I’ve met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, … Didn’t I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can’t I see how we’re all ...

Click here to read this mailing online.

Your email updates, powered by FeedBlitz

Here is a sample subscription for you. Click here to start your FREE subscription

"Daily Adventures" - 5 new articles

  1. Losing My Religion
  2. The Canyons 100K ~ 2017
  3. Why we all Love the Way Too Cool 50K
  4. Running with the Wolves: The Superior 100
  5. Highway 61 Revisited
  6. More Recent Articles

Losing My Religion

I’ve met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, … Didn’t I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can’t I see how we’re all manifestations of love?
I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God’s got this all wrong.
We are not special.
We are not crap or trash, either.
We just are.
We just are, and what happens just happens.
And God says, “No, that’s not right.”

Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything.

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

My favorite local coffee shop in town does that thing where they have two tip jars, and wherever you put your tip is answering a question. For example, this morning’s question was “Which Harrison Ford?” The two tip jars were labeled “Han Solo” and “Indiana Jones.” I’ll confess, I paused a long moment deciding in which jar to drop my coins. (I mean, seriously, could there be a more difficult frivolous question? They are both my #1 answer!) 

I have a pretty good time checking out what categories they come up with every day, and studies show that these “category” tip jars actually garner more tips than unlabeled jars. This is because it’s the very nature of our brains to want to put things into categories. 

Categories, and their corresponding labels, help our brains make sense of large amounts of information quickly. I’ll skip the cognitive psychology lecture for you though. What’s important to know is that the labels our brains create (aka schema) work really well for most things in this world, but they create a lot of problems when we apply them to human beings. It is much more difficult to imagine and see people for the complex individuals that we are, and our brain actively fights this by wanting to categorize everyone. This, of course, is how we end up with ugly things like racism, sexism, classism, etc. 

Lately, I’ve been pondering not only how we put others into categories, but ourselves as well. We see ourselves in very specific ways, and sometimes I wonder which came first - the labels we have for ourselves, or the behaviors that give us those labels. And what happens when those things change, but no one wants to change their label for you?


When I was 22, I was nearing the end of a six-month road trip with my friend Charlie, and her biggest stress in those final days of traveling was what she called “ having an identity crisis.”

“Who am I,” she asked fretfully, “if I’m not a nomadic adventurer living out of a van?” 

It was a label she was about to lose - one that she liked very much. 

Here’s a good test of the labels people have for you. When people introduce you at a party, what’s the tidbit of info they share about you? Mine, without fail, is always exactly the same. 

“This is Gretchen. She runs hundred-mile marathons.” 

Although I completely, 100% identify as a Runner with a capital “R,” I still cringe lately when I hear this introduction. It’s not just that I have to bite my tongue and politely refrain from informing people that there is no such thing as a hundred-mile marathon, that a marathon is a specific distance of 26.2 miles (okay, unless you’re in South Africa, but I digress). It’s mostly the fact that then I have to talk about myself. Specifically, I am obligated to talk about running “hundred-mile marathons.” 

But lately, I feel completely talked-out on the subject. I’ve written thousands of words on it. Like, what else could I possibly have to say about it? I didn’t even write a race report for my last hundred-miler because meh. I didn’t care to. 

When I run into people around town, or see friends I haven’t seen in a long time, the conversation inevitably starts with, “How’s the running going?” And lately, the answer is always, “Oh, I’m not doing much running lately.” (And invariably, no one believes me.) 

Like I said, I completely identify as a runner, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. When something has been such an ingrained part of your life for so long, it doesn't just disappear. I also don’t think you need to be actively doing it to still see it as a part of you. But here’s the thing: I’m starting to realize that might be the only thing people see me as. A runner. 

Before training for ultras sucked all of my time away, I was many things. A rock climber, a painter, a knitter, a skier, a photographer. I think it’s fine that I don’t have as much time for those things; it’s all a choice. But I still see them as part of who I am. Labels that fit me.

You know what I’m getting off on these days? Teaching. No joke. This is what’s taking up all of my time. 

It’s not because I’ve become some crazy workaholic. Ha! Never. It’s because I’ve somehow reached this magical little place in my career where things are interesting and exciting, where I am supported professionally and creatively, where I have confidence in my skills but a drive to learn moremoremore every day. It is quite possible, in fact, that it is learning that I love more than teaching. 

I struggle to explain it all adequately, but somehow, the passion and creativity that used to go into writing, that used to fuel me through 80-mile training weeks, is all going into my classroom. And it’s FUN. 

It seems ironic to me that “teacher” is a label that most of my friends do not ascribe to me. Or maybe they do, but it just doesn’t sound as exciting as “runs hundred-mile marathons.” 

I don’t know that this joyride through my career will last forever, but I’m onboard until the tracks run out. And since summer vacation began in mid-June, I’ve been dipping my toes back into some of those other identities. Rock climber, guitar player, maybe even writer. 

In the past, my training has been fueled by my love of racing. For some reason, it’s not fashionable for non-elite runners to admit to competitiveness. This is especially true, I think, for women. But I’ll go ahead and own it. I have always loved racing. Even when I’ve had less-than-optimal fitness, I’ve nearly always toed the line at races with an intention to throw down my best performance. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point, right? 

I love running, but signing up for a race has always been what gets me out the door to train. I am religious about writing out a season-long training plan for myself, and meticulous about recording the results of each day’s workout. 

Or at least, I used to be. 

At the moment, racing just isn't as sacred as it once was, and the daily prayer of going for a run is most often left unsaid. 

So I guess it’s not surprising that a waning interest in racing over the last few years has led to a dramatic drop in my running mileage. That’s okay. I have other labels to embody. 

Since the Broken Arrow Skyrace in mid-June, my racing calendar has been completely blank. It’s something of a disconcerting feeling, but there’s also something new and exciting about it. It’s as though, with no specific goals to train for, I am rediscovering other reasons I love to run. 

Community appears to be a big reason. At least half of my runs in the past month have been with friends and/or group runs with the Donner Party Mountain Runners. These people give me a reason to get out the door, and they are completely awesome to boot. 

Meditative alone time is clearly my other motivation. I’ve written many times before about the relationship between running and writing, so it comes as no surprise to me that when my running mileage drops so too does my inspiration to write. Most of my writing is an act of reflection, a processing of my experience or that of others, and that reflection nearly always begins when I am out on the trails. Without that uninterrupted time for my mind to wander, to give my thoughts the freedom to follow any path and see where it leads, I find it nearly impossible to squeeze my enormous emotions and jumbled ideas into the inadequate packages of words, sentences, and paragraphs. 

