God:
  • "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." Matthew 5:16
  • "We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint." Romans 6: 3-5
  • "At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees." Hebrews 12:11-12
  • "Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14
  • "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
  • "Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly." 1 Corinthians 10:25
  • "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31
This is just a sampling.  I won't be like the preacher in Pollyanna and claim that I stayed up all night and read the entire Bible in my search for verses. (That guy must have been lying -- am I the only one who's been bothered by that scene since my childhood?)  But I think this a good start.  I plan to print out a few of these and tape them onto my drop bags, because I know I'll need a boost at various times during the race.  

Ultimately, though, I'm pretty certain this will be my mantra during the final loop:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cactus Rose Predictions: 39 Days Out

Too early to make predictions for the Cactus Rose 100-mile race?  Probably.  But I'm so eagerly anticipating the race, I can't stop myself.  Having never run, crewed, volunteered at, or even spectated a 100-mile race before, I really don't know what to expect.  But of course I do have expectations.  I'm guessing that after the race is over, I'll look back at what I'm writing now and laugh at my ignorance, and I'm guessing that anyone who has run 100-milers is already laughing at my naivete.  So here's your laugh for the day:

What I expect at Cactus Rose:
1. The unexpected.
2. Sotol scratches.  Bring it!
3. To consume at least half a bottle of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
4. Swearing.
5. Lots of hugs.  At least I hope so!  I will definitely need them.
6. To fall.  If I don't fall at least four times, I will be surprised.
7. To see lots of friends, and hopefully make some new friends.
8. Lots of prayer.
9. To have  moments of doubt, bordering on despair, but also moments of hope and joy (hopefully more of the latter).
10. To award myself a chocolate milkshake when it's all over.  And a cookie.  A big cookie.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Runner's Prayer for Peace

This prayer started to develop in my mind during yesterday's morning run.  I was fasting from Facebook that day, so here it is, a day later.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for this day.
Thank you for this run, and for the friends I'm blessed to run with.
Thank you for the beauty of your creation, which surrounds us.

Please grant us, O Lord,
peace in our hearts,
Peace in our families,
Peace throughout the world.

We pray especially on this day for peace in Syria, in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East.
Please grant, O Lord, that our world leaders will be guided by You in all things.

Help us, Father, to let You be our center.
Help us live for you; help us run for you; help us love You.


Photo taken 9/7/13 by Niki Lake

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reveille Peak Ranch Race Report
I'm thankful for many things following the final 60K of the Capt'n Karl's race series (including the fact that the series is over!), but I'm especially thankful for the many angels at the race.  Here are a few of them:
  • The Rockhoppers members who attended the race.  Seeing how I moved to Texas just under a year ago, not knowing a soul in the entire state, it's such a wonderful feeling to show up to a race and see friends.  And I don't know of more hospitable, kind, caring, and inspirational friends than the trail runners I've met in the last year.  
  • The volunteers, who gave encouraging words, filled water bottles, and poured ice water over me at each aid station. 
  • A guy who tried to warn me about a rattlesnake coiled under a rock on the trail ahead.  Unfortunately, my new headphones blocked all ambient noise, so I couldn't make out what he was saying and had to wait until after the race to hear about it.
  • My friend Emmett, who I got to see at the race, and who was responsible for me running my first 50-miler earlier this year and registering for this series, as well as the Tejas 300 series.
  • My friend Elizabeth, who took great care of me after the race, put up with my fairly grumpy mood at 3:30 in the morning, and handed me my award for 1st place woman for the series. (An award I'm a little uncomfortable with, since I never actually won any of the races, but whatever.)
  • My coach, who talked some sense into me after the race.  I was disappointed about my 4th place finish, because I thought I was in 2nd place; a volunteer had told me I was the 2nd female going into the final loop.  But my coach asked me, Would you have pushed as hard in the final loop if you'd known you were in 4th place?  And I know that I wouldn't have.  So it was actually a good thing I'd been misinformed; I got a better time, and I got practice digging deep and pushing myself hard.  It's amazing how a little question like the one she asked could totally shift my perspective.
  • Mi novio, who led us in prayer before the race, and surprised me with a "congratulations" flower delivery the day after the race.  (And who put up with me wanting to stay at the race until one of my friends finished, which was at sunrise.) (And who let me play my Notre Dame Glee Club CD on the ride home.) :)
In case bulleted lists aren't your thing, how about a random story?  
It was the final 5 miles or so, maybe around 2:30 or 2:45 in the morning.  I'd run about 33 miles at that point, beginning at 7pm, so by then I'd spent about 6 1/2 hours running in the dark, alone.  I'd had 30-odd ounces of EFS slurry, but no solid food, energy gels, or anything of that sort since before the race started.  It was at that point that I noticed my headlamp was starting to dim.  I was worried that it would run out before I reached the finish line, and I couldn't remember if I had extra batteries in my pack.  I didn't think I did, and I didn't want to stop and check, because I'm always concerned about my time.  So I switched my headlamp to a green filter, thinking maybe it would conserve the battery and/or help me see better.  Almost immediately after I did this, a red, yellow, and black snake slithered across the trail ahead of me.
Or did it?  After I finished the race, I described the snake to my friends, who said it sounded like a coral snake, which is venomous.  But my boyfriend told me the light from my headlamp (which I'd switched back to white light shortly after the snake incident) didn't appear dim at the finish line, and when I got home and googled pictures of Texas snakes, none of them looked exactly like the one I'd seen.  Was it the green filter that made it look completely different to me?  Or was I just hallucinating (about the headlamp and the snake)?  I've heard the rhyme about coral snakes since I've moved here: "Red next to yella will kill a fella" but I hadn't studied a picture of a coral snake.  Maybe my mind conjured up its own version of a red, yellow, and black snake, as well as the idea that my light was going.  I'll never know for sure, but I guess I'm inclined to believe I actually saw a coral snake, which is pretty cool.

