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Nov. 12, 2011 – JJ 100: taking care of unfinished business

December 12, 2011

As I always say: “coincidences are non-existent”. And a few of those made my return to the desert possible this year to finish what I had attempted a year earlier. To finish JJ100.

In some ways, it was almost a very similar version as last year. A lot of the same people at the race helping me (my dad flew in from Switzerland as well) and about the same amount of stress 10 days prior to the start of the race. This years strategy was thought out by myself and written down on a little piece of paper that I showed Katie on the way to Phoenix from L.A. I confided to her that I hadn’t shown this to anyone and I didn’t intend to. Of course, the sub-24 time is in every 100mile runners mind at some point. I just wasn’t entirely sure if I was up for it yet. A few days earlier, I tried not to listen to Jimmy’s suggestions/race plan for Erin and her crew. Knowing I had run a 2h25 1st loop last year was making it difficult for me to imagine to run 1hr slower. I knew he was right but I had made my own little plan that predicted a finish in 23h50 (including 2h30 aid station time).

As far as nutrition goes, I did what you’re not supposed to do. I tried something new, not having tested it on a long run before a race. After my last experience with gels, just the thought of them made me gag. And that was while I wasn’t running. So I wanted to only eat “normal” food during JJ100 but Katie and Kate, both knowing my fading appetite during a long run, pointed out to me that this was going to most likely cause problems. Kate suggested, I use CarboPro and try it on a run before. Well, there was only one run to test it. My favorite day of the SoCal week. Thursday morning with the SoCal Coyotes. It was supposed to be a taper run but since I had to test my reaction to the – to me – new liquid, I chose a medium pace to run up the hill. And it worked great. Didn’t upset my system at all. What a great way to run with my favorite running group after 46 weeks of absence!

On race day, we got to Jeadquarters just in time to add the last touches to my costume by painting my nails with 4 minutes to spare, slightly enraging my crew chief Katie. I mean, a tiger is no tiger without claws, right? Instead of pacing me, this year Adam wore his own race number and Erin also was taking care of unfinished JJ business.

Pic by Katie DeSplinter, in disbelief

 

Loop 1: Planned time 2:45. Real time: 2h33

I felt excellent and was happy to run this desert with its hills again. What a change from my last race in the Italian Alps two months prior where I covered 24’000ft in 115miles! I talked to Alexa on the first uphill and quickly realized that I was going too fast. So I walked and felt good about the pace again. Water, salt and calories were monitored by my Swiss watch and (obviously) on time like a Swiss train. The downhill on the second part of the loop was where I definitely ran too fast. I had set my Garmin on min/km but quickly did the math in my head and averaging a 8:50min/mile. Still, my smile stayed in place coming through Jeadquarters the first time.

Loop 2: Planned time: 3h. Real time: 3h01 (minus about 4min aid station time)

Pic by Kevin Chan

So far, so good. I knew the beginning of the even loops would be a challenge not run the light uphill. I managed to keep an even speed and alternate the hiking/running in a consistent way. I had spent little time at the aid stations and felt absolutely amazing. I especially loved the part right after Jackass Junction aid station and also started to memorize different turns of the trail in case I felt not so peachy anymore later on and needed to cheer myself up (“you’re already at the ‘gate’, it’s mostly downhill from here”). By that time, the sun finally generated enough heat for me to take off my sleeves and created an interesting salt pattern on my face, making my sharpie whiskers and nose disappear. Finishing loop 2, I changed into neutral NB flats and told Katie, my crew chief, what I will need at the end of loop 3 while she repainted my whiskers.

 

 

Loop 3: Planned time: 3h. Real time: 3h03 (minus 13min aid station time)

This was probably my best loop. I power-hiked the uphills and ran the flats and downhills at a comfortable pace. Passing Coyote Camp, the base for later receiving the “best ass” award was established as I wiggled my tiger/kitty tail leaving the aid station and quickly mooning the attentive ones.

Pics by Justin Lutick

Singing to myself, talking with runners and cheering on the other competitors going the opposite direction kept my smile glued to my face. Still, the intake of water, salt and calories worked like that Swiss train: on time with maybe a maximum of a 2min delay. I kept counting the thirds of bananas I was eating to do the math on calories per hour as well. Coming though Jeadquarters, I changed to Hokas because the flats felt too hard on my joints without causing any real problem and I ate half of a bagel with one avocado spread on it.

