100K Is Awesome: Black Canyon Race Report

My First 100K: Black Canyon

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): I finished my first 100K, in amongst the cactus and sun, fueled by GU and potatoes and joy, singing the LEGO movie theme song to runners whether they wanted to hear it or not, in less time than it took for my first 50 miler over a decade ago. Also, I saw vertebrae.

Arizona. February. Take One.

Valentine’s Day, to be precise. I’m fitfully sleeping until the hour of 3:45 a.m. when the alarm will go off for the start of a long day, an all day race through the desert wherein I will find out just what this 100K thing is all about. What sets it apart from the almost-standardized 50 mile distance or the romanticized 100 mile journey? Is 100K, as some friends have said, “all the pain of 100 miles and none of the glory”? Or is it possibly a beast unto itself, a distance worthy of serious consideration along the ultra spectrum? It is during Black Canyon 100K that I had planned to find out.

Ok, here we are, in February. For the record, this is VERY early in the year to be lining up for such a distance; typically I’d be thinking about a March-ish 50K and then a 50 mile in early summer to square up for late summer’s big race plans (this year that’s Canada’s Fat Dog 120). But no, here I am, about to beat my legs up and it’s barely the end of winter.

Life has been interesting independent of my training, to say the least, and it’s all of my own doing. Three months ago I began to unravel my life in an almost comically predictable Gen-X midlife crisis kind of way, first by panicking about what I hope to do with this one precious life of mine and then – hopefully – starting in that new direction by leaping for shore and burning my ships, Cortés-style.

Burn ALL the ships.

Burn ALL the ships.

Regarding my general state of mind and future plans, the seemingly-TMI level of detail I’ve provided is critical as background information; in the middle of a race report it’s a bit boring, so I’ll stop there. Let’s get right to training and stuff, instead. Things like how and why I got into decent enough shape to race a 100K in February, why the distance appealed to me, and why this race chose me.

Training: Once More With Feeling

My training philosophy has shifted in the last few years, especially compared to where I’ve come from as an ultrarunner over the last 18 years.

When I started “running” ultras in 1997 at the age of 23 I was just curious and excited about the ultra “thing”. I wanted to finish. I wanted to meet interesting people. I wanted to be challenged and also have a little bit of pride in doing something that most people consider pretty weird and dumb. (I was the kid who actually liked being called weird in high school, so I guess it has always been that way.) But I only trained enough to accomplish those goals, barely. This meant around 30+ mile weeks and a long run that was often half or more my weekly mileage. Generally, it worked. I finished 50Ks and 50 milers, and I finished Hardrock that way twice (though after several attempts, so you could say I wasn’t at all ready at least the first go-round).

Then, after a handful of finishes at all distances and a rather embarassing number of DNFs, I had just turned 31 and I’d been doing ultras sporadically for 7 years. I was a bit curious about the marathon and what I could squeeze out of myself in terms of performance. I pivoted. After a long base building period, some weight loss (a whole ’nother story, believe me) and some difficult and specific training, I logged a few halfway decent times at the marathon and half-marathon. That fitness carried over when I ran Pikes Peak marathon during those years in a darn good time, and had an honest-to-gawd 2nd place finish at a trail race (a 25K).

By 2011 I was trail-happy again, ready for ultras, and thinking that maybe if I actually logged “big” miles for ultras, I could be solidly ahead of the middle of the pack for once. One interesting problem is that the middle of the pack had shifted just a little, to a higher standard. Here’s why: since I’d been “away”, the ultra crowd had gotten faster – faster mostly due to simple math. There are tons more people running ultras than ever before and some of them are fast. Six hours for a tough 50K? Maybe that was decent before, now it’s average. Course records have been lowered by hours in most 100 mile races. There are ten times as many 100 milers now as there were when I started in 1998. Ten times. This is a great thing, probably. Ultrarunners have options we have never had before in terms of races and events and people to talk to and online resources to squander our time on.

So I was re-entering ultras when ultras had a higher median bar. That’s all well and good and obviously not something I can change, regardless. Just something to note as I plod through my own training and assess what kind of strategies to use as I build mileage back up again. After 2011 and despite my intentions, the mileage didn’t grow like I’d planned. Life and stuff, I suppose. 2014 was better: Wasatch was the proving ground and I sliced 3 hours off my last time there (despite wanting 4 hours off for the magical sub-30 buckle). After that, the fall spread out before me.