The only other tidbits I have to share from the race are that Reveille Peak Ranch is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Texas, the moon was big and orange and gorgeous that night, and the ants here bite, which is rather mean.

Anyway, what's on the docket for September? Recovery, strength-building, and gearing up for my 1st 100-mile race, which is in October!

St. Sebastian, pray for us! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Colorado Bend 60K: The Movie

During the second half of the Colorado Bend 60K, as I became more and more loopy in the wee hours of the morning, I kept thinking of connections between my experience at the race and video clips.  Here they are, for your viewing entertainment.

First, I thought of Petey in Remember the Titans.  That's because I was saying (out loud, of course, even though only the deer and possums were there to hear me) really sarcastic comments like "Gee, running is sure fun" and "This course does not at all blow goats." 

Then, during one of the two incredibly long stretches between aid stations (okay, it was only 5+ miles between aid stations, but it seemed like eternity), I thought of David After Dentist.  "Is this going to be forever?"
During the race, I could relate to so many of David's comments.  "I can't see anything!" "I feel funny." "Why is this happening to me?" And like David, I also lost the ability to count.

I named all my flasks of EFS slurry, as I mentioned in my last blog post.  After tasting some for the first time as I began the race, I decided that the next flask I make will be called Khlav Kalash. 
The slurry tastes fairly awful.  And all the aid stations have to wash it down is Mountain Dew or crab juice.

Finally, in the home stretch of the race, I was reflecting on what a sarcastic mood I was in.  Given that I've been debating whether to use a pacer or not in an upcoming 100 mile race, I started thinking about this Gap Girls skit from SNL:
My fear is that, after 80 miles or so, I'd start acting like Chris Farley's character and my pacer would never want to speak to me again.

I'm thankful I still had a sense of humor by the end of the race, even if it's a weird sense of humor.

Pray Once, Then Give Thanks: Colorado Bend 60K

Occasionally I hear a homily that not only sticks with me, but changes my behavior.  That was the case with last Sunday's, where the priest's message was "pray once, then give thanks."  His point was that we sometimes keep asking God over and over for things, like Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33.  Is there anyone who's not annoyed by that scripture, when Abraham asks God if he'd spare 50 innocent people -- and how about 45? Would You spare 45? What about 40? etc.  Although Abraham does show persistence in his prayer, he doesn't display trust in God, that God has heard his prayer and will answer it if it's in accordance with His will.

