It was my idea to make the Trail Nerds Psycho Psummer course 3 loops instead of 2. I pushed for it in the days where I was race directing 22 races a year with Ben Holmes and I got my way—The decision makes me think of a moment I shared with my brother Philip who is a composer of complex yet often delicate classical music. During a rehearsal a trumpet player and flutist were struggling unsuccessfully to combine their lines into one. Philip turned to me as the music unfolded in discord.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
And so I give you this 3 loop course at Wyco. I thought having a ten mile race would be fun, after all everyone loves the 10 mile race at the winter version, Psycho Wyco.
And the 10 mile race was great. Five of us crashed through the 10 mile finish in 2:07. The only problem was, I was signed up for the 50k.
I hate running in the heat. The forecast for the day was for triple digits and even higher heat indexes. As I entered loop two I could feel the sun burning on my skin collaborating with the albatross of loop 3 hanging on my neck.
The course is about 87.4% shaded with the first half mile of each loop a flat, grassy baker.
I entered the woods grateful for the shade and felt an odd shiver. I looked down and saw goose bumps on my arms and felt a peculiar shiver through my scalp. I knew it was heat exhaustion and I had over 20 miles to go. There were 3 tough miles to the next aid station and ice, so all I could do was pull back on the pace, which I did. I did not tell anyone of the shivering that would become my new running companion for nearly 5 hours.
Kansas isn’t flat. Seriously- there is 1500 feet of elevation change per loop on this course. Still, because of the plentiful aid stations, many runners choose this as their first Ultra.
An Ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles. With a 50k being just about a 10k more, many choose a 50 k as their first ultra distance. Over the years since my first official ultra, which ironically was the then 2 loop Psycho Psummer of 2008 , I’m asked what’s the difference in training and then why? Why put your body through such torture? I’ll answer the first question in a second- as to the second, I’ve always managed to run close enough to the bright side of the edge that the torture was never very intense.
On a very basic level, the training includes longer long runs (yes, 17 isn’t long-try 24. Thank you very much) and back to back long runs. So 24 on Saturday and a nice 12 to 15 on Sunday. The purpose of this is to get your legs used to running tired. Some folks up their mileage to 70 to 90 mile weeks. I haven’t trained that way, so I won’t speak to it. I run 40 to 64 and get in a decent amount of back to backs and it works well for me.
Those back to back runs are what bring us back to this race. I’m training for the Leadville 100 and needed Psycho Psummer with it’s constant ascents as run number one of two for the weekend. Dropping a loop to the 20 due to heat exhaustion just wasn’t an option, as 20 is hardly a long run.
Loop 2 was such an arduous journey. I just couldn’t get dialed into the zone. I was running with a gal named Rochelle who is part of a trail group in Omaha. I was excited to meet her since Omaha is part of my Mizuno territory and it’s always nice when you’re on the road to find like- minded runners to hit the trails with.
“I keep trying to tell myself that this is a race not a long run and I need to keep running even when I want to walk. You know you can always run just a little more than you think you can. But I can’t find my ZONE.”
We started walking up all the hills. Another aspect of ultra running, is how quickly and effectively hiking can get you to your destination and how much ultra runners walk in races. But my legs were stiff and I continued to dread the final loop. Psychologically, these two shorter loops seemed just as long as the two longer ones. Do you know the feeling you get when you send a letter or email and just want to jump into the mailbox and get it back? I wanted to shake the race director and say “I’m sorry , it was a terrible idea. Please just put the course back the way it was.” Unfortunately the new medals had just been cast, with 10-20-50k on them, and even had a bottle opener feature on the bottom the RD was very pleased with. The race will stay the same until those medals are gone.
By the time I got to my ultra-buddy Erica’s aid station, I felt depleted.
“Hot enough out there for you?” She was teasing and chipper.
The sound that came out of my mouth was a combination of a sigh and growl.
“Just get me some ice.”
Her demeaner instantly changed.
“I’ve got it. Coke? Anything else?” Erica knows me well and has shared many a joke and light moment. She knew at that moment, I had lost my sense of humor. Fortunately, she didn’t know I was pushing the red zone of heat exhaustion. I was having an affair with heat exhaustion, and when you’re having an affair, sometimes you can’t even tell your best friend.