Loop 4: Planned time: 3h30. Real time: 3h35 (minus 15min aid station time)

Pic by Kevin Chan

A beautiful loop filled with unbelievably beautiful views of the area and a little cheering up moment with Alexa who was suffering a lot and was going to call it a day before sunset. That was coming around fast and my heart was filled with the last rays of day 1, making the hopes of not seeing day 2 on the course grow bigger. My joints felt much better with the 3rd pair of shoes of the day and I was looking forward to the next loop, the last one in last year’s attempt. At that point, I was amazed how little my current life situation affected my running and how much fun I was having. I’m usually having loads of fun but not one single negative thought had crossed my mind all day. Great perspective for the rest!

Loop 5: Planned time: 3h-3h30. Real time: 3h45 (minus 24min aid station time)

This was where Katie repainted my whiskers and nose again and where I picked up my pacer Ryan. He had just driven across the country (from PA) to pace me. I am so grateful he did offer to run with me as my initial pacer Katie had surgery 3 days before the race and fell through as a pacer. We left while I was still trying to finish a cup of potato soup. I usually know better but I still tried to inhale the last spoon instead of eating it. A piece of potato trying to go down the wrong tube is no fun. It made me cough so hard, I was afraid I was going to revisit all the good things (vitamins, salt, food) I had just put into my system a few minutes earlier. Slowing down a little bit settled everything and we hiked along at a comfortable pace on the uphill while I had Ryan listen to all the drama in my life. Talking about it all made me realize how funny things are but still, I wasn’t smiling all the way while telling my soap-stories. About half-way through I asked Ryan if he’s up for pacing me another loop because I was really enjoying his company and didn’t want to change the mood we had created. I thought I made it clear though that I would totally understand if he doesn’t feel like it. He seemed to be ok with it tough. Running the easy runnable parts downhill also changed the topics of conversation and we breezed our way into Jeadquarters right on predicted time. I loved how my dad was in disbelief how determined but utterly content I looked when I came through. It was great to have him there and be proud of me.

Loop 6: Planned time: 4h. Real time: 4:35 (30min aid station time)

Now, there seemed a little confusion about pacing but in the end, Ryan did come out with me on my last full loop. I had another cup of potato soup that didn’t go down the way I would have liked. It kept my stomach upset during the whole loop. Just as we left, it also started to rain. Yes, in the desert, where it hardly ever rains. It felt like I slowed down and soon I couldn’t tell anymore because my Garmin was out of battery. I was also getting really tired and trying out another new thing: Sponsors’ Activator. And boy, the sleepies were not nearly as bad as usually during night runs! Whenever I had to tie my shoes, getting up was still a bit of a dizzy affair and I was glad Ryan was there to help me find my balance again. The other choice would have been one of the many cacti along the way but I don’t want to think about the outcome of that. It had stopped raining and we eventually made it back to Jeadquarters where I had the intention of finishing the last short loop on my own. The dizziness was making me unsure just a little bit but I was going to do it if there was nobody up to pace me for the last 9 miles. So much for planning a race…

Loop 7: Planned time: 2h30. Real time: 2h33 (no idea how much aid station time)

My intentions were overruled by Ryan who kept me company on my final loop. Equipped with the famous glow-in-the-dark necklace , it started pouring again on the final uphill part. The trail was a muddy and slippery affair and I started to not like to be out there anymore. Still, step by step we got closer to that finish line I wanted to cross so badly. I already knew that a sub-24 was going to happen but I kept asking Ryan how we were doing on time almost every 5min. At this point I wasn’t aware of the fact that he had run further than ever before in his life. From the moment he left to join me on loop 7, the distance was new to him. In retrospective, I’m glad I didn’t know that. I would have refused to force himself to do that. Somewhere around the time the rain stopped again, we almost stepped on a rattle snake that must have escaped its flooded hiding place. It was as confused as us as we brushed against it. After shouting a warning to the following runner and his pacer, we made it to the turn off. Down the Tonto Trail, I thought it would be nice and runnable. But it was more like a hobble and walk than run. My left heel had started to hurt. But what is a little pain on the last 2 miles of a 101.something race? I sent Ryan ahead so whoever was awake would know I was about to finish and was amazed how fast I also made it back to Jeadquarters. My dad and Katie, my crew, were there as well as a few others. Not having the whole lot of friends there to great me in the end did not lessen the intensity of what I felt crossing the finish line after 23h06. I had beat the sunrise. The unfinished business was taken care of. And this is how I felt.

