Accidental Wisdom


I accidentally said something wise at work.

Co-worker Elaine had asked me about Ragnar because her husband and some of his friends were getting a team together and she wasn’t sure if she should run or not, and I have a bunch of Ragnar stickers on my car.

Of course, I told her Ragnar is the best. I told her that it’s my favorite race, and that she is totally capable of running it. I told her that people run in costume and there’s a unique camaraderie in the van. I told her it’s a chance to feel like a kid again.

Still, Elaine was worried about her pace. Evidently her husband’s friends are cops and are pretty competitive. They didn’t love that she runs like an 11-minute pace. In our conversation about pace, she was saying that she just didn’t think she would ever get faster, and I said, “Pace is really just dependent on how uncomfortable you’re willing to be. You can get faster; it just might not be worth the discomfort.”

Of course discomfort is not the only factor. If I’d lose 20 lbs, it’d be a lot easier for me to run faster, but the variable that’s always a factor is discomfort.

I am a firm believer that anyone can run Ragnar, anyone can run a half marathon, and anyone can run a full marathon. The question isn’t whether a person can do it. The question is whether a person is willing to do it. The question is how uncomfortable a person is willing to be, because running a marathon is really uncomfortable for a really long time.

Elaine recently quoted me back to myself, saying that she actually thinks about discomfort every time she runs now. She thinks about how if she’ll just be a little more uncomfortable, she’ll also be a little faster.

It’s really cool to hear that it helped her. Even though I didn’t intend to be particularly awesome or helpful in that moment, what I said to Elaine has actually been really helpful to me in studying for the LSAT.

The LSAT is an obnoxious test. And I’m beginning to believe that taking it is a lot lot running a personal best on race day. It’s not just about getting up to the distance; it’s also about being efficient. It’s about pacing and constant forward motion.

I scored my first 160 on a practice test several weeks ago, which was awesome. 160 is the median score U of A accepts, and it’s at the lower end of the range where they offer merit-based scholarships. It was also my goal score, so I got to adjust my goal up, which is always such a confidence-booster. But it took a lot of discomfort to get to that 160. It took a lot of sitting at sbucks, reading and practicing a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with law school. I’ve done practice questions about giraffes, race cars, evolution, public parks, furniture, bread deliveries, tropical fish, computers, drilling fluids, choreography… you name it, I’ve studied it. Some of the questions are about literature, which always makes me happy, but the vast majority of my preparation has been reading about crap that really irritates me.

Also, it would have been easy to score 160, then stop worrying and studying. And yet, here I am, at sbucks, getting ready to work through my third thousand-plus page book, in the hopes that reading about the history of model airplanes will provide significant compensation in a few months. Discomfort now, for comfort in the future.

That’s what running is like. The more uncomfortable I’m willing to be, the better I will likely perform on race-day.

About My Week


I had a difficult week – not bad – just difficult.

The primary struggle this week was friendships.

There were two or three different instances when I felt like a friend or friends were being competitive with me. It centered around the big life decisions I’ve been making, and really stirred up anxiety and sadness in me.

I hate comparison.

People are different. Circumstances are different. There is no possible way for one person to look at another person’s decisions and believe they should also do (or have already done) the same thing.

I completely close off when people start comparing themselves to me, and I wish I didn’t. I wish I had it in my to tell them things like, “Don’t play that game. Don’t get sucked in. Make the best decision for you. Don’t take the decision I made for myself and think it somehow provides commentary on the decisions you’ve made for you.”

One of the times I felt I was being watched and compared to others this week was at a get-together of some old friends. There were about 9 of us, I think, and I hadn’t seen or talked to any of them for months. Realistically, I’ve been intentional about moving on from 7 of them, so it was bound to be weird. I almost wish, however, that I didn’t have so much news to tell them. I wish I could have faded into a corner and let them catch up with one-another. I wish we’d gotten together a couple of months ago when I wasn’t getting ready to take the LSAT and sell my house.