We all take on roles and identities throughout the course of our lives - ones that evolve and change. Child, student, athlete, nerd, musician, parent, teacher, artist, lover. The ones that stay with us the longest may have the most impact on shaping how others see us and how we see ourselves. Girl, daughter, runner, friend. 

While it’s not so easy to shed these various identities like dirty clothes at the end of the day, maybe we can still claim them even if it’s not who we are every day. When I am injured, I am a runner. When I am uninspired and write nothing, I am a writer. When I only lace up my shoes one day a week (or month), I am a runner. When I write horrifically bad poetry that no one will ever see, I am a writer. When I run three miles instead of ten (or 30, or 100), I am a runner. When the only writing I do is writing comments and feedback for revision on student papers, I am a writer. 

What I find somewhat surprising is that, of those two identities - runner and writer - the one I miss the most right now is writer. 


The more labels I pin to myself, the more I feel I am defying any single one of them. Of course, we all defy our labels, in spite of our brains’ need to have them. Is this because we are all “unique snowflakes of special unique specialness”? Not exactly. I think we just are who we are, and human beings can be a difficult puzzle to solve. 

I think that for people to understand and connect with one another, we must, as author John Green encourages in many of his writings, imagine others complexly. This includes how we imagine and see ourselves. Snowflakes are unique, but puzzles are complex. 

This summer, I have embarked on a quest to rekindle the fire of my various passions. No teaching - it’s time for EVERYTHING ELSE! 

This includes running, which, I’m not kidding, I feel like I’m completely rediscovering. In a very low-mileage way, that is. I returned from an early morning track workout with DPMR one day this week and declared, wide-eyed, to Andrew, “God, I feel so good!” Like, what a wondrous thing! Who knew? 

It also includes writing. Even if all I manage to cobble together is a collection of confusing and somewhat unrelated thoughts about labels and identity and running. 

Running and writing: the Han Solo and Indiana Jones of my identities. They are both my #1 answer.

New identity: Ski Mountaineer. (Mt. Shasta summit, 14,180') 


The Canyons 100K ~ 2017

Author's Note: I wrote this piece back in May, shortly after the Canyons took place. What follows is the "first draft" of the significantly shorter piece that came out in Ultrarunning this month. To be honest, I don't consider myself a really strong writer, but what I am is a crack editor. I can usually take a horrid first draft, revise it, hack it back by at least 30%, and turn it into something reasonable.

What I learned writing this piece is that the approach to writing something that is 800 words is wholly different than the approach to writing something that is 2,500 words. Like, I already knew this in theory, but oh man. Now I know it in practice. Even a good editor struggles when faced with reducing the word count by 60% while still maintaining the essence of the original piece. Next time, I will limit my "horrid first draft" to 1000 words.

So, it's not that this version is really any better than what you'll see in print. But I spent so much time on it, that I felt compelled to share the director's cut. If you can't get enough of The Canyons, then read on.


The Canyons Endurance Runs take place every spring on the historic Western States Trail out of Foresthill, and I’ll tell you a secret: April is the best time of year to run here.

Part of RD Chaz Sheya’s vision for the event is to provide an opportunity for every runner to experience this storied trail.

“The reality is, it can take a really long time to get an entry into the Western States 100. It took me six years,” he shared. It’s clear from his voice that he’s passionate about offering that access to all runners, especially those from out of the area who might not have the trail knowledge to come run it on their own. “You want to race on the Western States trail? Cool. Here’s a race where you can just sign up and come run it!”

This year, on the last Saturday in April, 400 runners do just that. Like many of the other 100K entrants, my primary goal for the day is simply to finish with a Western States qualifier. Anyone who came here expecting an easy 100K qualifier though will be in for a surprise. The Canyons can dish out suffering and disappointment with the attitude of a much longer race.

The first half of the 100K course heads north out of Foresthill through the namesake iconic canyons of the Western States trail. This half is by far the most difficult part of the race, consisting of an out-and-back across three steep canyons. Preserving any running ability for the second, more runnable half of the race requires a great deal of conservative pacing through the steep descents and climbs of the canyons.

My first worry of the race meets us at mile two in the form of Volcano Creek. All spring, as snow in the high country melted, this creek crossing had grown deeper and more challenging. Two weeks prior, it had been nearly waist deep at the crossing, with immense force from the rushing current.

Jamie crossing the creek two weeks before race day.

“It’ll be exciting!” I declare to two women running in front of me as we make haste on the technical downhill of Volcano Canyon.

“There’s some positive spin,” one of them laughs.

One thing we all agree on, there will probably be a bottleneck as runners cross carefully with the aid of a rope stretched across the water.

As it turns out, the race directors added a rope, giving runners two places to cross. They even replaced the usual, flimsy rope that hung there with something sturdier -- a much-needed improvement for race day. With the creek actually running slightly lower than I's last seen it, the crossing turns out to be quick and painless, the current coming only up to about mid-thigh on me.

There are a couple miles of dirt roads after you climb out of Volcano and head into the first aid station at Michigan Bluff. We run in various small groups, enjoying the company of other runners as the sun rises on the still chilly morning. I run much of this part with Jen Hemmen and Whit Rambach.

“The best way to run this course is to negative split,” I tell Jen with authority. Because, you know. I’m an expert.

It's a sentiment I repeat to at least two other runners during the day. And while it’s not an incorrect strategy, it is perhaps harder to do than I recognize. Especially if one’s training happened to consist of running just twice a week.

I do my best to execute the negative split, staying relaxed on the descent down to El Dorado Creek. The shade of evergreens and oaks keep things comfortable, and the four-mile climb up to the aid station at The Pump goes by quickly. The amount of trail work that has been done through this area is only apparent to those of us who have been out here all spring, and I am duly impressed. Winter wrought difficult conditions, with downed trees incessant and entire sections of trail washed away. The Western States trail crew, along with Chaz and his merry band of chainsaws, clearly fought the good fight in recent weeks, and I am grateful.

At The Pump, runners are greeted by the rainbows, unicorns, and energetic smiles of Reno’s Silver State Striders. The genuine love flowing out of this group exemplifies one of the best things about The Canyons Endurance Runs: community. In only its fourth year as an event, Canyons already feels like family.

