Stop and smell the…

 

rosesThe high is gradually wearing off from my epic run last week. This coupled with the fact that runner’s amnesia is officially setting in, I’m already starting to plan what’s next (I made it a full week.. shocking).  But, I’m thinking of a good friend I know that would probably tell me to stop and smell the roses a little while longer, and so I think it’s important to reflect and revel in that little thing called progress.

cherryblossom2My first stab at endurance running was a 10 miler.. the famous Cherry Blossom run, done every year in Washington DC. I trained so hard, and I ran so hard, actually doing pretty decent for my first go around at “long distance running”, which 10 miles was to me back then. I even made sure my parents made the 4+ hour drive from New Jersey just to see me finish. (This is even funnier because I don’t think I’ve ever asked them to come to an ultra-marathon, nor do I see this happening any time soon.) But after my then huge accomplishment in DC, I remember I couldn’t walk. In fact, I think I spent the rest of the afternoon, laid out on the couch with my feet up, and as hard as this is to admit, I think I may have asked my mom to get me a few things because well, “I couldn’t walk”. (Eye rolling and head shaking ensues)  So that was then….

After Lean Horse 100 in August, I was actually pretty banged up. I flew out the very next day to head back home and see the family on the East Coast. To say walking was a challenge would be an understatement. Getting up to do simple things like go to the bathroom, never seemed more impossible. I’d worn out the tendon on my left foot that allows you to flex. The swelling was so severe, it wouldn’t even allow for it to engage. Thus, I couldn’t even lift my foot, I had to drag it. While yes, walking funny the day after a long race should be considered a badge of honor because man… you clearly did something to earn it, I have also come to respect those who are able to walk away, never letting on as if anything happened. There’s something in that recovery that’s amazing to me. It used to be after a 50 miler I couldn’t walk well, and slowly, after I did a few more, I was walking more and more normal the day after. Of course, your kind of like an engine after sitting down for a while, ya know.. gotta rev it up and get it going.. but once your moving, your good to go. But I remember sitting in the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota, seeing several of the people I’d run with the day before. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could barely walk, and they were carrying on as usual.

Me trying to walk to dinner the night I finished Lean Horse. It was painful.

Me trying to walk to dinner the night I finished Lean Horse. It was painful.

Despite having consumed barely even a third of the calories I probably should have over the course of Zion 100, I still had a lot of energy when I finished. After a nice shower, a short nap, I was starving, and actually capable of eating which isn’t always the case. After an ice cold beer, chips and salsa, and some delicious carne asada, I slept much better, and shockingly, was able to walk in the morning. I actually walked the quarter mile to get my tea, and asked Pon if we could even walk to breakfast! I wasn’t just walking, I was almost walking NORMAL. Slow, but normal. By the time we got to Vegas where I wanted to rule the roulette tables on the strip before flying home, I was moving just like those other runners I’d watched the year before.. as if it was business as usual (And I meant business).

photo(1)The following week, I was restless. I finally decided I needed to do something and headed back to Bar Method. I tried to tell the instructor I was just going to feel my way through and probably wasn’t going to go 100% just yet, especially on thigh work (If I didn’t say anything, I’d be teased to go lower, lift my leg higher, or worse, they’d lift it for me). What followed is the exact reason I never tell people about these races. She asked why and I said, “Oh, I ran 100 miles on Friday.” With a stone cold face she simply replied, “Oh. Cool.” Nothing else. I kind of felt like an a-hole. I might as well have said I ran 1,000 miles. But as Loic would later say, “Probably better next time to just say you ran a marathon”. :) Regardless, it’s been just over a week, I’m almost back to normal, tucking my way through Bar, sweating it out in hot yoga, and doing a short run here or there. I surprisingly, feel great.

It’s really cool to see how things have progressed over the years. Even more exciting seeing these physical changes: noticing how my body is adapting to these high mileage races. I have a lot of goals in life, and seeing these changes makes me realize I’m slowly but surely working my way towards making those a reality. It makes me even more excited for what’s to come. And as always, there is much more to come. Let the planning begin! There will be some resting in the next couple weeks as well. Don’t you worry. Luckily, I won’t be alone.

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And if I haven’t said it enough, thank you, THANK YOU for following along and being apart of my journey!

Posted in Recovery, Training | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Zion 100

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Faith – : strong belief or trust in someone or something.

1a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises (2) :  sincerity of intentions

2a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) :  complete trust

3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

I couldn’t help but think it was over before it even began. It was Thursday, one week before the race. There I was, laid out with a low-grade fever, some sort of bronchial viral infection, and an ever flowing faucet of thick mucus coming out of my nose every five minutes. This was it, the wheels had officially come off. I couldn’t breathe through my nose, I couldn’t inhale without breaking out into a coughing fit (the good kind where you hear the liquid in your lungs), and I was in a dazed flu-like fog. I talked to the medical professionals in my life, the pharmacist, and unfortunately, over the counter drugs were the only thing I could take. Mucinex, Tylenol Cold & Flu, NyQuil, Vicks Vapor Rub, Airborne… I was doing it all. Every day I told myself I felt better. “I still have 6 days!” “I still have 2 days!!” But it was hard to stay hopeful. I told myself I didn’t have a choice.. I HAD to have faith. Maybe this race would be a test of more than I realized.

I met Don and Diana in Vegas on Wednesday morning, thankful I’d opted to fly and catch a ride with them, verses making the 7 hour drive from San Diego. This race would take place over Friday and Saturday, as Utah is very respectful for their holy day on Sunday. So we piled into the car, and caught up as we made the 2.5 hour drive to Springdale, Utah. It was cold and damp, with temps looking to be in the low 60’s on race day. But there was no denying the awesomeness that is Zion. And not awesome in the current day slang… AWE-some in the biblical sense.

I still felt like crap. Food hadn’t looked appetizing all week, but I’d forced myself to get enough calories in hopes my energy wouldn’t be too zapped. All in all, I needed a miracle. I was happy to be spending time with my dear friend Don, and now new friend and fellow ultra-runner, Diana. Diana’s upbeat, energetic personality was infectious, but long list of 100 milers including Hardrock 100, Hurt 100, and having been a sponsored Montrail athlete for years, I had to admit was a bit intimidating. After all, I still consider myself the novice. As soon as we got to the hotel I felt like I needed to sleep. I was exhausted, and all I’d done was fly on a plane and sit in a car. It also didn’t help that these east coasters now being on Mountain time were up at the crack of dawn the next day while I lay groggy from NyQuil, dazing in and out of sleep, still feeling awful. Gosh, how was I going to get through this?

What's off in this picture?

What’s off in this picture?

