Monday, September 28, 2015

I don't always wear jewels, but when I do they're GEORGIA JEWELS


Right before the start at Dry Creek Horse Park
As I stumbled into the aid station at Snake Creek Gap, the 17.5 mile halfway point for the Georgia Jewel 35 Mile Run, I seriously pondered asking the volunteers if I could just take a nap on the wet gravel. I could have laid down, face-down, and fallen asleep immediately despite the rain that came and went over the 12 hours and change that it took me finish the event.

My friend Erica and her crew took care of me as soon as I shuffled over to the table. I struggled a bit to get my pack off as my arms and back were stiff. Do you need anything--water, Heed, a sandwich? Can I take your pack?

"Can I just sit down for a minute?" I asked.

"Of course, that's what the chairs are for!" She said brightly.

Brightness was what I needed. It has been a dark, foggy, and wet day. My spirits were down in the dumps. Each mile seemed like 3 miles, even the downhill ones.

Erica and I at the Snake Creek Gap AS
After resting my back for a few minutes, I was recharged enough to stand-up on wobbly, tired legs and head over to the privy for my customary mid-race visit. Upon heading back to the aid-station, Erica and Eric had my pack ready for the next 17.5 miles. She and her running club friends had left a gift in my pack, she said. "To show our appreciation for you and offer some encouragement out there on the trail."

I thanked them, smiled, and headed up Mill Creek Mountain. Later I would open my soggy pack and find a Carpet Capital Running Club T-shirt stuffed in it.

I was physically prepared for this event. I had been training all summer on differing terrain--mountain, road, technical trail, smooth trail, treadmill.  I had also been crosstraining, ensuring that the rest of my body could handle events like this.

But there is nothing quite like the Georgia Jewel, held primarily on the Pinhoti Trail in Northwest Georgia. You can never be fully prepared for what it offers. In fact, after completing the 35 Miler with a time of 13 hours and 22 minutes a year ago, I said to myself that I probably would NOT be doing this one again. It was too hard, too rocky, too up and down-y, too scary, too yellow-jackety, too energy sapping, too everything. But I managed to finish, dead last.

Fast forward to not even a week ago. I hadn't signed up for the event, knowing that I would have to traverse yet another mountain (in addition to the two from last year) since the RDs had rerouted the first half of the course, making it point-to-point. A friend that I had met during the Double Tap 50K in April (whom we shall henceforth call "Hunk Hulsey") gently and insistently nudged me to get it together and come out for the event. Registration had already closed, so I begged the RDs for admittance. They generously obliged.

After a very hectic and frenetic last couple of months, most of it the good kind of frenetic that comes with a little bit of notoriety, I was relieved to have an opportunity to relish the quiet and solitude of the trail, most of the time alone with my own thoughts. This opportunity came at the right time, and I am so grateful for it.

The Iconic Pinhoti Trail Marker. That there is a turkey print.
One of the things I love about trail running in a race is the fact that unless you are running neck in neck with other people, you are typically on your own, in your own head for hours and hours interspersed with brief person-person encounters. You must decide whether you are on the right trail going in the right direction. You have to completely depend on yourself, take care of yourself physically and emotionally. You are the one that makes the decisions and you are expected to be able to do this under sometimes extreme conditions and very difficult terrain. Self-trust, self-preservation, and self-reliance are par for the course. In any trail race, you learn this immediately. At the Georgia Jewel, if you have not learned this within the first 2 miles, you may indeed go crazy and leave the trail in a catatonic state. I managed to finish the race in excellent spirits, chattering with whomever wanted to talk about what just happened, and WHAT WAS THAT?

The race started at 7am in the parking lot at the Dry Creek Horse Park. The 45 minute ride there from race headquarters at the Dalton Convention Center was bumpy and dark. We were dropped off in the parking area where several racers had already arrived. We signed in, and got back onto the musty school bus until it was time for the race-briefing, given by Jeremy Pearson, one of the event creators.
I'm paraphrasing here:

Go here, then there. Turn right, not left. Turn left, not right. Follow the pink ribbons, if they're there. Hopefully they're there. Go through water. Go uphill, then downhill. Repeat. Don't get lost. Don't inadvertently do a 100 miler. Don't forget the rock garden. Yeah, that. Good luck. Countdown. Go.