Good feels at the Striders' aid station. (Photo: Jill Anderson)

It is hard to leave the energy of the Striders aid station. I am buoyed by the knowledge that, after a short (though not quick) drop down to the Swinging Bridge, we will see them again on the round trip back to Foresthill.

Happy at the Pump. (Photo: Jill Anderson)
Adding to the challenge of this steep and technical section is the fact that runners travel in both directions. Only 15 miles in, we are all still smiling, and it’s an opportunity to say a quick hello-and-good-job to a lot of friends. In spite of this, the constant dance to pass becomes tiresome after a while.

The day warms enough for me to shed my arm warmers, and I share a few miles on the return to Foresthill with my friend Miriam Smith. Eventually though, I realize that staying with Miriam means I am probably running too fast. I let her go ahead. Although I feel comfortable, my watch indicates that I will get to the halfway point at Foresthill with about seven hours on the clock. That is exactly the same pace I ran last year, and I’d followed it up with a six-hour second-half. Thus making me the negative split expert.

In the past three years, as my motivation and enthusiasm for consistent running has waned, I have continuously revised my definition of what it means to go into a race undertrained. Now, as I arrive at Foresthill on pace with my 13-hour finish from last year. I quite honestly think to myself, “Maybe training is just a waste of time.”

Thirty years as a competitive runner, and sometimes I am still dumber than the most ignorant rookie.

The aid station at Foresthill has the familiar feel of race day at Western States. A cheering swarm of family and friends mingle with volunteers. Someone brings me my drop bag, while friend and Aid Station Director Sean Flanagan helps me get fueled up for the second half of the race.

The day has warmed considerably, and I fill my bra with ice before heading out in the opposite direction toward the Middle Fork American River. It will be 15 miles of somewhat rolling, but overall gradually downhill, terrain to the turnaround at Rucky Chucky.

The trail makes a long traverse across the sloping canyon, with views of the snowy Sierra above and the sparkling river below. When I tell people that if they only run here on race day at Western States, they are missing the trail in its best season, this is the scene that comes to mind. The 70 degree temps are mild, even if it doesn’t feel like it to this mountain girl. The slopes are lush and green, and wildflowers abound. California poppies, lupine, paintbrush, shooting stars. They attract butterflies who put on their own dancing display of color. Small waterfalls and creeks cross the trail as it winds in and out of pocket watersheds, and they are unusually swollen for this time of year.

I can feel my right hip tightening in a way that is worrisome, and eventually my left ankle also gets cranky. I find myself questioning if six hours for this 50K is really a possibility. I splash off in the creeks to keep cool, and finally find my way to the Cal 2 aid station and the loving arms of the ladies of my own Donner Party Mountain Runners. Here is another infusion of love and energy, and at this point, I am sorely in need of it. The trail is exposed, the sun hot, and I know the seven miles to the turnaround are not going to pass quickly.

Bob Shebest cruises past me in the opposite direction on his way to the men’s win. Sharing the trail with runners on their return trip is less tedious this time since there are no 50K runners, and we are more spread out. Apparently a fair number of 100K runners dropped at Foresthill, which would also account for the thinner traffic.

I approach a beautiful creek crossing to be surprised by Kelly Barber popping up from full submersion in a deep pool.
“Oh my God, you are brilliant!” I tell him, as I take off my hat and sunglasses in preparation for the same treatment. He is clearly having a good race and throws words of encouragement over his shoulder at me as he tears off down the trail. The soaking is delicious, and I swear my body temperature drops by two full degrees while my spirit climbs in proportion.

Cat Bradley heads by looking incredibly casual and with what looks to be a sizeable lead in the women’s race.

“I love your pigtails!” she calls to me. This makes me smile, and I thank her. I love it when the top athletes have the spirit to cheer and support the other runners.

As the miles slowly tick by, the trail maintains its beauty, and fellow runners trade greetings, I recognize the state that is setting in: survival and acceptance. The return to Foresthill isn’t going to be especially pretty. There will be more walking than I’d like and increased pain in my hip and ankle. But it will get done. I’ll get there. And it’s that confidence that allows me to appreciate the struggle of the remaining miles, if not quite enjoy them.

Somewhere in the last five miles, I’m climbing another endless hill that god-dammit-I-should-be-able-to-run-but-can’t, when I see my friend Michelle Edmonson heading toward me.

“Yeah, Michelle!” I give her a cheer. “How are you?”

“Oh, man.” She shakes her head, and I can see she’s deep in the thick of this thing. “I’m fighting, Gretchen.” Her voice shakes slightly through her smile.

I want to stop. Give her a hug. Tell her she’s got this, she’s badass. Tell her I totally get it.

Neither of us has time for that shit.

“That’s what it takes,” is all I’ve got for her. “Keep fighting!”

And I hike on, engaged in my own fight toward the finish.

I manage to get there before truly needing to turn on my headlamp, and I take a morsel of pride in this. There’s a reasonable crowd cheering for me, and five seconds after I cross the line, I am sitting in a chair while Sean once again fetches my bag for me. Thank God because I am certain I could not have walked the 20 yards to get it myself.

Even in darkness, the finish line at Canyons is essentially a ten hour party. Friends, family, and exhausted runners sit in scattered chairs sharing stories. Chaz grills tri tip and wild duck next to the beer keg and a buffet of hot soups. Music from the speakers is punctuated by the periodic sounds of cowbells and cheering, signaling the approach of another runner.

Well after midnight, the same crowd of friends who had been manning The Pump aid station are gathered around the finish area bringing the same effusive energy to cheer every late night runner across the line. They wait for their friend and Striders teammate Michelle, who is still fighting it out on the course.

She is the final runner across the line, and the Striders have champagne, sleeping bag, and flip flops all ready for her.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Chaz, “to have so many people out for that late-night support, cheering on every finish.” This includes the 14 finishers who won’t make the 18-hour cut off to get a States qualifier.

It’s exactly that feeling that I love about this race. It doesn’t matter that I had a fairly ho-hum performance. It feels good to have tired, aching legs and be surrounded by friends. Providing an opportunity for you to push yourself while also giving you incredible support is what makes The Canyons Endurance Runs truly magical.


Why we all Love the Way Too Cool 50K

Frog cupcakes! Who doesn't love frog cupcakes!?

I know some of you deny it – you call it the “Way Too Crowded” and turn up your noses. You say, “I just can’t deal with the conga line,” but you still show up to spectate. You train on the course with your buddies, who are all registered to race, and discuss the prospects of Max or Varner or this-years-new-thang. You pretend otherwise, but just like the rest of us, you totally love the Way Too Cool.