The priest's message was that, instead of being irritating like Abraham, we should be more like Mary; at the wedding at Cana, when she asked her son Jesus to turn the water into wine, his reponse was no.  But she didn't keep asking him; rather, she moved ahead in faith and hope, instructing the servers to do whatever Jesus told them.  And, of course, Jesus did perform the miracle. 

I've been trying to apply this idea to my own prayer life.  So as the Colorado Bend 60K approached, I only asked God once to help me have the best race I could.  Then I just did my best, giving thanks for all the little and big blessings of the race. 

Here are some of the things I was thankful for:
  • Great friends.  I got to hang out with the Rockhoppers in their posh set-up by the starting line before the race, and then chatted with them again briefly after the race.  It's hard to come by nicer, kinder, more generous people.
  • Only falling 4 times.  Because I almost fell about a bazillion times.  Seriously, it was an incredibly rocky course.  There were some stretches that I thought of as minefields of rocks.  I was also thankful that I was able to bounce right back on my feet, not losing time after each fall.  I have some nice battle wounds to show for it, which is always fun.
  • Not running face-first into a giant spider that was weaving its web across the trail.  I saw it at the last minute and ducked to the left. To say that it was the size of my palm would be exaggerating . . . but not by much. 
  • More battle wounds -- from kicking a sharp, pointy rock (possibly the sharpest, pointiest rock in the park) into my left ankle.  And for the pain going away after only .25 mile or so.
  • Not meeting Bigfoot.  When I heard branches snapping -- loud enough that I could hear it over my loud music -- at 1:26am, alone in the dark woods, I thought to myself, Maybe Dad's right about Bigfoot . . . :)
  • For the best-feeling stomach yet during an ultra. Thanks to my coach, who recommended I try EFS slurry.  (I think the term slurry makes it sound too disgusting to drink, so I renamed mine; see below.)

At/after the race, I also gave thanks for:
  • The beautiful sunset. 
  • Seeing so many bright stars in the absolute blackness of the country sky.  And a shooting star!
  • Finishing the race.  I guess I lost the ability to count to four at some point during the race, because I was really uncertain whether I had just left the last aid station, or whether there was one more.  So when I saw the finish line, all I could think was "Praise God!"  That was a really tough course -- the hardest yet in this race series, I'd say.
  • Brother wind, to occasionally cool me down.
  • Safely driving back to San Antonio -- a three hour drive -- from 4:00am to 7:00am, without hitting any of the many deer lurking in the ditches.  (Although I did run over a skunk, which I feel sad about.  Poor Pepe.  He had a really cool-looking spiky white hair-do.  At least we didn't make eye contact -- then I'd feel even worse.)
Three of these night-time 60Ks down; one more to go.  I guess my nickname will have to be "second place," because that's been my fate each time.  And I'm thankful.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Race Report: Muleshoe Bend

Photo from
For some reason -- maybe my lingering cold, or the general lethargy brought on by spending the past few days in bed -- I can't muster the energy to write a full race report.  But probably no one would want to read such a thing anyway.  So instead of that, I'll just focus on the best parts of the race.  In that spirit, here are:

Ten Things That Didn't Suck at the Muleshoe Bend 60K*
1. Rediscovering a couple great songs on my mp3 player: "Run Through the Jungle" by CCR and "Live Out Loud" by Stephen Curtis Chapman.
2. Wearing the Chilly Pad cooling towel my dad gave me for my birthday -- it really cooled me down. I dipped it in ice water at the end of each loop. (Thanks, Dad!)
3. Using two handheld bottles -- that way, I was able to fill one with ice water and one with ice and Gatorade or Coke at each aid station.  Much quicker then refilling a hydration pack.
4. Orange-flavored ginger chews to combat nausea.
5. Chatting with a running buddy/inspiration at the aid station at the end of each loop.
6. My super-bright new headlamp, which allowed me to not need a backup handheld (although it gave me a sore bump on the head for the following two days).
7. The stars at night were shining bright, deep in the heart of Texas.

Why is it so difficult to think of good things about this race? I'm really having to work to think of three more things . . .