This race was definitely one of my top 3 running experiences. The RDs, aid station volunteers, runners and crews were absolutely amazing and there is not one single negative thing I could say about the whole event (ok, maybe I had to get used to the rain). Even though some might say it’s “an easy 100 miler”, don’t be fooled. It takes a lot to mentally be ready to do the washing machine style loops and keep crossing those badass fast runners, looking like it’s an easy stroll in the park. I’m excited to test my legs on my next long adventure in Greece in May!

One last interesting note. One of the many chaffing spots I had on my back after the race next to the “best ass award”. Guess I was predestined to get it ūüėČ

Sept. 11-18, 2011 – Tor des G√©ants: when a DNF becomes a DYB

December 10, 2011

Welcome to one of the worlds insanities. I can’t put it in other words. Or maybe I can. Read on. And for further details click here.

The sign says it all

The anticipation was immense. The vibe in Courmayeur unbelievable. And Sunday morning 10am came along very quickly! Numerous runners trying to win the race on the first climb passed me while I was busy making new friends.

Every princess needs a horse....

Climb no.2

Top of no.3, the last pic with a flash

The first day felt like a “regular” tough 50k at a slightly easier pace due to the 3750m/12’000ft of positive and also negative gain. I only went the wrong way once, stayed on track with calories, salt and water and even threw in a little sprint across the meadow when lightning hit the ground close enough to make the little hair on my arms stand up. The rain was coming down hard as I finally made it into Valgrisenche where I successfully mooned about 20 guys while changing into dry and warmer clothes for the night. A very quick and short meal later, I was off for the first night section.

Ten minutes into that night section, my stomach started to argue with me and put up an 18hrs fight. It had me sleep for 90min in a rifugio with the result of an only 10min pain-free running section afterwards. The rain was back as well. I passed the top of Col Fen√™tre, number 4, and slowly walked the super steep muddy descent in the dark. I was lucky not to see the full drop at that time and only got a good guess by looking at the long line of headlamps below me. About 1/3 down the way, I performed my first YouTube worthy slip and slide. Slipping on a downhill, landing on a rock, slightly rearranging your shoulder joint and then, when trying to top the downhill slide, working up a massive cramp in both calves qualifies for a typical “Gabi” (idiotic fall for no reason).
During my next climb to peak number 5, I lost my altimeter while filling up my bottle in a mountain stream and found out that the little plastic protection bag holding my camera dry didn’t really work. The display was under water and the flash didn’t work anymore. But I could still take pictures…I just had to aim right. Day 2 had started.

Sunrise after a rainy night

On the way to Eaux Rousses

Shortly afterwards, my blood sugar dropped rapidly and sleep deprivation hit an emotional spot. My Canadian friends Russ and Delena were there to rescue me with a fresh apple and little bag of dried apples. Life savers. All 4 of them!

Eaux Rousses always makes me think of the movie “Les rivi√®res pourpres” and as little as this makes sense, I didn’t make much sense either when I got to see my crew number 1, Adriana and Dan. I couldn’t sleep “because I’m too tired” but ate some of that delicious Swiss chocolate and had some rice soup gorgeous Joel and his crewing girlfriend offered me. Then I was off again.

Looking down, halfway up Col Loson

The biggest climb of the race lay ahead, for “regular” hikers an approximate ascent of 5h30. It took me 5hrs and a 15min nap on a flat rock as well as numerous stops on the way. I have 3 DNFs on my rep sheet and for each one of them, the decision to pull the plug was easy and obvious. A locked knee, wrong clothing for the conditions, suspicion of a stress fracture. This race had me discover a new side of me. Looking at the summit in the distance that didn’t seem to get any closer for hours, I was convinced I would not EVER make it to the top. Logical reasoning didn’t work. I knew it’s either up or back down. But in the back of my head the image of that helicopter evacuating me was very clear. Shaking my head, I went back to my mantra RFM (relentless forward motion) and slowly made it a bit further. Only to get my next weird thought. ‘I’m dropping. This is too much. My stomach hurts so bad. I’m tired.’ It was like having a discussion with a little kid. I was trying to explain why dropping wasn’t an option and yet, my little child always found a reason why it in fact WAS a good idea. My last resort to my end my misery was meditation. But the sitting down, closing your eyes kind and RFM at a very sleepy stage don’t really match. So I adapted, improvised…..and conquered! I started seeing rocks in the shape of a heart along the bouldery trail. A lot of them. OK, I am aware that the interpretation of this is individual. Mine had me get the hint to look at my heart and soul and love what I see. I tend to not do that very often and while I forced myself to concentrate on it, my stomach pain eased up. Before I knew it, I was power hiking up the remaining 250m gain to the top, putting my smile back on my face.