I decided to take the early start option for the race on Friday morning. The main field started at 6am, but Matt, the RD allowed individuals who needed more time or wanted less time during the peak of the day, the option to start at 4 or 5am, giving you up to 34 hours to finish. The unofficial “real time” to finish was 32 hours, which would also qualify you for Western States. Given the past week, I figured I needed all the time I could get.  This course had 12,000 feet of climbing on it, but Matt said it would feel like much more given the terrain and steepness of the climbs. It was going to be brutal.

I was happy and surprised to wake up at 2:50am on Friday feeling pretty good. 20 or so gathered for the very informal 4am start. It was freezing and I worried that despite running I might not warm up at all, but still made sure not to overdress. As I anxiously waited, I thought about the fact that it was taking everything in me not to walk away and say F it. I’m always humbled at the start of these races, because frankly, it takes a lot of courage just to even toe the line. Whether I showed it or not, I was a nervous wreck. Luckily, now that I’m actually well trained, as soon as we start running it tends to dissipate, but getting up that morning, waiting for the start, I was just a mess. You can’t really fathom all that your about to do. 100 miles?

jenstartmeandponOff we went. Right out of the gate we’d make the long climb up Flying monkey to the first aid station at mile 7. Going to sleep I’d visualized this over and over, hoping I’d be calm and patient no matter how my body felt. I’d expected to be walking most of this first section, but was pleasantly surprised the beginning was very gradual uphill with rolling sections on a dusty dirt road that was extremely runnable.  I’d made a point to not wear my Garmin, keeping it on my back pack so if I needed to see pace or mileage it was there, but by no means easily accessible. I wanted to feel my way through the day and often my happiest runs were done much the same. The stars were out and it was a gorgeous night. I actually felt pretty good. I thought to myself, “I think I can do this today.” We ran, and I chatted with a few people before starting the climb. It’s always fun to watch the headlights up ahead climbing a massive spread of darkness. Here we go. My rule for the day with all of the climbing would be slow and steady if needed, but always at a pace to where I never had to stop mid-climb. I was strong on this section, coughing up a lung every now and then, and meeting Susan for the first time who’d I play cat and mouse with all day. We chatted and climbed suddenly coming up on a rope. What the heck? The trail stopped as a rock formed a sheer cliff continuing well above our heads. Have you seen people repel down a cliff? Well that’s how we looked.. legs on the side of the cliff, with our head and upper body outstretched away from the mountain side, only we had to climb UP. Gosh, this was going to be a long day. I had told myself this climb would go on forever, so after some more scrambling, this time more like bouldering and crawling up another massive amount of rocks with my hands, I was surprised when things leveled out and we were on top of the mesa. Shockingly, I felt great. I immediately started running and winding my way along the trail, climbing one more section, I made it to the first aid station. Now we’d have seven miles of almost all downhill to the second aid station at mile 14. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

The sun was starting to come up and I was shocked at how I felt. I was happy. Happy to be running, happy to be able to race, and happy that I actually felt like a runner. After all, I had trained extremely hard, probably the best I had trained for a race in years. We followed a dirt road for several miles along beautiful country that was slowly showing itself more as the sun was just starting to rise and I ran most of this section. We then turned onto a paved road that became much steeper as we descended and came out on the side of the mountain, winding down along side of it. I turned to my left and could see the runner’s headlamps from the 6am start making their way up Flying Monkey. Did I just climb that?!

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Looking out over the climb up Flying Monkey

zion4I made it in and out of mile 14 aid station, pretty uneventfully. This next section was mainly single track, winding through rolling hills in the open fields beneath the mesas. From a distance it looks flat, but in it we’d come up on massive ravines and more sheer cliffs you wouldn’t even think were there. Somewhere in here a runner came up on me and said hello. To my shock and awe it was Karl Meltzer.. that was pretty cool ;) . I mostly ran this section, making sure to gel every 45 mins, and felt pretty good to be running so strongly into mile 23. Here I dropped a layer, as well as my first headlamp and hat. The next aid station would be Goosebump, but before we’d reach that, we’d have to climb the steepest section of the course. I was definitely nervous.

zion11zion10We covered some more dirt roads and the faster 6am runners were now coming up on me. I was so happy to be running. I even got several comments on my shoes, or should I say lack thereof. I like the Minimus New Balances, which I admit, don’t have really anything to them, but I never even think of it like that. Hoka’s were definitely the shoe of the day, as it seemed EVERYONE was running in a pair. But it was still surprising my shoes were a subject of talk.

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When we came up on Goosebump, you almost had to laugh; looking at the tiny bodies climbing what was practically straight up. And all of a sudden, I think I actually felt excitement. Not fear. I was ready to knock this thing out. One foot in front of the other, it began. Since I had taken the early start, I was right in the thick of things. The faster people from the original start were starting to come up on me more and more and I kind of liked trying to stay with them now and again. The comforting thing in Goosebump, while extremely steep, it was short. Roughly a mile to the top. To be honest, it was over quicker than I thought. As we crested the last bit, I noticed a very large crowd gathered at the top. Of course they wanted to see people dying coming up this hill. And trust me, there are rarely “crowds” at 100 milers. I laughed, made some jokes, and got some food before heading out to mile 35.

goosebumpdown

goosebumpupMile 31 to 43 were somewhat uneventful. We did have to run a half a mile out to the edge of a mesa where I got some amazing pictures. We then continued to run along the top of the mesa, mainly on slick rock. Correction.. you can’t exactly “run” on slick rock. You run, then your forced to jump, hop, or climb onto another section, then you try to run again. There is no rhythm that can be found on this stuff. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this.

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jenmesazionslickrockSo we forged on…hitting Goosebump Aid Station for the second time, and then the 6 mile section to 49 which was dirt road and rolling. I came in to mile 49 wondering if Pon would even be there as I was way ahead of the time frame I gave him. But he’d also been sick and I wasn’t sure if he’d even be good to run. But, there he was and ready to go! Phew! I actually had made excellent time. My watch was at 12 hours and 30 mins, which was well above my expectations even on a good day. I changed my shoes, grabbed some ramen noodles, and we set off on the 5 mile loop before coming back to the same aid station. I was still running at this point but my energy levels were fading. I was not taking in nearly enough calories. What else is new. We made the 5 mile loop, thankful to have a sidekick with me now and I was still able to run quite well. We got into mile 54, our second time at Grafton Mesa. I took a seat, we refueled, grabbed some night gear, and prepared ourselves for the next two sections which would be tough. We’d have to run 6 miles mostly downhill to Eagle Crag, then make a long climb back up to Grafton Mesa Aid Station for the last time, which would be mile 68. 8 miles is a long way, especially when it’s UP.