8. I actually liked having four loops of 9+ miles, rather than two loops of 18+ miles. It's always a feeling of accomplishment to pass through the start/finish area, and having only 3 aid stations to keep track of is easier for my run-addled mind.
9. The Tejas Trails organizers and the volunteers are always so great. And the runners, too -- when a runner behind me fell down, several people turned around to make sure she was all right.
10. Singing along to a Notre Dame band CD all the way home. “And here it is….the Band of the Fighting Irish….America’s first University band, with students from across the country and overseas, and representing every field of study.” :) Okay, not actually a part of the race, but part of the race experience, anyway.

*I'm not trying to imply that other things did suck. Banging my head against a tree trunk in the dark, kicking a rock so hard that I thought I broke my toe, having my sunglasses ripped off my head by tree branches, falling, accidentally running an extra mile, and enduring temps of 102 degrees** at the beginning of the race were bothersome, but actually added to the feeling of triumph upon crossing the finish line. Whose glass is half full now? :)

**Funny story: As we lined up at the starting line, a friend/fellow runner asked me if I'd already been running, since I was so sweaty. That's not a great sign.
Image from 

Only two more of these night races left this summer! Thanks be to God for a great couple of races so far. Looking forward to the next one at Colorado Bend.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Illustration from
In a recent Runner's World article, authors Budd Coates and Claire Kowalchik describe a rhythmic breathing technique they developed to prevent injury while running. It's a 5-count breath, where you inhale for 3 footfalls and exhale for 2.  The reason it can be beneficial to the runner's body is that it maintains a balance between the sides of the body experiencing the stress of footstrikes. According to research, "the greatest impact stress of running occurs when one's footstrike coincides with the beginning of an exhalation. This means that if you begin to exhale every time your left foot hits the ground, the left side of your body will continually suffer the greatest running stress."  The authors found that using this technique sped up recovery time and allowed them to run without undue stress or injury.

I've used this technique for months now, ever since reading the article. At first I had to make a conscious effort to maintain the rhythmic breathing, but it actually surprised me how quickly it became second nature. I make one slight adjustment to it, however: when I'm not actively thinking about other things, praying, listening to music, or catching up on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" podcasts, I say these words in the same rhythm as my breath: "Thank You, Lord Jesus; Praise You, Lord Jesus." The syllables of these words fit perfectly with the rhythm, with "Thank (or Praise) You, Lord" occurring during the inhale steps, and "Jesus" occurring on the exhale steps. This has also become second nature after using it so much, so I find myself thinking these words in time with my steps without even having thought about it. 

This breathing technique may or may not be preventing injury -- it's hard to say.  But I will say that it benefits me by keeping me going during long races, giving me something small to focus on when I feel like I just want to be done.  And it also helps me to remember as I'm running that I want every step to be a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Digging Deep at Pedernales: Race Report

Photo taken during the race by Jackie Dove
This weekend I raced the Captain Karl's 60K (37.3 miles) at Pedernales Falls State Park.  I have to say that I didn't have as much fun during the run as I normally do.  Maybe it was the heat (about 90 degrees at the start), the sleep deprivation (I finished at 2:24 in the morning), or the 14-gel-pack-induced nausea, but I really had to dig deep to continue pushing on.  Here's a little recap of the highs and lows:

As the gaggle of runners took off from the start, I said my traditional "Saint Sebastian, pray for us!" and began at a jog.  I'm fine with starting off toward the back of the pack, because I've made that dreaded mistake before, of going out too fast, and paying the price later.  During the first loop of 18+ miles, I ran very conservatively, trying to keep my heart rate down in the heat and save my energy for the long night ahead. 

One of my favorite times during a race is when the pack breaks up and I'm left running by myself, at my own pace.  I'd say that happened somewhere after the second aid station.  It was nice to enjoy the beautiful views in the park in the few hours before the sun went down.  The trail was marked very well -- as Tejas Trails races always are, in my experience -- so even someone as geographically-challenged as me couldn't get lost. 

I couldn't believe it when the first loop was done and I found myself back at the start/finish.  I had thought I was approaching just another aid station -- I didn't realize how far I'd run.  I don't wear a GPS watch or use a smartphone app during ultras, because I really prefer not to know -- it usually helps the miles fly by faster.  If I wore a Garmin, I would be constantly looking at it and then thinking, "Really? I've only run .4 miles since I last looked?" 

