Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jackson 50/50 Race Report

Photo by Jaclyn

I finished the Jackson 50/50 50K last weekend. I am hobbling around the house this morning. Yesterday I asked my son to help me get my pants from downstairs so he could help dress me (practice for my old age). On race day I got up 2 hours before the start just fine. I put on my own pants and walked around all by myself. I stayed at the Pyoca lodge with Rachel to avoid delays getting to the race.

Rachel and I headed to Indiana the night before. I love the road trip part of a race. I got to know Rachel through in our interaction online. Talking with her during the drive was amazing. Imagine what a Latina and Pinay might have in common and the ride was just like that. 

It was about an hour from home. We got to the lodge at dark. The first thing we did was check into the race. Then we got our things from the car and headed to our cabin.

Our room had 4 bunk beds. The room was clean, simple and had its own bathroom. There may have been 8 rooms just like that in our cabin. At the end of the hall was a common area with a sink, coffee maker, dishwasher and fire place. We would see runners later that evening sitting around the fireplace drinking beer and bourbon. Observing them, one might think they just finished up skiing rather than getting ready for a race. This might be one of the reasons I love the ultra-running community. Rachel and I hung out with them after a few rounds of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman Uno.

Our bunk mates were doing the 50 miler. I was a little apprehensive about bunking with people I didn't know. Rachel and I even signed up for the upgraded room with less occupants for 10 extra dollars. Our bunk mates were awesome. I recognized Brenda when we checked in. She told us she was from Indiana and that she didn’t get into ultra-running until she was 40. She told Rachel and I that we were at the perfect age in the sport. Our other bunk mate, Sarah told us she was from Ohio. She said she started doing 50 miles after she started doing 50Ks. I think Rachel and I had stars in our eyes thinking these women were phenoms for taking on such a distance. They thought we were the same for being there. We talked like old friends.

Photo by Rachel
That night Brenda rubbed her feet with Vicks Vapo rub. I thought to myself it us something I would do when I got home. The smell was great, clearing my sinuses. I knew the next day would be in the high of 50’s but that night was very much winter.  

At 7pm, Rachel and I headed back to the main lodge for dinner. I brought my own pasta. The lodge had baked pasta with meatballs, garlic bread, salad, cottage cheese and canned peaches. I added the sauce and meat balls to what I brought.

I can’t remember what Rachel and I talked about during dinner. More than anything, I felt that we were old friends and about to undertake our longest run together as a team. Rachel schooled me on the history of Puerto Rico. She said Puerto Rico was inhabited by indigenous tribes. 
The Europeans brought over slaves with them. The result is a diverse Puerto Rico. Of course there is more to it than that but I don’t want to digress.

We talked about life in between worlds. I talked about my undocumented past, not American enough for my peers and not Filipina enough during my last visit to the Philippines.  We did all this amidst the other runners at the end of the hall. They were crowded around the fireplace and we sat on a coffee table. We all turned in around 10 o’clock. I was amazed the other runners were drinking beer and bourbon the night before an ultra-marathon.  This is normally not what I would do the night before a race. I would have been in bed listening to music.

Before bed, I opened an envelope from my coach marked “night before the race”. It was a poem that she had had in her days as a runner in high school. She also reminded me to remember “why” I was doing this and to savor the time with my thoughts.  

The 50 mile started at 7:30 am. The 50 K started at 8 am. We all set our alarms at 6 am. Rachel and I wanted Brenda and Sarah to use the bathroom first. We all agreed that we didn’t really sleep but Brenda told us that she went to the bathroom during the night we were all silent. As the ladies got ready, I opened another enveloped marked “race morning”. It was from my friend Tammy that reminded me that even though running 30 miles would hurt, I had trained to tolerate the pain.

It was weird having so much time before the start. I had my usual 2 hard-boiled eggs. I also ate a protein bar and gluten free toast with sunflower seed butter and jelly. I ate more knowing I had 2 hours to digest. Some of the runners brought a hot shot and Starbucks VIA. They were kind enough to share in my desperation for routine.

Despite the previous day’s wardrobe indecision, I put on old capris, sports bra and a purple shirt I had worn all year for races. I put on Body Glide on the insides of my arms, since that skin tended to chafe. I put on compression socks (for warmth), a hoodie and neck gaiter. I decided on my Brooks Cascadias knowing the climbs ahead of me. I wore a mesh hat and gaiters. The gaiters were a last minute decision. It was a minor adjustment that I was okay to try on race day.

I asked Rachel for help putting on my bib. She had it on her right leg. She said she had seen our friend Marian do it. I didn’t want it under my hoodie. It was another minor adjustment I was okay to try. After we strapped on our hydration packs, we were ready. Rachel and I had a drop bag. Mine contained extra clothes, headbands, food, my knuckle light and my old GPS watch.  After every loop (10 miles) the runners could come back to the room, which was a command center for the race organizers and aid station. In this room, we met up with Jaclyn, a fellow MRTT-er also running the 50K.

We started under D.IN.O’s massive arch. It would take us around the lake before we were on the course. It was around 1 mile, which would give us the extra to make 50 K. We were crowded at first since it was all single track. It was also beautiful since the lake was calm and a mirror for the sky and trees. I trail run to sight see these things.

I don't remember who took this photo

Rachel, Jaclyn and I traversed together for a few miles. Those first 3 miles out of the 10 mile loop were pleasant, flat and scenic. Jaclyn and I pulled and head of Rachel. We chatted a bit and didn’t realize we lost Rachel. We were together up and down the ascents and descents. The night before someone advised us not to barrel down the descents (which is how I trained) because the trail was obscured by leaves.   At high elevations the ground was dry and loose. I learned from books and experience to let my upper body help with the ascents, resting my hands on my thighs during the climb. When my legs pushed the ground beneath me, my arms held up my upper body (which explains my sore upper back).  