Erica would see her share of suffering. One guy on the ground, blue in the lips and ultimately headed to the ER, while another sat on a bench vomiting.
The next section is a tribute to trail building mediocrity. Single track that is wound so tight, you can barely get some steam on the down. I found myself behind runners who couldn’t even take advantage of what little this trail offers. I awkwardly passed. The worst part is that trail drops you at the bottom of a dam. There runners trudge the wobbly, sideways, grass surface, crossing two , two foot drainage ditches, all at an angle similar to a solar oven. My group of now 3 climbed up and headed into the shade, where there was yet another hill.
I shivered. I watched Rochelle enjoy a second wind. I climbed another hill. I cursed the dreaded 3rd loop. And I ran with Luke.
“I want to run with the Mud Babes.” Luke was referencing the women’s group within the Trail Nerds that I founded. It was his first 50k.
“Sophia, I remember hearing you say that the best way to finish an ultra is to go out for the final loop.”
While I wouldn’t admit to the heat exhaustion I did admit responsibility for the 3 loop course.
“It’s my fault. This course is three loops because of me.”
The last 4 miles to the finish had 2 aid stations. What seemed excessive on the first loop, became a lifesaver on number 2. The last mile and a half into the finish is a section everyone calls “3 hills.” On the first loop, I agree, but by loop two it seemed more like 4.
Loop 2 complete in 2:26.
For the final loop my plan was to pull back even further, suffer through and just hike it if I had to. I started to climb the first hill and noticed something interesting to accompany my shivers. My walking was no longer stiff. It was smooth, quick and powerful and I passed Rochelle going uphill.
“Ah Sophia, you’re in the zone.”
I work for a Japanese company and admire their culture greatly. So much so, I’ve made up my own Japanese philosophy. It’s calle OYO (pronounced oi-YO, with a real emphasis on the second syllable.)
It stands for On Your Own, but can only be used when you are successful and content on your chosen journey. So there I was OYO on loop three settled into a rhythmic journey of quick climbing and doing what I do best in races which is to make myself run just a little more than I think I can. Not run faster or harder, run more often and steadier. Alone with my thoughts and nature, I was happy-and also better able to monitor whether the shivers were getting worse and if any other symptoms of heat exhaustion were entering the mix.
As I approached the solar oven for the third time, I was baking- I started to wonder if runners ever wear those umbrella hats and if it would help. I wanted to walk the whole way- OYO or not. Instead I deployed a method I’ve used often when pacing others which I call 50 – 50’s . 50 steps walking, 50 steps running. Over and over until the uphill. Like many of the ups at Wyco, this one plateaus. Cresting the top all I wanted to do was walk more. I made myself run the 50 steps, reminding myself it really doesn’t hurt anymore to run than to walk.
And then it came again…
I felt the creepy shiver like a wraith’s breath on my hot neck, but a new emotion had developed which goes with the Zone and OYO. Determination to at least finish under 7 hours. To do this, I knew I had to run every runnable portion and continue moving on the ups.
I skipped the final aid station.
3 hills blossomed. I think I counted the third hill 3 times. Was this a joke? My legs now ached and I started to wonder how I’d make it through the Leadville 100. And the clock was ticking.
After the actual final hill, there was again a plateau, this time in the sun. I was truly feeling gross and reminded myself that pain is temporary and glory is forever. However, I also knew I was skirting a trip to the ER and wondered why I couldn’t hear the finish line. Turns out it was pretty hot there too and no one was making much noise.
After crossing the finish, I unleashed my dirty little secret.
No I didn’t want beer or a hot dog. I wanted ice on the back of my neck, under the knees, on top of the knees. It took 3 people with ice in both hands for 20 minutes to cool down my core. I’m told temperatures reached 104 (had the kind volunteer told me any lower than 98, I was going to punch someone.) I had run in the danger zone for 5 hours. One of the volunteers helping me was Megan Moriarty who is crewing me at Leadville 100.