I’m not selling my house to make money, although I am glad to discover that I probably will make money. I’m not taking the LSAT to feel smart or to impress. I didn’t quit teaching as a commentary that all teachers should get out. But it feels like that’s exactly what 6 or so of those old friends saw… the assessment, judgment, and occasionally envy or admiration was palpable last weekend.

It bothers me. It feels too much like a jockeying for position, like there’s some hierarchy and everyone is trying to figure out where I fit and where they fit in comparison to me. I don’t want to fit. Anywhere. I don’t want to fit at the top or at the bottom or in the middle of any hierarchy. It bothers me that a hierarchy exists.

My anthem for this season: “It is the most difficult thing in the world for a person to run her own pace when she knows someone is watching.”

I no longer even remember where that quote comes from, but I find great comfort in it. That quote brings me a peace, because it strips away the hierarchy and recognizes that every runner has a pace that fits her, that’s her own.

When I start to see my flaws or my strengths, this quote reminds me that racing isn’t about beating anyone else. It’s about taking the person I’ve been given – taking Katie… her muscles, her fat, her brain, her heart, her whatever – and running the best pace she can run. This quote reminds me that no matter how many people are watching and evaluating my race, the pace I set can never depend on their evaluation.

Have a good week, friends, and run your pace, regardless of the pace others around you are running.

Ragnar 2015 and How I Tore My Pants :-)


Okay, so I’ve been slacking on my blogging duties of late. I promise I have several good excuses, though.

First and foremost, I’ve not had a weekend to myself for a bit, and I don’t have the interwebs at home. This is the first solid chunk of time I’ve had to myself since Valentine’s Day. I totally don’t say it like that to make you sad for me. I honestly don’t even remember what I did on Valentine’s Day, so it couldn’t have been all that bad.

So… since the V-Day, I ran Ragnar 2015, which is my new favorite Ragnar I’ve ever run. Mostly, I enjoyed running a respectable distance without suffering very much.

Also, I ate it pretty hard, which hasn’t happened to me in at least a decade.

Basically, I was on my second run of the race. It was nighttime, maybe like 8 or 9 p.m. and I had 7.8 miles to run. I started off pretty slow, and several jackasses blew past me. I knew I’d eventually run a few of them down, because they were mostly dudes, and their egos frequently get them into trouble on a race like Ragnar.

There was one dude in particular who blew by me, and slowed way down about a half-mile ahead of me.

So I did what you do in Ragnar. I hunted him. Slowly.

It took me something like three miles to catch him. He looked relatively fit, which always makes the triumph all the greater. The problem was that right around the time I intended to leave him behind for good, we starting hitting the stop lights. So I’d leave him behind, and then he’d catch me at the light. Then, he’d blow across the intersection like a bat out of hell, because men who aren’t runners, but who run are like that. In about 5 minutes, I’d pass him again, and then I’d run into the next red light.

We continued on in that annoying pattern for something like 3 more miles.

And I was pissed.

When we finally hit a spot where there were no lights in sight, I took off. I even passed another dude soon after that because I was so highly motivated. In Ragnar, you call it a kill when you pass anyone, so I was feeling pretty good about my 2 kills. I could hear the sounds of the exchange in the distance. I was enjoying the run, feeling like a barbarian in the night…

and I don’t even know what happened, but I ate it. Hard.

I hit my right knee first, then both hands, then my left knee.

Then my left calf cramped up like nobody’s business, so I shot both of my legs into the air and went into happy baby pose, trying to get my calf to calm the hell down.

That’s when my second kill came up to me.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’m good,” I told him, still lying on my back with my feet in the air. He looked at me with severe pity.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m just going to sit here for a minute.”

He left, and I struggled with my calf some more.

Then, I saw him. The jackass I’d hunted for a solid 6 miles… that’s an hour of the race. He was at least a quarter-mile back, but there was no way I was letting him have the victory.