The ascents got harder as we progressed. There seemed to be more uphill than downhill. I had to lean forward through all the uphills so I didn’t fall backward. Jaclyn and I were relieved that the trail over the bridge took us out of the woods. We decided to use the bathrooms straight ahead rather than the ones to our left to avoid another down hill.

This is where we made our mistake. We made it up Pike’s Peak before Jaclyn asked another runner where he had come from.  We realized we had made a wrong turn. We paused to let this sink in. We didn’t know where we missed the turn. Ultimately, neither of us would accept a DNF (did not finish). We made our way back down the hill and back to an aid station.  They directed us back to the bathroom we used. From that vantage, we saw the flags leading downhill after the bridge toward the other set of bathrooms we didn’t want to use. I tried to contain my disappointment at our mistake. At that point, I knew my goal to finish before dark might not be possible. We saw Brenda while we were looking for the correct route.  She knew right away what happened. I should note she was smiling and full of energy.  

I was relieved to be back on track. We made our way around a small lake, the Hi-5 zone which was 2 way traffic on the course and finally to the area around the lodge. I’m not quite sure how it happened but at one point, Jaclyn hit her foot on what was underneath some leaves. She caught her breath and waited a moment before she started to walk. She was unsure if she could continue the race. When we got back to our drop bags, she changed socks and composed herself. I gave her 3 ibuprofen and we moved on. When I got the ibuprofen from our room for Jaclyn, I was able to put an envelope in my pocket from my Jeanette. The envelope was marked "pull out as needed".

This would be our second loop and would be the hottest part of the day. I pulled my compression socks down and switched out my hat for a headband. I thought I would switch to a t-shirt but I didn’t. The stop and go nature of the course left me in a cold sweat, even when the temps peaked at 50°F.

I was hoping the aid stations would have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I ate a Reese’s peanut butter bar.  I also drank Coke and Gatorade. The volunteers were kind enough to fill my water bottles. I was disappointed that my honey stinger waffles hardened despite the warm temps. In my arsenal of nutrition, I enjoyed the Lara bar and RX bar the most.

At one point I don’t think I ate soon enough and experienced a low. The candy bar felt thick in my mouth. I drank some coke at the aid station and read a note from the envelope. I also told Jaclyn who talked me through the low until the Coke made me feel better. I regretted not packing my own sandwiches. I took it for granted that they are staples at trail races.

In my low, knowing my family were on the way to the race, I dreaded that they would have to wait a long time for me to finish. I dreaded finishing after sunset and felt fatigued. I celebrated when my watch indicated 26.2 miles, which was the longest I had ever run. When Jaclyn and I made it to the lodge I was relieved. I didn’t want to go back out.

We saw our friend Harmony. She recognized a bag from a race we did together at Land Between the Lakes. I had written my name on it. She brought us cupcakes. She had signed up for the 50 K with us but sustained an injury. She picked this race since it was the day of her birthday. An ultra-marathon would have been a way for her to celebrate her love of running. In her inability to run, she came to celebrate us. Seeing her happy and serene lifted my spirits. I remember a podcast saying if something isn’t working to change something, anything. I wasn’t able to run faster so I changed my shirt and socks. It made me feel less like I had been running for several hours. Harmony told me she wasn’t giving up on Louisville. This knowledge was another adjustment that made me happy. She also told me that Rachel came through about 10 minutes before we did. I might have given her a hug before we headed out.

Angelo texted me to let me know he and Julian had arrived and were parking. If I was anxious over them waiting for me, I was glad they were there. Jaclyn and I told ourselves that we were really doing this thing.  By now we were slower. Every ascent and the space in between ascents was a walk. My thighs were very sore. I couldn’t descent taking normal steps. I shuffled. Jaclyn, a stronger runner than I am, surged ahead.

The day was waning. I enjoyed the explosion of sunlight on the other side of the tree line. I enjoyed the time alone despite the pain in my legs. I told myself to look at these things because it was all the things I enjoyed about running. I didn’t want the pain to take that away from me.

I didn’t take photos during the race. I didn’t want to be distracted. I wanted to take in my surroundings with my eyes not behind a camera. In the last few miles, I had to remember my “why”. Running in the space of a workday was laughable. This was probably why my ultra-running homework was explicit about the strength of the "why". If it was strong enough, it would push you through the end.

It took me a while to figure out my “why”. Initially, I was inspired by a fellow MRTT-er Danielle’s account of running the Rough Trail 50 k last year. I had done the 25K. When I talked to Danielle afterwards, she said her (amazing) teammates, which were downed with illness, would have been there if they could. I decided if the notion of an ultra was about defying borders, I would do it to defy my borders.

Just to be clear, the glass border between me and the lion at the Louisville Zoo is a good border. Other arbitrary borders I faced while undocumented were not so good. Here in the woods, with tired legs, exhaustion, downed trees, ridiculous ascents and descents, the obstacles were not made up. I wanted to break through my desire to sit next to a vat of chips and salsa. During that third loop, my undocumented past and the limitations that came with it meant nothing. My immediate reality was that if I didn’t finish, I would be out in those woods alone. That ultra and pressing on was the only thing I could control. When the moon appeared, I took out my knuckle light. I was even slower in the dark.  Angelo sent me a few texts thinking I was coming around the lake. I hated to tell him that it wasn’t me. I wanted to cry at some points but didn’t. During the Baltimore Marathon I did cry out of pain and poor nutrition. Now it was just out of frustration at my slow progress.