Jenelle, Jamie, and Sarah keep warm before the start of the 2013 Way Too Cool.

Cool is many things to many different people. For some, it serves as an early season benchmark. Where do I stand after a winter of semi-slothdom? For others, its friendly terrain makes for perfect first-time ultra racing. Because I run Cool year after year, it works well as a measurement of my own progress as a runner over the years. For those of us from the Tahoe and Reno areas, heading down the hill the first week of March is also a springtime ritual that beckons us with warm sunshine to break from the winter chill. Because it seems that the entire NorCal ultra community turns out for this race, it is also the pinnacle of socializing this time of year, second only to summertime's Western States.

What were some of my best Cool experiences? Back in 2011, going sub-5:00 was a big deal, and I was pretty stoked to get there. Let’s not forget the shit-storm outhouse-search of 2012. Most hilarious race report ever, I’m pretty sure. There were the quivering quads of 2014 which resulted in both my course PR (4:44) and the most painful post-race leg cramping I’ve ever experienced. That’s what happens when you run hard while under-trained, friends! Last year was the I’ve-barely-trained-so-I’m-running-without-a-watch-and-pretending-I-don’t-care year. It was a pretty good strategy that garnered me a 4:50 without too much trouble.

This will be my sixth year running this iconic trail test. With that in mind, I have some highlights and tips for those of you who will be toeing the line with me on Saturday. Here are some things to enjoy and things to watch out for:

  • Newbies: Don’t go out too fast! That first paved mile gets sub-looney really easily. Take the 8-mile loop to get your legs and warm up.

  • Veterans: Go out fast! No kidding. It’s easy to get caught behind the mob. When I ran a 12 minute PR to go 4:44, I shaved 8 of those minutes off in that first 8-mile loop. Apparently I’d been taking it too conservatively.

  • Use caution on that downhill between the first aid station and the Quarry Road aid. It’s a good place to use your refined downhill technique, but it’s also a good place to blow out your quads if you hammer it too hard. I always feel like people hammer this part, and I clean them up later after mile 20.

  • Drink-up at Maine Bar. They say it’s only 4.3 miles from there to the ALT aid station, but I swear to God it’s more like 8. I can never make that distance on one bottle without running dry and cramping as a result. That stretch is the sole reason I carry two water bottles at Cool. It takes FOREVER to get to ALT.

  • After ALT though, it’s all gravy. You can spend this long, smooth, slightly downhill stretch of trail passing people like mad because you paced yourself well. Right?

  • Always run that last 1.4. It’s uphill, yes. You hurt, I know. Suck it up. The finishline will get there so much faster if you run it. It’s only 1.4 miles! Don’t stop at the aid station – just go. At the end, friends await.

Get a good night's sleep, a good parking place, and I’ll see you all bright and early on Saturday!

Cupcakes and beer with Jenelle at a Way Too Cool finish celebration


Running with the Wolves: The Superior 100

Author's note: If you're curious how a California girl ended up at a race in northern Minnesota, you can read my love-affair-with-Minnesota preview-post here.

Checking out the views of Lake Superior (Photo courtesy of Superior 100)

The aptly named Superior 100 (Yes, it’s on the Superior Hiking Trail, and parallels Lake Superior, but it’s also just superior as far as most events go.) is a point-to-point course through the Sawtooth Mountains of Northern Minnesota. While the term “mountains” is perhaps a bit generous here, the race does manage to pack 21K feet of elevation gain and 21K feet of descent into its 103 miles. That, plus the highly technical nature of many of the trail sections, makes its tagline, “Rugged, Relentless, Remote”, more than accurate.

I had been intrigued by this race since the late 90s when I guided teens on rock climbing trips on the Superior Hiking Trail. I was strictly a road runner at the time with only three marathons under my belt, and I couldn’t fathom how one could run on such technical terrain, much less do it for 100 miles. The mystery enticed me, and I knew I wanted to run it one day. I was an ultrarunner long before I was actually an ultrarunner. 

In many ways, the race turned out to be exactly what I expected: beautiful and challenging. It also turned out to be so much more.

A typical view from the course.

It reconnected me with a time in my life when I had been more open to new experiences, more capable of embracing the unknown. It gave me some much needed quality time with my sister, who graciously agreed to crew for me. It reminded me that I have so much more support from family, friends, and even perfect strangers than I often remember. 

One of the hardest parts of the race was squeezing it into a weekend during the second week of school. When I got permission in July to take two days off for the race, I thought, “Sweet! It’s on!” But I almost pulled the plug on it so many times between that day and race day. The travel would be extremely tight, the whole weekend would be expensive, I couldn’t afford to fly out anyone to pace me, and I carried major guilt about taking time away from my students during such an important time in the school year.

Thursday morning I got up at 3:50 AM to catch the first leg of my flight. Four hours of sleep on the night before the night before race day. Dammit! I hadn’t been averaging much better than that all week because I was so busy with work and trying to take care of the dogs and house all by myself, but, hey, that’s life. I was only taking a carry-on because I was too worried about the airline losing my bag, and there simply wasn’t any room in my itinerary for delays. Who travels to a 100-miler with only a carry-on! A girl with no drop bags, that’s who.

I landed in Minneapolis at about 2:00 PM, got the rental car, met up with my sister Laura who also flew in that morning from L.A., and we drove straight to REI where it took me about 20 minutes to drop $200 on race supplies. (The race was serving Hammer products. I can stomach Hammer gels for a 50K or shorter, but definitely not for a 100, and I abhor Heed. I needed GU!) After that, it was straight Up North, and we arrived just in time for the 6:30 PM race briefing. Whew!

On the road to Two Harbors! (Photo: Laura Brugman)

Since I had Laura to crew, I didn’t need to take the morning shuttle from the finish line, and we stayed at a hotel near the start. This allowed me to sleep in to 6:00 on race morning, giving me a full 8 hours of sleep. It wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of sleep all week, but I was still incredibly grateful for it!

With Laura at the starting line.

The first part of the course had to be rerouted due to a trail closure. We would run on the paved bike path for four miles before jumping on the Superior Hiking Trail for the remainder of the race. This was actually fine with me because it gave us all a chance to spread out a bit before hitting the single track. It also gave me a chance to chat with other runners, which was a great way to start the morning.