View of the Ridge and Valley Section of Northwest Georgia in the Cohutta Mountain Region

Miles 1-10

The "easier-than-last-year" part...

The first 3 miles or so were on a forest service road and were fairly flat (in trail speak, flat typically means NOT TOO MANY HILLS BUT THERE MAY BE SOME; the last time I ran a flat trail was never, but I digress...)  That was the extent of the "easier-than-last-year" part. I ran most of it, stopping occasionally to take short walking breaks. I knew I was in for the long haul, and I knew that I couldn't quit. The RDs and Hunk Hulsey had made this happen on short notice and so I honored the chance to be on this trail on this particular day with this weather. I felt great (even on only 4 hours of sleep preceded by a long windy and foggy drive on Route 76 through the Chattahoochee National Forest), keyed into a pace that my body liked and forged ahead, hoping not to miss any signage or pink ribbons that indicated where the course traveled.

The trail crossed a stream about ankle deep before heading right onto a gravel road, onto single track trail for a few miles, then onto another curvy gravel road straight up John's Mountain. Here is where I got off course. The road up the mountain was, well, uphill. At one point, I thought I had missed a crucial turn since there were few ribbons beyond the last trail intersection. I power-hiked uphill hoping to spot another pink ribbon. None. I decided to turn around and travel back to the last ribbon I had seen (a good third of a mile down hill) just to make sure I hadn't missed a turn back into the woods.

Nope. The ribbons ended on the gravel road, so the only way to the next aid station was to go right back up that hill that I had just descended. This put me way behind the people who had passed me about half an hour before. I kept trudging up the hill, still in good spirits and knowing that there would be an aid-station soon.

Miles 10-eternity

The aid station came into view right as I crested the top of John's Mountain. What a sight for not-yet-sore eyes. There was a porto-potty, food, music, and a party-like atmosphere. I felt like a celebrity! "Can I hold something for you?" "Can I fill your pack" "Food?" "Coffee?" "I read about you..."

Did someone say coffee?


Rocky Trail Atop John's Mountain
The AS volunteers were disappointed that there were no good views from the aid station and apologized for it while I nourished myself. The mountain climb would be redeemed in less than a mile, however.

I drank strong, black coffee, crunched on some salty chips, chatted for a bit and moved onto the next section of trail. This was the most strikingly beautiful portion of the new course. Even though it was overcast and misty, right down the trail was a gorgeous view of what is known as the Ridge and Valley region of Northwest Georgia. The fall-leaf colors are just beginning to show themselves, and the dampness of the day further enhanced the multitude of hues shimmering amidst the dense green blanket of the mountains.

This was a gorgeous albeit difficult part of the course. You are essentially on a cliff, navigating on a rock face fashioned into large, uneven steps. I was glad I had brought my poles along, if only for a sense of security. I stopped several times to take photos and bask in the wet beauty of these thar mountains.

From the side of John's Mountain
There would be 3 more miles to the next un-manned aid station, and then another 3 to the half-way point at Snake Creek Gap. This part of the course was my favorite. The trail descended comfortably down the mountain, into day-use areas and by a few ponds. This is where I began to see the first hundred milers coming into what would be the 25 mile point for them. I crossed paths with Hunk Hulsey, hugged and thanked him for getting me out on the trail today. He seemed strong and in good spirits as he was about to ascend John's Mountain in the other direction.

Trail at the bottom of John's Mountain
The last three miles before reaching the aid station were rolling, eventually heading downhill. The misleading noise from the road fooled you into thinking that you were close to the AS, but just as soon as you were buoyed by the notion that there would soon be some chow, the trail would switchback, taking you in the opposite direction. The road noise would disappear and you were deep in the woods again. This happened over and over. Demoralized then buoyed, like an undulating sin wave.