The never-ending climb

At peace

I was whiny then, I later found out. But when I read the winner’s blog, I found out that he as well thought that peak never got closer and thoughts of dropping also crossed his minds just before starting this huge climb. Not that I compare my running abilities to his but what I deduct from it is that no matter how fast you are, EVERYONE goes to these dark places during this long race.

At live base 2, Cogne, my mom greeted me and we had dinner together before I took a 4h30 nap. My scratchy throat I still felt didn’t have me worried. The cold mountain air had a lot of runners complain about a scratchy throat.

Day 3, section 3 started in the company of 3 Swiss guys at 3:30 in the morning. The full moon was replaced with the rising sun and the almost below temperatures did the same as soon as we made it to the sections only peak.

Moon and sun communicating

Early morning sun dominating

All sorts of reflections

My friends sent me inspiring text messages to my phone while I was running and Craig, who ran TDG last year, kept commenting on the sections ahead of me while constantly tracking me online. So I knew and had confirmation that the following part was all downhill and runnable. And so it was. Almost. Except for another two “Gabi”s and the time when I had to sprint away from that one bull.

Arriving in Donnas on ancient Roman roads

Arriving in Donnas, the lowest altitude point of the course, my mom was the life saver of the day. All the restaurants were closed and she still managed to organize fresh grilled vegetables and chicken roast from 2 different sources for me – all while having her left arm in a cast! Finally, I gave in to a gastric protection IV and SURPRISE, felt instantly better. That’s when I realized that my tonsils were really inflamed. As it got dark, I made sure to cover up and drink lots of fluids.

Stomach issues, fatigue and sore throat seemed to come in pairs this race. Climbing up towards Rifugio Coda, the stomach was quiet for a change but the sleepies hit me full blast. Some French journalists coming down from the Rifugio stopped and did a quick interview with me. My sleep deprived mind got me all philosophical. In French. At 2:30 in the morning.
Q: “Are you THE princess of the Tor des G√©ants?”
A: “Yes, I am ‘A’ princess.”
Q: “What about the others?”
A: “Anyone having the guts to start this race, finishing or not, in my opinion, has the right to call themselves anything they want!”

About 20min further up I stopped at a vertical bolder and fell asleep standing up for a probably only very short while. I can’t really remember anything else from that climb after the interview but that I was really cold. Somehow I made it to the Rifugio where a nice lady grabbed me by the elbow and thus put an end to my drunk-like stagger. She sat me down and put a bowl of minestrone in front of me. After falling asleep while forcing it down my inflamed throat, the same kind lady lead me to a room, sat me down on a bed and was about to untie my shoe laces. I did wake up to do that myself but then she tucked me in and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Another runner making sure I WILL remember that moment

Day 4, in the middle of stage 4. What a glorious sunrise. If only I could actually talk and swallow. But you don’t need that to take pictures and move your legs. Off I went. My next goal was to get to the doctor I was supposed to see at the next aid station – about 2 hours away – hoping that he could help me. That hope evaporated into thin air when all she could give me were blister care and muscle relaxants. I had no other choice but to continue. Craig’s texts from across the globe kept my spirits up. Somehow being alone didn’t feel that lonely anymore.

Absolutely.....

.....Gorgeous!

Shortly past noon, I had a moment of frustration, threw my jacket, pack and poles on the ground and sat down with a frown. The physical pressure in my chest had been increasing since I got up in the morning, making it more difficult to breathe. For what felt like an eternity but in fact only was 5min., I ruminated over the decision I had to make and made my heart ache. Knowing of my weak immune defenses in the upper respiratory tract, I knew I was headed for more trouble if I did decide to continue. Sadness overcame me but I was still surrounded by these beautiful mountains and there were no tears shed. It was the strangest feeling. I think I was closer to myself than ever before. Unable to put it into words, I just was thankful I made it this far.

Just after the decision

Texting moment

5km later, I texted my dad to meet me at the next aid station in the valley, slept another 45min to avoid any other “Gabi” and made my final descent. My dad hiking up to great me (on the phone with my sister who called to check in on me) and walk the last bit with me was a great way to end this race!