I jumped up off my ass, and starting sprinting as fast as I could. My left calf wasn’t protesting as much as I’d anticipated, the right knee of my pants was def. ripped, and there was some blood, but my left knee didn’t start to bruise for at least an hour after the fall. Also, kill #2 was up ahead and I had every intention of deleting his zombie kill on me from my record, by returning the favor.

“Sorry, man. That was embarrassing,” I said as I passed him once again.

He just shook his head as I ran past.

I sprinted across the final intersection and into the exchange, where I slapped our bracelet onto Shirley’s wrist, but I was dumbfounded when she didn’t move.

“I can’t go,” she said.

“What? Why?”

“There’s an accident up ahead. They aren’t letting any runners out.”

So as my two kills caught us yet again, I tried to keep my broken heart to myself. They trotted into the exchange, and their teammates got to leave at the same time mine did, in spite of my ridiculous efforts to improve us from 9,083 rd place in the race to 9,081 st (I made up those numbers).

Regardless, I got to feel like quite the badass, and I’m looking forward to my next race.

The Anthem of a Christian Life


During Ragnar Trail this weekend, I thought a lot about intentionality.

During every Ragnar, I intentionally drink more water than seems humanly possible. I eat and eat and eat… I might even feel pretty disgusted by food – like I’m going to throw up if I eat anything… and still, I shovel food into my mouth. I sleep when sleep is available to me even if I have to put back two or three Benadryls to make it happen. My clothes are packed in gallon ziplock bags that I label “Night Run” or “Camp Clothes” or “Backup Clothes,” into which, I carefully place everything I’m going to need for each part of the race… down to which underwears and socks (or no socks) are for which run. I get out of the sun when shade is available to me. I sit on the ground, because, regardless of what others are doing, it’s always wise to get off my feet in a race like this. I stretch. I wear compression socks between runs.

Needless to say, I attribute Ragnar success to intentionality.

Our teammates this weekend are not like that. They ran their first runs, then went back to the tent and drank a beer, which sounds like just about the worst idea in the whole history of the world to me, because I’ve seen more than a few people get rocked by dehydration during Ragnar. Just about the only things our teammates worried about was how many carbs they took in (wouldn’t want to get fat…), their makeup, and what their breasts looked like. They did things like finish an 8-mile run in the 90 ish degree heat, with no shade cover at. all. – a run they refused to carry water for… and they proceeded to sit down in the sun and not even sip water.

Now, let’s be fair to the intentionality before I tell you why intentionality can’t be the foundation of the race…

I have run 6 Ragnar Relays, mostly in the desert, without major incident, because intentionality definitely contributes to a well-run race. Other team members, who are far better runners than I will ever be, have needed someone else to pick up the last few miles of their runs. This is crazy because even having to walk the end of a run is shameful to runners. We even have a term for it; it’s called “balking.” Better runners than I have needed visits to the first aid tent during Ragnar. It’s not at all uncommon for people to throw up, walk 20-min-miles on completely flat surfaces, cry, etc… Because Ragnar is ridiculous. The fact that I’ve not severely inconvenienced my team is something with which I’m actually pretty impressed and surprised. The worst I can say is that I pretty much never help with the driving and might not even do a good job of supporting other runners. However, that’s nothing considering how constantly I expect this Ragnar to be the one where the shit hits the fan.

Because, here’s the deal, everything I mentioned about water, food, rest, etc.. is interconnected. When a person visits the first aid tent, it isn’t because he doesn’t drink enough water. It’s because he doesn’t drink enough water, so he gets overheated on his first run, and his body solves that problem with a quick heat purge.. he throws up. Then, he doesn’t think he should eat anything in case he throws up again, so he walks 20-minute-miles in his second leg of the race, because he doesn’t have enough calories in him to fuel a stroll around the neighborhood, much less a run in the middle of the night. Also his 20-minute-miles suck up his sleep time because his van spends an extra hour on the course; 20-minute-miles on a 6-mile-run generally adds an hour to our time, and more if the person expected to run faster than 10-minute-miles. Therefore, the other van gets extra sleep and may even try to make up that hour because all six runners are relatively well-rested and intentionally running slightly faster than their projected pace because they’re afraid the other van is going to also lose time on the 3rd leg of the race and they don’t want to have to finish the race super late. Consequently, our dehydrated team member ends up back on the course with less sleep than he would have had if he’d run his pace on the second run. Also, he’s felt really cold all night, because it actually is cold, and his body is jacked up, so he’s shivering even when the sun comes up… so he’s like, “Hey, the sun feels pretty amazing!” so he stands around soaking in the rays. Next, he starts his third run in the desert heat and obviously can’t finish. A teammate steps in and the other van picks him up and gets him to the first aid tent…