Javelinas and Rims and Pacing, Oh My

September and October held some fun long runs, solo and with friends. I ran the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim by myself. I paced a new friend at their 100 mile event, automatically elevating that friendship into the weird pacer realm of intimacy, the kind where lube is involved. Several of us at Javelina – Katie and Geoff, mostly – conspired to run this awesome sounding 100K in the spring, right back in the same area of Arizona. It seemed so far away, back in October, that Black Canyon race in February . . . Ha. Ha. Ha.

By early December I got up to 50+ mile weeks, right around when I was burning my ships. Things seemed good, at least from the training angle. But the immune system gets what the immune system wants, especially when you put your life and your heart through the wringer while sleeping and eating little. Nine pounds vanished, never a good sign, but I have to admit it felt lovely on runs to be lesser of a corporeal body.

And then. The holidays brought on (in addition to family and cookies, in that order) a monster influenza bug, my first in years. I kept running the second it waned, no doubt causing it to hang on longer. At the end of January I flirted with a tendon injury, then ran a 50K, moderately fast, as a test run. A week after that I landed a serious head cold that hung around 9 days. Two sicks in 6 weeks – that’s a lot for me, essentially doubling the number of times it’s happened in the last decade. Yes, yes, immune system. I hear ya.

And then, I shrug it off and head into the 100K with a nose full of snot, pockets full of HALLS, and half a hope that I can finish under the cutoff of 18 hours, more ideally the previous cutoff of 16 hours.

Phoenix. February. Again. For Realz.

February 14th. 3:45 a.m. BING-UH-DING. BING-UH-DING. My phone chirps in a halfway perky, halfway annoying alarm tone. Despite the 7 a.m. start, a relatively late luxury amongst ultras, the early wake up call was needed because the start is more than an hour away. Bummer, but not nearly as bad as Wasatch where the wakeup call was at 2 a.m.

Feet hit the floor, hot water starts percolating in the tiny 4 cup hotel pot, to be added to the most expensive instant coffee on the planet, one tiny packet at a time. Because it’s race weekend and/or travel weekend, I allow myself the nastiest of habits: instant coffee creamer. Dang that stuff is toxically delicious.

coffee-wrapped-condiment-packs_1

toxically delicious!

Two cups down the hatch, race number pinned on, bodily functions primed, we head out the door to drive to the shuttle pickup location. It’s warm out, I say. It’s cold out, says the Angeleno. His excuse, so he says, is that he was born in the Sahara Desert. The temperature, for the record, is about 55 degrees. Your call.

After the shuttle, the wait in the school gym (nicely appointed with yet more coffee and powdered white stuff), and the gathering light outside, we head to the track for one ceremonious loop before the race is underway, rolling through paved neighborhoods of this teeny town of Mayer before we are deposited on to the real trail, the one we’ll be on all day long and into the night for many of us, myself included.

It’s rocky – moreso than I imagined because everyone has warned us that the second half is where things get ugly in terms of surface. Uh-oh. Now, rock-hopping I do fairly well, when the rocks are stable. Loose crap, not so much. The smaller the crap, the steeper the slope, the worse I hate it. So far on this course it’s flat so the rocky bits are tolerable but I really do hope that it will not get worse as predicted.

Just a wee bit rocky. Photo by Geoff Cordner.

Just a wee bit rocky. Photo by Geoff Cordner.

I talk very little today, a slight departure from my occasional chatty self in the early miles of an ultra, possibly because I’ve been talking more in my daily life the last few months so it’s easy to just settle in and let my mind roam. For a few minutes mid-morning, I do talk to Kate from Durango, a woman here on her very first ultra ever, having done road marathons previously. She’s trained exclusively all winter on city streets and her treadmill, so I’m very interested to see how that works for her today. With ultras, you just don’t know what’s going to happen – your previously awesome shoes could fill up with grit and rub the skin off your feet, your stomach could reject GU #19 in a violent way, any litany of things that might not have been experienced while running on a treadmill. Kate’s mileage and pace on her runs sounds more than adaquate, and she’s a mom (meaning, I figure she’s tough), so she’ll likely be just fine despite the newness of the distance.

