How Do You Define Adventure?

A couple weeks ago I was looking for an interesting film to watch on the long flight to Utah for the Zion Half Marathon.  I found a documentary called “The Five Elements of Adventure.”   Given that my goal is to have more adventure in my life, I was curious to learn what Matt Walker, a mountaineer and the film’s creator, thought the five elements of adventure are.  For all I know, I could be missing a key element of adventure.

The first element Matt said is getting out of your normal environment.  This makes total sense to me.  The way I look at it is you can represent your environment in a Venn diagram.  Your normal environment is a circle within a MUCH larger circle.  Things get boring and monotonous if all you do is stay inside your little circle.  You have to break through into the bigger circle to see more of what is out there in the world.  If you live in the mountains, go see a desert.  I can guarantee that life is a lot different there.  As Matt puts it, getting out of your ordinary routine results in a shift in your perspective on life and living.Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.32.10 PM

Next, Matt says there needs to be uncertainty about the outcome of what you are doing.  Predictable by definition means “able to be foretold or declared in advance.”  Sounds like another word for routine to me, just the thing adventure is suppose to take you away from.  You need to go for the unpredictable.  This element reminded me of Mike Hall, the cyclist in the TransAm Bike Race and his view of adventure.  The cyclists in the race couldn’t predict what was going to happen every day.  Everything was up to chance, fate, or whatever you want to call it.  They controlled nothing but how they handled each challenge thrown at them.  If everything was predictable, it would be the same as any other long bike ride that they take.

The third element, according to Matt, is passion.  Matt feels that to have adventure, you have to do something that gives you tremendous joy.  As he sees it, people are getting lost in the monotony of their daily lives.  They need to get lost instead in something that they love to do.  I understand that one.  When I worked, there was no time in my days to do anything that gave me joy or personal satisfaction.  I guarantee you – there was no adventure in my life.  I often felt like I was just existing.

Matt’s fourth element is mindfulness.  For something to be an adventure, Matt says you have to be in a mental state where you are fully present in the moment.  When you are mindful of what you are doing, you aren’t distracted by other thoughts.  In today’s world, that is a tough one.  Most people are busy multi-tasking, only partially paying attention to what is going on around them.

Finally, Matt’s last element is companionship.  Matt believes that you have to share an experience with others in order to get the most joy from it.

After I finished watching the film, I sat back and evaluated my running “adventures”.  I certainly had the first one down.  I am traveling to races in places as varied as Tokyo, Berlin, Montana, South Carolina, and Utah.  In the process I have gotten exposure to different parts of the world.  I have seen things like snow monkeys in Japan and a ghost town in Utah, eaten foods like wild Maine blueberries and Montana huckleberries.  I never would have enjoyed these things if I had stayed in my little circle.  As a result, my little circle got a bit bigger.

My races may all seem predictable but they really aren’t.  I never expected the extreme weather we had for the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah that ultimately caused the race to be halted.  I had never run in a mud race but in Utah I got a little taste of what a mud race might be like.  When I ran the Rocky Mountain Half, I had never run a race at high altitude.  It was a very different experience running at over 7,500 feet, one that required me to adjust my racing strategy.

Yes, I am passionate about my running.  I have tremendous gratitude and joy that I am still able to keep moving.  Many people with Transverse Myelitis don’t have that gift.  It is something that I can’t stop doing.

I am a little light on the mindfulness part.  The only place where I experienced what Matt described as mindfulness was when I ran outside Zion National Park.  Without any course entertainment or other distractions along the way, I got caught up in the beauty of the scenery.  I found myself focusing on each breath, each footfall, the wind on my back, and the rain on my face.  My mind became very calm and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.  It was a spiritual experience.

For companionship, I always have the other runners, some I know beforehand and others I meet along the way.  My running companions (including my “running spouse”) and I have shared many running adventures (and a couple misadventures) over the years.  Through those adventures we have created shared memories and forged friendships that I cherish.  I will never forget the “buddy” I made during the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah.  It was a difficult race and we helped each other get across the finish line that day.  My fellow 50 State Half Marathon Club members have also added companionship to my racing.  We come from varied backgrounds and areas of the country but we share a passion for running.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.08.57 PMThe comedian Chris Rock once remarked some people say life is short but life is long and you have to live with the choices you make.  I think it is too long to stay confined in a little circle.  Adventure starts when you make the decision to step outside your circle and into the unknown that lies beyond it.   By taking that first step outside my circle and into the big one, I know that I am putting myself on the road to adventure.