Once we hit the single track, I felt warmed up and relaxed. I had opted to start with hand-held bottles for the first few aid stations. Even though many of the aid stations were 10 miles apart, I knew I would be moving decently in these early miles, and that the cooler temps meant I wouldn’t be drinking too much.

The trail was beautiful already, and I kind of enjoyed hopping along through the technical parts. Nearing the first aid station, I was running with another woman when a spectator told us we were the first and second women.

What?! Oh crap. This is absolutely not where I should be!

I consciously slowed down. If my training for this race had been what it should have, this wouldn’t have concerned me as much. But I had no reason to think I should be doing anything but surviving this thing. I certainly should not be thinking about the podium at mile 9!

Early miles. (Photo: Zach Pierce)

The other thing the bike path re-route did was make the first part of the race pretty fast. There was no crew at the first aid station at mile 9, and I had told Laura to be at Beaver Bay (the second aid station at mile 20) at 11:30 AM. I knew there was absolutely no way I would run 20 miles in 3:30 during a 100 mile race. Even I couldn’t be that stupid! But I guess I hadn’t fully accounted for the speed of the bike path portion. (Or for my own stupidity.)

About three or four miles out from Beaver Bay, I could see that I might come in very close to 11:30 AM. I started stressing that Laura wouldn’t be there yet. Dammit, why was I running so fast? But I felt great. Totally relaxed. I didn’t feel fast at all.

I did a little more purposeful slowing down. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get through that aid station without crew. I knew I would be totally fine with just the aid station supplies. It was Laura I was worried about, and the possible cascade of events that could occur if she arrived there after I did.  First, I would feel bad for giving her inaccurate info. Second, she probably wouldn’t realize she had missed me. She wouldn’t think to check with the aid station that early on to see if I’d come through already. Thus, it could be a LONG time before she figured it out, meaning she would likely miss me at the next stop, too, and maybe even the one after that. Third, if any of this happened, she would feel really bad about it, meaning, Fourth, I would feel really bad that she felt bad.

When I explained this to my husband after the race, he just laughed and said, “You guys are hilarious.”

When 11:30 came and went and I was still running toward Beaver Bay, I was immensely relieved. 

Just before the aid station there was a little boy with his mom, and he was handing out those rubber band bracelets that kids make. He gave one to each runner as we came by, and you can bet I slowed down long enough to get one from him. Good luck charm for the rest of the race. What an awesome kid!

I arrived at 11:40 AM to Laura, completely prepared for me, saying, “Wow, you’re way ahead of schedule!”

Yeah, apparently I suck at predicting my own splits.

But Laura totally does not suck at crewing, and she mixed my electrolyte drink and refilled my pockets with GU while I ate real food from the aid station. It was a quick stop, and I was off for a short five miles to the next aid station at Silver Bay.

Last year Laura had her first experience crewing at an ultra when she and Jamie came down to support me at the San Diego 100. Before Jamie started pacing me, she crewed with Laura through the day and clearly helped turn her into an expert crew captain in a very short amount of time!

Laura is ready and waiting for me! (Photo: Laura Brugman)

At the pre-race briefing, I had seen one of the cooler things that I have ever seen available for purchase at a race. They had black rubber wristbands listing all the aid stations, total mileage at each one, and mileage to the next aid. This was so helpful for someone like me who was not familiar with the course, and totally worth the $5. I consulted my bracelet before coming in to each aid station so I would know the distance to the next aid. This allowed me to know just what I would need from the aid station – how much water, how much food I should bring with me, etc. I also consulted it upon leaving each aid station. There were some long stretches between aid, and it would be easy to feel like they were taking forever. I calculated my approximate arrival at the next aid so I would not fool myself into thinking I should be there any earlier than my pace would indicate. I loved this bracelet!

I think it was through this next section that I ran for several miles in between two men. We were all first-time Superior runners. The man in front of me was from Iowa, and we discussed the challenges of training for a race with so much climbing when you live somewhere with approximately zero hills. Fortunately, I did not have that problem in my training. It was awesome running and chatting with these guys, and I was sorry to separate from them when we reached the aid station.

At Silver Bay (mile 25) I dropped my hand-helds and picked up my hydration pack. During the week before the race, I had spent some time reading race reports from past runners and looking at race photos. It was quite effective in scaring the piss out of me, but one thing I learned was that most people carry hydration packs in this race. This makes sense with a lot of 10 mile stretches between aid, plus the possibility of bad weather.

(Photo: Zach Pierce)

I spent most of the day loving the scenery, remaining well ahead of predicted pace, and just feeling happy. With all the stress about travel and my, ahem, less-than-superior training, I was so happy to be simply running the race. There was absolutely nothing to do now but keep putting one foot in front of the other, and that single-minded simplicity is probably my favorite thing about trail running. I am responsible for nothing except forward motion.

Looking down on Bear Lake

I passed a runner with flaming red hair coming in the opposite direction, (She wasn’t a racer.) and she called out, “Gretchen?”

“Yes!” How could anyone out here possibly know me? She reminded me that we had met at Sonoma, and gave a few words of encouragement before we parted ways. It wasn’t until after she was gone that I remembered our conversation after the race at Sonoma. I was so excited that she remembered me!

Trail markers blowing in the wind.

At Tettegouche (mile 35) Laura informed me that I had a pacer! This is a case of the Minnesota network coming through. Also a case of “my husband really didn’t want me to run alone through the night.” Andrew had contacted a couple friends of his who lived in Duluth. My pacer would be Andrew’s friend Abby’s friend Shirley’s friend Mary. Woo hoo! In a flurry of last minute texts, I had only texted Mary that morning on the drive to the start. I had left her Laura’s #, and said, if she could make it, great, but if not, no worries. She would run with me from Finland (mile 51) to Cramer Rd. (mile 78). This had been my best prediction of what would be my “late night” stretch – where a pacer would be most valuable.

Happy at Tettagouche! (Photo: Laura Brugman)

Changing socks. The only time I sat down at an aid station. (Photo: Laura Brugman)

I had picked up my small headlamp at Silver Bay because I was paranoid. Also because the race director told us to. When he had said, “Only the faster runners can make it to County Rd. 6 before getting their lights,” I had not included myself in that category. I guess I should have, but ultimately there is nothing wrong with carrying your headlamp for a few extra miles. Or 25.

A "plank bridge" across a swampy section.

Coming into County Rd. 6 (mile 43), I was ready for dinner. All I could think about was a ham sandwich. I wondered, could they possibly be serving a ham sandwich here? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? That was the first thing I asked for upon arrival.