Miles-17.5-another eternity

I was pretty exhausted on my way to the halfway point. My back was sore, my legs were tired. My mind was fatigued from having to deal with the sheer amount of thoughts running through my head. And that Adele song we had been practicing in chorus on Friday, stuck in my mind for three hours--an ear worm. THREE WHOLE SOMEONE LIKE YOU hours.

I would stop and bend over, putting as much of my weight onto my Black Diamond Ultra Distance-Z poles possible, so I could stretch out my back and neck. I did this many times, most frequently on the very long ascents, probably looking as if I were on the verge of keeling over and dying.

After some much needed rest and encouragement from the excellent crew at Snake, I trudged on for what would be the next eternity. I had to stop and force myself to eat. In long trail races, sometimes you forget that you have to eat because you are so intensely focused on moving forward, relentlessly. I hadn't eaten much more than a couple of chips and ONE whole date at the AS, forgetting that I hadn't even really eaten anything beyond chips at the last AS, 7 miles prior. Mid-mountain, I stopped to nosh on some uncured salami, jalapeño chips, and fruit that had looked GREAT at the Ingles Supermarket, but had turned into a warm bluish mush.

The course takes you up Mill Creek Mountain. You climb, switchbacking for a mile until the trail levels out and travels along the ridge line. Then it drops down to Stover Creek, crossing it four times. I was able to do a lot of running at this point, energized by food and a gel. There were also a fair amount of downhill and flat sections of trail, interrupted at times by short, steep climbs.

This part of the course is my least favorite. Although there is quite a bit of runnable trail, it is also very lonely and isolated. The trek to the next aid station is about 7 very long, unsupported miles. I found myself repeating all of the mantras I had used over the years to keep myself going--

Step over step.
They're just miles.
Get it done, Mirna. Just get it done.
The body is able.
Relentless Forward Progress. RFP.
It is a privilege to be able to do this.

A new one popped into my mind, the second I questioned my reasoning for being out on the trail--

I am living the dream. I AM LIVING THE DREAM!

With that, I surged on stopping only to stretch my back, until I heard voices coming from the last manned AS.

Miles 24-33

As the white tent came into view, my mind was comforted and ecstatic. I had about 10 more miles to go and I COULD ACTUALLY FINISH THIS BEFORE LAST YEAR'S TIME! I spent a few minutes drinking Coke to calm my stomach. I also took some Endurolytes and a final espresso flavored gel to get me to the finish.

I climbed up the gently sloping forest road, hearing a large crash in the distance. I ignored the thought that a bear had been watching and continued uphill until the course made a sharp left back into the forest.  This, I thought, was the homestretch.

Yeah, the longest homestretch ever.

I did NOT recall this much uphill from last year. Did they change the route? Seriously? What is this? I hate this. This sucks. WHAT THE HELL? OH, IT'S GONNA POUR NOW? Really? REALLY? THESE EFFING ROCKS! I don't remember it being this rocky. Wait. Yes I do.  I'm in for the long haul. I have no choice.

Rock Garden

After hours of traveling on vast stretches of technical, hilly, wet, and slippery trail, one enters the Rock Garden. Its name is an attempt to lessen the mental burden of what is the most difficult section of trail, steep climbs notwithstanding.

Anything with the name “garden” in it conjures up a vision of nature’s serenity and beauty, with perfectly arranged bunches of colorful flowers and hardwoods emanating from key spots in the landscape. Perhaps there is also a waterfall, its unmistakable sound of water rushing over smooth stones in the forest. Ah….

There was water. And there were stones. The water rushed over my head and seeped into my pack, and the rocks? Not smooth. The were pointy and perilous.

This is the 5-6 mile-long stretch of boulder and rock-filled trail that in the past runners had to tackle twice in the out and back course. This year, 50M and 35M runners only had to run through it once. Lesson learned: still a shit show.

The only thing that gets you through the Rock Garden is the knowledge that this is the last section of trail, though it took me forever to traverse it. In addition to rocks and boulders and the slippery mess that it is, you also have to contend with several climbs followed by somewhat treacherous trail. It started to pour at this point, but I didn't even care. I wanted only to finish. Rain was no barrier.

A few 50 Milers passed me, and I was happy to share the trail. People. So good to see people who were disgruntled and tired just like me. We commiserated and then soldiered on in search of the finish.