I could hear him from far away....

This is really where I finished my journey

A DNF (did not finish) never feels good. This time, my legs were fine, I had no blisters and it was almost an affront to other runners the way I could still run up stairs and smoothly get up from a chair. But my immune system wanted it a different way.

When I texted Craig that I pulled the plug, he wrote one of the nicest things ever:
“You did great, I’m proud of you, it’s not a DNF its a DYB (did your best)…..”
I really did give my best and really fought hard against that moment I cut through my bracelet. The really hard part were the 4hrs before letting my dad know to pick me up in Niel. Usually, I’m a very emotional person but this DNF truly was a DYB and the sour aftertaste of a DNF did not pull me down afterwards. I did get really sick and didn’t recover for more than 2 weeks but from day 2 after my DYB, I couldn’t wait to do it all over again!

Feb. 28 – Changes

February 28, 2011

Two months have gone by since I moved my life from California back to Switzerland. Not a very long time but it’s about the moment when things shift and change.

Old but new things kept me interested and on my toes for several weeks and I even had a very optimistic opinion about the weather. And I have to say, the weather Gods were very kind and blessed me with some almost spring like temperatures and little rain for the most part of these past 8 weeks. Even daylight stays longer everyday, for me a sign of spring approaching.

But watching a very “American movie” on this very rainy and cold Sunday afternoon made me confront one of my current weak spots. The story wasn’t the important part but the place it was shot at made my heart ache a little and admit that I still REALLY miss SoCal and my life there. It was like a scale out of balance for a minute, making me sigh. And that sigh came from deep within. After the lights came on and I confronted the still rainy day, that scale shifted back and I even found the motivation for a quick run in the cold.

The ability to snap out of a low or sad moment has not been one of my strongest assets in the past. I may have been able to pull myself up and out of ¬†subjectively negative situations but the hurt and downward pull remained for quite a while afterwards. It’s very calming that I can let go of the negative parts much faster and see and feel those changes in my personality. While I see my life more neutral, with less peaks up or down, I can focus on other things coming my way: the battle of making my life “good” not weighing that much anymore, accepting things the way they are, not get upset by little things that don’t really matter in a life. All while still feeling very much alive.

For the first time in a while I don’t seem to be able to express exactly how I feel. Or that what I say makes sense.

Not knowing feels refreshingly good – for a change.

Jan. 25, 2011 – My year 34

January 25, 2011

My birthday last year was a rather lonely story. Skype can’t really replace your loved ones hugging you while wishing you all the best. It had been my choice to set out to a place I didn’t know anyone, without a plan, a few weeks earlier. Lunch at Neptune’s with Meredith who would be one of my roommates was the physical highlight. Interestingly, I don’t remember that day being a sad one. On the contrary, for once it didn’t snow on my birthday. What a good start!

 

I tend to reflect on the passed year and make resolutions for the one to come rather around my birthday than at the date change on NYE. For me, my birthday is the most important day of the year and it always puts an extra wide smile on my face when someone remembers my day. Of course, with Facebook, it has become easier to not forget. Still, on rare occasions, a phone call or even a letter make this day a special one. Another thing people forget is that flowers, a sign of nature alive, is also something I love and receiving them helps me to remember that the warm days may soon be around the corner.

 

This past year, those warm days came around very quickly and my lonely days ended when I signed up for the L.A. Marathon and shortly after joined the SoCal Coyotes, a great group of people who like running as much as I do . What I had been dreaming of for years suddenly came true. A running community that didn’t focus on winning but were into it for the fun. Really for the fun.

During my time off running, I sat at the beach, read or just watched the waves and listened to a lot of audio books on the front porch of our house. The house, yes. A fun mix of 2 guys, Porter and Aaron and 2 girls, Meredith and myself. I enjoyed living in my little furnished room for 6 months ¬†a lot but unfortunately never got to use the jacuzzi – because it was broken when I finally decided that it was time I went in…in July. Totally my fault, I know.

I was signed up for Western States 100 in June and at that point, had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. My first focus was the L.A. Marathon and the trip back to Switzerland to renew my tourist visa. A suspicion of a stress fracture had me stop training for the last 5 weeks before the marathon and I ran it almost untrained. Still, I managed to get close to 4hrs. 6 seconds close.

