Showing Up

I’ve run away a lot in my life. I avoid social situations where I don’t have control. I like my routines, my boxes and things a certain way. My brain has a way it wants things done. When things are not that way, I have an internal battle where I convince myself not to run away.

On the surface, I seem very social, easy-going and up for most things. On a deeper level, it takes a lot of work to get me there. I’m not saying I would rather be a shy mouse in the corner, but I don’t branch out very often. I don’t do many social situations after 6PM. I make sure I give myself enough time for 8 hours of sleep.

I don’t go to bars, I don’t drink much. I like to have dinner at home. I like to get up early and go to bed early. I like to take my time.

Then, I started to build relationships and have friends. I have a huge family unit I love being a part of. Though these people drive me crazy sometimes and push me out of my Zen zone, I would not trade them for that comfort.

The second half of 2017 looked a lot different than the first half. The first half I needed to get away from Ithaca, from friends and from what I was used to. Essentially, I ran away from that comfort, but I also ran away from the responsibility that comes with forming relationships. I had a reason not to show up. I lived further away after all. Sorry, no can do. Bridal shower? Sorry, gotta work. Christmas? Hmm, I actually can’t make that. No I wasn’t mad at anyone, but I was in my comfort zone, alone, doing what I knew. I was content living that way.

In the second half of 2017, things started to change. I met Michael, Eric, Sheila and Lisa from TrailsRoc and they made me a part of their family. I started to work with my friend and running coach Mike, which forced me to be accountable with training and what I was doing. I started to crave people who liked me for me. Even crazier, I missed my family because they became people who I could talk to, lean on and laugh with. Rather than loving them because they are blood, I loved them because I love them. They make me feel whole.

Making these relationships, running a few crazy races and job circumstances led me back to Ithaca, to living with people and running with guidance. I was overjoyed to move back, but I had changed and so did my need for control.

Having relationships means showing up. It means being where you say you’ll be. It means being honest. I no longer felt “bad” for saying “yes I’ll be there but I have a run first.” In the past, I felt like I was doing something wrong or I didn’t care enough. Granted, if it was important, I skip said run, but building a new relationship with my family meant that they also understood who I was. They understand I run and doing that before I help my mom at her store or work with my dad doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it means that my priorities make running first (early before they are awake or opening up shop) and then I am more productive, happier and we get more done.

Showing up means being present, not worrying about other things that “need” to get done. Showing up means connecting when we can, but also not expecting an answer super fast because we all have things we want to do. Showing up for me meant loosening my vegan dietary preferences. Showing up meant loosening my need for control. Showing up reminded me that I don’t need to be alone and that if I do make plans one day instead of have a day to myself, the world doesn’t end, I still get my stuff done and I usually feel even more invigorated afterwards.

Showing up means not living a life online. Showing up means just being there.

Showing up is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s worth it.

2017 taught me how to show up. No turning back now 🙂

Willpower in work and running

I think we all struggle with willpower in one area or another. For some, it might be addiction, to perfection, to drugs, to spending money. For me, I sometimes lack the willpower to finish something.

When it gets really boring in the last hour of work.

When I don’t want to think through a cohesive blog post.

When I don’t allow my body to appropriately recover from a run.

These are all sources where I lack willpower.

When it comes to running, I usually can muster the grit to get out there are start. Then it becomes the best part of my day. However, I sometimes don’t close the deal. I don’t get enough rest. I may run too much. I don’t eat the best foods or foam roll enough. I don’t finish the job.

At work, during this time of year it gets slower and towards the end of the shift I find myself getting antsy. I find myself thinking about all the other things I could be doing or if I should go home early. It is quite a conundrum because I want to make money, but I also have other things I could do instead (work on my van, bike, other jobs etc.)

Blogging, well, sometimes I just don’t have a conclusion to write and don’t want to think about it.

I’ve been reading The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal and it has empowered me to actually try to fix these issues. Whenever I get antsy at work, I stop, breathe deeply and think WILLPOWER. Seriously that’s what I do. I think remind myself of the money, and that the other things I think I could be doing will get done later. Doing this has also encouraged me to start using Google Calendar, where I allot time for those other things. This makes me believe I will do them and won’t forget. When I get antsy, I pray. I pray for a calm mind to get through the boring and tell myself that being bored is a skill. I need to be able to be bored.

When it comes to running, I put confidence in the people guiding me. I do what they say. They think, I listen and block out the part of me that thinks it’s not enough. I consciously find times to rest. I have built foam rolling into my day. Again, I block out time for it, not an obscure “I’ll foam roll tonight.” I do my best not to overthink food, but get enough in. I try, but I do not obsess. I pray that all things work for my body and I thank God for that.

In conclusion, my willpower will grow as I continue to be mindful of what I am doing, decreasing my multi-tasking, assuring myself I’ll get things done, or I won’t and most times that’s ok, and praying.