Had he intentionally pushed water from the beginning, pushing food wouldn’t have been as impossible, rehydrating wouldn’t have been as impossible, running the second leg wouldn’t have been as impossible, sleeping would have happened, standing in the sun would have seemed stupid, and he would have finished his third run.

So intentionality has its benefits.

That being said, intentionality is losing its standing just a bit in my book… it just seems like the Christian culture puts it on a pedestal that’s a bit too high.

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I did my first Ragnar Trail race this weekend, and whilst running in the desert wilderness I learned a life lesson. Something from a sermon I heard a long time ago popped into my head; I don’t remember whose sermon it was, but it was about that passage that says, “Your word will be a lamp for my feet and a light to my path,” (Psalm 119 ish). In my brain, “word” is always a reference to John 1, and therefore reads more like, “Word,” (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God; He was in the beginning with God…”).

I was doing my first run of the race, which was shockingly bad for a 5k. Running desert trails at night sucks kind of a lot. I pictured this race as the most magical thing ever, so maybe my expectations were too high. You see, I’ve recently become a pretty minimalist runner, which changes how wilderness running hits the brain. I never have a gps with me and I’ve given up mapping my runs. I just run until I don’t want to run anymore, then I walk home. I rarely know if I’m at mile 1 or mile 5 or whatever. Of course, I’ve developed a pretty decent intuition, but I’m definitely still surprised during a race almost every time I do(n’t) see a “1 mile to go” marker. Additionally, I don’t run with music and I’ve even made the switch to running in sandals rather than tennis shoes. I also refuse to take my phone with me anymore. Yes, that’s not safe… I know, but people have been running since before there were phones, so I’m not too worried about it. Last, but not least, I’m trying to replace synthesized nutrition during and after runs with whole foods.

That’s why trail running sounded about as amazing as drinking wine while reading a book sounds. Definitely not the same, but possibly the same level of pleasure.

I promise I’m not a granola snob and I promise running is still really hard for me. I still shave my pits and eat animal products. I sometimes won’t get off the couch to go pee because it sounds like too much work.

The running thing just fits with the personality quirk I have that I like to pretend I’m an Inca or possibly Greek messenger on my way to Marathon with tidings of war. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a tribesman on an endurance hunt, waiting for that gazelle to fall down and die. Other times, I like to be Frodo and/or Sam (depending on my self-image at the time), on my way to Mt. Doom to destroy the One Ring – yeah, I might not be a vegan yet, but I admit I’m a weirdo.

So, I intentionally run without much figurative or literal cushioning, because the antithesis of Incans, Greeks, tribesmen, and Frodo is someone with too much time and money, strapping on an Iphone, a heart-rate monitor, and a $300 pair of shoes designed by scientists in a lab, then trying to run faster than all of those other middle-to-upper class white folks who are bored of the board room. I feel like it should be a more organic part of life, where I’m running for a purpose that’s more than that… and I’m running with myself rather than hoping I won’t feel alone out there if I take The Fray or Eminem with me.

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On this particular Ragnar run, I was reminded that I am a middle class folk rather than an Incan. You see, on my first leg of the race, there were way too many treacherous rocks, loose dirt, and up-down-up-down-down-up-down-up-up-ups. That kind of stuff doesn’t suck in the way a non-runner would think it sucks… ok, it sucks just exactly how you’d think it sucks, but it also sucks in a way you can’t imagine if you’ve never run trails at night.