On the side of training for was going to be my biggest running adventure, I was also trying to find employment so I could celebrate my birthday out of the snow again for the next couple of years. While I had good contacts that gave me more good contacts, the university system and most of other businesses had not enough financial stability to sponsor me. I changed my approach to just visiting different clinics, putting my name and what I do out there, trying to get a feel of the situation. And thought I hit the jackpot at the first place I went to see. I walked in with a r√©sum√© and a logo on a business card, my friend Kate designed for me – and came out with a job offer! I was very shaky and almost couldn’t believe my luck.

Still on a high, I returned to Switzerland, enjoyed the time with my family but was very happy to return to California in early May. More running was on the menu as well as meetings with the future employers. Two 50k training races both had their own magic and some more fun led to an unforgettable 100 mile race.

After THE running event of the year, I enjoyed some time in Hawaii with my friends Anja, Dennis, Tamara and Jens. Anyone who has ever set foot on Kauai can agree when I say it’s magical. I couldn’t imagine a better place to recover. Hiking, swimming in the ocean as well as below waterfalls, eating delicious food…the list goes on. While the excitement from WS 100 had worn off, the uneasiness concerning my employment/visa remained and had me lost in thoughts many times while watching the waves. Why was it taking so much time to go on with the process of obtaining a work permit? I was aware of the difficulties to have me come over as an expert without an equivalent profession in the US. Still, deep within I was convinced it would turn out right.

Back from Hawaii, I spent a couple of weeks with Anja and Dennis in Visalia where I got my share of heat I love so much. (Almost) daily runs, UNO tournaments, great food and a considerable amount of beer to quench that thirst ended my second stretch in the US for me.

Upon my return, I continued to run and signed up for a 50 mile race in the center of Switzerland. It was my toughest 50 miler ever and I decided not to run it ever again if the course would stay the same. The same race is already on my list for 2011 as the course was reversed and changed just a little bit. Meanwhile, I had doubts about my future as an employee at the clinic who offered me a job. Not because I didn’t think that we were a perfect match but more because I had this feeling that something wasn’t right. Still, according to my future employers, everything was on track.

On the weekend of August 28, I was at Jens and Julia’s wedding in Germany. It was a wonderful event and some of us had danced until dawn when again, I had one of my moments of doubt. Two years earlier to that same day, my vision of life had drastically changed with the accident and still, I felt as if I hadn’t moved on or done anything good with it since. I felt useless and without direction. And on top of all, I felt that way at an event where self-centered behavior is misplaced. It wasn’t about me, it was about the happy and beautiful couple. Quite the tough moment that Jeroen, a friend from the ultimate community, ended with a big bear hug I desperately needed.

The following weeks after the wedding, I tried to free myself from my destructive and down putting thoughts. Preparing my next and last stretch of California time and being with my family helped me to keep my mind in a good place.  I even found some sort of peace in Greece. For one week, I enjoyed the heat in Galaxidi, walked the remains of Delphi again and swam in the clear blue sea.

Galaxidi

Just before Greece, I had the opportunity to help crew my friend Craig who ran/hiked the insane Tor des G√©ants, a 330km race with an unbelievable amount of 24’000m of climbing. Together with Erin, I got to see the first 100km of the madness and loved the excitement of being able to keep track of Craig online in between Greek dinners and leisure time at the beach. Somewhere deep I wondered if I would be able to finish such a distance and how long I could keep myself from trying to find out.

Again, back in California, I found a new sweet living situation where I could take care of a dog for reduced rent.

Weston

And then, what I had been pushing away and ignoring, hit me hard. Due to an excessive investment in the company, my future employers didn’t have enough money to guarantee a position for a year. The deal was off. I was left with “nothing”. ” ” was my choice of words in the beginning. Feeling numb and sometimes angry, I still tried to focus on my next race that was only 10 days away, JJ100. Again, it was alright in the end. Changed but alright.

Traveling the southwest with my dad for 3 weeks was a great experience following JJ100. We hadn’t spent so much time so close together – sometimes up to 8 hours in a car – for years and while we both had to get to know each other again and discover new habits and sides, we got so see some really magical places. The clear skies and cold winds in Santa Fe, the autumn colors of Bandelier National Park, the Navajo storytelling in Mancos, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon and finally Sedona, to name the major places, really let me live life day by day. The little passport incident had us change plans and we ended up visiting Anja and Dennis in Visalia and got to see San Francisco and some other places at the speed of ¬†“Americans visiting Europe”.

the heart @ Antelope Valley

When my dad left, I had about 4 weeks to go and tried to get the most out of it. Running as much as I could, painting, reading, and then getting ready to leave L.A. for good for an unknown amount of time. My last race, a 50km in Ridgecrest, was another very memorable moment. Katie had become a close friend over the last months and going on a trip out to the desert with her meant a lot to me. Also, it was the first time I ran without a watch – and ran faster than I have ever run before. I felt light, and realized that living my life day by day is not without direction. While I might not know where this path takes me in the near future, I know that I’m moving along. Small steps maybe, but steps nevertheless.