After this pleasant surprise, I felt good starting my second loop.  I finished up my fourth Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet and switched on my iPod Shuffle.  Listening to music usually helps pass the time and keep me energized and moving, and to be honest, during a trail ultra, I'm far enough out of anyone's listening radius that I feel perfectly comfortable singing along to my tunes.  However, this time it just wasn't enough to make my running enjoyable.  I took some candied ginger a friend had given me, in an attempt to combat my nausea, and despite the terrible taste, I think it did help.  Another thing that helped was the quite-appropriate lyrics to my songs, including:

"This looks like more than I can do -- on my own. . . . When I've finally hit rock bottom, that's when I start looking up and reaching out . . . Lord right now I'm asking you to be strong enough for both of us." -- Matthew West, "Strong Enough"

"Blessed be Your name when I'm found in the desert place; though I'm lost in the wilderness, blessed be Your name." -- Matt Redman, "Blessed be Your Name" (Although I wasn't lost, thank goodness, I did see a few scorpions!)

"You lead, I'll follow . . . just light the way and I'll go." -- Jamie Grace, "You Lead" (Especially appropriate since I was using a headlamp, a flashlight, and the almost-Super Moon to find my way along the trail in the darkness.)

Photo from

At the last manned aid station, I asked the volunteers if there were many girls ahead of me.  Their response was "no."  I guess my question was too vague; as I ran away down the trail I found myself wondering, "Does that mean there are 4 or 5 in front of me? None in front of me?" I had no idea.  At least I had an idea of how many miles remained: the volunteers had told me "a little over 6."

Those 6+ miles turned out to be the longest ever!  I had to pause my music and say another Rosary.  That helped re-focus me a bit.  The other thoughts that helped me keep my perspective were dedicating my run to certain loved ones and remembering that I was wearing a Life Runners singlet and running for a culture of life.

With maybe 3 miles remaining, I had to force-feed myself some more Gu.  I did a pretty good job of taking a gel pack every half hour, in order to have enough energy to keep my pace up.  But that stuff is pretty darn disgusting.  And with a queasy stomach from all the jostling and bouncing of a long run, it's especially unpleasant to squeeze 4 ounces of berry-flavored gelatinous goo into your mouth.  My last-ditch attempt at keeping my spirits up was singing aloud to my new favorites, "I Love It" and "Cruise," while constantly pleading for the assistance of St. Sebastian.  I wanted to just stop and walk so many times, but I also wanted to finish well and take home one of the fun trophies Tejas Trails races always have, so I pushed myself to keep going.

Words can't express how happy I was to reach the finish line.  After verifying that my time was recorded (the ankle bracelet holding my chip fell off a couple times during the run, and I was paranoid that a vital component had become dislodged), getting a medal and a few much-needed hugs, I was happy to take home my little award for 2nd place female, change in the port-o-potty, and head back to San Antonio -- successfully pulling my first all-nighter since college.  Arriving home at 5am, I had just enough time to change clothes and head to 6:00 Mass.  I have to say that gazing at Jesus up on the crucifix behind the altar really put into perspective any little suffering I had during the night.  It also reminded me that through suffering comes triumph. 

If I had to sum up this race experience in 5 words or less, I'd say: Thank you God, it's over. :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

R&R: Running and the Rosary

My cousin once asked me what I think about during long runs. Those are the words he used, but his tone and facial expression implied something more like, "You're insane to go on long runs. Don't you get bored out of your mind? What on earth can a person think about to keep herself entertained for hours on end?"

I'm one of those people who can never think of a good answer when I'm asked a question; it's usually when I'm in the car driving home an hour later that I realize what I should have said. This conversation was no exception. At the time, all I could think to say was that I enjoy the time to think, and that it usually isn't boring at all.

What I should have said was that one thing I really enjoy doing while running is praying the Rosary. During a road marathon, I find that I can say 5 Rosaries and 5 Divine Mercy Chaplets and still have time to sing along to "Call Me Maybe" on repeat several times. (Yes, by the end of a marathon I lose any sense of self-consciousness and am perfectly happy singing out loud to music no one else can hear.)