Baked Sweet Potatoes Are My Thighs

You could call this event the Ice Capades, for many of us only ran from aid station to aid station in order to procure more ice. As Katie put it so eloquently in her report, “My sole purpose in life had become not exploding and getting to places where ice existed, and this is literally all I thought about for the better part of four hours. Three more miles to the aid station. They have ice there. Ice for me. I want the ice.

The morning got warm right quick, and not wearing sunscreen on my legs could have been a bad plan (I did slather it on ears, face, neck, et cetera). My SPF 30 shirt was covering my arms nicely and getting more salt-crusted as the hours went on. Because I eat a lot of salt, I sweat a lot of salt. Salt in, salt out. New to me this year was using a sun hat after mile 24 and stuffing it with ice, letting it melt and drip for a good hour. Now I get what the fuss is about (except for having to move the ice around frequently due to cold spots on my head).

Mid-afternoon, after mile 31 or so as the sun was thoroughly baking my brain and making my thighs feel like heating pads, I almost stepped on a reddish toad frantically trying to escape these plodding feet. “I wonder if I lick it if anything would happen”, I thought moments later. Was I that in need of distraction that I would pick up random things from the trail to see if I might conjure up some hallucinations? Hmm. It would be my luck that it would be poisonous and the next runner to come along would find me heaving and convulsing on the side of the trail, muttering something about sparkly pop-tarts just out of my reach.

Don't lick me, dude. [Photo by Steve Eckert]

Don’t lick me, dude. [Photo by Steve Eckert]

Mile 38 is “the biggie” in terms of mental waypoints. It’s the Black Canyon aid station, where most of us regular folk pick up our lights for nighttime, even though we won’t need them for a few hours yet. Best to have them now than run out of light before the next drop bag at mile 51. To get to the aid station there is an out and back of less than a mile each way. I figured I might see Geoff here, possibly. If he’s 30 minutes ahead, that’s 20 minutes on the out and back and maybe 15 minutes at the aid station, so the math worked, but alas, I never saw him to do a proper high-5 or something to that effect.

Black Canyon’s also the aid station to assess one’s situation and make sure you’re ready for the rest of the race – after leaving here there are 24 miles remaining, almost another marathon, twice as many miles as there would be left at mile 38 of a “normal” 50 mile race. That’s a big mental block for some racers, and it could continue until the end. A friend of mine was racing last year (his first 100K) and just completely came unhinged at mile 51, spending 90 minutes there just staring into space before finally continuing.

The Mistake That Almost Ruined The Race

I change my shoes, a welcome relief because my HOKAs were leaving some serious hotspots and were starting to just feel heavy. Off with the socks and shoes and on with freshies and my new Altra Superiors. I felt light and bouncy and happy. So much bouncy and joy! It almost makes me commit a massive error that could cost me the race. Five minutes up the trail from the aid station, I realize I’m missing something. My lights. Oh, shit. Back to my drop bag, grab the lights, off again. Rather than dwell too much on it, I’m just glad I didn’t get much farther before having that realization. Crisis averted and only 10 minutes lost. Huge sigh of relief.

Soon, I passed a truncated vertebral column and wondered what it belonged to. Something not too big, not too small. Maybe a deer. I looked around for more small bones because I like souvenirs of that nature. Alas, the spine was the only thing left of that creature. Luckily, Geoff snapped a photo so you know I’m not making this up.

All that remains of this creature...

All that remains of this creature…

Speaking of Geoff, where was he??? After not seeing him at the out & back, I figured he was sailing along, and I was right. Simply put, having a damn good race. He slowly peeled away after the first few miles and settled into a good pace. After spending the middle of the day approximately 35 minutes in front of me, his last 20 miles would only get better. As I slightly faded, he roared, ultimately finishing 90 minutes ahead of me, even after taking a wrong turn and losing 20 minutes.

Color, And Then, Darkness

Darkness does fall before I get to mile 51 (before 46, actually), but not before a most fabulous sunset that lights up the clouds like a pride parade. Everyone within earshot – which is about 2 people, tops – is making appreciative noises at the light show and plodding along the decidedly rocky trail. One of them is with his pacer and trying not to barf. Poor guy. His pacer and I exchange greetings and he asks how I’m doing, which means I hit him with the works, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!” He chuckles and I mosey on ahead, muttering, “SPACESHIP!!!” under my breath like a lunatic.