Matt Walker has a website and a blog.  Check it out.  Here is a teaser for Matt’s film “The Five Elements of Adventure” but I encourage you to watch the whole film (available on iTunes).  In addition to his message about adventure, you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of Nepal while you plan your next adventure.

World Records

MES20061A year ago we lost our beloved dog, Dillon, at the age of 6 1/2 years to hemangiosarcoma, a very nasty cancer.  The weekend after he died, I decided to enter a 5K to help get my mind off losing him.  Surprisingly, I got 2nd place in my age group.  First place was awarded a pie (for second place I got a Dunkin Donut hat).  I decided to enter the same race again this year.  I had high hopes that I would finish in the pie.  I could tell when we lined up at the start that this year there were more women runners in my age group.  I had my eyes on a pie and I was in better shape than last year.  My best efforts on race day weren’t good enough.  I finished 3rd – out of pie placement.

I know many people who strive for podium finishes at races.  Heck, I am just happy to finish a race and not hurt for days afterwards.  If you can’t earn a spot on the podium, you can always try for a world record.  I don’t mean a record like the fastest marathon (which is 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds set by Kenyan Dennis Kipruto Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon) or the fastest half marathon (58 minutes 23 seconds set by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea at the 2010 Lisbon Half Marathon).  Those records would be a real challenge for recreational runners like me to beat.  Recreational runners have the best shot at breaking world records that most people ignore.  Things like the fastest marathon dressed as a dairy product, or a plant, or even carrying an 80-pound pack.  Elite runners don’t train for those kinds of records.  From what I saw on the Guinness World Record website, as long as you are willing to put in the training effort (and be a bit creative), you can get a world record too.

I got interested in the world records last year when I was writing about Harriet Thompson who became the oldest woman to complete a marathon.  I went out to the Guinness World Record website and started searching “fastest marathon”.  There are so many world records associated with the marathon and the half marathon, it would make your head spin.  Many of them are set by people dressed up in a costume.  I can’t imagine running a race dressed as a cactus or a toilet or wearing over 61 pounds of medieval battle armour.  What was even more difficult to believe was these runners are completing a marathon dressed as a toilet or a banana or whatever considerably FASTER than I can run one dressed as a regular runner.  (Oh, and the guy who ran dressed as a toilet – he beat out competition from two other runners dressed as toilets in the same race!  It brings new meaning to “the toilet is running.”)

In looking over all the marathon world records, I noticed that many of them are set at the London Marathon.  At the 2012 London Marathon a man set the record for fastest marathon run dressed as a vegetable (in his case, a carrot) of 2 hours 59 minutes 33 seconds.  That was also the year that a runner completed the race wearing the tallest costume in a marathon (26 feet 2 inches); his costume was the Blackpool Tower.  There were 30 world records set during the 2014 London Marathon and 34 set at the 2015 race.   It occurred to me that I missed my chance.  I should have been working with my coach to train for the 2016 London Marathon dressed as an eating utensil (a spoon perhaps?) so I could get a world record.

I was scratching my head about a couple of the records.  The record for fastest marathon dressed as a female film character is 3 hours 53 minutes 40 seconds set by a woman dressed as the bikini-clad version of Princess Leia at the 2010 London Marathon.  The record for the fastest marathon dressed as a male film character is for a guy who ran as Captain Jack Sparrow in 2 hours 42 minutes 52 seconds at the 2013 London Marathon.  Surely there is someone who has completed a Disney Marathon dressed as Princess Leia  or Captain Jack Sparrow faster than those records.  I have seen lots of women run Disney marathons dressed as a fairy, complete with wings, tutu, and wand (even Pixie dust).  One of them has to have beaten the current record of 3 hours 20 minutes 52 seconds set at 2011 London Marathon.  Disney races are well-known for costumed runners.   I wonder if Disney runners are missing their opportunity to go down in the Guinness record books.

Given the recent interest in barefoot running, I thought it was interesting that the record for the fastest marathon run in bare feet (2 hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds) was set a long time ago at the 1960 Olympics.  The only newer records for barefoot marathon running are for the most barefoot marathons run on consecutive days (10) and the most barefoot marathons run in one year (101), both set by Eddie Vilbar Vega in 2014.   Eddie was required to carry a GoPro to record every footstep to prove he was completely barefoot.  He also had to take pictures of the soles of his feet at the start, during and at the end of each race to prove he hadn’t run in shoes.