As a first run of the race, 3.1 miles is nothing. It’s a warm-up. I remember when 3.1 miles on flat ground was inconceivable, so don’t take me as an elitest ass here, but when I’ve got 16 ish miles to run overall, 3.1 hardly registers in my brain as part of the race. I’m thinking about the 8.4 miles I have to run in the middle of the night with a wicked elevation gain. In fact, I’m thinking of that 8.4 miles before we even get in the car to drive for 2 hours to get to the start line. I’m thinking about the 8.4 miles the entire time I’m training (months in advance) because if I’m prepared for 8.4, I’m also prepared for 3.1.

So I hit the course that night, expecting to own the 3.1, and to suffer the 8.4.

That is not what happened.

That 3.1 felt an awful lot like a 5.5. Which is a terrible sign at the beginning of a race like this. Throughout the first mile or so, I worried about the 8.4, because a 3.1 that felt that shitty meant I probably wouldn’t physically be able to finish the race.

Additionally, the run that was supposed to be easiest was actually draining my mental fortitude because I couldn’t see far enough ahead to make out the bottoms or tops of hills. Had I wanted to see the top or bottom of a hill, I’d have had to stop running so I could safely move my headlamp away from the next few treacherous rocks to the top or bottom of the hill. Basically, I couldn’t ever figure out whether I could really let loose or should take it easy. This is a problem on a trail, because running too fast downhill is a good way to face-plant into a pile of rocks or a cactus, break a wrist trying to catch yourself, etc…  I’ve also learned that uphills are crucial, because it’s easy to lose a minute-a-mile on trails by walking the wrong hills, but it’s also easy to lose three or four minutes-a-mile by running up the wrong hill and having to walk flats for the rest of the race because you’ve depleted energy stores.

Just so you know, running 16 miles is pretty much the most excruciating exercise in the world if you can’t settle in with a steady pace. When you can’t figure out a strategy for attacking hills, or you can’t figure out how big your steps should be, it’s more of a problem than it seems like it should be because you can’t settle in… you feel every step of a race that requires a lot of steps. You can’t stop thinking even a little. It sucks.

When I wasn’t busy going up or downhill during the 3.1 miles, I was running in a wash. What I’m telling you is that on the flats I was running in fairly deep sand. It felt a lot like someone had strapped anvils to my feet.

That was when I was struck by the verse.

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Not only could I not see far enough ahead on the hills – I couldn’t see far enough ahead to know when that wash was going to end.

Therefore, it seemed appropriate that Psalm 119:whatever become the anthem of my run. At the start of most runs nowadays, my anthem is either, “Stay the pace and run your race,” or “Easy, light, smooth, and fast.” What that means is, when my brain doesn’t just naturally have something to think, I think that anthem over and over again until my brain takes over with something else. Having an anthem gives me something positive to focus on so I don’t have to think about the sand, the hills, the dark, my burning muscles or lungs, the jackass who just passed me doing 7-minute-miles in the sand, etc…

“Christ is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Even when I can’t see the top of a hill, He lights the next step or, if I’m lucky, the next two steps.

“You are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

I finished the 3.1, and when folks asked me how it was, I was surprised that it honestly wasn’t that bad.

I went into the 8.4 expecting to walk nearly all of it. I thought I was probably going to take more than 2 hours on it, which is really slow, but the not being able to see where I’m headed at least a quarter mile in front of me slows me down a bit and is terrifying.

So I made the anthem of my previous run into the anthem of my race.

I don’t have any idea how long I took to finish the 8.4, but when people asked how it was, I was surprised again, because it was long, but gorgeous. There was some really pretty desert around me, and I even inexplicably settled in for the middle 4 miles or so, which is all I ever ask of any 8-mile run, and I certainly didn’t expect even that after my first experience with nighttime trail running.

