When Tragedy Strikes Close to Home

A woman woke this morning, laced up her running shoes and headed out the door. It is a routine that I myself do almost daily and it is the very thing that keeps my depression at bay and that helps me be the best person that I can be. I am a better mother, wife, and woman because of this routine.

Thousands of women do this same routine, rising before the family to get in the very activity that sets them free. For one Ahwatukee woman, when she stepped out the door this morning, she would never go home again.

I spent the day mourning the death of Martha Hilts of Ahwatukee. I have never met her, but I have shared the same streets, run the same roads. Several women in my running club set out for a run on in the exact same place only 30 minutes after the tragedy struck. How easily it could have been one of them. How easily it could have been me.

As I share my grief with my friends who are dealing with similar surreal feelings, I see us thinking of all the “what ifs?” This reaction leaves us afraid to leave home, afraid to run the same roads we are used to running, afraid that next time it will be our kids that will be left with broken hearts.

My depression, that little devil that whispers so smoothly into my ear, convincing me of its lies, wants me to give into that fear. But running has helped me grow stronger than my depression and each moment is worth living because each moment is all we have. There is no guarantee for the future and it is up to each of us to make each day count. I will not let fear or depression take control of my life.

So while I can’t control what happens around me, I can take steps to make my running experience safer.

Running Safety Tips

  1. Use Headphones Wisely – It is common to hear, “Don’t run with headphones” saying no headphones and expecting running to follow that advice is like teaching a teenager only about abstinence. Many choose to ignore that advice. So I say use headphones wisely – keep the volume low so you can hear sounds around you at all times, run with only one ear bud in, or choose a pair of bone conducting headphones like the Trekz Titanium so you can always hear your surroundings.
  2. Run Against Traffic – This will allow you to see what is coming, how the car is being driven, and so on. Is the car swerving or driving right on the line? That’s a good indication to get as far off the road as possible.
  3. Wear High Visibility Gear – Reflective vests, headlamps, blinking lights. If it is dark out, make sure that you can be seen.
  4. Stay Alert and Vigilant – Even with high visibility gear, always assume that you haven’t been seen. Even though the law gives the right of way to pedestrians, this doesn’t matter if you lose the battle with a car. Chances are very much in favor of the 1200 pound metal box.
  5. Make Eye Contact – If you are crossing the street or a drive, make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of the car. Drivers, especially ones who aren’t active themselves, don’t always think to look for pedestrians. Don’t assume they see you.
  6. Wear or Carry Identification – If something does happen, identification will allow responders to get in contact with your family, identify medical history, and know how to best take care of you. RoadID.com carries a lot of great wearables, but sticking your license in your pocket works just as well.
  7. Run with Friends or a Dog – While it may not keep you safe from a car, running with friends or a dog can keep you safe from other people or wildlife. Both are less likely to attack if you travel in pairs or multiples.
  8. Trust Your Spidey Senses – If you see someone out and you get a feeling of unease, go a different way, cross the street (carefully) or turn around. In most cases, the odds are that person or situation is probably not a big deal, but don’t take that chance if your gut is telling you otherwise.
  9. Make Your Plans Known to the Right People – Don’t broadcast your running route on social media, but let a family member or friend know where you are going and when you expect to be home. Someone needs to know where to look for you should the worst happen.
  10. Don’t Let Fear Stop You – It is easy to become paralyzed in the face of fear. Use your fear to arm you with wise safety tools, and then get out there anyway.

As our community recovers from this tragedy, a lot of us, though we did not know her, will be remembering Martha Hilts and her loved ones in the steps we run each and every day.

Call to Action: What do you do for safety? Comment below on other words of wisdom that you can share with others to keep us safe as we continue our running journeys.

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Don’t Let Opportunities Pass You By

                  “Opportunities go right by you because you think you’re not ready.” David Goggins, Retired Navy Seal and Ultra-Endurance Athlete 

Over the summer, I was debating whether or not I should do Antelope Canyon as my first 50 mile ultra.  I wrote about how it seemed meant to be because of an old photo I found of Horseshoe Bend in my vision board, but also how I was terrified of heights and fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle the heights in the race.

After attending a ChiRunning Clinic and talking to the instructor, Lisa, about her experience, especially because she also fears heights, I felt a little more confident.   In attendance was also another runner, Tricia, who had signed up for the race as her first ever ultra distance.  Inspired by these two ladies, I went home that day and signed up as well.   Unfortunately, by this point, the race was full so I was put on a wait list with 114 people ahead of me.  For an ultra, that is a lot of people and the likelihood of me getting into this race was looking slim. Read more

No Longer A Grand Canyon Virgin

Friday afternoon I arrived in Tusayan, AZ to spend a weekend camping, running, and hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon – my very first trip.   I have been struggling a lot for the last several months and in the days leading up to this adventure, I was dreading going.  I had talked myself into thinking it was not going to be worth my time, that it was more stress than it was worth, and that being away from my family for two days was a bad idea.

In addition to all of this, I had convinced myself that my visit to the Grand Canyon would result in me falling to a spectacular and horrible death.  Some days I can be a smidgen dramatic.