Trying to break the record for the most runners dressed as Santa at the 2012 Las Vegas Great Santa Run

Going for the record of most runners dressed as Santa at the 2012 Las Vegas Great Santa Run, benefitting Opportunity Village

Some of the world record holders had a lifelong dream of setting a Guinness World Record (like Sean McShane who completed the fastest marathon dressed as a zombie in 3 hours 18 minutes 38 seconds).  But in reading the  stories behind the records, I realized many were running dressed up in silly costumes to raise money for charity.   The guy dressed as a toilet was raising money for WaterAid.  Eddie the barefoot runner was running to raise awareness for the 300 million children worldwide who do not have shoes or adequate footwear.  Then there is David Babcock who ran while knitting and set the record for the longest scarf knitted while running a marathon (12 feet 1.75 inches), raising money for an Alzheimer’s research charity in the process.

I have never been one for wearing a costume in a race.  I tried it once and it was such a disaster that I refuse to ever do it again.  But if you think you want to go down in the record books, take a look at the Guinness World Record website and see what record you’d like to break.

The world records for women are 2 hours 17 minutes 42 seconds in the marathon set by Paula Radcliffe at the 2005 London Marathon and 1 hour 5 minutes and 9 seconds in the half marathon set by Florence Kiplagat of Kenya in Barcelona, Spain in 2015.

Miracle at Mile 4

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

My latest half marathon was the Zion Half Marathon outside Zion National Park in Utah.  The race was put on by Vacation Races, the same folks who organized the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon that I ran last year in Estes Park, Colorado.  Of all the races I have run, the Zion Half was in the prettiest part of the country.   And of all the races I have run, this is the first one during which I prayed.  It was all because of what happened at Mile 4.

Race morning was a bit stressful.  It rained during the night and the start line area was very muddy.  Walking over to the warming tent and the port-a-potties resulted in running shoes heavily coated in mud.  The start of the race was delayed 15 minutes because people who had driven to the start line couldn’t park in the field due to the mud.  It took a bit of extra logistical work to get cars parked and runners to the start line but the race organizers got all that quickly sorted out.

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

The course started in Virgin, Utah (great name for any runner doing their first half marathon) and ended in Springdale, right outside the entrance to Zion National Park.  The elevation at the start line was over 3,500 feet and over 3,900 feet at the finish line.  Except for one little bit of downhill around Mile 7, this race was all uphill.

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

The first mile was a little tricky.   It was chilly but the rain had stopped.  My shoes felt like they weighed an extra 5 pounds because of the mud caked on them.  But the mud quickly fell away and I got going.

As I approached Mile 4, I was passed by two emergency vehicles with sirens going and lights flashing.  They pulled up next to an ambulance along the side of the road.  As I passed the scene, I saw a man on the ground being attended to by a number of people.  It was scary.  That is not a sight any runner wants to see at a race.   I didn’t linger or stand and gawk at the scene.  Three more ambulances flew by me as I continued to run.  I did the only thing that I thought could help this runner and myself.  I prayed.

Later two runners passed me and I overheard one talking about the man.  One said that he hadn’t had a pulse for over 10 minutes.  I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in that situation.  For the rest of the race I thought about that runner.

When I met up with my husband after the race, I burst into tears and told him what happened.  It was difficult to be happy about finishing the race while knowing that someone didn’t get to run theirs.  Later that day, the race organizers sent out an email thanking all the runners for being cooperative with the changes that had to be made at the start due to the weather.  They also let us know that the runner who collapsed was stable and recovering.  I felt so much better when I heard that.

But the story of what happened at Mile 4, I learned later, is much more amazing than anyone could imagine.  The runner was on a reunion trip with a bunch of old friends, people who had been friends for years but hadn’t seen much of each other.   They didn’t know that he had collapsed until after they finished their race.

When he collapsed, a bicyclist who was pacing his friends jumped off his bike to roll the man over and help start CPR.  (That bicyclist had just gotten re-certified in CPR.)  Even more amazing is that a group of “angel runners” stopped to help until an ambulance and EMTs could arrive.  Among them were a cardiac surgery ICU nurse, two trauma ICU nurses, an ER nurse, a cardiologist, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse practitioner.  From the accounts that I have read, these medical professionals – who didn’t previously know each other and were also running the race – came together in an instant to help a fellow runner.  In a situation like this one, seconds count.  For over 20 minutes, they performed CPR on the runner before an ambulance and EMTs arrived with equipment (i.e., a defibrillator).  That this runner came back from being down that long is a miracle.