The 18th Mile

JFK meant a lot, but also not much at all in the grand scheme of my running journey. It wasn’t a PR, it wasn’t a new distance, it wasn’t a hard course, yet it was everything I needed to believe in myself again.

It’s no secret I’ve struggled this past fall. I’m still learning how best my body responds to training, nutrition and everything else that comes with becoming an ultra-runner. I have to admit, although I will do my best to remain positive about things, running has been hard emotionally and physically. In short, it sucked more times than it was blissful, but I kept at it because I know these kind of things happen.

I signed up for JFK months ago thinking it would be my big race of the year. It still was, however I wanted to be more prepared for it. Actually, I wanted to be prepared at all, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. I tried my best to get up some mileage after my month healing from injury in September. However, that’s what it was, I just ran regularly, easy, and tried to work on the things I could. Relax about it, eat enough, do my best to cope with the depressive symptoms that would follow when I admitted that JFK was not going to happen.

However, with each week, I felt better and started to trust my body again. I didn’t feel like I creeping around on runs trying not to break. I started to relax and enjoy the process and simply let go. I did one 20 miler a few weeks ago and it went really well. That solidified JFK in my mind. I would go, I would start, and I would try.

I wish I could say I believed in myself at that point. Things got better, but I had a lingering doubt that would not go away. It would take a lot more than positive self talk to get it to leave, I had to prove it.

So here we are, two days post JFK. I have completed my first van trip. I hurt in all the places. My hunger is ravenous, yet many times after and before eating I feel sick. If I could do one thing for the rest of my life, I would foam roll my calves because they are so tight. I fucking love it because I earned it.

The Race

Getting to the high school in Boonsboro, MD was pretty uneventful. The day prior I was able to talk through all my fears and worries with my good friend Rich Heffron and he was very comforting. I was able to tell him, a bit bashfully, that I was ok if I DNFed. I wanted to start and see how far I got. I am not someone who can just do a random 50 miler. It takes so much out of me, both physically and emotionally. I admitted I really, really, REALLY wanted to finish, and I would be sad if I didn’t, but I was not putting my body in a position to be injured for an extended period of time. If I needed to stop, I would stop. He was very understanding, supportive of my decision and just made my feelings valid. Thank you Rich, your words helped me each time I wanted to quit. I had given myself permission to do so and nothing was wrong with that.

I got to packet pick up, knew no one there, and left without any fanfare, just the way I like it. I went back to my van, went to the high school where the race was starting, talked to my sister and fell asleep.

The race began at 6:30AM a little walk from where we all had gathered for the pre-race briefing. Actually I have no idea if I started when the gun sounded because most of us were still walking there.

I felt oddly shaky during the first few miles, my pants kept falling down and I really wondered if I was doing the right thing. I had to use the bathroom a few times and at mile 5, it was (honest to God) the first time (of many) I considered stopping. Really. At mile 5. Of a 50 mile race. This is not an ideal scenario. However, I tried not to think about it, figure out my pants situation and try not to fall on the Appalachian Trail.

The first 15.5 miles were beautiful, if rocky terrain. It reminded me of Escarpment, but not as bad. One thing that kept me going here was not falling and realizing I was running terrain this much better than I had back in July. Small wins I suppose. At about mile 8 I realized I had yet to start eating or drinking, so I put my focus into that. I decided I would try to eat something with each buzz (mile marker) on my watch. This also might be why I was going to the bathroom more than I’d have liked. Hydration helps digestion.

At mile 12 I had another one of the episodes where I thought about dropping. It was a particularly rocky section and I stubbed my toe so badly, I thought I broke it. Even the guy behind me told me I should get it looked at. However, I didn’t fall, so I kept going and just like that, we got off the AT and I was ready to actually run.

I got going at a good clip, ate more of my shot blocks (salted watermelon forever) and had a good 2 miles. Then another down moment happened and I started to get some weird lower back pain. I straightened up and it went away, but the dark thoughts were back. I made it to an aid station around mile 18, and this is where I changed.

The aid station was manned by a XC team, and they had the most beautiful cookies I had ever seen. Seriously, they were professionally down. I ate one there and asked if they would be at the finish line. They said no, and I thought it would be a shame if I didn’t grab more because I love eating beautiful food, it’s fun and makes me smile. So I grabbed, a lot, of cookies, stuffing them in my bottle pouch and carrying them. I don’t know what it was, the sugar, the beautiful appearance or just the kindness of the aid station, but mentally I shifted. I started offering cookies to runners I passed. I was in pain and doubtful, but I started to let go, I started to run free, I started to believe in why I was running here. I want to finish and I want to run for a long time. I stopped caring about not living up to potential. I stopped worrying about anything other than moving forward and being the kind of runner I want to see out there on the trail. I got into a sort of flow, but it wasn’t a runner’s high. It was still painful, but I accepted the pain and let it come with me. I guess it would be more like a grind. I started grinding, putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

At this point, I started running with another guy named Scott, who made miles 20-30 an absolute blast. Both of us were relative newbies (his first, my second) and still figuring things out. We talked, we connected and it was just what I needed. So often, I crave alone time. I enjoy it actually as I’ve written before. Today though, I needed other people. Other positive people, suffering together, but also finding beauty in the suffering.