When I came around towards the D.IN.O arch, Angelo, Julian and Harmony spotted me. It made me so happy to see Julian come across the border. He took my hand and pulled me towards the finish. I was proud to be there with him for my last race in 2017. I wanted him to see me finish, even though it was slow and lumbering. At some point he would know that it was a goal dreamed months ago. He would also know that that moment was dreamed from decades, without my documents, skulking at the border of a normal life.  Despite my list of lessons learned, I relished my first 50 K completed.

Photo by Harmony

Lessons Learned and Other Randomness:
  • Thigh strength! 
  • Reduced taper to 2 weeks instead of 3.
  • Honey stinger waffles weren’t good in the cold. I preferred Lara bars.
  • Make my own pbjs for a drop bag.
  • Bring my headlamp.
  • I did actually eat chips and salsa afterwards.
  • I ran 34 miles (55K) instead of 31 (50K) because of that wrong turn. I was on the course for a total of 10 hours, although Strava has me moving for 8 hours and 50 minutes. As disappointed as I was at not staying on course, I know for sure I can run more than 31 miles. This knowledge sparks a laughable ambition for more and opens the door for more adventures.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reaper 30K - Race Report

A few weekends ago I did the Reaper 30K at Salt Lick, KY. The course is part of Daniel Boone National Forrest. I signed up for this race last year not ready to make the leap from 25K to 50K. It was also really cheap. I liked the description of “part road and part trail”. I did all this before I decided to take on a marathon this past spring in hopes that I would have the mental stamina for a 50K. The 30K became part of my training plan for my upcoming 50K.

I decided to stay in Lexington with my sister in law at the last minute. When I went to bed I kept waking up thinking it was time to get up. When I finally fell asleep, my alarm went off. I was tired from getting ready to wake up. I meant to wake at 5am and got up at 5:50. I ate 2 hardboiled eggs and had an espresso. I made it out the. door at 6:30. The GPS said I would make it to the campground at 8:07am. As a runner, I prioritized a bowel movement at home rather than uncomfortable insides for the duration of the race.  I had to go through lots of traffic lights downtown Lexington before I got to I-64. I was driving towards a spectacular sunrise. I told myself I would be running soon enough. I focused on the drive as it was part of the race journey.

When I got to the campground the runners were off. I had to stop and wait for them to pass. The last minute change in the emails said it would be a “beach start”. I made a wrong turn following signs for the “beach”. I was glad to see where they started so I could find the starting line. While I waited for them to pass, I shed my fleece and hat, which was one small thing I could do to get ready. I saw my MRTT friends Amy and Tammy run by. I also saw Bob, a friend I made during the Horse Capital marathon, run by, which is always a good sign for me.

It wasn’t a very big race so I found parking easily. I put on my compression socks and shoes. I went with my Brooks Cascadia anticipating climbs similar to the Rough Trail.  I strapped on my hydration pack and headed to the start. Since I was late, they didn’t want to give me my bib without first consulting with someone. They gave me my bib and agreed to give me my shirt afterwards. She was kind enough to put my keys in my hydration pack. Her only instruction was that I start through the chute so my time is official, even though it was 12 minutes later than everyone else. Then I was off. I started on the road that I saw all the other runners just a few minutes prior. I stopped on the side of the road to pee. After an hour and a half in the car and that espresso, I couldn’t wait until I got on the trail.

The trailhead was inconspicuous and could be missed had it not been marked with pink flags. On the trail, being late was a distant memory. I was on a mission to catch Tammy and Amy, if that was even possible. The thought of running a 30K without them was lonely. Those first few miles were up a mountain. There were many switch backs on a dirt before I caught up to the sweepers. They asked me if I was the last racer. Then asked me to go ahead of them. I ran a little while longer until I caught a set of walkers who also asked me to go ahead of them. They commented that I was actually breathing hard. I was heartened that I wouldn’t finish last.

There were many downed trees on this trail, I had to go through, over and under a lot of logs. There were signs with the reaper that read “you didn’t think this would be easy did you lol” and it wasn’t. But it was early in the race and I thought, not today man in the mask devoid of color. I pressed on until I came upon a road and found more people walking. At that point I decided since I had trained mostly on road that this road and any flat would be runnable despite my legs being in shock from that ascent/descent. I told myself if I jogged these, I could walk the steeper sections.

The road led to the first aid station. I didn’t stop since I had had a snack earlier on. It led to more trails that went along Cave Run Lake. The view was stunning. After some very intense weeks at work, I was overjoyed to be in the woods. The weather was perfect. At the 5 mile point, I paused to text my husband. He, my son and sister in law were planning to meet me at the finish. I told them I would keep him updated on my progress. It was also at that moment that I read that friends had sent me messages wishing me a good race. I sent emojis back not mentioning my tardiness. I was happy for cell service out there.