“No, I’m sorry, no ham sandwiches.” They felt genuinely bad about not having ham sandwiches. But the offer of chicken noodle soup was met with excitement by me. Apparently I was in need of salt and protein. Yum!

I talked to a volunteer here who, I was told, had been asked by someone in Andrew’s Minnesota friend-network to pace me. Even though he hadn’t been able to pace me, it was great to have someone at the aid station looking for me and offering support. 

It was also at this aid station that Anthony’s wife came up and said hello. I had met Anthony randomly on a training run in July, and we had been stunned and delighted to learn we were both running Superior – two of only three runners from California in the race.

Sometimes one of the mentally challenging things about traveling to a race outside of your own running community is that everyone there seems to know each other, but you don’t know anyone. When I’m at Tahoe Rim Trail, or Western States, I feel like I know everyone. Even at Hardrock, I always have a lot of friends. At Superior, it was just a nice surprise to have one or two people with even a remote connection say hello. Yay, Minnesota!

I arrived at Finland (mile 51) still in the daylight and still feeling great. I was two hours ahead of my fastest prediction, but I knew that I would be slowed by darkness and by some notoriously technical sections of trail that were coming up in the next 20 miles. Think steep, rocky descents; think tree roots a la Hurt 100; think mud.

A typical stretch of technical trail. Going up these was not nearly as bad as trying to get down them.
I still wanted dinner, and I was thrilled to be offered beef stew at this aid station. While I was inhaling my stew, another volunteer offered me a hot dog.

“Sure!” Why not, right? It was delicious!

My stomach, obviously, was doing very well. I also partook all day long in what I had taken to calling “dirty candy.” On a brutal but beautiful 48 mile training run through Yosemite and Hoover Wilderness in August, Jamie and I were hitting “zombie mode” with 8 or 9 miles still to go when Jamie had abruptly stopped to inform me that someone had dropped their candy in the trail. We hadn’t seen a soul for at least ten hours, but the Mike & Ikes scattered in the dirt were temptation incarnate. A little dirt never hurt anything! We picked them up and brushed them off, and they were SO AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS! Mike & Ikes will now forever be “dirty candy” to me.

A guy with a mustache and goatee and wearing a Superior sweatshirt (indicating he had finished the race before) told me how great I was doing.

“You’re on 25-hour pace!” he enthused.

“Ha!” I rolled my eyes. “That will change, trust me.” I told him I was keeping my fingers crossed for 28 hours at this point. Still, that was two hours faster than my original prediction.

Heading out from Finland with Mary. (Photo: Laura Brugman)

This was also where I picked up Mary, my pacer. She hadn’t done any 100-milers herself, so she asked me what I needed.  I was comfortable with my abilities on both pace and nutrition. Truthfully, all I needed was distraction and entertainment, which is exactly what I told her. This was perfect, because it turned out Mary was a talker. Hooray!

I know I could have finished this race without a pacer, and part of me was curious to try it. I don’t know if I would have been any slower without a pacer, but it definitely would have been a bigger mental challenge. As we trotted along, Mary and I exchanged life stories, and I basically did not have to think at all. I think this was a best-case scenario for me as far as what kind of pacer I could have ended up with. Thanks, Mary!

The night, in so many ways, is just a blur. I slowed down as predicted, but not much more than everyone else. Upon leaving one aid station - it might have been Sugarloaf – Mary had paused to fix something with her shoe, so I was running alone. I heard this odd noise in the distance which I thought must be a wolf howling. Was I making that up? In my three summers and one winter living in Northern Minnesota, I had never once heard wolves howling. I kept hearing the noise. Perhaps it’s just a really strange owl? Truthfully, I wanted it to be a wolf. I found myself wondering, if I didn’t have a pacer, would I be scared to be out here with the wolves? 

When Mary caught up, she confirmed. Yes, it was a wolf. Amazing! Soon we heard more. Wolves talking to each other in the moonless, Minnesota night. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s, and I occasionally turned off my headlamp to admire the insanely bright stars packed into the vast, dark sky. This moment right here – this is why you want to travel somewhere new to run a 100 mile race. They kept up their haunting song for another half hour, and I couldn’t imagine any better soundtrack for running through the woods at night than the howling of those wolves.

I had sent Laura off to get some sleep while Mary ran with me. I really wanted one of us to be operating with some sleep on Saturday! Laura met me at Cramer Rd., where Mary would stop. When I had last seen Laura at Finland, I had told her 5:30 AM at Cramer, but she said, “No, I think 3:30!” So my 3:50 arrival made her, again, more accurate than I. 

I wasn’t too worried about running for another two and a half hours alone before the sun would come up. I still felt pretty darn good. I bid Mary farewell, and set off into what would turn out to be the hardest section of the race for me. 

I was 78 miles in, it was after 4:00 AM, and I was totally and completely falling asleep on my feet. I mean it was bad. SO. BAD. My eyes wouldn’t focus, and I kept veering off the trail. I had sipped half of a 5-Hour Energy at Cramer, and now I took the other half. Not only did it not help, but it made me feel a little loopy. Usually I know better than to drink more than half of one of those things, but I was desperate. Three separate times I had to stop and sit down to close my eyes and put my head down. I think I only stopped for a minute each time (who knows!), but even when I was moving, it was pathetic. I totally suck with sleep deprivation, and now my week of very little sleep was catching up with me.

At some point, a woman passed me, moving me from second to third female. I just couldn’t summon the energy to care, and I had known it was inevitable anyway. The only thing I cared about at that moment was sleep, and I knew the only way to get any was to get to the finish line. Just keep going, just get there. I imagined crossing the line and promptly laying down in the grass to sleep for 10 hours.

Temperance (mile 85) was the first aid station where I came in behind Laura’s prediction. A full hour and 20 minutes behind. Twenty-eight minute miles will do that, I guess.

Sleepy-eyed, with sister. (Photo: Laura Brugman)

I have experienced the “horrible sleepies” once before in a hundred – at the TRT 100 in 2010. During that race I had sat down at every aid station during the night and fallen asleep for a few minutes. I had enough experience now to know that kind of thing wouldn’t help, and unless I was truly falling off the trail, I just needed to keep going. The aid station workers, God bless them, told me how great I looked. Hilarious, but that’s also exactly what a runner needs to hear. 