“The loneliest you will ever feel is when in need. Whether from pain of an injury, cold or hunger, you will feel at your most lonely, most insignificant when you are away from people and in need” – Aleks Kashefi


At about mile 30, Scott and I split up as he needed a bit more aid at the station than I did. I caught up to two other guys, Lou and Tom (I think) and ran with them for the next 10ish. During those miles, I had a few more low moments, but just having them there and talking with them made them not seem so bad. I stopped doubting my ability to finish. I just knew some miles would be more painful than others.

I forgot to mention that it began raining when I got off the AT and onto the tow path, which then turned into freezing rain and wind at points. That may have caused a few low moments, but actually I found a great strategy of putting the noodle soup in my handheld bottle and then eating bars which balanced my electrolytes. The soup was warm which was such a blessing out there. I didn’t realize how cold it was and might have avoided the hypothermia others suffered. I’ll definitely take that strategy into my next ultra.

The last 8 miles of the course were on the road. Miles 42-44 were kind of a battle as I felt like I was so close, yet so far. The road opened up and it actually felt like home. At mile 44, a man told me “it’s ok, less than a 10K to go!” They also were playing Christmas music and I had a cup of hot cocoa. I’d had it. I picked it up because damn it, I know how to run on the road. Those last miles might have been my fastest and I passed 10 people. I was just ready to be done. Not because it was freezing cold, I was tired and I missed my sister, but because when I crossed that finish line, I knew I would believe in myself again. I could call myself and ultrarunner and believe it.

I finished the race somewhere around 8:06 and change. A long day that exposed my lack of specific fitness, my mental and emotional demons and had terrible weather. A race I told myself I could DNF and it would be completely justified. A race I didn’t believe was possible just a few weeks before. I finished.

With that, this long post is done. Thank you to Mike, the RD, the incredible aid station volunteers, Red New Racing and On Running for their support.

Special thanks to my sister Laurel, my mom and dad, Ian Golden, Rich Heffron, my coworkers from CTB, Amelia Kauffman (who raced as well), and my wonderful roommate and friend Lesley, who has seen me through the injuries and believed in me when I couldn’t walk.

Being Alone

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” — Blaise Pascal

I live with two roommates. I enjoy living with them and sincerely appreciate their friendship. If things weren’t changing at the end of the year, I would be content to stay living with them.

That said, I will be living alone again come the end of December. I am looking forward to it, kind of a lot.

I am surrounded by people all day at my job. I love it. I am good at it. People are fun to talk with and I do not wish I had a solitary work environment. However, when I am not there, I want peace. I want to be with myself. I want the security that I have a space no one else can access unless I allow them.

I don’t know how this looks reading what I’ve wrote, but it’s how I feel. Knowing I have a space that is just mine actually makes me more willing to see people outside of it. I don’t hesitate to visit family or friends because I know I have a space to retreat. It’s security for my mental space. Even if I spend the night somewhere now, with my van, I still have MY space. I have a movable house and it has locks. If I need it I can take a couple minutes or hours by myself to recharge.

I can do that now. Lesley, Mark and Mo (the cat) do not intrude on my time and I do enjoy their company. However it is different owning your own space. Being able to do whatever I want whenever I want is my version of The American Dream. I don’t need a house or too much money. I hate having too much stuff. I’d trade all of that for my peace of mind. For being able to live the way I want to live.

I don’t care if this alone time or what I am trying to accomplish with my van is hard. I know it will be hard and that survivalist, living on a budget, without so many comforts oddly creates a sense of freedom. If all the things I had were taken away, could I make it? Being alone gives me peace and also helps me confront my demons. It’s scary, but it’s what makes me feel alive.

Will I be alone forever? Who knows, but if that happens, I know I’ll be ok. And that’s good enough for me.

When I Decided Not To Identify As a Vegan

When I think about my four years as a vegan, on the whole, it was amazing. I met some great people, expanded my cooking abilities and tried tons of different foods I probably would not have thought of eating before.

I also felt like I was making an ethical choice that was good for the animals, the planet and my body. I still believe that is true.

Becoming a vegan oddly helped me eliminate the food rules I still had from darker times in my past. When I went vegan I decided that if it was vegan, I would eat it. It did not matter what it was, if it was vegan, it was fair game. Coming from a past where I went through a period of food extremism, this was tame. This was liberating.