“Megan- this is the worst I’ve ever been in an ultra. If I end up here when we’re in Leadville, we are in trouble.”
While Psycho Psummer can be a race for beginners, heat is a dangerous foe and takes a special runner , beginner or not.
I ran in the danger zone for just under 5 hours. I could call it stupid. You could call me an idiot- but I can’t emphasize enough how completely in tune and engaged I was with everything my body was going through and how often I checked in and made adjustments to keep myself safe. Still, this 50k was worse than any final 30 miles of the two 100’s I have completed.
My finish time was 6:54:21. My third loop- the one I dreaded the most… 2:19. 7 minutes faster than loop 2- and that my friends is good running. It is also good living and a good philosophy. Confront your fears head on and the results may surprise you. Loop 3- I own you. I love you and will never let you go, and although I’ve never been much for medals, since this one has the bottle opener , I love you too. It’s found it’s way into my kitchen drawer. OYO!
One final note if I may be so bold: On the course—a tasty bit of single track was added which made the race 2.5 miles longer. Keep that, it's well designed, shaded and fun to run. However, I’d suggest elimintating the “tribute,” to avoid baking on the solar oven and wobbly grass with subsequent uphill. Next – go around the hill on the way to shelter 14, this would shorten the course to the proper length and eliminate two hills.
I was huddled in an emotional fetal position. The sun was bright and my water was warm, and at approxiamately mile 28 I started to feel like walking the rest of the race might be ok. The worst part is that this wasn't even my my first emotional crash.
Headed down a 2 mile hill into an aid station at mile 12, my fingers had gotten so cold and red I couldn't open my s-caps. Why didn't I pack thin gloves? I've battled cold fingers all my life. In my first career as a violinist, I would hog the hand dryers, bring hot hands, rub, swing - really anything to get the circulation from my subconcious where it was feeding whatever performance anxiety I was experiencing to the tips of my fingers where it could assist in the making of music.
Running is not playing the violin so you wouldn't expect cold fingers could make or break a race- but it triggered something deep inside me. Fumbling with my zip lock of s-caps, I was clearly distraught.
"What's wrong? What can I get you?" A volunteer was trying to help. I continued my exasperated and useless attempt to get an S-cap.
"My hands are just so cold. They are so cold." I was shaking my head. No one else seemed at all bothered by cold fingers. Just me. Alone in my unique pain. Alone at the race. Alone.
"Would you like my gloves?"
I would say, I couldn't believe it-except the week before my friend Kurt and I had given out the batteries in our headlamps to the final runner and his pacer at Free State 100k. The runner had sat down and wanted to quit- and without the batteries he would have had no choice. So, I knew that volunteers exhibit generous acts of kindness.
Payback or not- the next part was unexpected. He pulled out Mizuno Breath Thermo windshell gloves. The lightest, and warmest gloves Mizuno makes. Many of you know, I am a rep for Mizuno but this man did not. I am certain he did know replacing the gloves would cost $24.99.
"Sir , what is your name? Do you know Tia the race director? "
"Yes, my name is Jeanott."
"You have just leant gloves to the right person."
(Race Director, Tia Bodington)
I turned, choked up at the kindness and started to cry. Yes, real tears and while in real life I'll cry at anything from a tide commercial to my grandfather's funeral, somehow I've managed to complete two hundred milers, a handful of 50's and dozens of 50k's without a single tear. I wiped the tears with the glove and headed up the 2 mile ascent.
I wore those gloves a long time, my own little emotional security blankie. By mile 28 they were safely tucked in the back compartment of my pack. The emotional simmer, started to rumble in the sun.
I wish I'd asked for ice at the Stinson Beach aid station.
"Hello Sophia, it's Leslie."
Leslie and I had met on climb number one where she recognized my voice from a Trail Nerds video she'd seen online. That was cool.
Much has been said of this new course. It had 3 more miles of elevation gain. It was 2 miles longer than a 100k, which I believe makes it a 103.5k, and runner's times were off by 1 to 4 hours.
There are 8 climbs according to some, 9 according to others. For perspective, here's the profile.