I still felt horribly sleepy running along the Temperance River, even though the sun had come up. I was still operating on Pacific Time, and 6:00 AM felt like 4:00 AM. I distracted myself with taking pictures of the river, even though there wasn’t enough light. After a few more miles, I finally woke up. Hallelujah! The climb up Carlton Peak was almost enjoyable because I felt so much better!

It was also through these last 20 miles that I began playing leapfrog with another runner. He would pass me, I would come through the next aid station not realizing he was there sitting down somewhere, I would leave the aid station, and then a mile out, he would pass me again. With each of these passes we exchanged very brief words of encouragement. I think he was the only other runner I saw between mile 85 and the finish.

I think this was Sawbill AS, at mile 90. I don't know; it's all a blur. (Photo: Laura Brugman)

Laura said I seemed super focused and fired up at the last aid station at mile 96. This is probably because I knew I was just that much closer to getting to sleep! I picked up the pace to 17 minute miles, which actually isn’t that bad considering there are a few solid climbs on this seven mile stretch. It was certainly a huge improvement over my nighttime slow down.

When I suddenly realized that the course markings had led me to a spur trail of the SHT, I knew I must be getting close to the finish. OhDearLordThankGod! Looking at my watch, I realized I might actually make it in under 28 hours. I was stoked! We had to run through the Lutsen ski resort, and I had no idea exactly how much farther the finish line might be. I felt like I was flying – probably 15 minute miles.

When I crossed the line, the guy I had been leapfrogging with was right there, and even though I had never gotten his name, I ran straight over to give him a big sweaty hug.  We did it!

Finished! (Photo: Laura Brugman)

The finish is at Caribou Highlands Lodge, and one of the great things about this is that there were real showers there for us to use. The other great thing is that we could buy beer.

Laura and I sat at a table with the second place woman and her crew and basked in the glory of being done and having such amazing weather. Lows in the 30s at night, highs in the low 60s during the day, and a sparkling blue sky.

“You mean it’s not like this every day?” I joked. Apparently earlier that week it had been 90F and humid. Ugh!

I got my finishers sweatshirt, and Laura got me chili and a beer. Heaven.

And there was the goatee guy from Finland again, who I think I had also seen at some aid station in the middle of the night. Maybe that had been a hallucination though? His real name was John.

“I saw this girl eat a hot dog at Finland!” he declared to the crowd. They were duly impressed. Only at a 100-miler is the act of eating a hot dog a reason to brag.

Laura took this photo of my trophy before I had even finished!

We needed to start heading south again, but before we left, I knew I had an award to pick up. I’ll be honest; I’m not much for trophies or finisher swag that’s not useful. I have been known to throw trophies in the trash. I didn’t even buy the finisher’s buckle at Hardrock, because you know what? I have plenty of buckles, and it’s just stuff. But when we were at the pre-race briefing for Superior, I saw the trophies, and I loved them. It did not escape my notice that Masters Champions would get one. I may have finished 3rd female overall, but I was the first of the old gals. (Also, 23rd overall, out of 248 starters.) The beautiful howling wolf was cut from a flat piece of steel and welded onto a metal base. This is my favorite trophy ever!

I interrupted RD John Storkamp just long enough to thank him for an incredible event before jumping in the car and heading back south for the trip home. Superior is one of the country’s oldest 100-milers, and they have clearly learned how to put on a top notch event. (And incidentally, if you missed Alex Kurt’s July article in Trail Runner about RD John Storkamp, you can read it online here. It’s a great read that you shouldn’t miss.)

When I first signed up for this race, I’ll admit, I really wanted to go out there and nail it. By the time August rolled around though, I knew I would be lucky even to finish. I realize I have a reputation of being The World’s Biggest Sandbagger, and it is not wholly undeserved. But my training was truly so poor that, in the end, I felt audacious even for attempting Superior. 

Maybe muscle memory deserves more credit that I gave it because I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled with how my race turned out. The climbing, in truth, wasn’t that bad in my opinion. The only real climb I even remember was Carlton Peak. It was the 21K feet of descent, much of it technical, which was so hard. That part was brutal.

The mud, I am told, could have been much worse. And of course, the 4 miles of pavement at the beginning definitely contributed to faster times this year. Still, I was not expecting to be much faster than 30 hours.

In discussing my surprise at my performance with Jamie the week after the race, we had the following exchange:

Me: I really don’t know how I could have run so fast with such crappy training!

Jamie: Did you read that article about Rory a few months back?

Me: You mean the one in Outside where she basically said, “I don’t train”? 

Jamie: Yeah. I have to think that there’s something to that. Doing other things can count as training, and we don’t even realize it.

Me: So, sitting on the beach for a week during what should have been my most important training block, running only 12 miles, and drinking wine every day probably helped?

As happy as I am with this experience at Superior, I would still really like to come back and nail it. I think this is a course that suits me fairly well. Obviously I have some advantage living at 6,000 feet. I think if I managed something closer to my standard 100-miler training and worked on my descending, I could probably run something in the 25-hour range. And remember, you’re hearing this from The World’s Biggest Sandbagger.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will get back to Superior any time soon. It is just a tough time of year for a teacher who lives so far away.  For the time being, I can accept that. 

I really couldn’t ask for anything more than the opportunity to be there this year, to spend time with my sister, and to run through the starry night with the wild wolves.


Highway 61 Revisited

At the Java Moose, in Grand Marais, MN, circa 1999

"How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?" 

- Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone" (From Highway 61 Revisited)

In the fall of 1996, after I’d finished hiking the PCT, I moved to St. Paul, MN, taking up residence outside of southern California for the first time in my life. I was 22 years old.

The beauty of being 22 is that you have enough life experience to give you some confidence and determination without saddling you with the fear and hesitation that age can sometimes bring.

I was an Orange County girl who was a little afraid she would never get out.

Even by the mildest of standards, Minnesota would not be considered by most to be a hotbed of big adventure. (Most people just don’t know!) I’d had a roommate my freshman year of college who was from St. Paul, and she was living there and in the market for a roommate again. Lacking any other plan for my life, it was an easy sell, and I was off to Minnesota, just like that.

Though my roommate was a dear friend, our lives somehow did not intertwine much that year. Here’s what I did my first year ever of living in a city:

(1) Quickly got a job at a gear store called MidwestMountaineering. I’m not sure the Minnesota natives who worked there fully understood the irony of that name. Their store t-shirt depicted someone portaging a canoe. (On the other hand, I guess that did show that they knew what "mountaineering" in the Midwest really meant.)