I've heard non-Catholics question the practice of saying the Rosary, because to them it seems like rote, repetitive prayers -- just meaningless words said over and over again. But in reality, the Rosary is a powerful way to meditate on Christ; in fact, in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote that the Rosary "has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety." This meditation is perfect for a runner; as I reflect on the Sorrowful Mysteries, for example, Jesus' agony in the garden, it sure puts my little pains and feelings of exhaustion in perspective.  Reflecting on Jesus carrying the cross, I can find strength and endurance to finish my race. Thinking about how Mary interceded on behalf of the newlyweds at the wedding at Cana, I am reminded that I can ask Mary and the saints to intercede on my behalf as well. And contemplating Jesus' great love for me, shown by coming to earth in his Nativity, I ask Him to help me love Him more with every footstep.

While my dad uses a finger Rosary during his runs, I like to have my hands free. I don't trust myself not to drop things when I'm running. But I figure that since God gave us 10 fingers, I should put them to good use keeping track of my Hail Mary's, while I put my feet to good use, shuffling towards that finish line.

"To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ." -- Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sacrificial Running

In one installment of Father Robert Barron's Catholicism series, he describes St. Patrick's Purgatory, an ancient pilgrimage site located on an island in a lake in Ireland.  Modern-day pilgrims to the site arrive on a boat, and spend three days in prayer, barefoot, sometimes crawling across jagged rocks on their knees.  They are accompanied by attendants who ensure they stay awake all through the first night, and they are allowed to consume only toast, oatcakes, and black tea or coffee during their stay.

To some, this type of behavior might seem masochistic and/or pointless.  One might ask, why would people put themselves through such pain?  Do such acts actually carry any significance? The Catechism of the Catholic church answers these questions, noting that "Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, 'sackcloth and ashes,' fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance" (1430). 

These "visible signs" and "works of penance" would seem to include the actions taken by pilgrims to St. Patrick's Purgatory, as well as other common works such as abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting, making a sacrificial donation to a charitable cause, etc.  For me, not only do these acts mirror internal conversion, but they help continue the process of conversion -- turning our hearts toward God.  The Catechism teaches that "Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace" (1431).  If our offerings of acts of penance reflect our interior conversion, then they are not "sterile and false," but fruitful and blessed.

Recently I've been wondering if running could also be considered a work of penance.  After all, running does involve a great amount of suffering -- aches and pains, frustration, exhaustion, blisters (and here in Texas, sotol scratches up and down your legs).  I've recently taken to ultra-marathon running, and I enjoy the adage, "If you ever start to feel good during an ultra, don't worry; you'll get over it."  I can't imagine that anyone who has run a 30-, 50-, or 100-mile race has ever done so without a certain amount of pain and suffering.

Texas Sotol Plant -- Beautiful, unless it covers the trail. Ouch!
Running also involves sacrifice.  To train for a marathon or ultra-marathon distance involves sacrificing time -- perhaps upwards of 10 hours a week.  It involves investing money, as well, for proper shoes and gear, for race entries, and unfortunately, sometimes for medical bills.  And it involves opportunity costs, like not being able to spend a late night with friends Friday so that you can get some rest before a 5am long run on Saturday.

The question is, what is the purpose of these sacrifices?  What is my goal for running these ultramarathons? If it's purely a self-centered desire to do my best, have fun, beat my previous record, or achieve some kind of recognition, then it certainly wouldn't fit the definition of penance.  But what if I run for God?  What if I run because He's given me this body that can run 50 miles of trails so that I can do just that, and offer it up to Him?  What if my runs are prayers to God -- prayers of adoration, atonement, thanksgiving, and petition?

Sister Madonna Buder, commonly known as the Iron Nun for her participation in numerous races including the Ironman triathlon series, asserts in her autobiography that running is a type of prayer posture.  I agree with her, but I also believe that running can be prayer itself -- a type of prayer that uses our bodies as well as our minds and hearts.  Each footstep can be a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.  Each painful step, each weary breath, each sotol scratch can be offered up to God.  As I run, I can meditate on the many blessings God has provided in His great mercy and divine Providence, and my running can bring me closer to God.  I believe that it can help further my interior conversion and can be a fruitful act of penance.

God, please help me keep this in mind when I'm running through the sotol tonight! :)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Running together

Running brings people together.  At least that's what I've found.  I've talked in a previous blog post about how running has led me to new friendships; but I also believe that running strengthens my existing friendships and relationships.