For further reference, Leadville has 6 climbs over 100 MILES. Squashed into 64 miles this new course was gloriously brutal. Each time I arrived exhausted to the peaks and would see the spectacular views I'd say "Kumba-fucking -ya." Although I've been working on my trail singing- I never belted out the whole song. There are spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Also, I managed to do such poor research on this race, I didn't realize the Dipsea trail has a series of about 1,000 steps built into the side of a mountain.
It was those steps that really cracked my rhythm. I have a specific and effective way of getting up hills and mountains which involves taking very small steps and high turnover. Having some man-made wooden railroad tie dictate my steppage, was frustrating. I allowed myself to get frustrated.
Back to that first career in music, I had a voice teacher (yes, I actually got some legit training in the singing you runners hear on the trail) David Greedy told me "Frustration serves no purpose. It is a luxury we cannot afford ourselves."
I have carried that advice on many successful ultras, but this time frustration snuck up on me. Between the warm water, steps and the fact that I was having trouble eliminating the food from the prior night's carbo load, frustration snuck up on me like a quiet, nasty competitor you arrogantly underestimated.
I needed help and it came in the form of Leslie. She was willing to share her race with me and we really managed to help each other through ups and downs for the next 22 miles. The other great thing, was Leslie knew the trail which took out some of the unexpecteds.
"Will there be more steps? Please say no."
Her yes answer and prep for them even if it was a teasing-- "Oh look Sophia, your favorite-- more steps," really helped ease my anxiety. I still called her a bitch everytime we saw steps.
Now the race shifted from a pity party to more of a giant Mudbabe Monday. We also leap frogged along with another Californian named Rohanna whose husband was crewing her. It was her first 100k and she really had a plan including her elixir of life, Carbo-Pro which her husband replenished at each aid station.
"Hey Rohanna!" we'd caught up to her after the Muir beach aid station, where Dave Mackey came through for a second time. Yes, I was at mile 34 and Mr. Mackey was at about 56. Not bad for a girl from Kansas?! Groan.
She had one of the funniest interactions at an aid station of the day. When she couldn't find her husband (for the Carbo Pro) the aid worker looked at her and said "We have a lot of other husbands here, can they help you?" She eventually found him. Meanwhile, I'd been on a quest for ice. They had very little, but gave me a few pieces. One I put in my mouth and the cold, beautiful sensation was energizing.
Next funny piece: I have a new move. On my second elimination, I used every corner of my last babe wipe. (that's not the move.) When I caught up to Rohanna, I mentioned the worry that there might be toxic residue in my clevage. She handed me her zip back of babe wipes. At this point, I didn't want to lose her and wanted to return the unused ones, so I dropped my Meridian skirt to my knees and ran along behind her laughing, lower birthday suit to the sky and wind while getting the good wipe. Go ahead . Try it. You better have a good base in technical running, because the arm twist can throw you way off. I kind of felt like the guys in the Tour de France with their crews treating their saddle sores, except I was ULTRAPHIA from Kansas, climbing the mountains with the natives and being the one woman crew.
Met up with Leslie at the next aid station where they LOADED us with ice and I broke a new record of snarfing melon. It was in such small pieces. The kind that indicate, they may be running low-- I could also tell by the look in the volunteers eyes, as I've been there. I was glad when there was still melon at the end of the day at the final aid station. Tia- if you ran out of melon- it's probably my fault. Sorry. So now I owe Miwok one pair of gloves and a couple cantaloupes.
Mile 50: I call this "the pacerless aid station." Everyone got a pacer but me. Rohanna had peppy little firecracker in a pink half zip. Leslie got her dashingly handsome friend, Jeff.
"Bitches. That's what I'm calling the blog on this race. You Leslie and Tia Bodington with those darn steps."
Jeff: "Can I please be dashingly handsome in your blog."
As you can see, I've given Jeff his wish. Honestly the truth is more flattering. Jeff is one of those guys where you instantly feel a generous spirit and honesty. I found out after the race that he gave his headlamp to Lisa Henson who works for Ultrarunning magazine for the end of her Miwok journey. When I saw this, I recalled hearing Lisa talking about her astigmatism and that it was hard to see the trail. I can only imagine how she suffered until he gave her the headlamp. You see, Lisa, like many had no idea how long this race would take. She's completed it in 12:30 before- well before dark.