I should point out that I took snot rockets to a whole new level on this race. These weren’t rockets. These were high speed LONG, LONG trains… I basically felt like a 3 year old the entire day with snot just oozing from my nose. Ech, people didn’t seem to mind. Non-runners probably can’t even believe I’m saying this. But when you’re out on the trail, A LOT of stuff happens, and your will to care just goes out the window. I ran with a guy named Jason for a while and had a great time talking to him. He was a quarterback in college, always had drive in him, and was introduced to running in the past couple years. After the first hour or so of us running together, he told me not to be shy about bodily functions, aka farting. I told him not to worry, I wouldn’t hold back on account of anyone.

zion12 Running down the dirt road on our way to the Aid Station at mile 60 I was starting to hurt, but still able to run. From here on out, the miles between aid stations would seem to take longer and longer, and when we thought we would be close, we’d still be a ways away. This was especially true when we turned a corner thinking we were close to Eagle Craigs, but we were so much farther. This only made it even worse when we noticed people starting to climb a very steep dirt road. Luckily, we climbed thinking the aid station was at the top. Of course it wasn’t. We climbed another section thinking it was at the top of that. It wasn’t. And we climbed again. And again. Finally… after what seemed like ages.. we hit it. It was now dark. I pulled a chair away from the fire and sat in the dark. When I said I couldn’t sit by the fire, a little girl popped her head over the back of her chair right up against the fire and said, “Why not?”. I politely said, “I don’t want to sit by the fire because it looks too comfortable. I’m afraid I’ll like it too much and never want to leave.” She said.. “Oh. Well it’s past my bedtime. If I were home, I’d be asleep already.” I told her, “Me too!”. I had some noodles and broth, a cup of fruit, and a few potato chips. Nothing else seemed appetizing. And it was starting to get cold. VERY cold. A very kind woman working the aid station explained to me that she would be at the last aid station later on in the night and described the sections to me. This would prove to be crucial later on. I thanked her and said we’d see her later and told Pon who was still eating I had to get going and to catch up.

Prior to the race, during my planning, I told Pon some of the things I like or need to do during these long races. One and probably the most important, is I like to sit down for 3-5 mins at every aid station as we get farther and farther into the race. Just enough time to get some weight off my feet, let those hot spots die down a little, and revive myself a bit. Pon was surprised to hear this, more worried probably as most people can tend to get too comfortable, and never want to get up. It can take some coaxing to get them out of the aid station. I don’t think that’s ever been my problem. More so just making sure I eat enough, which I wasn’t, drinking enough, which I also wasn’t, and not going too slow. Later on, Pon would tell me how shocked he was that I was always the one to leave the aid station first, never having to tell me we should go. ;)

I was much happier to be heading down the steep long climb we’d just made. And for a change, it was nice to see so many people still making their way up as we were still making great time. Here I started yawning. A LOT. All week I’d had trouble sleeping.. so exhausted from being sick, but for some reason so restless too that I couldn’t fall asleep or if I did, I didn’t sleep well. The past couple nights I’d finally resorted to NyQuil to knock me out. I think it was catching up with me. It was probably 10-11pm at this point and I wanted to hold off as long as I could on using 5Hour Energy, as to not then be falling asleep again at 4 or 5am too.

We made our way back on this couple mile out and back, until we’d break off onto new trail to head to the big climb back up to mile 68 aid station. Pon and I talked about family, how we were raised, anything to keep my mind off what was to come and how sleepy I was starting to feel. Finally I got so sleepy, I started worrying how I’d make it another mile, let alone the rest of the night and decided I needed that 5hour energy. Within minutes I actually started feeling better and we picked up the pace a bit. Then we started to see the headlamps winding their way up the side of a huge mesa. And so it began. We made good pace as we climbed, Pon leading the way,and I not too far behind. Correction.. we actually killed this climb, not stopping once, no matter how steep it got, and before we knew it, we were at the top. I’d even had a guy right behind me the entire way, and despite my asking him if he’d like to pass several times, he stayed right there. At the top he thanked us for setting a great pace. On top of the mesa, we found ourselves winding through trails, up and down, now in a much bigger group, as Pon and I had caught up to a bunch of people that had passed us in my sleepy haze before the climb. This part dragged on, but finally, finally.. we came up on the aid station. Now it was too cold to sit away from the fire, and I plopped down in a comfy chair, with my hands over the fire, surrounded by spectators waiting for their runner. I joked that I had no idea why I did this crap. We talked about the tough last two sections.. and as I sat and ate my noodles. I was excited that I knew the next six miles, and finally, the next aid station we’d hit  would be what I considered respectful mileage.. 74. Something about once you hit 50 miles, the 50’s and 60’s just drag on. Your in this middle in between zone, and only once I get towards 80 do I feel like the end is ALMOST there. Right then, all I could think about was just getting to the next aid station.

I told Pon I was ready to boogy, and to catch up once again. He did and told me it was time to put on the layers I had wrapped around my waist. He was right. It was freezing. We were walking at a decent pace and told him I was happy with anything in the 14-16 min range, therefore running wasn’t necessary. But we ran when we could. My energy was dragging. Because I hadn’t eaten much, I’d also laid off the Ibuprofen. Two things working against me. I was constantly on the verge of bonking and while I finally had legs that could run well after 68 miles, my energy just wouldn’t allow it. So we fast hiked it. Here Pon and I talked some more, and after another section that dragged on, looking entirely different than it did earlier that afternoon, we finally came up on Goosebump Aid station for the third and thankfully, final time. It was FREEZING. It didn’t help that this aid station is on the edge of a cliff and the wind was just blowing. Here the fire didn’t even help and people were covered in warm blankets. I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I tried to eat, but again, this was minimal. Now we had three sections left.. but three LONG sections. We’d head down Goosebump, the steepest section of the course, eight miles to the next aid, and then two 9 mile sections before the finish. First we had to get down. After freezing long enough, I told Pon we should get going and it would be warmer once we got to the bottom.