As I moved along, I met up with a couple of women that told me they were from Ohio. I told them I started late. They said they wished that were the case for them and said they were slow. I wished them luck and asked if I could pass. They moved aside politely and I pressed on. I told myself these moments in the forest were the “me” time I had been craving with work being manic. This was an active reset and I didn’t want it to end. After some gnarly turns I found my friend Bob. He told me he back tracked seeing signs on the trail that were in the opposite direction. He was afraid we were headed the wrong way given the recent course changes. We headed back until we found the ladies from Ohio. They thought the course was properly marked since they were told by volunteers that the race director was out the day before marking the course. I was not nervous about the race. In my hectic work weeks, I had not reviewed the course. I relied on volunteers, flags and ribbon leading the way. I had no doubts until that point. The three of us followed Bob up a hill and past the backwards slippery rocks sign to the 2nd aid station. I picked up an Oreo and a quarter of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I don’t normally buy Oreos and or would eat a pbj on white but those things were phenomenal. I also refilled my water bottles. I always have one water and one electrolyte beverage. They had sword at this aid station. I passed Bob at this point. I was running high on Oreo cookie. There was a downhill after the aid station and I took advantage of gravity to fly down the hill.  At some point I paused to text Angelo I had made it to the 10 mile mark. He wrote back and said it was faster than my first 5 miles. I then told him I was late to the start. This was probably nails to a chalkboard for him since he is always on time. I did not explain the choice between a BM and a late start. Since he is a runner I knew he would understand.  So I pressed on. I learned during my long runs that a consistent snacking helped me feel normal during long distances. I had honey stinger chews and a gel in addition to the waffles.

The next aid station was on the top of a mountain. There were women cheering for each runner as they made it to the station. They had potato chips and Halloween candy. I had chips and a Reese’s peanut butter cup. I met Diana, a woman who recognized me as part of MRTT. She ran the Rough Trail last year too. She was having knee pain from an injury. She was hoping for sport tape at this aid station. I ran down not wanting to linger since I was feeling fatigued.

As I ran down the hill, I recalled one of the trail running podcasts that said to change something up if it’s not working. I recalled the person being interviewed saying she ran faster as the change. I did the same hoping my legs would feel less like lead. The increased pace and decreased contact with the ground helped. I was thankful that my friend and coach Jeanette that advised me last winter that I should read race reports and listen to podcasts to build my mental stamina. This was the downfall of my first marathon. Looking back during my 25k last year in these woods, my outlook was very different. At some point I paused to text Angelo I had reached mile 15.

Diana had caught me at this point. We leap frogged on the trail sort of chatting but in our own heads and running our own races. Mile 15 was a relief knowing I was almost done. Even though I had caught up to runners and walkers, I was still in the chase mindset. I heard kids cheering for runners as they reached the aid station. I was overjoyed to find it was Tammy and Amy. Amy was telling the aid station volunteer that she didn’t care what they had that she would try it all. It looked like a pumpkin bread loaf. When she saw me she gave me a bear hug and said she was so happy to see me. She and Tammy were fearful they would not let me race because of my late arrival. Amy said Tammy had been her rock during this race and that it was harder than the trail marathon she had just completed. I told them I thought the Rough Trail was much harder, which may or may not be true. Unlike the Rough Trail, I had not gone into this race sick.

We ran on the road at this point catching each other up on all things race and pre-race. The ladies told me they missed me the night before having shared a roasted chicken for dinner. I had shrimp and grits from the Craft House, which may or may not have been the best pre-race dinner. I would certainly have it again and the BM was worth a late start. I am not sure I said these words. It was the last stretch before that mountain I knew was coming. Amy said the race was the hardest she had ever done. I thought of the signs on this trail with the reaper on it. Ending on the downhill not be easy. At one point I had to get myself over a downed tree. It was huge and I could barely lift my legs to do it. We all laughed at the accidental straddling of the giant log.

At this point Diana had caught us. I told Amy and Tammy she was one of us. They asked her when she had joined the group. At some point we took a picture of ourselves overlooking a cliff. I hadn’t seen it when I started since it was foggy. It was hard to start again after a 10 second break, even though we were headed downhill. Tammy said we were just running down the side of a mountain, which was true. My quads were sore from climbing and my right knee hurt doing downhill. I had a wrap for it in my pack but not enough energy to put it on. The 30K was actually a 33K and we all wanted to be finished.

When we got on the road to the finish, I churned my legs as my friend surged ahead of me. I saw my family waiting for me by a school bus. My friends were ahead of me and told my family I was amazing.

I felt like my quads were a couple of slabs of meat. I will them to keep beating so that I would continue to move forward. The finish was in sight. My MRTT friends waited until I caught up so we could finish together. My son who has escorted me through a marathon and Olympic tri finish, also saw me through All of it felt glorious, beautiful and definitely worth repeating.

Lessons Learned and other Randomness:
  • The girls mentioned that for some time, their conversation involved the word “fuck” a lot at the difficulty of the course.
  • All we could talk about during the last descent was drinking a cold beer. I uttered the word “fuck” upon seeing the no alcoholic beverages sign on the campground
  • Amy told me she was so happy to see me she almost cried.
  • Amy and I were singing each other’s names, saying we were both badasses. We did this despite our own discomfort at the vertical climb. I recounted this part of our journey with our mutual friend Marian and said that it was love.
  • The drive from Lexington is an hour and a half not an hour.
Spectacular Sunrise by the Lake that  Missed. This is Tammy's picture

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Derby City Trifecta - Race Report

Transition Area

Big Four Bridge at Sunrise

I completed the Derby City Trifecta Olympic Distance triathlon. I prepared for this race with a plan developed by my friend and coach Jeanette.