I learned this from Lisa at mile 13- here we are: Sorry about the fist pump. I tend to block runners on my right.
We were climbing away and I complimented her on her skirt.
"I love your sunflower print skirt. I am from Kansas."
"Are you Sophia Wharton? I'm Lisa Henson."
Until that moment Lisa and I had only chatted on the phone and emailed. I truly can't tell you how amazing it felt at a race I went to alone to have someone know who I was. I asked her what to expect for a time at the race.
"I have no idea. I've done it in 12:30 , but 13:30 would be great."
At that point I put 13:30 in my head. By mile 40, the number slipped to 14. At some point, I just wished the race was a 50 miler. At mile 50 I forgot to pick up Powerbar Gels from my drop bag. There were 8 brutal miles to the next aid station and all I had was water and S-caps.
A third emotional curl. I see Jeff and Leslie getting further and further away, and uphill.
Rohanna and her Pink Pacer came along. Rohanna was concentrating.
"Hey how are you? Need anything? " Pink Pacer.
"I have no nutrition. I forgot to grab it at the aid station."
"Here, do you like Honey Stingers? "
I'd never had the honey stinger gels which are just straight honey with caffiene. They taste sickly sweet and slightly medicinal. The effect on my body was like crack. In addition, the sun was setting and the cooler temperature was refreshing.
I rounded down the mountain and saw Leslie and Jeff.
"She'll be comin' round the Mountain..." I was singing. It was cheesy and quite silly, but who cares? I was high on life, running, beauty, new friends and Honey stingers.
Unfortunately, Leslie would have stomache issues and I wouldn't see her until the end of the race.
8 miles to go, and all I did was pass people. Flatish for 2 miles and I felt like I was flying.
"Hey- she's running! Good job" A volunteer was directing traffic at a road crossing.
"Thanks- I feel like I'm a good runner, but my time is NOT going to reflect that."
"Everyone is 2 to 3 hours slower this year. One more climb and it's easy from there out!"
Thanks for the gusto!
I started climbing faster than I had all day. A runner and his pacer offered that I could run with them, if I'd like.
"You look like you may not need it, though."
"Thanks, but I am feeling great now. I have a plan. I'm from Kansas and that's where I train." Our rolling hills will never boast 2 mile climbs, but if you put your mind to it, you can get some solid training here in the plains. (Special note: Thank you to Glenn Tachiyama for this beautiful photo)
A final crest to the downhill boasted a shimmering sunset before the moon took over. Tonight was the night the moon would be closest to the earth. "Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight.. and dance by the light of the moon."
I continued to pass all the way down the steps and steps. Even one person as we got to the last 2 tenths of road. I put 36 seconds between our finishes. It was a final wind I have only dreamed of (and dreamed of often.) Something I wanted so bad for Rocky Racoon 100. But it didn't happen there, it happened here at Miwok, where it was completely unexpected.
Mastering ultrarunning depends on eliminating as many of the unexpected elements as possible through experience and training. But, reacting to the unexpected and enjoying it is aslo part of the journey- and it is always the unexpected elements that make a race memorable.
Finish time: 15 hours 14 minutes.
Thank you to my unexpecteds:
Tia and your unexpectedly powerful and life altering course
Things to note:
1. I am stupid if an aid station is at the bottom of a hill. Think ahead next time and prepare for where you are going instead of just being in the present.
2. Average climb time: 40 to 45 minutes
3. Powerbar energy blasts melt in a drop bag that sits in the sun
4. Get shirt with printed on it "Runner wants ICE in pack." It is the single most effective difference maker for me in a race. (even on a cold day.)
5. Add some stair climbing in the middle of long runs, if I'm fortunate enough to get in next year.
6. I have run races where I knew the course and my plan was so tight, I didn't meet or chat much with other runners. I am grateful that I went into this race with a more flexible plan or I wouldn't have made it through as successfully. And yes, sometimes success does not come in 12 or 13 hour increments. Sometimes success is 15:14 by the light of the supermoon.