(2) Learned to navigate the bus system. Don’t laugh. Before the internet era of easily accessible maps and timetables, this was not easy. Especially for a girl who’d always had a car.

(3) Adjusted my “It’s too cold to go for a run” standard to anything colder than -20F.

(4) Attended “employee only” parties with TNF athletes like Conrad Anker and Lynn Hill. OMFG!!!

(5) Got another job as an assistant teacher at an elementary school.

(6) Got another job as a middle school track coach. (See any patterns emerging here?)

Incidentally, it was tough making it to all my jobs on time with an unreliable bus system. That summer was when I bought my little red pick-up truck. Such a symbol of adulthood and independence!

Flash back to a couple years earlier when I was in college and just discovering the world of outdoor sports, falling in love with being a rock climber. Here are a few things that happened at that time:

  1. I read a book called Annapurna: A Woman’s Place by a woman named Arlene Blum. In addition to being an accomplished climber and guide, Arlene Blum was the director of an organization called Woodswomen. They led all-women adventure trips in the outdoors. They were located in Minneapolis, MN.
  2. I read another book called Leading Out: Women Climbers, Reaching for the Top. I adored this book! Its dog-eared pages and underlined passages still grace my overcrowded bookshelf. It was a collection of essays by a variety of women climbers, many of whom, as it happened, were from Minnesota, some of them former guides for Woodswomen. (Why were so many amazing women from Minnesota??)
  3. I distinctly recall sitting in my dorm room reading an article in a magazine profiling three different women and their unusual careers. One of these women was Beth Wald, a climber and professional photographer. She traveled all over the world taking pictures of incredible climbing feats and other outdoor sports. I was a sports photographer for my college paper at the time and an aspiring climber. This woman, I knew, had my absolute dream job. I cut out the article and saved it.

Back in Minnesota, and the track season was over. School was out for summer. With Midwest Mountaineering as my only remaining source of income, I applied for, and got, a job at, … where else? Woodswomen. I was a summer intern.

Now I was guiding women in adventures all over the state, doing sports I’d never tried before. I learned to paddle a canoe. I taught women and kids how to rock climb. I drove the support van on a week-long horseback riding trip. (There was no way they were getting me on a horse!) I was giddy with the brilliance of it all. "Look what I’m doing!" was a daily exclamation I made to myself.

One evening, I was having a beer with a couple friends I worked with at Midwest Mountaineering. One friend was trying to give some moral support to a friend of his, Beth, whom he’d invited along. She was apparently in crisis about what direction to take her life. We’d been chatting about this for nearly 40 minutes before I caught her last name.

“Wait!” I said loudly, slapping my hand on the table, drawing everyone’s attention. My jaw had dropped. “You’re Beth Wald?!” I didn’t know what to say. Here I was faced with this real-life, every-day, normal person, who also just happened to be my personal role model.

Of course, I told her the story of the magazine article. I don’t know if this helped her with her life crisis at all, but I like to think that it did.

That winter, I moved to northern Minnesota to take a job as a dog handler for a musher guiding dogsled trips for women.

Kisses from Wasimo, a badass lead dog on the dogsled team.

Running dogs is still one of my favorite things I have ever done.

That covers my first 18 months in Minnesota.

After that, I got a summer job guiding teenagers on climbing and canoeing trips up in the Boundary Waters. I met my husband there, and we got married in the fall of 2000 on the banks of West Bearskin Lake in the Boundary Waters.

Returning from guiding a 30-day canoe trip, and Andrew swam out to meet me.

The place holds incredibly potent and significant memories for me, but I haven’t been back to northern Minnesota in the 15 years since I got married there.


Last month was the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s seminal album, Highway 61 Revisited. Highway 61 runs down from Canada, through Duluth, MN, where Dylan was born, all the way to New Orleans, connecting him, Dylan felt, to the blues music and musicians he loved.

“Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I'd started on it, always had been on it, and could go anywhere,” Dylan said of his choice for the album title.

My own kinship with Highway 61 goes north from Duluth along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais, rather than south to New Orleans, but I’ve always felt similarly to Dylan in terms of the path it held in my life at one time. From dog sledding, to canoeing, to backpacking and rock climbing – Highway 61 led me to so many new adventures. Let’s not forget falling in love!

Wedding in the Boundary Waters, October 2000.

This week, I’m finally headed back to Highway 61 for another adventure. I’ll be attempting to go 100 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail in the Superior 100 which begins on Friday.

I’ll be trying to tap into that 22-year-old version of myself. That girl who had never been in temps below 30F but decided -20F was acceptable running weather. That girl who thought driving a team of huskies across a frozen lake was a perfect activity for someone born and raised in Orange County.

You see, lately I’m feeling a bit of that “on my own” spirit I had in my 20s, and finding a little of the “on my own” strength that being 22 provided. 

It’s been one year since my mother passed away, and it is not an understatement to say I still feel devastated by this loss every day. 

For complicated reasons, my husband took a job out of state (ironically, in Minnesota, though he will have to work while I am out there for my race). I miss him desperately.

I started a new job last week, and I go back and forth between being incredibly excited and incredibly overwhelmed. 

So many new things.

And this race? I am definitely afraid.

Of course, it’s not my first 100-miler, but let’s face it – muscle memory can only get you so far. I am under-trained, and I’m going without a pacer. "On my own," as it were. A rolling stone.

This thought both thrills and scares me. And that, I think, is a good thing.

And yes, here is where I’m going to put that famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote. Sorry if you’ve heard it too many times to count. It still speaks to me.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

It’s not that this thing is really going to be a horror. The death of a loved one puts that kind of thing into stark perspective. It is, after all, just a race. Just a run.

But, still.

My running club, the Donner Party Mountain Runners, has the tagline “Unafraid.” It is taken directly from words about the real DonnerParty. In talking about it with a fellow club member the other day though, we both admitted that we are plenty afraid. The important thing isn’t really to be fearless, it’s to go forward in spite of your fear. That is where real strength lies. That is how you grow.

I definitely knew that when I was 22. This seems like a good time to remind myself.

With that in mind, perhaps T Swift’s “22” is a better theme song here than Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” With apologies to Bob for the major shift in musical genre, that’s the direction I’m going.

“Yeah, we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way! Yeah, it’s miserable and magical, oh yeah!”– Taylor Swift, “22”

See you soon, Minnesota!


More Recent Articles

You Might Like

Safely Unsubscribe ArchivesPreferencesContactSubscribePrivacy