In my adult life as an athlete, I have never had a coach. I enlisted her help to prepare for the 50k in December. In addition to following a plan, I wanted to be able to check in with someone with how closely I was following the plan. I wanted help in the areas that needed to be modified. For instance, I did not do well during a three week taper given my disposition. I felt sluggish. I also felt like my middle of winter self despite the marathon being in May. I was sleeping during the day and sometimes in front of my happy light. I might have done better with 2 weeks. I also liked the tempo runs during triathlon training, which I would like to incorporate into my 50k training.  Lastly, given Jeanette’s disposition and experience as in Ironman finisher, ultra-finisher and cancer survivor, I wanted to be able to check in with someone like her. She is on a journey of her own as a personal trainer. I asked for J’s help as a coach a couple of months ago. She was kind enough to prepare a triathlon training plan that incorporated my husband’s work schedule and a few “for fun” races I had on my calendar.

A lot of the plans I had found online were too detailed with bike drills, swim drills and running drills. I have experience in a previous life doing triathlons so I just needed a plan with the distances. I could dial the intensity up or down as my schedule allowed. I was approaching this race with an older body but more knowledge accumulated through running marathons and the collective experience of MRTT. Unlike that previous life, I wasn't working through any emotional crisis. This race was for fun and a break from running. I started cycling and swimming again. It was partly to acclimate to the onset of a hot and humid Kentucky summer. My asthma bothered me and swimming and cycling were more forgiving.

J uploaded an Excel document doc on Google docs. The document had my workout and also a log so I could write out my actual activities. I also wrote notes on my mood, how I felt during the workout if it was a good training session or not. I wrote about adding or decreasing intensity, duration or distance. I viewed the document as the least I had to accomplish every workout. J checked in with me once a week through Facebook Messenger. It was an ideal arrangement.

Right before race day, J said to have a picture of myself “gliding through the water, cycling with strong legs and running with my head up, strong arms and legs pushing through the course”. I think I might have had some pre-race anxiety 2 weeks before the race followed by the eerie calm race week. I thought about J talking about her Ironman during a bike ride .She said it was one of the most fun races she had done. A part of me couldn’t comprehend how such a long race could be fun. Another part of me understood that anything could be re-framed from a source of anxiety to an adventure. I was ready to pivot some angst into something else.  

Packet pickup for the race was at the University of Louisville boathouse. The race was small and well organized. On race day, I parked near the transition area. I had a 5 gallon bucket given to me by Kaitlyn, my marathon partner. I got the idea also from J through earlier posts in our MRTT Facebook page, as a gift for a dad getting into triathlons. This relatively cheap piece of equipment could house shoes, gear and helmet and also act as a stool during the footwear change.  K turned it into a way to cheer me on even when she wasn’t with me. 

On race day, I used a similar mental strategy as the marathon, listening to a song until it was in my head. When I felt pain mid race, my mind would default to the tempo and lyrics of the song, rather than the usual screaming in silence.  My song for this race was Yellow Flicker Beat by Lorde from the Hunger Games Soundtrack.  It seemed appropriate since Derby City is the Katniss Everdeen’s hometown.

As Coach J has also told me for previous races before she was “coach” was “give yourself permission to start slow”. (You are starting to see why I asked J to be my coach when the opportunity presented itself right?). The song started slow. Every part of the song allowed me to visualize every part of the race. The pace of the song allowed me to focus on the sunrise on the Ohio, catching my breath and finding a rhythm in the river. There were a lot of people in the river as we started off in heats. I was in the last heat with the rest of the women. They had us jump in from a small dock before the official “go”.

Ohio River

There was zero visibility in the river. Athletes had to rely on their senses of touch and lifting the head above water. I felt myself panicking at the start because I had no perception of moving forward. I felt like I had no chance of swimming away from the mass of humanity. I could not see my hands. We all seemed to be flailing in place. Despite that,  there was the distinctive burn in my shoulders from free style forward. A couple of times I found myself bumping heads with swimmers that had found the first turn around point and were headed the other way.

There were times I switched to breast stroke until I saw the bright yellow buoy. When there was nobody around, I broke out into full freestyle stride. I tried not to think of what was in the water thanks to having read Pandemic by Sonia Shah (thanks a lot NPR). It was Lorde at every stroke, the spectators at the riverbank and the boats that would denote the passing of 1500 meters.

The end of the 1st leg was back at the dock. The race organizers had a ramp where two volunteers were assisting swimmers out of the water onto the dock. I thanked the volunteer who grasped my hand and arm while I scampered up the astro turf. I took off my caps (I wore the race issued cap over my silicone cap that covered my ears) and goggles and jogged up the floating dock to the first transition.  

It was good so sit momentarily while I put on my bike shoes, which had my blueberry RX bar. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, bike gloves and watch afterwards. I jogged my bike outside of the transition to the bike mount area. Then I was off. The 40K was 2 loops on River road. I found myself commentating on the race like it was a harlequin romance. I was cracking myself up. I couldn’t recall the monologue now if I tried. I just remember thinking of men in halter tops and the names of bicycles taken from the periodic table or locations in Mexico. Then just like a switch flipped. My internal monologue went from jovial to cranky. I dug out the bar from my back pocket and ate it towards the end of the first loop. My right hand was on the handle bars and the left alternated between eating and steering. There were a ton of people that passed me on the bike that I probably passed them on the swim.

Parts of River Road were cracked. I rode as hard as I could. At times I held on to the bottom curve of the handle bars to keep some sort of aerodynamic pose like the other athletes. I gave up doing that since it’s not normally how I ride. Since the course was flat, I did not get up from the saddle at all, which makes for a sore bottom. I was ready for my third leg.

I got off at the dismount area and jogged to my transition. I sat on my bucket to get my bearings, get my bike shoes off and my running shoes on. I had my visor and a Honey Stinger Waffle on my running shoes. The RX bar was so filling, I didn’t need the waffle. I just held on to it and began my run.