Time for some light. Headlamp deployed, I hold it in my hand after deciding I didn’t want something strapped to my head, and this is what I saw for the next four hours or so:

dark-01-1024

The winding trail leaves me with a sense of lost, nearly all day long and certainly in the dark. I cannot see a runner ahead of me and know if they are ahead, behind, on course, off course, or what. There’s just very little reference points with such a contouring route. The approaching 47 mile aid station taunts me for miles, with false positives that turn out to be RV campers, lights on horizons that I’m sure must be IT but are not, other runners’ lights, and on, and on, and on. If I had a low point all day, this was it – the two miles before that 47 mile aid station. The trail was abusing my brain, big time. I mean, check it out:

The 8 miles between mile 38 and 46...

The 8 miles between mile 38 and 46…

I’m Not Scott Jurek; Not Today, Anyway

All day long I’d been continually assessing my pace, thinking about my typical slow-down factor and how I might end up finishing. I do this a lot during races; it’s rather enjoyable and passes the time. A few other runners I talked to seemed to be unable to subtract one aid station’s mileage from the next, but when I’m running, math is my friend. Around mile 20 I thought 15 hours was very, very feasible. I’d done 12 minute pace for the first 20, so that allowed 14’s for the middle and 16’s or even 17’s for the end and everything would be peachy. Around 24, still looked good. 31 miles – halfway – still OK. Mile 38, good, if I kept it up. But my pace was slowing with the “big” climbs, more than I’d planned. I kept reassessing, over and over, what I needed until the finish to crack 15, 15:30, and 16. It was slipping, a little.

Eventually, I did come upon that blasted 46 mile aid station, later than my projections by about 15 minutes, and I wondered if I could really go under 16 after all. This was a depressing thought – that using the original standards for this course I would be not good enough to even finish it. Blame sickness all you want, there’s honestly no reason I shouldn’t be better than 16 hours on a course like this, and that’s the kind of thought that was punishing me for a few hours. That back and forth, “you’ve been sick! You’ve been stressed! Let it fucking go!” versus, “even sick runners can buck up and do respectable times! That Kate chick trained on a treadmill for jeebus’ sake!”

Eventually I shook it off and just tried to keep going at whatever pace felt like I was stretching my limits a little bit. Today that pace just wasn’t super fast. Other races, other times, that pace has let me go under 11 hours in a 50, but not today, not this week. I had to be OK with that, because I’m not freaking Scott Jurek who wakes up from a collapse on the side of the road at Badwater and then runs the fastest 100K of his life to win the race. Nope, that’s not me, not yet.

I’m still warm – it’s like my body stored up heat like a rock and is still slowly dissipating it well into the night. NEVER before have I spent so long only wanting cold things, and very cold things at that. Soup never sounded good, even lukewarm gels were icky. I wanted ice in my bottles, cold defizzed coke, and not much else. I thought about not putting on my shirt and just running in the sports bra but who knows what kind of crazy chafing I’d get from the vest. No, better to just keep consuming cold things.

Better Mood And A Better Finish

Mile 51 comes and goes quickly, and I savor a change of shirt that awaits at this drop bag. Finally, no salt-crusted mess anymore. I can finish feeling slightly less gritty. I’m out, tromping with determination for the next and final aid station at mile 58-ish. I’m amused enough that I laugh out loud at what it tastes like to burp up coke mixed with ginger ale mixed with coffee. We ultrarunners are a strange lot.

My time projections are still wonky and I’d need to do 16 minute miles for the last 11 miles to safely come in under 16 hours. When the first couple of miles click off in 21 minutes, 19 minutes, et cetera, I’m feeling a little sad but still OK. The end is tangible, regardless. I will get there, and I won’t explode too much.

After mile 57.x aid, there’s some flat jeep road to run and I’m overjoyed at the idea that this is how it will be all the way in – I could still speed up. But then we rejoin trail and my pace is back down to 18 minutes. I pass a few more here, bringing that total up to about a dozen since mile 38 with just one passing me. I don’t think I have any special abilities to finish fast – it just seems that other people’s wheels fall off way more dramatically than mine do. My wheels are still on, but they’re wobbling from some missing lugnuts. I try to keep it together just one more hour. That’s it. One hour. Or less.