Here the top section was extremely narrow, slanted, and dangerous. Did I mention it was 2am and we’d run 74 miles? We made our way down the first section, and came up on the part I feared. A woman was clinging to the rocks and scared to death. I couldn’t pass her and waited for her to clear the section. I nervously made my way and even tripped, but luckily fell into the side of the mountain and moved as fast as I could to get to better footing. The rest of this downhill was much the same, but the faster I could get down, the better. It was killing my feet! We got to the bottom and actually started running again. And not like shuffle running where I could barely average 16 min miles running, but like, REAL running. It was amazing. It was an enjoyable section and Pon and I talked about our favorite movies. After what seemed like miles, we came up on paved road, slowly making our way back to the highway and then crossing it. We started to see cars as we jumped on another dirt road and it was definitely some sort of aid station. A woman was up ahead and I called out to her to ask if this was in fact the next aid station. She said no. We had 4 more miles. This was definitely a mental setback

So, with really no choice at all, and being somewhere around mile 78, we made our way up the dirt road. Only it started to climb. There was someone behind us and I asked if this was Guacamole.. which would be the final climb of the race. He didn’t know. Pon told me not to care and just keep going. I thought back to what the lady at mile 60 had told me. She said Guacamole was a dirt road climb, at the top we’d do a 9 mile loop. But then we’d have to do the last nine miles down. This had to be it. Up we climbed. Finally we saw more people, and I asked, and they confirmed this was in fact Guacamole. We crested at a flat section, making our way. All of a sudden we started to notice headlamps up above. Oh gosh.. do we have to climb that?? To say this was my lowest, and probably Pon’s lowest moment as well, is probably accurate. I had nothing in me. We climbed more, and more. I was dragging. After what seemed like forever, we finally saw the aid station and I slumped in the back of the tent in a chair. Man, I was exhausted. I tried to eat. I had a fruit cup, some more fruit. Two sections left. Only, this was nine miles, and apparently, it was all slick rock. It was going to take a long time. I actually got up thinking I was going to be sick, almost hoping, so that I could feel better and actually eat MORE. But I didn’t. I decided to grab the other 5hour Energy and take a swig. We needed to get going.

I was shocked at how calm I was heading out of this section. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel going into that aid station and some how had been able to revive myself on very limited food. I told myself to be patient and that this section would probably take a long time, long enough that the sun would be up as it was 5am now. And sure enough this dragged on. Only, it was also hard to navigate. I kept telling Pon I heard someone screaming for help. But we couldn’t hear it clearly. Sure enough we came up on a woman who was very lost, and extremely panicked. She’d been lost for an hour. I like to think I have a good sense of direction, but many times I felt as though we’d zig zagged our way over trail/slick rock we’d already covered. But Pon was navigating and doing an awesome job of it. We started to see newer trail that we definitely had not come up on before. I kept telling myself this section would take forever and to be patient. I couldn’t even think about the mileage. We kept on, our group growing from 3 runners to 5, thankful to have as many people trying to find the right path as there was one clear time we had to stop dead in our tracks for a good 5 mins, unclear as to where to go. But now we had Fast Corey with us. I’d read his blog from last years race, as he was a local to the area and had a great recap and photo coverage of the course. We kept on twisting and turning and looking for the sign that would let us know we had to making the two mile section back. This would be a big cause of trouble for a lot of people. Two guys who finished in 24 hours, apparently had done the loop twice. Needless to say, they were a little upset. We found our way, and made the last final miles to the aid station. One more section.

The sun was out and it was getting warmer. I couldn’t eat. I had a fruit cup, but couldn’t think of anything else. I knew I should feel comfort that the last part was 4 miles downhill, but I feared the five miles dragging on after that, knowing there was another climb in there somewhere. Ugh.. let’s go. My feet hurt. They felt like they were covered with blisters, which luckily they were not. We ran the first steep downhill back to the main part of the dirt road. I told Pon here I’d have to walk, as I was in a dark place. I grabbed some food out of my pouch, afraid I’d yack it up, but knew I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t eat more. So, slowly, we walked it down. I broke into frustration when we came up on the turn and I saw the last little climb. I had my mini-breakdown which thankfully only Pon probably noticed. But as soon as we started climbing I was determined to get it over with. We headed up and over and then through a river that actually felt ice cold on my achy feet. It was amazing.

Before we knew it, we were on a paved road and there was a group out for the 50k runners aid station. The most comfort I’d felt in the past 15 miles came when I was told the finish was less than a mile. We were almost there. And as my feet hurt and squished below me, the sun was getting hot on my back, I just tried to take it all in. Pon and I were very much alone on this last mile, and we crossed over the main highway, winding our way through the back streets until coming up on the final field. Pon told me to run it in, and shockingly, I could! And so in 30 hours and 45 mins, I crossed the finish line. It was so nice to be greeted by the people I’d met along the journey, having just finished before me. This is a small group, spread out over 100 miles. The people you meet are special. And you’ve just done something amazing together. It felt good.

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First, I should probably say I’m sorry to everyone at NSA where I work for worrying them. While they know I’m crazy, seeing me so “diseased” before I left they thought this was a suicide mission, and were more so worried I’d even make it back alive, let alone finish. Special thank you to Terry for keeping me in her prayers!

Thank you to my Mom and Dad for not even telling me I shouldn’t run, despite their concern, and believing in me that I could do it. And to my amazing sister who is always lifting me up, encouraging me, and helping me through.

Of course to my dear friend, Don for encouraging me to do this course, and being right there with me. Sitting in the airport waiting to fly home, I told Don we should do the Zion traverse next year. He pulled out his computer instantaneously and was researching maps, routes, water drops.. etc. (Btw, Lindsay already said they would crew for us). You’re sense of adventure is always motivating.

Thank you so much to Pon for coming out to help me and running a tough 51 miles himself with me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I’m so happy we’ve become good friends over the years and through this experience.

The word Zion is actually a synonym for Jerusalem. It also means sanctuary, making it even more appropriate that this would set the stage for a journey such as this. Long before this race even started, I knew this post would be about faith.. in every sense of the word. I have had a hard time with faith in the past. Faith in myself, faith in my convictions, and faith in a higher power. These past couple months have been tough, and I’ve needed to find my way. Ultimately I realized, I don’t have to carry it all on my back. There are certain things I can’t control, and in those I need to trust in my faith. And so.. I have. Amazingly, aside from my awful cold, things were starting to come together before Zion. Some wonderful things. And as I sat there thinking how nice it would have been to knock this race out of the park, how it would have been the ultimate stamp that things were turning around, but maybe I was just too sick, and this was one of those things I couldn’t control… there was faith. And so I believed.

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

- Thomas Aquinas

And last but not least… we couldn’t have done it without being #Kuykenstrong!

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Posted in Pictures, Race Re-cap, Running, Travel, Ultra Marathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kuykenstrong

Shawn,-edited

I’ve always said the thing I love about ultra running, is that it provides you with something so important in life.. Perspective. Wrapping your mind around a distance, what’s considered “difficult”, and frankly, what’s important. I had intended on writing this post about these last final weeks preparing for Zion 100. I had intended on writing about some personal struggles I’ve been going through. I’d actually been intending on writing as to why I, someone who tries to be strong always, have been feeling especially tested these past two months. But that changed when a friend of mine asked me if I had known someone, and sent an article along with it. Perspective.