Unlike my previous brick workouts, my legs felt stable. The 10k course was 2 loops into downtown Louisville.  It was a flat course and easy to run. I averaged about 9:30-ish pace. The course was an out and back with a loop at the top, like a lollipop. It was shady in some spots and forgiving. It was where I saw my boys. My son started to run with me at the start, maybe 75 meters. I had to send him back to his dad.

There was water and an electrolyte drink on the course. I had water once. It was cool in the shade. I found myself thinking about men and women in super tight tri clothes. I referred to my own getup as sausage casing and I was oozing out of it. Then I started to think that an event like this was a celebration of those oozing imperfections. No matter what time did to these bodies, they persisted indomitably forward.

Towards the end of my 10k, my son found me. I held his hand as we headed towards the finish. I instructed him to lift his hands high as we crossed. It was a glorious finish. It would be the second time my son escorted me into a finish line for a big race. The first was the Horse Capital Marathon.  Afterwards, we both had water, mini donuts and chocolate milk.

As I write this out, I realize how much having a coach in my corner has impacted my journey as an endurance athlete. I remember one of my English teachers saying that someone to care about your work can have a huge impact on your writing. I remember blogging for the first time and having my reader react. My efforts towards writing wasn’t in a vacuum anymore. The reader completed the process. In training, having a coach tuned into the technical aspects of my endurance journey is a layer beyond the camaraderie of MRTT. I know the things I have done right and the things that could be improved upon, like when to fuel for an Olympic distance triathlon. At age 39, I dislike admitting my vulnerabilities but opening up to Jeannette as a coach, beyond being friends has been worth it.

Photos courtesty of the race director:

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review - Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer, Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life by Alberto Ledesma

Dr. Ledesma’s graphic novel was an easy read yet cut to the core of my pre American life. It was also timely. I recently removed “the undocumented American experience” from the title of my blog. The reason is that my work, running, family and writing selves were starting to merge in the online space. I changed the title so that this part of my life would be slightly obscured. After all these years, I am still afraid.

This book is a reminder that our stories about having lived an undocumented life need to be told.  
I identified with the author’s undocumented beginnings, being told that they were going on vacation and never leaving.

Dr. Ledesma’s family legalized in 1986 with the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. He then went on to get his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He worked with an organization within UC Berkeley that assisted immigrant students. The author wrote that not every student was ready to come out publicly. He recognized the pressure to confess who they were “via ever increasing gut wrenching stories” to get support from the university.  Dr. Ledesma noted that it was important to recognize many of these students were still processing the psychological repercussions of their undocumented life on their identity.  

Even fully legalized the author wrote that grappling with the emotions of being undocumented, even for someone who has now spent decades enjoying the benefits of naturalized citizenship, was no easy matter. This novel seems to be a part of his process. He told me that if he could help one or two readers embrace the complexities of undocumented life, the effort would have been worth it. I'm grateful this book insisted on creating itself, as he wrote and that it found its way to me.

The author wrote about his daughter and slowly ceasing to hide his drawings from her. He talked about an awareness building in her about her family’s history. Then he told her, maybe surprising himself, that he was once undocumented.

What I loved most about this book was the author’s recognition (and actually seeing the words on the page) that the state of undocumented-ness has a psychic cost.

He wrote that unless his work was published, the notion that undocumented immigrants are brain dead parasites incapable of intellectual and ethical reflections regarding their social, political and historical condition in American society will persist. And, unless these ideas are challenged, undocumented immigrants will continued to be regarded as machinery devoid of spiritual or intellectual worth.

I like how Ledesma’s book is both a narrative about his life an also outside of it. The narrative is his life but the sketchbook format presents the other legislative and economic factors that affect an undocumented life. The ideas are quilted so someone like me with an undocumented past can process the experience visually. Similarly, somebody with no firsthand knowledge of being undocumented can step inside to understand a different narrative of the American experience.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review - Land Of Open Graves by Jason De Leόn

Photo from The Undocumented Migration Project website

I finished The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail.  It was a gift from my friend Carolina, creator of My (un)Documented Life blog.  It was written by Jason De Leόn, an anthropologist of Mexican descent, who spent 5 years in the field, in his journey to complete this project.  At its heart, his work depicts the violence faced by border crossers “as they attempt to enter the US without authorization by walking across the vast Sonoran desert of Arizona”. Its focus is on the Prevention through Deterrence (PTD) policy enacted in 1993.

The author explained that when the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1994, the U.S. promised economic prosperity for Mexico if it would open up its ports of entry for inexpensive goods. Shortly thereafter, Mexico was abundant with U.S. subsidized corn that put millions of Mexican farmers out of work

Google gave me some background on NAFTA. Its purpose was to expand the flow of goods between Canada, US and Mexico. It eliminated import tariffs and eliminated or reduced non-tariff trade barriers like import quotas, licensing schemes and technical barriers to change. Lastly, it created protections for intellectual property.

I harken back to my reading of In our Image by Stanley Karnow.  In the late 1800s, William Taft advocated for lower tariffs for Philippine sugar, hemp, tobacco and coconut oil. In exchange, duties were imposed on non US products going into the Philippines, so they were more expensive than US products. These decisions during the long term relationship between the US and the Philippines, created the economic landscape. I understood my family’s migration. I appreciated how Mr. De Leόn created the backdrop between US and Mexico.  I am reminded that people wouldn’t risk such a journey if there were other economic options.   