Miles 33-finish

After the longest-ever section of technical trail, suddenly you see power lines. Normally, I think power lines are ugly manifestations of human intelligence. That said, I have never been so happy to see one. This is the part of the course that is basically DOWNHILL FROM HERE. There is a steeply curving gravel road for approximately a half mile, that brings you to Dug Gap Road. At this point you are 1.5 miles from the finish, a long, sloping down-hill (albeit with a very short, very runnable uphill at the beginning.)

I decided that I would BOOK down the hill so that I could best my previous time. I threw caution to the wet wind and flew down, avoiding a carcass of some animal on the side of the road. I stopped only to pull up my capris that didn't seem to like my new pace and the annoying bouncing it created.

I kept checking my phone clock. Plenty of time for me to PR. And then I saw the woman that had passed me about 6 hours before shuffling just ahead of me. If there is ever any incentive for me to run fast, it's at the finish when there is someone just ahead of me. I did just that, summoning up every ounce of reserve energy in the tank. I greeted her, sailed past her and ran to the finish.

Not last.

My second Georgia Jewel! Note the TYPO--Homegirl did 35 MILES, not 30. I'll still take it!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Do It With Thy Might

For high school, I attended the incredible Masters School up in Dobbs Ferry, NY. One of the first things I noticed while on an prospective student visit was the motto placed prominently on the walls throughout the school:


So in the wake of all the recent and awesome publicity, I figured I would let you in on a non-secret.

You must do everything that is important to you WITH THY MIGHT, especially those things that are particularly difficult.

Running is hard. Sometimes getting up at the crack of dawn (although mostly this is when my body prefers to be up) is hard. Teaching and constantly engaging with curious and sometimes snarky teenagers is hard. Being a mom is HARD. Being a musician is hard. Long days with little sleep is hard. 


But even though it is hard, we must put our everything into those things that keep us going. But we must also put our everything into ourselves.
Ready for the 2015 Georgia Jewel!

That is my goal for today as I attempt my second Georgia Jewel 35 Mile Run. I shall DO IT WITH MY MIGHT!

(Links will come later---gotta go and run through the forests of Northwest Georgia!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

10 Ways To *Almost Ensure Success On Your LONNNNGGGG RUN

I won't go into WHY you should be doing a long run in this post. That's for later. But here are a few ways to make sure you experience some success!

1. Lay out your running clothes the night before and admire them.
This is a special ritual for me. For someone who does not dress very well during the day (ask my friends, they'll tell you straight up that it's true), it's hilarious that I spend so much time picking out my running clothes. For one, they have to go together in terms of design. They also have to fit well and not bunch up between the legs or sag or roll down my side rolls because that's annoying. Most importantly, I have to feel like a badass in them, no matter how long or hard the run will be. Really, this is all about badassery.

2. Communicate with your spouse, significant other or family member. Or dog.
If you are concerned about spending so many hours away from your family, make sure that you have worked something out with your significant other and communicated your needs. When we were living in New Jersey and I my son was much younger, my husband understood that I needed to do my long runs (sometimes WAY early in the morning) before he got to do his weekend. Wifey must always be happy. ALWAYS. I expressed it as a need, and he understood.

3. Scout out your route the week leading up to the run. Daydream in a boring meeting if you must.
This is one of the most fun things for me to do. All week I imagine what new roads or trails I'll explore in my quest to test myself even further. This weekend, for example I'm looking to do upwards of 30 miles and I am EXCITED about it. I've never done this many miles unsupported so it'll be a new challenge to put together often trod running routes and explore new ones.

4. Make sure to let someone know exactly what your route will be.
This is purely a safety issue. Leave a note on your computer. Text a friend or relative beforehand with your exact route and when you expect to be home.

5. Get excited. Create a new playlist. Pump yourself up! (Sorry, this is three in one)
Imagine how you will feel mentally hours after your run. You may be tired and you may be sore. Heck, you may even be mad at yourself for cutting your run short a mile or two. But at the end of it all, you will have gone for a run. Nuff said.