Lined up they look like Pan Am sterwardesses-back when you had to be gorgeous, smart and efficient to get the job. Megan, Amanda, Heather, Sophia (me), Allison, Faith, Donna and later another Megan and Theresa.
Free State's Land's End aide station.
I noticed as I sent a photo I snapped on my phone that on one side of the aid station photos were labelled by GPS as Kanwaka and on the other Lawrence.
This crux between the two, an oasis at mile 8 and 18 of a 21 mile loop, where on this day every runner flew first class.
"Would you like an S-cap?" Megan Jones, whose husband was running the 100k. It was her first time volunteering and she proved a very quick study, and able to dish out S-caps like a phameceutical phenom.
"Coke or Sprite?" Amanda.
"Baby wipe for you face?" Allison.
"Let me fill that pack." Donna. (without taking off the pack, we filled- FAST.)
"Stomache issues? Here's a ginger chew."
And so the day went. We grabbed, filled, dished and repaired.
"Thanks ladies. You all are incredible." Over and over.
It must be pointed out that there were at times 3 men around, but everyone just loved the beautiful ladies. My long time Saturday running buddy Kurt was the brains and brawn behind the operation hauling supplies in his 4x4 pick up truck and making sure everyone was headed in the right direction. Not his usual fare, on this day he indulges in an affinity for Pringles and PBR.
4 different races. 2 different start times. The epicenter of the race was Land's End, with two passes per loop. An added bonus this year, the half marathoners turned around at Land's End.
" Alright everybody, listen up! We now have runner's with all four races coming and going in each direction. Awesome." Kurt. (Kurt's back is to you in the black and blue shirt- he's yelling directions.)
The strategy: Make sure the half marathoners make a hairpin turn. Make sure the marathoners, 40's and 100 k's go straight, meanwhile watch for the frontrunners in the 40 and 100k as they head into the aid station for a second pass and make sure they head out the correct direction. Once this begins, it never stops, but the focus does shift.
The buffet style aid work shifts to an atmosphere of an army MASH unit.
40 miles and 100k are a long way. It can mean a lot of mistakes, especially in a race that attracts many first timers. But it also gives the runner a lot of miles to fix their mistakes with the correct instruction.
My friend Danny who is a nurse and affectionately called "Mr. Mudbabe," due to his affinity for the weekly Mudbabe Monday runs was another of the 3 fellows and joined us after running the half.
"Sophia- come over here- this guy wants to quit."
I headed over to assess.
A firing of questions results in learning the runner needs salt.
"Take two S-caps, head to the next aid station- take two more and we'll see you back here in 10 miles."
It worked- he left and was back stronger for an even stronger finish.
This constant re-grouping and evaluating of runners was exhausting but fullfilling. It pushed my skill as an extreme extrovert to the limit. And it was fun.
"Do you want to touch the buckle?"
I'd worn the Free State 100k buckle, just in case we had a runner who wanted to quit. However, this ended up being just a fun interaction with Lloyd Lantz one of my favorite local runners.
Actually what he needed more and we provided was a tight ankle wrap for a twisted ankle. The twisted humor, an added bonus.
"Why is HE telling me I look good?" One of the male runners was sitting and re-grouping.
"I want HER to tell me I look good."
"YOU LOOK GREAT!" Squeeled the girls.
Yes, today in a sport still dominated by men, the women ruled.
During a lull in the craziness, I noticed we were getting low on Pringles and decided to send Megan for more from the finish line, so Kurt could continue his love affair with the red tube of Pringles that was now sporting a fake mustache.
"I brought fake mustaches for everyone." Danny. I put one on and found it a bit hot, eventually it found a home on my signature cowboy hat. Danny's ended up on the Pringles after posing for this photo with my bearded Armenian friend Seroj. Man #3. Holding the package of fake stashes, I looked over skeptically.
"I guess you don't need a fake mustache?"
"I don't need a fake nose either, Sophia."
Later I jumped in and paced my friend Erin for 23 miles on her first 100k. She ran a smart, planned race and didn't need much help. Still the friendship and commaraderie of a pacer is always a welcome lift.