I learned too with NAFTA that Mexico’s wages increased 2.3% between 1994 and 2012.  Unemployment rates were high. Between 1991 and 2007, almost 2 million jobs were lost in the agriculture industry. Also in that time period, the price of tortillas, a staple in Mexican increased 279%. Coupled with the falling price of corn paid to Mexican farmers, it was a blow to the Mexican economy. The displacement of farmers created a surge in Mexican emigration to the U.S. Upon arriving, they lived incognito and competed for low wage jobs.

I learned approximately 11.7 million people were apprehended by the US border patrol in the Tucson area. It is “a craggy, depopulated and mountainous patch” from New Mexico to Arizona, south of Tucson between the Baboquivaro and Tumacácori mountains. The border patrol counts on the terrain. It’s the agency’s not-so-secret weapon in moving more border patrol to populated cities so migrants have to cross in depopulated areas.

The PTD strategy was and is effective. Death was the unintended consequence but the Government accountability office (GAO) identified death as a measurement of PTD’s success.

Mr. De León initiated the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) in 2009 with a goal that anthropology and its 4 fields: ethnography, archeology, forensic science and linguistics could be used to understand migration and the economics behind it. He thought in humanizing the undocumented masses, serious conversations about America’s broken immigration system could take place.

The author refers to the “hybrid collectif”, which are actants that create a hybrid system that is equal parts human, plant, object and geography. This complex relationship, at different moments in time and space, creates a wall of deterrence. The border patrol has used the PTD to do the dirty work while absolving itself of blame connected with migrant death or injury. The author calls it a “moral alibi”.
The author then talks about necroviolence, hostility towards the dead that humans have perpetuated for a millennia. He gave examples of Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Troy, the Aztec’s mounting the heads of conquistadors and their horses on Tzumpantilli as a message to Cortez to evacuate Tenochtitlan and the Catholics feeding bodies of Protestants to crows and dogs during the French Wars. Such acts were “glories” to the perpetrators because torture extended beyond the moment of death.

While in the field, the author experimented with the bodies of pigs. He paid for 5 of them to be shot. Each was dressed in clothing typically worn my migrants. Each body was then placed in different contexts (sunlight v. shade) while the author and his team could observe the rapid decomposition of the body in the desert.

After the pigs were killed, they were dressed in clothing one might expect on a migrant. “Someone put a wallet in each of the pockets along with other personal effects, including several coins and slip of paper with a phone number written on it. A black backpack with a bottle of water are placed next to the body”.

After 120 hours turkey vultures are attracted by the stench. They feasted. In about 6 hours the bones are de-fleshed. By day 3, the pig body is a shell of what it used to be. The clothes were torn. The shoes and pants were nowhere to be seen. Maggots worked on the remaining tissue between the vertebrae. When he body was light enough, the birds picked up and moved it around to access whatever meat was left. Skeletal elements and personal effects were recovered over 50 meters from the original location. The turkey vultures fed on what remained. The experiment stopped after 14 days. The author and his team collected what bones they could find.

Photo from The Undocumented Migration Project
The mutilation and eventual erasure of bodies in the dessert as a result of PTD is intended to send a message to others who consider the journey.  At times the author wondered about the act of using pigs in migrant clothes for his work. The animals served their purpose of showing him, his audience, us, that the terrain traversed by migrants was chosen with the intent of their demise. It is a warning against other crossers that they should not enter our borders. Death awaits them.  Horrors will come to pass beyond death. Given the amount of bodies recovered in Arizona and the technology used by border patrol (drones, night vision goggles) “suggests that a war on non-citizens is in fact taking place on US soil”.

My Google search on ethnography has informed me that ethnographers observing a culture, within the setting as both participant and observer form lasting bonds with the people they observe.

The latter half of this book is about the author's contact with two gentlemen, Memo and Lucho that were aids at a migrant station. They were also border crossers. He refers to them as his friends and his brothers. He writes of their time helping other migrants, their own preparations for their crossing and what their lives were like after the journey. Never mind the near death experience of traversing the dessert. Their lives in the US had also taken its toll. With the author's background and intimacy with the language, he talks of their individual hardships, detectable within the dialogue.

The author then talks about finding Maricela. Maricela, who loved to sing and dance, had a husband and children. She crossed having seen what her brother in law was able to provide his family through remittances. She wanted the same for her children.

She was found lying face down in the dirt. She wore generic white and brown running shoes, black leggings and a long sleeved camouflage shirt. She collapsed mid hike. Her fingers had curled with rigor mortis. Her pants were stained with excrement and were bubbling with copper colored fluids expelled from her body upon death. When her body was loaded onto a plane, she became a documented Ecuadorian citizen with rights and privileges. Never mind that she had no face and hands. The author explained to her family that the authorities probably needed her finger prints. Her hands had stiffened with rigor mortis. “The fingers curl and they had to soak the skin to get the finger prints”. Mr. De Leόn told her family that animals had not mutilated her.  Maricela was one of the exceptions since her family had the opportunity to bury her.

Photo by Michael Wells
This book was a difficult read. I am reminded of my privilege. My journey to America was via airplane. We had meals and a suitcase of personal items. When we arrived in the spring, our family had coats for us. My migration had its trauma but none of it reduced us to bare life, the way the nameless undocumented endure. The author has focused on the PTD policy but there are so many systems at play that would have the U.S. government enact such a strategy.  It is evident that the economic data is a priority.

I am grateful of the author’s reminder that the lives taken by the dessert are not statistics. They are individuals that just like Maricela deserve the rights and privileges afforded to any human.  