6. Listen to your instinct/follow intuition.
If it feels weird, then it is. Trust yourself and your heart. Head back home.

7. Eat well and hydrate the day before.
It is important to have a good meal the day before. It is also extremely important to hydrate sufficiently. Your body will thank you for that during the run and during recovery! Find a carb-protein ration that works for your body. It may take some trial and error, but since everyone's body is different you must tune into YOUR body's needs.

8. Eat well DURING and AFTER the run. 
If you are doing a really long run, you may need some actual food beyond gels to maintain your energy and endurance. Again, this is trial and error. Find food and hydration that works for you. My current favorite long-run real food item is Clif Bar Sweet Potato with Sea Salt Organic Energy Food with sunflower seed butter and other non-sweet yummy things. The electrolyte mix that works best for me is Tailwind. This has kept me going on a number of long runs. Experiment with real food...just stay away from the fiber. I have many stories...

9. Invite someone to run the same route with you-keep yourself and your friend accountable.
I run a lot more slowly than virtually all of my running friends, but many times we still start out our runs together, all of us at different paces. This is ok, unless you have the keys to the only car at the park or trailhead. Although I really enjoy running alone especially during my long runs, sometimes I enjoy the company of a few friends, even if we're running at different paces. It's nice to know that there are others out there struggling! Not like Schadenfreude, but more like, YEAH-WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER!  Also, it's an added safety measure.

If you're training for a short or long race, it is always beneficial to do longer runs. This trains your body's aerobic system and allows for endurance to happen. I won't get into the science of aerobic conditioning and the oxidative energy system, but believe me, it's a thing. Just get out there and do it.

*There will be some runs that are simply not awesome. This is a fact of life. But you will never regret that you went out there and did it. (Unless you are running with the flu and that's a completely different thing. Been there, done that. Stupid decision. I got my run in, though.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

I Am Training For Life

On Black Balsam Mountain after a VERY long day of backpacking uphill for many hours. Photo courtesy of Yan Luss.

Life is hard, and it may or may not be short.

Before I started this last and longest lasting exercising streak of mine, I would start amazing and creative endeavors with loads of energy and focus, plateau and then stop. The energy would fizzle, my mind would be numb from exhaustion, and my heart would be let down yet again.

So how is it that I am able to run marathons and ultra marathons, now? How do I stay committed and focused?

Any long-distance running (or any sustained physical endeavor) requires patience, discipline, and the ability to

  • entertain yourself for HOURS,
  • be in one's head for extremely long bouts of time,
  • talk yourself off the ledge several times over several hours (or the edge of a crevasse), literally,
  • separate mind and body, converge mind and body, eat and drink when you REALLY don't want to,
  • drop your pants, pee, shake it off and keep running like it's normal...

In life you have to do the same sorts of things during hours-long boring and pointless meetings in which people talk just for the hell of it. During these meetings, you should be able to

  • entertain yourself for hours (in your head while pretending to listen)
  • talk yourself off the figurative ledge every time someone different starts talking
  • separate mind and body
  • talk to people when you really don't want to
  • Ok, so you don't have to drop your pants and pee and keep running like it's normal, but pretending like what someone has just said is brilliant is pretty similar.

There are many other aspects of life that require sustained, unwavering focus over a period of time. And long-distance running, or any other physical pursuit that requires the same sort of consistent energy is very REAL but also a metaphor for every time something in life requires indomitable and unflappable spirit.

Sunrise and fire smoke at Farlow Gap, Pisgah National Forest
What keeps me going on those super long runs?

I think, I plan, I arrange music, I zone out, I sing in my head,  I am in my head, I imagine that I am Scott Jurek on the hills and Lolo Jones when jumping or tripping over roots and rocks. I rejoice in the fact that I am surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I become completely engaged in the process and look forward to achieving whatever goal it is that I have set. I become present.

When doing long runs, I became acutely aware of where I am, who I am and why I am. I become tuned in to the fact that I am living, and that in order to keep living I have to make an intense effort to keep living.

This is what training for life is.

How do you stay committed and focused? How do you train for life?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Spoke with Dr. Pamela Peeke of US News And World Report Today! She's Pretty Awesome!