Luckily I have a lot of practice following through on the very things that my brain is so diligently telling me “Do Not Do”.  In addition to that, I recently embraced ChiRunning which adds a whole new perspective to my running – one that brings more than just the physical benefits (I’ll tell you more about that soon).  So Friday morning, I packed up my vehicle, picked up my friend, “C”, and we were on our way.

By the time we reached Tusayan, I was already feeling a thousand times better.  Laughter and good conversation will do that for a girl.   We pitched our tent and went to the race expo to pick up our packets for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon.   We were going to run the race the next morning and the expo was charged with great energy and excitement for the next day.

C and I talked about heading to the visitors center to check out the canyon that night.  We had plans to hike the next day after the race but didn’t want to waste an opportunity to see such a wonder.  I was feeling nervous because the heights at the Grand Canyon have worried me for a while.  I think C was getting nervous on my behalf, but she did a great job easing my fears by teasing me that any moment we were going to drive right off the cliff.  Making light of a fear can be a powerful tactic.

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I can’t pull off a trucker hat, but I am rockin these cute sunglasses and the sleeve from a men’s running shirt on my head!

We also spent lots of time laughing at the odd shape of my head that prevents me from looking cute in a trucker hat.  If you are a trail runner, you will know how cute so many women look in trucker hats.  Crazy I know, but very true.  And I am desperate to find one that I like, but alas to no avail.  We decided that my head was too much like a shrunken apple for me to ever look cute in a trucker hat!

The trip to the visitor’s center was well worth it as I got to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time.  No longer a Grand Canyon virgin, I can say that it is well worth the obstacles to get there.  No wonder people travel from all over the world to take in its beauty.  I am still awestruck almost a week later.

We headed back to our campsite where we hunkered down for the night.  Temps were going to drop into the 20s and we were getting prepared.  C wrapped herself in her mummy bag and I prayed I wouldn’t need too many middle of the night potty trips into the frigid woods.    We survived, though I did learn that a Tempurpedic pillow turns to a solid rock in freezing temperatures.  Lesson learned.

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Her nose got cold in the night but the rest of her stayed pretty toasty.

The next morning we awoke to find another friend, “K”,  had just arrived after traveling 24 hours home from a relief mission in Puerto Rico.  This chick is amazing and we were so excited that she was able to join us.  I had planned to run the half with her and had been disappointed when it appeared she might not make it, so having her with us was quite the treat.

The half course did not go into the National Park grounds, but it did snake through the Kaibab National Forest.  After so many months running in the desert, being surrounded by trees was a nice change.  I love the wonder of tall pines towering over my head and the company was nothing short of phenomenal.  K was a rock star completing the race after so many hours of traveling.  At one point she even asked me to run ahead and see if we could catch the 3 hour pace group.  What an ambitious inspirational woman!

Unfortunately I discovered the 3 hour pace group was about 3/4 of a mile ahead and that was too much space for K to make up in the last 3 miles.  But it was funny to see the faces of the runners who saw me running in the wrong direction when I headed back to find K and let her know.  Bonus, I got in an extra mile which is always welcome!

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K totally rocked the Smurf Blue pants!

I will write more in my next post about the hike to Skeleton point that followed but I need to pause and reflect for a minute on how I felt at the end of this race compared to the morning before.  The morning before, I was almost in tears trying to convince myself to go on this trip.  I was overwhelmed by the very thought of doing something for myself. We finished the race with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips.

When I am feeling down, the best medicine is a run, getting into nature, being with friends and family.  These activities are often the hardest for me to motivate myself to do when my depression is at its strongest.   With practice, I have learned to let those destructive thoughts flow away.  I may not control when my depression flares up, but I control my own choices.  My depression does not control me.

It has been a long hard road to be able to persevere when the going gets tough and it is not at all easy.  With relentless forward progress, it is only possible where once it was impossible.

The journey continues…..

Finding Progress Not Perfection…An Update on HR Monitor Training

As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running.  Am I a real runner if I am not super fast?  Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else  – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”

To myself I am less kind.  I second guess my “runner” status all the time.  I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster.  If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout.  Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.

Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either.  I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent.  My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.

My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY.  While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39.  This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down.  With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.

Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half.  I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011.  At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017.  I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.

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Capturing the moment after setting a PR for the half marathon (June 2017)

Two weeks later, I began my HR journey.  Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much.  Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner.  I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve.  Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.

Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out.  Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months.  I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.

My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K).  Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race.  What a grand disappointment to me and to my training.   This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.

After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running.  Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.

Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months.  But I knew that this was a long game.  So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.

Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!

My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning.  During this run, I did a simple loop near my house.  I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down.  I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm.  After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run  was difficult to swallow.  And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.

Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day.  The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results.  I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles.  Wanting it all, expecting nothing.  Neither proved to be reality.

My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm.  If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster.  This is a theory I will put to the test soon.

So I have not gained perfection.  Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate.  Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.

As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some.  Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%.  If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world.  This will be a welcome change.  But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.

The journey continues……..

PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!