I look at what happened at Mile 4 and I see the lessons to be learned.  The first is about priorities.  Racing may seem important but it is not more important than someone’s life.  My shoes got muddy and I had to trash them but I was still alive.  The small stuff in life just doesn’t matter.

The next is about the importance of community.  We all are part of this community of runners.  We have to look out for each other.  During this race, in an instant several people stopped everything they were doing to come to the aid of another runner.  They shifted their priorities from racing to helping someone else in a life-or-death situation.  I will never look at the person next to me in a race the same way again.  That person may end up helping me or vice versa.  We are all in this together.

Finally, if I never believed before, I certainly believe now in miracles.  It can only be a miracle that a runner collapses and is immediately surrounded by the people with the specialized skills needed to save his life, that performed CPR on him for over 20 minutes, and that he lived.  It was a miracle.

I give this race two thumbs up.  It was well-organized and the scenery is unlike any other in the country.  Eye candy the whole way.   Plus if you have extra time, you can visit one of the most beautiful National Parks – Zion National Park.

We stayed in a terrific hotel, Flanigan’s Inn, not far from the finish line.  The staff was friendly and extremely helpful, pointing out places to visit (like Grafton, a nearby ghost town).   The hotel has a hilltop labyrinth that provided a wonderful way to relax and calm my mind after the events of the day.   The Spotted Dog Cafe, next to the hotel, has a good menu of tasty dishes.  Their breakfast buffet included wild blueberries from Maine – better than any blueberries I have ever had.     


Warning:  This week’s post is R rated.

Don't think my strength training coach will let me off easy

Don’t think my strength training coach will let me off easy

A few years ago I was in a running group.  Our coach was an Australian woman who had completed multiple Ironman competitions.  Nothing stopped her.  My doctor wasn’t real keen on my running but more than anything I wanted to get back out on the trail and run.  My running coach was the one who helped get me running again after my diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis.

The running group was very interesting because among the 7 people in the group, we had 5 runners with health issues.  There was me with Transverse Myelitis and episodes of paralysis when I went to run; a person with an auto-immune liver issue who may need a liver transplant in the future; a person with Celiac disease; a person who had been battling Lyme disease since 2008; and another who had a brain aneurysm in her brain stem in 2009.  Every one of us had a pretty good excuse to say “I quit” and stay home.  Yet each of us was out there, giving our ailments the middle finger.  I would argue that being active was helping each of us stay alive.   Being around others with health issues also kept me motivated to keep going.  If they could do all this running, then I sure could too.  We did tease our coach who carried a cell phone for emergencies to remember to dial “911”, not “000” (the emergency number in Australia), if something bad happened to us during a run.

Rogue Running gave me this shirt to remind me - JFR

Rogue Running gave me this shirt to remind me – JFR

Rogue Running, the awesome running store in Austin that I wrote about last month, has a great catch phrase.  JFR, Just F%#@ing Run.  When I heard that catch phrase, I immediately understood what it meant.  It harkens back to that running group a few years ago.  There was plenty of opportunity to throw out an excuse to not meet up for the group run.  But we didn’t.  We sucked it up and went out for our run.  We just f%#@ing ran.

Excuses don’t just have to be physical aliments.  They are anything that keeps you from lacing up your shoes – a bad day at work, being too tired, it is too cold (or too hot), it’s raining, whatever it is that stops you from getting out there.  Just don’t give in.  Sometimes a good run will cure whatever is bothering you anyway and afterwards you will wonder why you were reluctant to go.

I remember when I was a little kid, my excuse for anything I didn’t want to do was “I can’t.”  That is about the laziest excuse one can have.  My mother’s response was always the same: “Can’t never did a thing in its life.”  I won’t let “can’t” stop me anymore.

So if you were looking for an excuse not be active – remember you don’t have to run, walking or biking are fine too – it had better be a really good one.  Because if the motley crew that was my running group can get out there, everyone else should too.

Runner’s World had an interesting essay on Rogue Running’s JFR catch phrase.  It hits pretty much every excuse someone could have.  Maybe you’ll recognize a few of yours in there.  

If you live in the Austin area or even if you are just visiting, stop in Rogue Running.  I have seen plenty of running stores all over the country during the course of my travels.  This is by far one of my favorites.  And if you can’t get to Austin, you can always travel with Rogue Expeditions on one of their “run-centric vacations” to places like Morocco, Kenya, Patagonia, Lake Tahoe, and Bend, Oregon.  Their trips accommodate runners of all levels and enable you to truly experience each destination.  Sounds like an exciting adventure to me!