A reflective first 100K finish

A reflective first 100K finish

And then it’s visible, the tent, the lights, the FINISH. It’s 11 p.m. I’m still warm. Ahead of me awaits chairs and soup (after I finally stop being warm a good 30 minutes after stopping) and my clean(er) clothes and friends. It’s an hour later than I’d hoped but only a little over 16 hours when I cross, so I’m going to call that pretty OK.

16:07:22

I thought of some new closing lines for my friends who dismiss the 100K as a useless distance. “All the pain of a 100 mile race, . . . ”

. . . and you don’t have to stay up all night!

. . . and 2/3 the entry fee!

. . . and the ultra fairy will still bring you a buckle!

Epilogue?

Read my post on post-ultra depression. Yeah, but it’s gonna be OK.

Oh, and Kate finished in just under 15 hours, like clockwork. Atta go, girl.

Whole Whatevey: Why My Whole30 Coffee Is Not Black

“Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written.”

It’s right there, spelled out in inky black and staunch white.

Doing an officially-labeled Whole30 does not include the use of heavy cream, even grass-fed and organic and fueled by hippie love, in one’s coffee. Period. One’s Whole30 cuppa must look like a dark pool of char.

On the left, official Whole30 coffee. On the right, my typical coffee:

That’s okay with me, and it’s also okay with the Whole30 powers that be, as long as I don’t call what I am doing a real Whole30. To call what you’re doing a real-deal Whole30 you must follow their rules and that is completely fine by me. I could come up with a new name, like . . .

WholeUltra.

WholeRunner.

WholeTenacity.

WholeDirty.

WholeHurty.

WholeSporty.

WholeRunny. Ok, I’ll stop now.

My WholeWhatevey and its practices will not be not sanctioned for one or two other reasons relating to endurance running, regardless. I will, for example, consume energy gels on VERY long training runs because they are useful and convenient tools that serve a purpose during the run itself (and then I will take care to not go all snacking crazy as I am wont to do). I will not follow up a long run with a recovery shake or other processed foods. Only during the super-crazy long runs (by that I mean more than 4-5 hours) will I consume off-plan calories such as gels and all of those will have minimal ingredients and (it should go without saying, but still) no grains or gluten.

But here’s what I discovered about coffee. I’m not going to stop it entirely, though I could be convinced to do that in the future. No, what I realized about coffee and my own success on the Whole30 is that I really really enjoy the goddam cup with grassfed cream in it. But when I drink it black, it just doesn’t work. Now, that means I can buck up and either give it up or drink it black and “suffer”. However, if that is about the only thing standing between me and doing a pretty legit clean and healthy 30 days, I am going to have the freakin’ heavy cream. ONLY grass-fed, because nothing else tastes good. That would be Organic Valley, yo.

organic-valley-heavycream

Ok, let’s do this. WholeWhatevey begins.

 

Post Ultramarathon Funk And How it Sucks Balls

It is pretty well known that the more a person does ultramarathons or marathons, for the most part, the quicker one recovers. Recovery from one’s first 50 miler is nothing like the 10th or the 20th or even the 5th. The body figures out, bit by swollen bit, just what in the bloody hell was laid down upon its bones and joints and muscles and skin and how to look around and pick up the pieces. You’ve Humpty Dumpty’ed yourself over and over again and the king’s horses and the king’s men are getting quite good at this game.

However.

The rest of it, the head stuff, is weird and troubling and kind of common.

After an ultra, I have a day, maybe two days, of a kind of awesomeness. I’m tired. Blissed out. Exhausted. Content. And then, things happen in the brain and it all goes kaflooey. It doesn’t happen to everyone. A few studies have even “debunked” the whole idea of feeling like crud after endurance races. I’m not convinced by one study – maybe familiarity with a mood test taken daily for weeks on end makes you feel better about your life in general, who knows.

At any rate, a scholarly search on this phenomenon gives me some great stuff to work with like theories about amino acid depletion and such, but that doesn’t tell you the STORY. The story of feeling like a old bloated whale with arthritis who never lived up to Moby Dick’s expectations and is likely to end up as lamp oil ASAP. The story that digs into why it might happen, with a little science as background but a lot of first person experience to bring it together in the flesh. I’ll run through the stages, best as I have known them.