Shawn Kuykendall. Anyone who knows the person behind that name, never forgets. You simply can’t forget. Shawn played for our Men’s Soccer team at American University. They were very good, and he was a huge reason for that. Over the years we shared a class here and there, worked on group projects together, and in our tiny little AU Athletic family, it was hard not to know your fellow student-athletes. But everyone knew Shawn. Outgoing, passionate, full of life, he always stood out. I think during one late night group meeting, he and I went off on a tangent about athletics and our future goals. I’ll never forget him saying, “I’m going to play professional soccer.” It wasn’t even a question in his mind. Heck, I was certainly convinced. And sure enough, Shawn went on to play for DC United after graduation. But I wouldn’t even say that’s how I remember Shawn. I remember how personable he was and how he was always considerate. Often times, we all had to be reminded that our sport wasn’t the only sport, and as a team, we should go and support others whether that be men’s soccer, field hockey, tennis etc. We’d all go watch them play and then at the next volleyball game, the women’s field hockey team would be in attendance. But not Shawn. I’d pass by him around campus and he would say, “How about Bucknell? We gonna take them down this weekend?” He knew. And whether all by himself or a friend or two in tow, sure enough, AU Volleyball vs. Bucknell.. Shawn would be there. He cared. And this wasn’t sport or person specific. That’s just how Shawn was. Always. With everyone. And with passion. You can never forget that passion.

So when I opened the article to see “A Former MLS player lost his battle with cancer today, but he won so much more”, I was in disbelief. I thought Shawn wrote the article about someone else, because well, that’s what Shawn would do. It felt like yesterday I saw he had started the Kuykendall Coaching Academy. The article can’t be about him. It’s times like this I wish I had Facebook or those other social media outlets I hate, because I would have known he was sick. Then again, you don’t expect a young, passionate, faith-driven person such as Shawn to be taken so quickly after only finding out about their diagnosis 8 months ago. In fact, there’s are part of me in disbelief still, because Shawn’s the kind of guy you would expect to be put in a situation like this and actually beat the odds. I want to say this is one of those harsh realities we sometimes face in life. Those times you just have to question? And it scares you. It scares the hell out of you. But reading about him in his final months, and the person I remember.. Shawn probably wouldn’t say that. He’d probably say something about, what a great life he was able to live. And to use it as a reminder to live each and every day, cherishing those you love, and living your life to the best of your ability.

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I wondered if I should even post anything. After all, I knew Shawn, but we were by no means close friends and this is a very sensitive subject. But then, this is Shawn. And if it were someone Shawn remotely knew, I wouldn’t even think twice that he would go above and beyond to pay his respects. And for that, I can’t think of a better, more important reason than to make sure you all know the story of Shawn Kuykendall. So for those of you who never knew him, who never had the opportunity to meet him… this is Shawn. And whether you simply take a few seconds by reading this post to honor his memory, read as many articles as you can about him, or check out his blog about his final months here, please… just simply remember him. Remember there are people out there so good, so passionate, and so true, that while they may only live but a short while, the memory of them is forever strong. And in Shawn’s case, Kuykenstrong. To all of Shawn’s family, his close friends, and the AU Men’s Soccer family, my heart and thoughts go out to you.

I’ve already purchased my T-shirts and so can you. For his family and in honor of his memory… are you Kuykenstrong?

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Posted in In Memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Essentials

As I gear up for the final push before Zion, there have been five things I’ve been relying on heavily to get me through. Maintenance is extremely important. The oversight of something as small as a sore calf or a tight muscle can turn into a colossal injury that puts you on the couch and your training on hold. Here are my 5 essentials to keeping your mind and body safe and healthy when your pushing your body to the limit.

Fish Oil: If you haven’t already read my Ode to Fish Oil, I recommend doing so asap. I go into extensive detail about the multitude of benefits this magical, youthful elixir provides. Personally, in my mind as far as the essentials of life go, there’s 1. Oxygen 2. H2O, and then there’s fish oil. Drink up!

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Hammer’s Tissue Rejuvenator: As I made my REI run before Lean Horse 100, stocking up on Gu’s, gels, Perpetuem, and all other sorts of goodies, I noticed a new product I’d never seen before. Tissue Rejuvenator by Hammer; basically claiming to be an all natural anti-inflammatory and joint lubricator. We all know there a lot of things out there that promise the kitchen sink, so of course, skepticism was imminent. Thanks to the beauty of technology, I pulled up Amazon’s reviews and was very shocked to see almost all 5-star reviews. I mean, I thought for sure there had to be ONE guy who thought this thing would cure cancer and was mad as hell it hadn’t, but no (I have in fact since noticed one review that was 2 stars). I decided to give it a shot being that at the time I had been experiencing slight hip discomfort. They also offer a 100% guarantee or money back; always encouraging. Well, we all know that 100 miler went off without a glitch. I’ve since been taking it, ramping up my dosage during training and can tell you I hands-down notice a difference between weeks I take it and weeks I forget. The main ingredient for this product is glucosamine which is a natural chemical compound found in the body that keeps the cartilage in joints healthy. As we age, our natural levels decline which then adds to deterioration in our joints. Glucosamine is said to help lessen pain caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and even chronic low back pain. Consider it the Jiffy Lube of joints. Another component is tumeric, which you foodies are probably very familiar with. What we tend to know mainly as an herb is also an antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic agent. This powerful seasoning also provides us the raw materials needed to promote rapid tissue repair, while also helping to reduce inflammation, soreness, and pain. Can you say hell to the yeah? I highly recommend.

Hammer

Electrical Muscle Stimulation: If you’ve ever been to physical therapy, you’ve hopefully had the pleasure of ending your session with ice and 20 mins of electrical muscle stimulation. For those of you lucky, healthy bastards who haven’t, electric stim creates muscle contraction by using two pads that produce an electric current. Did you ever see the infomercial promising you six-pack abs simply by wearing the “Ab Belt”? Umm yeah. It’s basically zapping your abs, forcing them to contract without you even having to lift a finger. Voila! While I’m sure this probably does strengthen your abs, for your reputation, I highly recommend avoiding this all together. However, for strength training, rehabilitation, and reducing inflammation, this can be extremely helpful. I was able to find one for $25 on Amazon and whether its a sore muscle, swelling in a joint, or anything else I feel needs a boost, this has been an integral part of my maintenance.