After her finish I went back to Land's End.
The scene was reduced to one table with cold quesedillas, soda, a few oranges and Kurt's empty can of Pringles.
Kurt and Heather greeted me warmly and I sent Heather off to cheer in our friend Amanda (also on her first 100k- Heather had also done double duty, pacing Amanda in her second loop.)
For three years I helped Race Direct Free State along with about 20 other races per year. Last year's Free State was the last race I co-race directed with my now friend and former fiancee Ben Holmes. Just one look at this blog exemplifies the struggle I've had to put any emotion into words. The void was vast as I stumbled in a community I had worked to grow. I focussed on group runs instead of volunteers. Without the race directing I felt small. Each time I got a call about races and had to explain my new status, it stung. Over and over again. I ran. I hurt. I gave. I grew.
I used to joke when I race directed and delegated tasks that I must not be good at anything, because everyone had a job but me. I often felt I wasn't a very good volunteer. But now things are different. In the past year, to fill the emotional void, I raced, paced, planned and thought. I evolved and became complete as a runner, friend and volunteer.
With each group headed into the aid station there were people I knew and shouts of happy hellos. Many close friends and friends of friends. The void diminished and I felt a warm sense of belonging that only comes when energy is exchanged on several different levels. I travel a lot for my work with Mizuno running. In that travel, I have developed many nurturing "home away from homes." One of those is Wichita which was well represented not just by runners, but by Megan Jones my little volunteer protege who had contacted me personally about volunteering. My new experiences, the foundation. My constant friends, Kurt, Mark, Erica, Allison, Danny, Heather and Erin add another layer of goodness. So now here at the cornerstone of Clinton Lake, a place very dear to my heart, I realized my world was not smaller, but larger.
66 degrees outside and beautiful. A MudBabe Monday-but I wasn't headed for an early loop at the park--another plan was in place and I was a little terrified.
"Sophia, you're squeezing really hard-are you just holding on or are you nervous?"
"Just holding on." I lied. You see, I was perched on the back of a sleek, red Ducati for the first time. Well sort of. The performance motorcycle isn't really built for two. See that aerodynamic fender type thing behind the driver's seat, about 6 inches up-- that was where my rump was supposed to plant. But as a short woman with a short ratio waist to shoulder, I had no chance.
I kept slipping into the driver's well, where my friend Seroj, a motorcycle junkie was expertly steering my petrified self.
"You can't be nervous."
"This back seat isn't worth shit." I said as I tried to scootch back up on my perch.
"I know- just give me the thumbs up if you want to go faster and thumbs down for slower."
I really don't scare easily. I run far. 100 miles through the night... but... the surge of going from 0 to 55 in a matter of seconds made me start to pray. Well, sort of. It was more a list of things I was thankful for and maybe an amend or two, and perhaps a request that if we were to crash, I wouldn't be rendered incapable of either running or playing the violin.
I breathed out and started to listen to the low and staedy sound of the bike. So unlike the whiny motocycles that used to speed past my parent's home in Iowa, and began to enjoy the moment. Low turns on the clover leaf (with very few other cars to make me nervous) were exhilarating and powerful.
A trip down Shawnee Mission Parkway got some admiring nods and smiles from folks trapped in cars on this beautiful day. I felt cool.
We rolled up to a little spot at Shawnee Mission Park, I actually have never been to. I guess we were going to have a kumbaya moment. I checked my watch, as I couldn't really make an entrance at Mudbabe Mondays if I was late. But the day was beautiful and we are young, so I don't mention the time. Instead, I ask Seroj about the sound of the bike.
"Was that a Ducati I heard?"
We'd walked down a path to the water where an older man with few teeth was sitting on a 55 year old Harley.
I must admit, I know very little beyond the Harley stores and Sturgis when it comes to motorcyles. I know there are people who ride these things called "crotch rockets," and that the Harley people feel superior. At this moment, I begin to learn that there is a step above both of those, and it is a Ducati.