Just make the ethical choice, you cannot go wrong.

But, as I’ve written about before, although this started as a choice to liberate my mind, help animals and the planet, started to actually backfire on me. Part of this was my fault, actually, all of it is if you think that the body you are given is your fault.

What I did wrong:

I did not take a B-12 supplement for the first three years as a vegan. During that time, I spent a year of it essentially eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches as I thought I didn’t have the time or the want to really to cook. Sure, I could have ordered food, but I am also frugal so I don’t do that.

Part of my history with extreme food rules, meant that I was tired of thinking about food in the nutrient sense. I say that loosely, because I am a certified holistic health coach, so I get that nutrients and food is important, but largely for myself, I don’t think about it very often. I know what is healthy, I know what tastes good, I try to eat food that is more on the tasting good side than the healthy side. I never have been a calorie counter and still never will, however if I am honest, sometimes I don’t get enough in. I try, but I don’t focus on it and not having sufficient overall calories means you probably aren’t getting all the nutrients you need.

I was intentionally blind to these things for four years.

When I started working with Inside Tracker, part of that was a big step in opening the door to look at my food specifically and making it more nutrient sound. They had options and recommendations for vegans, which I followed, got healthy, and started running well again.

Too soon, I got complacent. I started neglecting all the things my diet needed, not in a restriction sense, but in an “I don’t want to think about this and just eat whatever” again. It was fine for a while, but then the niggles, the fatigue, the digestive issues began to come up again. Time to try again, and keep on the path this time.

Green Lakes was a turning point. It wasn’t my training, it wasn’t my resolve, I simply could not walk. Now whether that was due to nutrient deficiency or the knocking I took at Escarpment, I will never know, but coming home in the car with my dad, again explaining why I don’t eat eggs to him, I had to pause.

Why don’t I eat eggs? Why am I doing this?

Part of being vegan for my was the community aspect. Four years ago I had very strained relations with my family, isolated myself from things essentially because I just didn’t trust people. Hearing the Rich Roll podcast every week gave me community. I heard his interview with Gene Bauer, researched it and transitioned to vegan. As soon as I did, I found this amazing (mostly online) community of accepting people who all aligned with my morals. Do the least harm you can, start with what you eat. Everything is ok as long as it’s vegan.

It’s very black and white thinking and it seems very safe. Oddly, I think that people, including myself, like things to be set in stone. No gray areas. Even if it’s constricting (which some people claim veganism is) it also provides a safe place, a barrier between you and those who are different. I could identify with other vegans. I finally had a community.

Of course, the environment and animal welfare is and continues to be important to me. It always will, but there is a gray area in there that I must acknowledge.

The Gray Area

My gray area started when I worked on my family relationships. I started to have a real-life community of people who love and accept me. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s something I am not willing to give up. They have not pressured me at all to not be vegan. They just ask questions.

I started to feel like crap, and was tired of it. I started to question the choice I made to cut out some foods that can really be beneficial to health (for some people). Eggs can be a fine food when the quality is high and you respect where they came from.

Spending more time with other people allowed for so many opportunities to connect, often over food. It was very liberating, when I made the choice to stop reading labels and allow some eggs and dairy into my diet, to just eat. My friends and family no longer have to ask if something is ok. I don’t have to ask the barista or whomever if something is vegan, which they often don’t know, and then I’m just like, “ok, coffee please.”

Call it lazy, call it whatever you want, but the relationships I have now, and how I want to represent myself and be with people is worth some dairy in things and no label reading.

If you think that is lazy, here is another ringer: if it’s free, I’ll eat it. I hate seeing so much food waste. So even if the sandwich has meat in it, I’ll pick out the meat (usually, sometimes I don’t because that’s another gray area) and thank the universe for this gift. I’ve tried so many delicious things from my work that I would never have gotten to try if I drew the hard vegan line. I commend people who do, but part of my journey has meant I need to be more flexible.

Flexible

When I decided to not be vegan anymore, it was kind of traumatic. I felt as if I was losing my identity. These feelings signified to me that this was the right decision. I have not broken any laws (but to be honest, animal agriculture should be against the law) with the free-range eggs I’ve eaten a few times or the dairy that is in desserts that would be thrown away. I simply am being more flexible. I am living in the gray area. I did not do this because I missed cheese (still don’t really like it as much as everyone else) or meat (just no). I have made the decision to be more flexible in my life. I have decided that there is no label that can define me perfectly, because I am myself, one of a kind.

If that makes people disappointed, uncomfortable or angry, that is part of being the the gray area and being flexible. I refuse to please people while I know I am hurting myself.

I did not give up being vegan to please my family or friends, I gave it up because it was not serving me anymore.