electric stim

Epsom Salt Baths: I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t big on bath time. I mean, sure we have the pics of Linds and I in the bath as kids when it’s cute and all. But then big girls shower, and you want to be a big girl, so you shower. That goes from the age of 7 – 18 and then you go to college. Well considering I wouldn’t even put a bare foot on any of the showers I used in college, bath time was sure as hell out of the question until about 22. 22 – 28 I pretty much forget about the whole bath time thing. And then, my massage therapist Irina would leave me each time saying, “Jen… take an epsom salt bath.” I ok’d her to death the first 5 months and then finally decided… maybe I should listen to her? I went to Ralph’s, bought a bag of Epsom salt (bargain price of $2), went home, put on some jazz, turned on the hot water, dumped in some salt, and jumped in. Wow. This is….. amazing! I never want to get out. I’m never getting out. Ok, I need to get out. But wow. Thank you, Irina, thank you Pandora, and thank you bath time. Oh Epsom salt.. sorry. Right, so this stuff. Did you know that magnesium is actually the second most abundant element in human cells and the fourth most important positively charged ion in the body? And sadly, most of us are deficient of this important element.  It’s known as “the organizer” of many bodily functions, such as muscle control, energy production and the elimination of harmful toxins. Magnesium deficiency helps to account for high rates of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis and joint pain, digestive maladies, stress-related illnesses, and chronic fatigue. Thankfully, absorption is a very quick way to get those levels back up there. So, grab some ES, put on some tunes, turn on the hot water, and relax. :)

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Massage: I learned early on, massage was a very essential role in my recovery time. On top of the fact that it just feels good to get rubbed, when you’ve got achy muscles, this feels even better. That is until I started getting treated by massage therapists that actually know what they are doing. And while what I’m about to tell you may scare you, by no means does this mean you should NOT go through with this too. You should. News flash: Massages aren’t fun. Massages hurt. Sometimes I sweat from gripping the table so hard to brace myself for the pain I’m about to feel. It freaking HURTS. But then it feels good. Then I can walk. And now I have bath time afterwards to look forward to. But that hour nap or day dreaming time you were looking forward to while someone loved those achy muscles of yours… it’s gone. There may be times you want to yell stop. But you know you can push through and pushing through will only help you in the long run. So push through you do. You try holding your breath to see if that helps. You clench your abs, grit your teeth.. whatever you have to, to get through. And you do. And it’s amazing. And if you train hard enough the upcoming week, you’ll earn yourself another hour of pain the following week. And so the vicious cycle unfolds. But this is probably the most integral part for injury prevention and optimal training in my opinion. On top of that the promotion of increased joint flexibility, lessened affects of depression and anxiety, improved condition of the skin, and better circulation, need I say more? Call a local pain enforcer near you :) .

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I hope you all find these tips extremely helpful. Happy training!

Posted in Nutrition, Pre-Race, Recovery, Training | Tagged | 1 Comment

What the tuck?

So often, my challenge with this sport has been finding the right training, or should I say, motivation to train. I get bored, going day in and day out, to simply just run. Only in this past year have I realized I needed to find things that were fun and allowed me to mix it up. So, mix it up I have ;)

The comment I get the most in regards to my running.. “Don’t your knees hurt??” Public service announcement: Running does not hurt my knees. When I was leaving college they said I had torn meniscus in both my right and left knee and would be happy to operate. The perks of Division I sports. Give us your body for 4 years and if we break it, ech.. least we can do is fix it. Being that they truly don’t know the magnitude of a torn meniscus until they have you opened up on the table AND some people come out worse off than before, I opted not to go through with it. Besides, for the most part, my knees are good. It’s only doing certain things that cause them to flare up horribly. Unfortunately, it’s things like oly lifting, pistols, squats that cause these random flare ups leaving my knees so swollen I can’t even bend them. I decided I needed to back away from crossfit for a while. And anyways, running an ultra is hard! I knew I needed something that could get me strong, but not too strong, and not be so harsh after what my body has already been through. So….. my name is Jennifer Cosco, and I’m a Bar Method addict. (gasp and awe!!!) Yes. It’s true. (How could you?!) I prance. (oh my!) I plank. (how??) I tuck. (NO!) And I stare in that mirror (yes, they have mirrors!) as I effortlessly raise onto the balls of my feet and sink a third of the way down. And I. Like. IT. I. TUCKING. LOVE. IT. It’s girly, and damn it… the girls doing it are freaking girly. But they look AMAZING. It’s the biggest change physically I’ve noticed in myself in a long time. Wait, and I don’t mean the fact that I can make it all the way through thigh without dying (I dare you strong men to try it). No. I mean… I actually check myself out! And not, “oh my guns are getting big”, but damn.. I think my thighs are leaner and more muscular? How is this happening?? As if that isn’t already tucking fantastic, I was back on the trails, up in San Jacinto and decided to run down this beast of a mountain. This trail was STEEP. But there I was, flying down. I actually almost lost my super fast mutant of a partner. And my quads… were not tired at all?! Vain AND functional? This is tucking AWESOME. Because of Bar, there’s rarely a day I take off. I’m running, tucking, or doing something just about every day. It keeps me going. It makes me want to run…. MORE. And after I enjoyed the success of Sean O’Brien 50 miler, I realized it didn’t end just there. I bounced back, and quickly. I was tucking by Wednesday. And then, on Saturday, I knocked out a 1:57 half marathon at the Mermaid Series. Exactly one week after a tough 50 miler I was able to not only run, but run well. I COULDN’T TUCKING BELIEVE IT! My slow yet, much better looking behind these days, hasn’t run a sub 2 half in years!! So… here’s to finding what works. Here’s to having those guilty pleasures. And here’s to not tucking caring!!!

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Posted in Running, Training | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sean O’Brien 50 Miler

“Both faith and fear may sail into your harbor, but allow only faith to drop anchor.”

Fear is a peculiar thing. It’s something that should demand our respect, but we tend to define it as weakness. I certainly do. But then, I was reminded these past few weeks of it’s power, of it’s weight, and of it’s ability. Simply the fact that, we’re all just human. With fear almost always comes doubt. And somewhere, deep inside, faith is trying to fight it’s way through. And no matter the scale, the ability to overcome that fear, and allow faith to shine, is even more powerful.

I tend to underestimate the mental demand the races I do can have. And when you sometimes haven’t given yourself enough time to refresh, and you’re a little worn out, no matter your physical condition, that doubt seeps in. The fear builds. And that mental edge you need to get you through, weakens.  To toe the line and mentally commit, takes a lot; another thing I tend to downplay. Luckily, the off season has been good to me. Adventures in the mountains, catching some waves, running, and actually, not being “off” at all. There’s been a good balance. No, not good. A GREAT balance. I’d decided almost immediately after Lean Horse, that Zion would be the perfect next 100 miler. It’s not too hot, I can drive there, the climbing is manageable, and it’s in one of the most gorgeous backdrops this country has to offer. But before I knew it, it was December; I was still in vacation mode. Zion’s the first weekend of April, which meant I needed to get started yesterday.  I was training, but by no means 100 mile training. Was I ready to go again? Was I ready to give THAT much, again? And not a small half-ass effort, but a good solid effort? More importantly, was my mind fresh and strong enough to endure? To help organize and manage my concerns, I started mapping out a potential plan. A few half marathons here to keep me moving, throw in a 50 miler there; should work out great. In searching for a local 50, Sean O’Brien came up. Feb 1st? Ok, perfect timing. Malibu? Check! Without giving  it much thought, I clicked register.