About 10 hours later, I had a 4.something to run. This was the run our best runner had described as “the most technical,” which in trail-runner means up-down-up-down-down-up-down-up-up-ups with a crap-ton of rocks you’re going to have to jump over and a fair amount of loose sand.

My body at this point was doing well for a Ragnar, but prior to every third run in every Ragnar Relay, I’m preparing to feel more terrible than I’ve ever felt before. The third run of a Ragnar is when everyone walks except the skinny people who don’t even sweat when they run. It’s the great equalizer because the folks who do well on the third run aren’t necessarily great runners, but they are great sufferers.

So I went in expecting to run this one in an hour if I really pushed myself and more like an hour and ten minutes if I was suffering a little… way more if I suffered a lot. It was my only run of the race in sunlight, and it was getting toward the hottest part of the day. Runners who looked way more fit than I am were stumbling into the exchange and immediately lying down. Race volunteers asked everyone if they were okay as they finished their runs and the race announcer was adding in public service announcements about the dangers of running in the desert without water… even if there is a water station on your run. Also, one of my teammates had come in about 40 minutes after I expected him to be there, which was even after I mentally adjusted his projected pace for the heat and exhaustion I knew he was experiencing.

So I finally got out on the course, and passed a few dudes early on. It always cracks me up when that happens because a man has to really hurt to let a woman who weighs over 110 lbs pass him in a race. I figured those dudes would keep me in eyeshot for awhile and “zombie kill”me when the heat really got to me. I stuck to my anthem even though I could see the tops and bottoms of hills, and I actually didn’t even take advantage of the visibility; I hardly looked more than a step or two into the future, because each step has enough worries of its own.

And I didn’t see any of those dudes again.

Also, I started passing thin people, which is never something I do on a Ragnar. Actually, it’s not that I don’t do it so much as I really can’t.

That last run, which always absolutely rocks me… I usually text Lori mid-run to tell her how much slower than pace I’m going to be… this time, on a run that should have blown my knee, put me down for the count, etc… that last run ended up being my favorite run of the race and I finished it in just over 50 minutes.

Prior to the run, that time was actually a physical impossibility in my brain. That time meant I would have to beat my pace on the shortest leg of the race, which was also the only run for which my body and mind were fresh.

The only variable that changed between this Ragnar Relay and all the others when I felt terrible on the third run?

My anthem.

It’s all well-and-good to run the race trying to ignore all of the people who are faster than I am so that I don’t overexert. And it’s a nice idea to try to make running into something that’s easy/smooth/positive.

However, it’s something else entirely to take a race as it comes, and forget trying to make it into anything… to trust even the steps I can’t predict or control, and to entrust those steps to Christ when I could easily pick up the reins again because I can finally see where I’m going.

Becoming a minimalist runner is teaching me that God formed me with intentionality that I can trust.

I don’t need gps. Of course, one might come in handy at certain times, but the fact that others run with a gps doesn’t necessitate that I run with one, and God probably would have built one into my flesh were it a requirement.

I don’t need gu shots, and may even feel better if I put food into my stomach rather than gel.

I don’t need shoes with cushioning, and it’s insulting that folks think my feet are lacking in their design, and thus require corrective insoles. My feet don’t need to be corrected. God made them as they ought to be.

I don’t need an iPod.

I don’t even need a plan for every hill or valley… I only need the right lamp to me feet and light to my path. 🙂

Might as Well


My chest felt tight. Eric worked his way over beside me. ‘Look, I got some bad news,’ he said. ‘You’re not going to win. No matter what you do, you’re going to be out there all day. So you might as well just relax, take your time, and enjoy it. Keep this in mind-if it feels like work, you’re working too hard.”

Weekly McDougall Born to Run 259

Really? That Seems Excessive and Mean


… Harvard scientists had once verified exactly that point by sticking a rectal thermometer in a cheetah and getting it to run on a treadmill. Once its temperature hit 105 degrees, the cheetah shut down and refused to run.”

I would’ve refused to run the second they put a rectal thermometer in… but kudos to the cheetah, I guess?

Weekly McDougall Born to Run 223