Running in N’awlins

IMG_4052I recently crossed off another state in my quest to run an endurance race in each of the 50 States when I ran the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I had visited New Orleans many years ago but didn’t really enjoy myself.  I know many people who rave about how exciting New Orleans is.  I decided that I was going to approach my visit with an open mind.  There must be something that I missed in my last visit and I was determined to find it.

Fats Domino's piano - as it was found in his Lower 9th Ward home, upended

Fats Domino’s piano – as it was found in his Lower 9th Ward home, upended

After picking up my bib at the Expo, I headed over to the French Quarter.  I stopped in the Presbytere, one of the Louisiana State Museums on Jackson Square.  On the first floor, the museum had an exhibit on Hurricane Katrina.   The exhibit showed the devastation caused by Katrina as well as the aftermath and on-going recovery (yes, they are still recovering 10 years later).  It was a sobering reminder of how much the city had suffered.

The second floor of the museum housed a colorful exhibit on the Mardi Gras.  As I wandered around looking at the elaborate costumes, I could hear a band playing outside in Jackson Square.  The music set the right atmosphere to enjoy the exhibit on the annual Mardi Gras celebrations.

A medal for runners (by In The Company of Saints) that I picked up

A medal for runners (by In The Company of Saints)

Throughout the French Quarter there were stores selling everything from art and antiques to voodoo-related items.  The best stores were along Royal Street.  It would be easy to spend a lot of money shopping.  I was happy looking in the windows or occasionally stopping in a store for a closer look.  I did pick up a medal for walkers and runners that shows the Marathon Monks.  (Remember my post on Motivation and the Marathon Monks?)

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, reputed to be the oldest structure to be used continuously as a bar in the US

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – the oldest structure to be used continuously as a bar in the US and haunted too

Since New Orleans was once the home to Anne Rice, famous for the Vampire Chronicles, I decided to take a ghost tour of the French Quarter with Haunted History Tours.  I had high expectations after the ghost tour I took in Savannah, Georgia.  Suffice it to say, both Savannah and New Orleans have dark legends and documented hauntings.  One of the houses we saw on the tour was the Lalaurie Mansion, home of Marie Delphine Lalaurie, an alleged serial killer.  The home was once owned by Nicholas Cage, although our guide said he never slept one night in the house.

Madame Lalaurie's haunted house

Madame Lalaurie’s haunted house

After walking all over the French Quarter for 8 hours, I decided to rest my feet before the race.  I took a small group bus tour that combined all of the traditional New Orleans sights with highlights of Hurricane Katrina.  The tour covered the history and architecture of the old Creole city, the impressive mansions along Esplanade Avenue and in the Garden District, Lake Pontchartrain, and areas that were destroyed when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina.  (Tours of the Lower 9th Ward, the hardest hit area, are not permitted.)  I saw the Musician’s Village in the Upper 9th Ward, the result of the collective efforts of Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis, and Habitat for Humanity to help bring musicians back to New Orleans.  Even the playground in the Musician’s Village had a musical theme with piano keys painted on the sidewalk and sculptures of tubas and saxophones for kids to climb on.

A tree covered in Mardi Gras beads

A tree covered in Mardi Gras beads

Race day arrived and I was ready to run through New Orleans.  There were plenty of runners dressed in Mardi Gras-inspired outfits or wearing beads.  The course was flat but I had to keep an eye out for potholes and broken bead necklaces on the ground.  I didn’t want to twist an ankle or fall because of beads rolling under my feet.

It should not be surprising to anyone that the music along the course was about the best that I have heard at a race.   After the race, there was a huge post-race party in the City Park where the race finished.

The Blue Dog by George Rodrigue

The Blue Dog by George Rodrigue

Although I came to New Orleans with low expectations, I left with a new appreciation for the city.  I found a historic city with beautiful architecture and a wealth of talented street musicians and artists.  It was a fun place to run.

If you visit New Orleans, I recommend taking a tour of the city.  I enjoyed the two that I took by Tours by Isabelle and Haunted History Tours.  

There was a wide variety of music on the street.  This group, Buku Broux, was my favorite.   The one musician is playing a kora, an African Bass Harp.  I bought one of their CDs so I could bring their music home with me.