I made contact with the author. He was kind enough to provide the image of the pigs (photo courtesy of the Undocumented Migration Project) and Maricela (photo by Michael Wells). 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Horse Capital Marathon - Race Report

I completed the Horse Capital marathon in Lexington this past weekend. My family and I went to Lexington on Friday afternoon. I was already in the zone. I ate mounds of pasta Thursday night so my insides could have a day to settle. Friday night dinner was grilled chicken, baked potatoes and broccoli.

I got up at 4:30am on Saturday to eat and have coffee. I had a chance to listen to music, stare at the wall and wake up. I picked up Kaitlyn at her hotel at 6:15. We got to Fasig Tipton around 6:30. We picked up our bibs and shirts, went to the bathroom and we were off at 7am.

I was obsessive about starting at the 11 min mile pace. My 1st marathon was a learning experience in strategy so I wanted start off slow and make sure I still had something left in the end.

It was a beautiful morning. It was a picture of rolling fields, textured clouds, manicured grass and hedges and well-kept fences. There were barns, homes and sinewy horses surrounding us. We even saw a group of cows.

We met a runner named Bob (which was a good sign) running the half marathon. He was a good story teller. I was too far inside my head so I was happy to listen. He told us he was a diabetic. Running kept his numbers in check. He also said his mother was worried about him running. He said before she passed, he was able to run a marathon and have her see him finish. He also told us that Dale, our 4:55 pacer and his co-worker, was formerly 600 pounds. Dale lost the weight through diet and exercise. He was on the Today show and the Biggest Loser. Kaitlyn and I were sad when we separated from him at the 10 mile mark. 

At 15 miles, I was queasy. I stopped running and took one of my salt tablets. I felt better. I always suffer at this point, even in training. Kaitlyn talked me through it. I thought of my friend Amy who said she felt powerful at mile 18 during her first trail marathon. That’s where I wanted to be, even though the heat turned my insides. I asked Kaitlyn to tell me about the winters in Minnesota, where she was from. She told me they plugged their batteries during the night to make sure their cars started in the morning. We talked about the grey skies during the winters in MN and upstate NY, unlike the bright blue sky upon us.

I marked the moment at mile 19 because I was happy to be there. During my first marathon, I was demoralized seeing how far around the lake I had to go. This time I felt no knee pain, no gut pain and no wanting to be elsewhere.   

I saw Kaitlyn starting to suffer. I told her she was amazing. What else do you call someone who doesn’t have a history of running that has a bad first marathon and does another one a month later? She wanted me to leave her. I didn’t. I told her stories about my son telling some other boy at school in a haughty manner that what he colored was a leopard and not a cheetah. The boy told my son he could do whatever he wanted in the manner 5 year olds do.

Those last miles were a combination of walking and jogging. The Lexington farms were bathed in sunlight but the road was like the dessert. The temperature was in the high 80s and there was no shade. We took turns holding my water bottle, drinking from it, spraying each other and ourselves.
Towards the end, Kaitlyn said we had been running for 25 miles. It didn’t matter how we were doing it as long as we moved forward. I always thought of running as a solitary sport but in those moments, our pain and elation was shared.  At the finish, the boys and my sisters in law and Bob were waiting for us. Everyone was so proud of us.

It wasn’t the time I had hoped but my goal had been to finish mentally intact.  As a person with so many hang ups, I didn’t want one more. I didn’t want to cry. It was a long run and not something that defined me. There was no larger meaning in the numbers (you can see the things I had cried about during the first race) other than it being the result of the time I poured into it. My MRTT friends, who were texting me before and after, all knew this but it was something I would have to come to on my own.

I am a runner with depressive tendencies. The most important thing I came away with from this run was that I could be in pain and not let my mind go into dark places. I could decide that negative self-talk did not have their voice even when my mind was fatigued. I prepared for mental fatigue by overplaying a song by Rihanna.  When I was not able to talk to myself through running, the song would remind me that we were chasing the light and also making a choice to be happy.  

I chose the Hal Higdon Novice 2 training plan. I had 17, 18 and 20 mile runs before this race. I was supposed to have a 19 mile run, which ended up being 11 miles because I injured my back that morning. I took it easy for about two weeks and saw a chiropractor . I was on a regimen of ice and frequent walking during the day to keep the blood flowing around the injured area.  

There was no speed work in the plan but I incorporated my own speed work in the end. I have been training with Kaitlyn, Ulises and the women of MRTT on road and trail since the winter. Running in the heat had its repercussions post-race. I needed a lot off food and fluid to recover. On the trails, I usually run with a hydration pack but I chose not to for this race thinking my torso would get hot.

The day before the race I used a foam roller and yoga to loosen my shoulders and my glutes. Those areas suffer from me sitting at a desk from my job. 

My nutrition during training was Tailwind and Honey Stinger waffles and chews. The waffles made me feel sick during the race. I was better off drinking Sword and eating pretzel bites and salt tablets at the aid stations. 

Monday, May 22, 2017


It has been 6 months since my last post. Post-election I had to regain my bearings. I did not want to give in to fear and my seasonal affective symptoms. Fear choked the voice out of me. I had fears that haven’t actually come to pass. Not seeing the sun for 15 days over the winter made me feel like the simplest task was difficult. I had to think through each step of the process. This state was not sustainable for me. My solution was to throw myself into being a mom, my job and running. After all, I am all of those things, not just a political byproduct. I bought myself a happy light and found a primary care physician to help manage my symptoms. I also signed up for a marathon. I resolved that a bad experience from my first marathon could be redeemed. It made me think that all decisions could be redeemed. Election results are no different. In this writing journey, I resolve to continue learning, have meaningful conversations, act and ultimately evolve.