Stage One: Finish Day

So here we are. It’s that first day, the day of the finish. There’s a few hours of just shock. You walk around a little bit, making sure you’re warm and fed (if hungry, though that can take hours to come back normally, too) and not bleeding all over the place if you took a trail stumble or bashed up your feet. Mingled with that shock is some bliss, coming from endorphins and a general sense of accomplishment. People are probably telling you ‘great job’ and ‘nice to see you out there’ and stuff like that. What happens from here on out varies, depending on the length of the event and the time of day you finished. After a 100 I generally fall asleep mid-day, often during the awards ceremony. After a 50, it’s evening-ish already and all you need to do is try to eat something and get back to where you’re sleeping.

Stage Two: Sleeping

That night of sleep can vary as much as any night of sleep can. You could toss and turn in pain and get little rest at all, or you could sleep like a baby on benadryl with possible short interruptions for a muscle cramp here and there.

Stage Three: DOMS day(s)

The next stage is a lesser version of immediately after the event. You’re sore, a bit stiff, a bit hungry, and still basking in the congratulatory glow. Maybe you’re back at work with a tan and some trail wounds and someone there actually gives a shit about your weekend. But at this stage, the glow is fading. The muscles are beat all to hell and while they feel better by the hour, the real damage will take weeks to repair.

Stage Four: FML

Ok, so now you’re in the place we came here to talk about. Song lyrics appear in your head full of melancholy: My head is an animal. It’s empty in the valley of your heart. That kind of stuff. Your body is well on its way to repair, though it has a long way to go. You get out for a run, or two. It feels ok, or it doesn’t. Sleep is better. Legs aren’t as twitchy. But you, in your head? You feel like that event was a mirage. It barely happened, the pain was barely perceptible, the joy was fleeting, and it seems like you won’t feel that excited about something again for a long time, maybe ever. THAT’S IT. It’s a funk, or its depression, or its the suck, and you’re in it.

Why does it happen? Here’s a theory, cobbled together from research and experience (my own and others‘). Firstly, some people are more prone to this than others, and those people often seem to have general issues with “lower” moods throughout their life. They aren’t necessarily what you’d call full blown depressives, worthy of medication. I’m simply talking about us who get a little anxious, get a little nervous, get stomach pains, get a little obsessive. The sensitive people. It seems we get that post-event funk/blues/suck moreso than others.

So that’s the correlation, but the causation could be something more real and simple: amino acid deficiencies. See, brutal and prolonged exercise really hammers on a few key amino acids like choline, but depletes them all to some degree, including tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Those three are required to make your happy chemicals serotonin and epinephrine. So there’s one of the big theories. The combination of a person with melancholic tendencies coupled with a huge hit on key nutrients = FUNK. Serious funk.

we got the funk

Now what? Basically, wait it out. Feed the amino acid machine – eat great quality food: eggs, sustainable organic meats, cheese if you want, sardines. Get your levels back up to normal, the real food way.

And, don’t beat yourself up if you engage in guilty pleasures. I’m known to abuse a little of the chocolates during this time, and snack food in general. I just need to remember to eat good protein and sleep lots. And it will end. Really.

 

40 Is The New Something-Other-Than-40

40-signpost-outside

It’s a great headline: “[insert sort-of old sounding age here] is the new [insert younger age here]!!!” It’s been used by marketing agencies, greeting card companies, and social media acolytes for many years. See what things look like when you just search Google:

40isthenew-googlesearch

There’s certainly the desire to embrace better health insights, younger fashions, and a little bit of silliness. Fashions tend to veer a little bit too young – I’m old enough to have grown up when what your mom wore in her daily life was NOTHING like what her teenage kids wore. Nothing. And both groups were pretty happy with that demarcation.

We also know a ton more about health than we used to, mostly by finally beginning to ignore a lot of the bullshit fed to us (sometimes literally) over the last few generations: that margarine was good, that cholesterol was bad, that low fat was good, that animal-anything was bad, that relaxing in front of the TV was good, that cleaning your own house was bad (or a waste of time), that gyms were good, that getting sunshine was bad . . .  and on, and on. Health is finally beginning, just a little bit, to look more natural. Eat real food. Go outside. Don’t buy all the things. Sit quietly by yourself. Sleep in. We’re starting to get it, and it will only get better. I just hope it gets better before we go broke from healthcare.