Fast forward to race day. After a cozy night in the back of my jeep, I drove my mobile wrangler motel to the start of the race in Malibu Creek State Park. I was a ball of nerves. All week I had been worried. I’d felt great physically, nutritionally… my runs had been on point. But I hadn’t run a tough 50 miler in over a year. I hadn’t run more than 13 miles in four months. Not to confuse you, I had been training hard. Just not long. To make things worse, I’d only learned a week earlier, this race had twice the elevation gain I’d thought it to have when I registered. There was over 11,000 feet of gain instead of 6,000. It was gonna be a tough day. The RD had sent several emails out to 50 milers urging anyone with doubts of their ability to drop down to the 50k. That this course wasn’t the course to be brave. It was going to be brutal. 14 and a half hours and that was it. So the question came… Should I be dropping down?

Leaving my car, I was freezing. I was going minimal. No drop bags, whatever food I could shove in my pack, and only my Minimus WT10′s. I’d never raced them on rough terrain. Hell, at this point I still had no idea if I’d last the day, so who cares about shoes or drop bags? I’d decided that week to return my new Scott Jurek pack, leaving me with my good ole Camelbak Mini Mule and saying to hell with logistics. Nervous, wondering why the hell I do this shit, I gathered near the starting line. It was a much smaller field than I imagined. Less than 200. But then I started looking around and noticed some pretty well known faces. This field might be small, but this was a who’s who in the ultra community. Then again this race was part of the Montrail Cup. I spotted Timothy Olson and my stomach dropped. This was a pretty important race for these guys. I needed to get my mind right. Even then, I just thought my mind was in a bad place. Some more talking about the “need to drop to the 50k, please do so at the turn around” and 3,2,1,… off we went.

I was thankful to be running, moving, anything to be letting the stress out.We made our way two miles on single track, over a river, where we began the first climb. I hate, I repeat I hate how when the climbing starts, my body freaks out at first. It’s still in warm up mode and my breathing is just out of control. Despite this, I pushed on, knowing it would calm down. Up we climbed, as did the sun. It was a gorgeous sunrise.

sunriseSOBrunnerssunriseSOBHere I met Harris Goodman on the long first climb. Harris had just finished Hardrock 100, probably one of the most grueling 100 milers out there. We chatted and talked about running, our love for ultra’s, and the beautiful backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Doesn’t get much better than this. Faster than I expected, we came up on the first aid station at mile 6.5. I made my way, running, and climbing the rolling terrain. I felt great, but my head still started to get me. 50 miles. Do I have this today?

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I made it to 13 mile Aid Station. I was quickly in and out, happy to know I’d only be seeing the front running 50k’ers for another 2 miles. After their turn around, the 50 milers continued on and began a decent climb. I’d been saying my stolen mantra from Timothy Olson over and over. “Just be.” But I couldn’t. Yet, there I was feeling great and running well, even uphill. But my mind was just going crazy. It’s such an overwhelming feeling. I knew deep down how good it would be to knock this one out. But that fear… kept creeping back in. It’s a long day, Jen. 50 miles is a long way. You sure? All of sudden someone passed me. Having no idea about this course I politely asked if he’d run this before. Intro Craig. We started chatting.. where we’re from, both first timers to this race, ultra running stories. Needless to say, it was the perfect distraction we both needed, as I’d learned Craig had been fighting the same mental battle. We chatted and finally got to the descent that would take us from the highest point of the race to one of the lowest. Here we started to see the leaders make their way past us. Craig seemed to know everyone, which was nice to get the play by play. And then, the moment that made it all. Timothy Olson turned the corner. To most, it would have been a typical passing. To me, music started to play, things moved in slow motion, and as he smiled, a glimmer sparkled in his teeth. Ok, maybe not, but it was epic. For those of you who don’t know Timothy Olson’s story.. I suggest googling it as he’s truly an inspiration, a down right cool dude, and arguably one of the best trail runners out there.

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We descended, with the Pacific Ocean just shining it’s gorgeous blue over the Malibu coast. Is this my life? It was starting to get toasty, but I was still feeling really good.We rolled into the mile 22 aid station with an hour buffer before the noon cutoff. We took a minute to regroup, refuel, and eat. Then, still chatting, Craig and I headed out. We hit some steep climbs on single track and I knew this was gonna be a long haul. We had 7 miles to make it back up to the top. Yikes! But we kept a steady pace, and even on the steepest sections, kept moving well, and of course, talking. This was helping the time and rough course pass much more easily beneath our feet.  2 or 3 miles later, having climbed a lot, I was both relieved and fearful at the long decent we had ahead of us. With gorgeous views and a steep decent, I unfortunately knew this meant we’d only have to climb all we had just lost, and then some. Sure enough, soon after, we were back to climbing. And climbing. We moved along, up and up. Craig and I even managed to pick up another struggling climber and he thanked us for helping to pull him along. Then an amazing thing happened. We saw the aid station. But it was right in front of us, instead of some crazy peak far off in the distance I had decided previously it must be. That was an awesome feeling. Even better, was after heading out, and one last steep climb, we were done with the worst parts of the course. And I was still feeling great.

Craig and I took off on this next section. We were running well and very much in sync. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I’d expected one of us to bonk or the other to take off, but we stayed pretty consistent. Finally we came up on mile 37 where Craig’s running group was all set up to cheer and help. The volunteers were amazing. Grabbing some food at the table and waiting for Craig to head out, one of the volunteers said “Man, you look so relaxed. You’re just chilling, making this look easy.” I laughed. This was a great compliment. And I kind of thought.. you know? I feel great. Despite my mental lapses at times, physically I’d been feeling great all day. My feet had, had no issues. And I actually felt like a veteran, like I knew what I was doing. Finally. I was actually…. having FUN!

The next section had a little more climbing than I remembered and dragged on a bit more than I had hoped. But Craig and I, still powered through. We breezed through the second to last aid station, and really did some running on the second to last section. Just as an amazing sunset was taking place, we came up on the final aid station.