Here's what she has written on her Facebook Page. It should be an interesting conversation. Challenge accepted!

Mirna Valerio is blowing people's minds, including my own. I saw her on national news last night, pounding the dirt...
Posted by Dr. Pam Peeke on Saturday, September 19, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015



This evening, NBC Nightly News aired a segment featuring my running life, my son, my students, and my running besties. This is so exciting and unbelievable.

Here's the story that they posted the night before it aired. There have been over one million views of the video. OH MY GOD!!!!

I'll post the actual broadcast piece as soon as I can!

Basically since early February, my life has been turned upside down in a GREAT WAY.

First it started out with a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "Weight Loss or Not, Exercise Yields Benefits" by Rachel Bachman. 

Then, John Brant of Runner's World picked up the story and did a TWELVE-PAGE  FEATURE on my running life. Now, it's even available in a legit, non-plagiarized Spanish version! I even made the news in HONG KONG

After RW things picked up very quickly!

How cool is it to be THAT GIRL on the trail in the middle of the woods Upstate, NY?
How cool is it to be the object of "OMG NO WAY I THOUGHT THAT WAS YOU HOLY CRAP!"?

It's pretty cool guys!

But it doesn't end there.

I have also been invited to participate in some running podcasts, radio shows. There are some more in the works, but here are the ones that have been posted:

Connect Run Club--This was the first podcast I recorded. These guys are funny, probing, and honest. I loved chatting and laughing with them!

And then I got to chat with Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell, authors of the popular running books Run Like a Mother, Train Like a Mother, and Tales from Another Mother Runner and hosts of the Another Mother Runner Podcast Series. We talked about plus sized runners actually existing and being. Granted, I think I talked too much, but it was super fun! 

Here is that podcast!

In August, HuffPo Live came calling and I had an incredible opportunity to chat with Alyona Minkowski, Jessie Sebor, EIC of Women's Running Magazine, and Erica Jean Schenk, Model Featured on the cover of WRM, and fitness expert Joe Holder:

There a few more podcasts in the works and some REALLY cool projects I'm working on so stay tuned!

Wow! I'm so tickled and honored to have so many running friends and supporters. I am super stoked to have had the opportunity to participate in the running community and be noticed for it. That is a huge honor and I hope to be able to continue SPREADING THE RUNNING AND BODY LOVE! There is enough for everyone.

Happy fit life!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Oh Pisgah, My Pisgah!

For five days I had a third opportunity to travel with a group of 10 sophomores from my school and two excellent outdoor educator-leaders, Kelly and Yan, exploring some pristine sections of trail in Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina.

Our fearless guides, Kelly and Yan consulting the trail map near Farlow Gap
If you are not already sold on being in the forest or in the mountains if even for a MINUTE, check out these photos. The views were EPIC, the temps perfect, and the terrain perfectly suited for hiking boots and trail running shoes..

We started at the Fish Hatchery in Brevard and hiked only about 2 miles to our first campsite. It was perfectly suited for this group of first-timers: water, many big facili-trees to choose from, and a cozy fire-ring in the middle of it all. That night, a steady rain fell, cleansing the air and our spirits. In the morning we awoke to fog and a slight nip in the air.

The second day, we hiked about 4 miles UPHILL to a second camp ground that had a gorgeous view of Davidson River. By the time we reached camp, the skies had cleared and the sun warmed us enough to play in the ice-cold swimming hole.

Davidson River

The third day would be our hardest yet. It was particularly difficult for those students not used to, well, being outside like this. We climbed from below 3000 feet to about 4500 feet on the Daniel Ridge Trail and Farlow Gap Trail , all with 40-70 pound packs. 

On the Daniel Ridge Trail

This year, I had poles and WHAT A DIFFERENCE THEY MADE! How did I ever do this without poles? I dunno...
Black Diamond Distance Z-Poles, Keen Hiking Boots, Osprey Pack, REI Hiking Pants

That night we stayed at a really sweet campground right under Pilot Mountain, near the Farlow Gap and Art Loeb Trail intersection. There were lots of laughs and teenage shenanigans that evening. Our amazing guides hiked all the way back down to where we had stopped for lunch to fill our Nalgenes with filtered stream water, and for their service the students prepared tuna melts on pita over the fire that they had started and kept burning, collecting firewood for hours. 