Now, the silliness. I cannot tell you how many people in my own life that have stepped out of the woodwork (women, mostly) to reveal that they, like me, have gone through a major life and/or relationship shake-up at the age of 40 or so. Is it a midlife crisis? Is it reaching the end of childbearing years and realizing you’ve got a lot more to squeeze out of life than an 8-lb human through your vagina? I have no clue. Ok, I do, but that’s for another day. Starting “over” at 40 is refreshing even when it is scary. I (we) are still young. Maybe we spent the last decade kind of spinning our wheels psychologically. By cleaving off and pulling up the anchor it can feel like you’ve shed that previous chunk of years. At 40 a person can feel both young in body as well as empowered as all get out with a bunch of young adult wisdom acquired.

Which leads me to . . .

“40 is the new . . . ” works both ways.

Life – your life, everyone’s life – has been happening, even if certain aspects of it were stagnant. Now we have an alternate way of looking at things, something more like:

40 is the new 60!

40 is the new retirement! (If you were lucky and did something smart like Mr. Money Mustache)

40 is the new golden age!

Think of the possibilities when you combine a healthy corporeal space, an optimistic outlook, and the insights from a past that you’re sad to leave behind but couldn’t see it any other way forward. It’s gonna be awesome, this life, and it’s gonna be real interesting.

40isthenew-successkid

How to Write More: Insomnia and a (non) Tuesday Tribute

Insomniac Bears

Image courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig: https://flic.kr/p/aUMTi8

Tuesday Tribute: Insomnia, and Two Months of Life

Here’s a new Tuesday Tribute for y’all: Insomnia. How it can be a muse and a curse, rolled into one.

It’s common that people with problematic insomnia stress about the insomnia itself. Because my insomnia is typically sporadic and directly tied to psychological background noise, it’s less of a worry that “I’ll never sleep a full night again!” or “I could never survive the next few months/years like this!” Because I am a general worrier, I can see how that kind of insomnia about insomnia would be terrifying. For now, it’s a muse and I’m using it. Writing can flow with more guts and insight when in that 5 a.m. wired state, watching the slow glow of the pre-dawn sky, keyboard tap tap tapping away.

This is why I find myself up at 4 a.m. on a night that I really needed sleep, itching to ruminate and write and pay bills and get stuff “done”. Marking off the checklist for the next few days. Googling for things that stressed me out enough to wake me up. Writing a blog post, this one right here, posting it before too much editing will get in the way of the flow.

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

I’m shocked to see that my last iteration of the Tuesday Tribute series was a whole two months ago. For that, I apologize. I’m personally both flummoxed and OK with how fast those two months have gone. Time in general speeds up as we age, most often it seems when we are trying to get things done or figure out our whole tangled lives or something profound in that regard.

And yes, I’ve been figuring out that tangled stuff for quite some time now, with the snowball finally rolling over me about two months ago, taking me along in its wake. Of course, it was a snowball of my own creation. I am the the one who makes snow. I am that thing that makes it possible to ski in New Mexico in November. I accept this, philosophically and metaphorically.

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I like quietness. In my head, typically. I used to think I liked it in my heart, too. Not too many complications, not too many things external to me to rely on or need to worry about. It’s part of why I don’t have kids – I would probably make a good parent but dear GAWD the pressure and stress and all that would drive me to either really screw them up or just put myself into an early health decline from all the freakouts in my own head. If nothing else, I think to not screw up a child in my care I’d have to meditate about 2 hours a day. I wonder how many parents attempt to modulate their own stress directly in that manner – with mindfulness and calm – rather than just suffer and slog through it, sleepless and stressed.

The quietness in the heart? That’s something I question lately. Perhaps that’s a midlife crisis sort of thing – the slowly awakening realization, sometimes over years, that you just might want to crank up the volume knobs on one’s own experience – not just the good and the not-so-good but rather the extremes of AMAZING and (potentially) DEVASTATING. Or, perhaps the midlife crisis so enmeshed in our culture is not so much a volume adjustment as it is a swap out of the walkman constantly strapped to your head for a window-shattering car stereo you can ride off with into the sunset. Or some B.S. analogy like that. I apologize. Usually my analogies are way better.

So here’s my real Tuesday Tribute, posted on a Wednesday but thought up the night before: my own insomniac muse. May she continue to spur little writing jaunts, bursts of productivity, and displays of heart-on-sleeve that seem to only result in long-term good in my life. Cheers to the muse.

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