For the past week, I've been blessed by a visit from my wonderful parents (you can look for the family resemblance in the photo below).  Lucky for me, they're both runners.  I love being able to go for a run with them -- and especially to travel with one or both of them to destination races. 

Me and my dad before the Minneapolis Half Marathon
Me and my mom before the Walt Disney World 5K

For some reason, when you're running with someone, the walls that typically constrain conversations come tumbling down, and you're able to talk about things you normally wouldn't.  Maybe that's why so many runners' conversations involve descriptions of gastrointestinal problems.  Think about it: if you were talking with a friend in a cafe or grocery store aisle, and the words "bloody nipples," "peeing on the trail," or "inner thigh chafing" came up in the conversation, it would be pretty weird.  But no one will flinch if they come up in a conversation while running. 

And it's not just these cringe-worthy topics that come up while running; some conversations are deep and personal.  Because of this phenomenon, you can get to know someone and become close to them very quickly when you run together.  Being able to run with family members and friends is a blessing, because you can have these conversations and strengthen those bonds in a short time.  That's especially important when you don't see your loved ones in person too frequently.

Even though my parents have flown back home and I won't get to run with them again for a few months now, we'll still talk about runs and keep updating our shared training log online.  So, in a way, running is still bringing us closer together even though we're far apart.  Or, I should really say, God is using running as an instrument to bring us closer together.  And I'm very thankful for that.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Desire to Please You

Last September, two weeks after accepting a new job and putting in my notice at my old job, I packed up my car and drove more than 1,200 miles south along IH-35.  I literally knew one person in my new city: my boss, whom I'd only met once, at my interview. 

This was a quite relevant prayer for me at that time (and still is):

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 


(Thomas Merton)

Before and during my move, I prayed that God would help me be open to new people and situations, and help me have the relationships He wanted for me.  In that spirit, the day I moved into my new apartment, I went to a group run.  Many of the people I met at that first run have become good friends.  And through those friends, I have made other close friends.  These relationships have led me places I never could have imagined just a few months ago: running my first ultramarathons, including a 50-mile race; winning age group awards (don't get too excited -- there just weren't many people running those races); running at night in the Hill Country wilderness by the light of headlamps; paddleboarding in Austin; signing up for my first 100-mile race; and camping in exotic places like Burnet and Smithville, TX.  God has blessed me with happiness, friendship, and peace -- largely through the instrument of running.

Since we don't know where the road ahead will take us, all we can do is place our trust in God.  My experience these last seven months has shown me that if we are open to His will and His Holy Spirit, and trustingly take those first steps onto the path ahead, He will lead us and will never abandon us.  

Come, Holy Spirit!  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Living in the "Now Footstep"

A few years ago, a friend gave me a book of collected talks and essays by Fulton J. Sheen, called From the Angel's Blackboard.  At the time, I knew nothing about Sheen or his work.  Out of respect for my friend -- and so I'd be able to honestly respond in the event that he ever asked me how I liked the book -- I picked it up, and the very first piece struck me so much that I've continued to reflect on it ever since.  In this essay, Sheen (technically the Venerable and Most Reverend Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, but let's go with "Sheen" for the sake of brevity) offers reflections on the issue of anxiety.  I've found his reflections to be helpful in life in general, and particularly in my running.

Sheen comments that of all God's creatures, we humans are the only ones who have an understanding of time, an understanding which can lead to worry and anxiety.  Whereas other animals can feel fear and pain, we are the only creatures who feel persistent anxieties, due to the fact that we can anticipate the future and reflect on the past.  Instead of just thinking, "Ouch, that hurts," we have a tendency to think, "Ouch, that hurts -- What if this pain persists?  What if it keeps hurting, and even gets worse? Will I have this pain for the rest of my life? What does this mean for my vacation plans next week?"  Our understanding of the concept of past time can also lead to worries; in the case of emotional suffering, for instance, we might feel regret, thinking, "I really should have handled that situation differently.  I could have prevented all this heartache." 