Young people can be so generous and awesome when it comes to service and humility. Please remember this! 

One of the many fires the students started and kept
That night, they bedded down in their tarps, I in my fancy Marmot tent and inflatable REI sleeping pad (because I am too old!) It's amazing how much sleep one gets in the forest. When there are no TVs, cellphones, tablets, or iPods allowed, a lot of restful sleep can happen.

My hotel-room like Marmot Tungsten 2P tent. Compared to a tarp, this baby is HEAVEN on earth.

Our last full day of hiking was exactly that, A FULL DAY of all uphills with the end goal being to summit Black Balsam Knob at 6214 feet. It was a slog, but a faster one. Stronger legs, better spirits, and a well-oiled team with student leadership was what was necessary in order for our group to persevere through a few thousand feet of elevation. The scenery changed constantly, from deciduous trees to conifers, to rocky outcroppings and bales with gorgeous views
View from Silvermine Bald on the Art Loeb Trail

to wildflower filled alpine meadows.
View from the intersection of the Flat Creek Trail and Sam Knob Trail, on our way to Black Balsam

The students posed for an east-facing photo before the sunset. I love this group!

We climbed up to Black Balsam Knob to watch the sunset after hastily throwing our packs down and donning our headlamps for what would be a dark descent. There aren't enough photos to capture the stunning sunset. I tried...

Our fearless guide, Kelly taking a breather from our energetic group.

No words.

It was cold and chilly up on the mountain. A group of Asheville hippies in tunics and colorful blankets serenaded everyone with Simon and Garfunkel turned Van Morrison and the Fray type ditties with the ukelele.

After we began to shiver and our bellies began to speak, we headed back down to where we would camp for the last night. We set up our tents in the deep forested dark, and cooked the last bit of our food on our camp stoves. It felt as if we were at Everest base camp, albeit without the snow and garbage.

Gluten free tuna mac never tasted so good!

We bedded down for one last night, this time up at 5800 feet. It was cold and white-noise windy. Sleep came in fits and starts, but still I felt rested and re-set in the early morning.

After packing up hastily and silently, we packed ourselves and our packs in the van and trailer that had been left for us in the parking lot, and watched the sunrise as we drove along Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thy Whole Self Beckons

I love writing haikus, and I love writing haikus about being outside, running, and getting my nature on. Being outside any time of the year, in any part of the world inspires such joy and freedom that sometimes I just have to write a poem about it. And then take pictures.

Here's one I wrote while huffing and puffing at altitude in Colorado Springs this summer-

Hot sun, face beaming
rubber sole on gritty stone
thy whole self beckons

Here's another one that I wrote after zip-lining in the Costa Rican Jungle through the mists of Monteverde. In a thunderstorm. Yeah.

Monteverde, Costa Rica Summer 2007, pre-recommitment to running

Pura Vida

Airborne as if winged
in saturated air
harness hurting

the rhythmic meeting of
cable and carabiner

the rhythmic meeting of 
cable and carabiner

over verdant

impenetrable forest

pure life

Do you write poetry about running? Or hiking? Or swimming? Or ADVENTURES? Share in the comments below!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Let's Step Into the Zone of Discomfort, together!

The current state of my living room floor. Way too much stuff for 5 days, but I'm learning to pare down...for the next trip.

I'm going on a backpacking trip this weekend with students, none of whom I know very well.

I love backpacking and I love students-- even if they're not in my chorus, in my Spanish classes, or on my cross country team.

As much as I adore backpacking and hanging out with smelly tenth graders for 5 days in the woods far away from a cell-tower, bathrooms, other people...and too close to bears, snakes,  nightly rainstorms, and lots o bugs--I am always a little bit scared and nervous. Every backpacking trip is a pretty big step out of my comfort zone.

Backpacking is a big set of WHAT IFS, MAYBES, POSSIBLES, and UNXPECTEDS...