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With some laughs, more food, and night gear ready to go, we left in pursuit for the finish line. It got dark pretty quickly and we had quite a bit of downhill to go. Here Craig’s downhill running and mine were ever so slightly off and I fell behind. I didn’t care if I’d just run 46 miles… regardless of the pounding on my knees, I wasn’t stopping on this downhill. The clock had just passed 12 hours. And to think I was worried about finishing in 14 hours and 30 mins?! Ech, I still had to get down. Before I knew it.. it was PITCH black. Those were some dark, lonely last couple of miles. I thought about the day, how well my legs had held up. How well I was still moving. Thankful Linds and Denver were meeting me in LA to drive me home. And gosh, an ice cold beer sounded so good right about now. I climbed the last little section until cresting at the top and decided to take off on the last little bit of downhill. I still had some mmph left in my step! I still felt very strong.  And then I saw the lights. Oh what a good day. Moving very well, I crossed the finish line after 13 hours and 5 minutes.

This was a good finish. I still feel great. I’m also still feeling the effects of the endorphins, and as far as I’m concerned, all is right in the world :). It never ceases to amaze me how no matter how many ultra’s or tests I put myself through, that powerful little thing called fear is always there. In ultra’s, it’s the mind that overpowers everything, and that ability to harness it, is usually the deciding factor between how well you do and DNF’ing. And frankly, in distances 50 miles and over… that’s just it. You have no idea what challenges might arise. You. Never. Know.  It crossed my mind I shouldn’t get out of the car that morning. Driving up the night before, I thought maybe I shouldn’t even be going. Wouldn’t it be easier just not to go? But I did go and I did get out of my car. We have much more to lose by not even signing up. So from now on, when fear and faith come back into my harbor, I’ll say hello and be friendly with fear, before telling it to sail the F out.  ;)

Posted in Mountains, Race Re-cap, Running, Ultra Marathon, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Anthony Who?

I enjoy Anthony Bourdain. And not because the traveler in me is envious of the unique far off places he visits, or the delicacies he enjoys meal after meal. Well… Ok, maybe not JUST because of that. But I really enjoy his writing. I appreciate it. He writes as he speaks, often ignoring the frowned upon run-on sentence, saying to hell with grammar just as he would to certain political appropriateness, and simply writes. I’ve just come back from France and thought, maybe a guest post from Anthony Bourdain (or me pretending to be Anthony Bourdain) would be fun. And while this is very different from my usual topics, I’m on vacation and therefore, so is my blog. And since this is my blog, I guess I get to decide any direction it can go. So, in honor of an American in Paris, as Julia Child would say, “In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” And so is the same with blogging :)

photo-31The air is crisp as I stroll through the quiet side streets somewhere in-between the Palais du Louvre and the Avenue de l’Opera. Its after dark and this time of year the city of lights is especially  lit up even more so for the holiday season and anticipation of the new year. I take in the ever present Parisian architecture; blue rounded roofs with detailed iron railings at each window. I hope to come up on a musician with an accordion , looking to make an extra euro for the evening playing La Vie En Rose and fill these empty streets with a sound synonymous  to the western visitor and this city. But I don’t hear it and instead continue on imagining it in my head and take it all in.

Our first meal is at a small restaurant in the 7th arrondissement known for unpretentious French, particularly their Frois Gras, and upon sitting down and hearing only French spoken by our fellow patrons, I tell myself I’ve so far passed the “non tourist” test. Because this time I have done my research. This time will be different. This time WILL be authentic! Our waiter speaks English, but I try to be courteous and say the few French phrases I do know. As we pour over the menu looking over 5 preparations of frois gras, the patron to my left, leans over and in a thick french accent says the fois gras is excellent and I must try a bit of her already half eaten fois gras-smeared baguette. I laugh as does her husband and three children, with a look that implies she must do this often. I graciously accept, and as I’m taking a bite from this complete strangers food whose name I have yet to learn, I think how American culture is so far removed from random acts of friendly gestures such as this. Then again here, the culinary arts are their passion. And passion gives way to pride which can be something that unites. And so this stranger and I are united over our love for this french delicacy. We decide to order the fois gras carpaccio, drizzled with balsamic and garnished with chutney. The bitter sweet combination with thinly sliced smooth duck fois gras, placed atop the traditional French baguette is perfection. Matched with a full bodied Bordeaux, and seared scallops to follow, I chalk this night up to a success.

The days follow, taking in the sights, including a half of day at the Louvre, realizing with even my last trip to Paris I still have to come back yet again to see even half of it. We then happen upon another French restaurant frequented by locals at lunch for the traditional steak frites. I choose the flank steak cut in a brown buttery onion sauce, and mixed with a chilled glass of red wine from Cotes Du Rhone, it is another meal of perfection.

photo-30Finally after two days of feeling like we’ve tackled our must sees for this trip, visiting with Degas, Monet and La Tour Eiffel, we decide our mental edge for lack of running has been overextended. We start by running through the royal gardens across to the Seine and down alongside her. Passing under the amazing bridges, in front of the Eiffel Tower, up past the Palais de Chaillot, down to the Arc de Triumph, and along the Champs Elysées. The Christmas shops are here and delicious aromas of cinnamon, hot wine, and fried dough fill the air. We run down the avenue, half dreaming of “Le Tour!”, envisioning them racing their bikes the last final meters to the finish, the other half dreaming of cinnamon covered donuts and hot chocolate; the air too pungent to deny our cravings. We finally decide on a pit stop for traditional potatoes with cheese and bacon; a good carb stop before our last few miles, a shower, and heading out for more Parisian experiences.

Ultra-runners do have a leg up in the world as the normal 3 mile walk many tourist would deem too far, is clearly surmountable. However our run has left me hangry, so rather than start World War III, over some incident on the subway that has no significant meaning whatsoever, we safely decide on taking our first taxi. We pop in to a little tavern on Pont du Neuf, Tavern de Henri IV. We start with two chilled glasses of red wine.. a temperature I rarely serve red wine at and decide its actually something I now prefer. This is accompanied with a charcuterie  platter, soft cheese, homemade jam and fresh bread as we take our first bite, savoring the flavors. A glass of wine and more small plates in a small bar down the street, followed by a quick stop into Notre Dame, we cap the mini food crawl off with champagne and oysters. With the taste of the salty Ocean still lingering in my mouth, satisfied with the delicious food I’ve just devoured that evening, we decide to end our night with a stroll along the Seine. I often times forget the art of walking. And no I don’t mean the “how-to” of it. But the beauty in it. So we stroll on the cobblestone paths along the river, passing under bridge after bridge, looking into the illuminated apartments thinking about what living on the Siene must be like. I see lights on in the Louvre, high up in the areas I know are not part of the museum, and I start imagining a story of what or who could be living up there. But we continue on, strolling and imagining.  And while La Vie en Rose is still no where to be heard, it’s ever present in my mind and its a beautiful night in Paris.

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