We know the Bible tells us repeatedly to be not afraid or anxious (Matthew 6:25-34 is just one example), but that's easier said than done. How do we go about shedding our anxieties? Sheen's message is that, by entrusting our past and future totally to God and simply living in the "now moment," we can live a life without worry.  Because, generally, the "now moment" is okay.  In this "now moment," I'm fine.  I'm not in pain, I'm at a comfortable temperature, and I'm even experiencing a nice sense of productivity as I sit on my couch typing this.  I might feel a tendency to worry about whether I'll have time to get all my work done on Monday, or whether I ought to have said something different to a friend yesterday, but that's all in the future or the past.  It's out of my hands anyway, so I can give all that up to God; I can trust my past to His Divine Mercy (thank God!) and I can trust my future to His Divine Providence (again, thank God!) and just live in the now moment, offering praise and thanksgiving for every now moment.  Every time I reflect on Sheen's ideas, I feel the weight of anxiety lifted from my shoulders, as I'm reminded that I really don't need to worry -- over anything!

So how does this translate to running?  I'll use my most recent race as an example.  Around mile 8 I was hopping over a creek when I slipped on a wet rock.  I came down hard, landing on my knees and chin.  My running buddy would tell you that's no surprise.  I'm a faller.  In fact, the bigger story would be if I ran a trail and didn't fall.  But right away I knew there was something wrong with my left knee.  It really hurt to bend or straighten it.  I have never DNF'd ("did not finish"), and I wasn't about to then, so I massaged it for a few seconds and then began running again.  For the next 18 miles or so, I ran in pain.  The only thing that kept me going was focusing on the "now" footstep.  I asked Bishop Sheen to intercede on my behalf -- not that God would quell the pain, but that God would help me live in the "now" footstep, offering Him praise and thanksgiving for every footstep He was allowing me to take.  That kept me from wasting energy worrying about the past -- that if only I had been more careful going over that darn creek, I wouldn't be feeling this pain -- or worrying about the future -- that maybe I wouldn't be able to finish the race, and maybe this would affect my future running, if I had really damaged my knee.  Somehow through these prayers, I was able to finish, and even do pretty well. 

I should note that I'm not a physician, and it's likely that a doctor would advise against running through persistent pain.  I should also note that I'm not a trained theologian, so you can take my reflections as you will.  All I can say is that for me, Bishop Sheen's words are a big help in running the race of life -- which is definitely an ultramarathon.  And as ultra-runners say, "If the bone's not showin', just keep goin."  

Monday, May 6, 2013

St. Sebastian, please be my DJ

This was one of my prayers during the Pandora's Box of Rocks Trail Marathon on Saturday.  I have to say, I feel like I'm pretty tight with St. Sebastian.  A few years ago when I began running, I learned from my friend L that Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes.  Since then, I've come to ask him to intercede for me and my fellow runners approximately a million times. 

Here is a sampling of my requests/comments to St. Sebastian over the years:
  • Please help my every footstep to be a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God.  (What a great prayer!  If you take about 33,000 footsteps in a marathon -- and according to the first link from my Google search, which is the extent of my research on this question, it is -- then that's 33,000 prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God.  Not bad!  And in a 50 mile race, almost 66,000 prayers.  You get the idea.)
  • Please help me offer up any sufferings to God.  (And as the ultra-marathon saying goes, If you ever start feeling good during an ultra, don't worry -- you'll get over it.  There will be suffering.)
  • Please help that poor runner over there -- s/he doesn't look so good!
  • Please help me -- I don't look so good!
  • Please help me finish strong.
  • Please help me not to jostle anyone or be jostled. (If you've ever done organized races with water stops, you'll know what I mean by this.)
  • (After a race), Please bless my meeting with my loved ones. (This never fails -- even in races with 30,000 runners, we always find one another and have the perfect timing.)
  • Please be my pacer.
  • Please be my DJ.  (Seriously, he is the best DJ.  I use a Shuffle, and I always get the perfect music for the moment.  It's like he knows when "I'm Walking on Sunshine" will pick me up or when I need "Edge of Glory" to drive me to the finish line.)
You'll notice I'm very polite in my prayers.  I always say "please" and "thank you."

This popular depiction of St. Sebastian shows arrows failing to kill him due to his physical strength and endurance.
If he could survive being shot by arrows, I guess I can survive blisters and an inflamed IT band.

The Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen is another great intercessor for runners, but that's a blog for another day. . . .

For more information on Saint Sebastian, click here.

What are your prayers during a run? Tell me in the Comments section.