What if I break my ankle (again) and I have to be medivac'ed out?
What if I didn't bring enough clothes?
What if I don't like the guides? What if they don't like me?
What if they think I'm too fat to do this?
What if I get cold?
What if the students hate me?
What if I get hot?
What if I can't get up that stupid mountain (pick one) without someone helping me? God forbid it's a student!

OMG maybe I should just stay. Maybe I should just do something that doesn't require me carrying my own toilet paper and and trowel.

BUT NOPE. Every year I decide to go. I decide to lean into that discomfort because it's the only way for me to grow. Also, I hope that my students see me simultaneously dreading and enjoying the trip, learning something new, and ultimately becoming a better, more complete person with a host of different experiences under my belt.

We'll see starting today!

Do you lean?
Do you jump?
Do you tip-toe like a ninja, body flop?

What crazy things have you done, fitness-related or not, that have made you grow exponentially? JOIN THE DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Promoting Obesity: WHAT A CROCK!

NB: I'm going to go ahead and use "I" and "WE" interchangeably for this post. Also, any and all puns are intentional.

Have you noticed that bigger, body positive people have been a growing presence in A LOT of media outlets lately? HAVE YOU NOTICED???

Have you seen the August issues of Runner's World and summer issue of Women's Running Magazines featuring larger athletic people both inside and outside?

Or, maybe you saw the beautiful spread in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, also published this summer.

Perhaps you are vaguely aware of more people without what some call aspirational bodies staring at your from billboards, advertising things that people with and without so-called aspirational bodies like and, um, soap and deodorant. Fat people use soap too. Tall and short people use soap. Skinny people use soap. Kids use soap....well, sometimes.

Maybe you've just looked at yourself in the mirror and appreciated your body for what it is, what INCREDIBLE things it can do (whatever body type and genes you have), and how INSANELY F-KING BEAUTIFUL IT IS.

My BigBeautifulBody on a recent trail run.

Apparently to some, all of these FAT PEOPLE in their FAT CLOTHES doing their FAT PEOPLE THINGS are disturbing the NON-FAT peace. WE ARE DISTURBING THE PEACE,  FOLKS. WE ARE ROCKING THE NORM. Because of this, some people are angry, like vehemently and irrationally angry/fake funny like that fake comedian that I'm not even going to link because what self-respecting person needs to watch that fat-shaming crap again, with her fake concern at the end of her rant against fat folks.

Like, so angry they say shit like, we are promoting obesity.

By running while fat, we are promoting obesity.
By playing tennis, swimming and walking out in the open, you know, in FRONT OF PEOPLE, we are promoting obesity.
By eating in front of people, we are promoting obesity
By saying "I am at peace with my body", we are promoting obesity.
And simply by existing, we are promoting obesity.

What does that mean, anyway? I don't know. I don't care. I promote body positivity, fitness, body love. Self-love, body awareness. Human love, human awareness. When I'm out there doing the damn thing, that is the height of my love. Love is not always easy, but love is love. Really, there is enough for everyone, even people who are


We know we don't have these so called aspirational bodies, but dammit--I LOVE MY BODY FOR EVERYTHING IT IS and COULD BE. I ASPIRE to whatever my body ASPIRES. My body/our bodies IS/ARE ASPIRATIONAL.

Misty Copeland doesn't have an "aspirational" ballet body in color and shape. But damn, she is doing it at the American Ballet Theatre.

Serena, victim of misogynist hatred? Slam is all.

Erica Jean Schenk? SUCCESSFUL AND BEAUTIFUL PLUS SIZED MODEL featured on the cover of a FITNESS MAGAZINE. (We'll talk about eradicating the term "PLUS SIZED MODEL in a future post)

Whitney Thore has HER OWN SHOW, and some people are REAL CONFLICTED  about that.

I can go on and on but I think you get the drift.

By being out there in front of YOU, whoever you might be and who thinks that my body and other fat bodies should BE something else, DO something else, and GO somewhere out of sight....I am making a pledge to myself of love, respect and honor for the sacred space that my body is. It is MY temple. Not yours.

Bye Felicia.