As we went back up the hill to finish the ride, a father and his kids gathered at the curb to watch us drive off. Eyes wide and smiling. I made a joke about my perch, mounted, and despite trying really hard to stay up there, promptly slipped down as we headed off to my run. Humility and laughing at yourself is such an important aspect in life- and I was blissfully happy.
Although I was late for a grand entrance at the run, I felt like royalty on that bike, only cooler.
However, do I think I'm a step above the rest for being on the bike? Not at all--since I couldn't even stay on the seat. A position, that no doubt left my escort quite uncomfortable as his gentleman parts were pressed against the very hot gas tank.
In life, it is the unexpected that makes it interesting. I did expect to be scared. I also expeted to regroup, after all that is what I do everytime I race. I didn't expect the admiration. Let's face it, the Wharton's (my family) are obviously not fans of motorcycles. But they are fans of talent and quality. So I found myself feeling unexpectedly comfortable and at home, as I rode on a premier piece of machinery under the expert care of my friend.
When I was a child, my mother , Marjorie was a chronic key loser. The episodes would result in spastic fits of shaking her purse and frantically searching the contents, which generally resulted in nothing. A trip backtracking in her mind and retracing her steps generally lead her to the purse, where, if she could muster a calmer search, she'd find the keys.
I vowed with my first set of dorm keys, never to be a key loser. I wore shorts with pockets and when I grew older, carried a purse. As an adult, I refined my system to include a keychain with a carabiner to hook the keys either on the purse or my person. When I walk into my house, the keys go into a bowl on an antique chest in the entryway.
Like all systems when you include the human element , they inveitably fail. I've had many failures with my keys, but generally a calm search and journey through my head, would result in the keys. That is until a few months ago.
I was calm. I searched. I knew they had to be in the house. I looked in the bowl, searched all my purses, pockets and weird crannys my right hand will land on without my thinking. (Hey it's worked in the past-- just walk in the door without thinking, retrace your steps with careful attention to where your right hand lands-- bingo!) So why couldn't I find the keys? (These keys had something special on them, too. The only original to the front door--I had one duplicate, but attempts to make dupes of the dupe, wouldn't open the door. An attempt to get dupes of the orginal in November, resulted in some backwards keys.)
After two months of using the spare set, it was time for drastic action. Sort through every closet. Spring cleaning in January? Well, it had been a warm winter. This is something I often do-- turn a bad situation into a good one, by accomplishing a large task while in the process of finding something lost. Perhaps because of my confidence in the fact that I knew the keys were in the house, I slipped into a bad habit, and procrastinated the cleaning party. I was, after all in the middle of booking season and the final stretches of training for a 100 mile race.
Then something terrible happened-- I found the keys in a coat in my car. The house was still a mess.
Of course, I was elated to find the keys, but was disappointed in myself for just letting life happen to me on something important like my keys. Even if they weren't in the house-- I am a better person than that. I turn bad situations into good ones. Had I sorted through the house, I would have had a deliriously tidy home and would have known the keys were not in the house.
Here are my thoughts on this situation: What if it wasn't a set of keys you were looking for? Perhaps it was love, friendship or a job.
1. We often think we know where something is and struggle herorically to find it. It may result in a wonderful personal journey and growth-- even though we can't ever find it because we simply aren't looking in the right place.
2. If we find something (physical or emotional ) without the strong and cleansing personal journey and bring it back into the mess, chances of losing it again are pretty high. 3. (from my mother) If you look frantically, you won't find what you're looking for, even if you're in the right place.
With this in mind, I put the keys in their bowl on the antique chest inside the door and started sorting through the closets and piles of paper that had accumulated over the 3 months. And I made an even firmer committment to my personal rules and standards.
Another observation of myself (who I am genuinely amused by at times...) You can't control loss. It happens. It hurts, and often it's permanent. All you really can control is the journey and being ready when something great finds you from an unexpected place.
My brother calls me "Rome." Because I can take any idea and make it better. It's pretty fun. I like to create joy and charisma wherever I go!
Here's what one friend says about me:
" An amazing, deep, powerful spirit who seemed to dance with reckless finesse on the fine line between darkness and glory. i always did admire you."