Coming to L.A. in January 2010, it rained for about one week. Leaving would be the same. But not the same at all. While I was warned before I still didn’t want to go home before running up as many mountains as possible and catch as many sunrises as I could. Running up Mt Wilson with George was probably the best way to finish the California mountain climbing of this year. The sunrise was not as sunny as usually but I was touched by how many Coyotes came to join me on my last run the day of my departure. The week before I had gotten a card on my last Thursday morning at Peet’s and was so touched that I couldn’t say anything else but a simple thank you. This time, the rain camouflaged my tears of thankfulness. I had truly found a home and family.

Luckily, my request to buy an upgrade on my flight back to Zurich went through and my luggage weight allowance went up 25lbs per bag. I did manage to fit all the essential things into my two suitcases and flying business class for an 11hr flight is truly worth the investment of some award miles!

Christmas with the family was wonderful and while the jet lag had me fall asleep at the table at the end of our Christmas dinner, it did make me wake up impossibly early as well, giving me the chance to run 8 miles through the snow before anyone was on the streets. Winter wonderland!

Moving in with my new roommate Patrick 2 days later was quick. As were the two job interviews I had the two following days. Now, 4 weeks after my return to Switzerland, one could almost say I’m all settled in again. Two jobs, a place to live, plans. Plans? Yes, the ones that get changed all the time. The ones that make God laugh.

I do have some plans. Running related plans. One spring marathon, two 50 milers back to back in summer and yes, that crazy Tor des G√©ants race in the Valle d’Aosta, Italy. Signing up for it felt almost the same it felt to sign up for Western States in 2009. Some excitement teamed with a lot of uncertain thoughts of how to finish such a thing. Plan is to find that out.

Yesterday, I had my first day of work and I’m glad it’s almost the same day, MY new year starts. I have a feeling, not planning anything but my races until September is going to give me a lot of space to further move on step by step. I know, I just know things are different this time. Of course, my desire to grow roots, to “settle down” – whatever that means in reality, to have a family, none of that changed or will change anytime soon. But the way I see things is different. And it’s a very comforting fact that gives me a solid ground to stand on. For the first time I can remember I am not afraid that tomorrow, my birthday, will be a disappointment. There is no “hope everyone will remember my birthday” and giving me lots of attention. What tomorrow will bring is more snow, cold temperatures and my ability to make MY day really MY day. I intend to go for a long run. But maybe that changes. Who knows. I am finally getting comfortable with not knowing everything.

 

Happy 34th Birthday to me!

Dec. 31, 2010. Making God laugh…

December 31, 2010

My day started with me waking up coughing up what felt like part of my lungs. I had been sick for a couple of days. Although I tried my best to eat healthy, sleep enough and use all the other little tools that usually prevent me from getting the flu, it got worse by the hour.

I really despise being sick. And I really don’t like it when I have to change my plans drastically because of it. After getting up, making tea and slowly get my engine going, I checked my email to find two of my friends¬†online. What a pleasant surprise since they both live in time zones where “normal” people are asleep at this hour. With Linda, we could cut our writing in half as we always know what the other one wants to say and read each others mind while typing. It’s very unusual for me but it presents a very interesting way of chatting online. Her sleeping time was cut down to about 3 hours because of staying up so late and just as she signed off, Kate appeared on my screen. She also was procrastinating going to bed. For another reason though.

I loved her quotes so much that I have to post some.

‘Time is made up anyway, right?’¬†(and so is space…so I can be anywhere at any “time” if I want to. Just make it happen in my mind.)

‘Once you are not resisting or trying to change something, the magic happens. And the sucky parts are all part of it.’(In that case, from now on, I’m going to fully embrace the sucky parts!)

‘You are you, no matter where you are. So spread the good vibes. ¬†The world needs your kind of positivity.’¬†OK!

At some point, we were talking about making plans and I mentioned that I meant to make them in the next couple of days. Professional as well as running plans. Making plans is very important for me because it helps me focus on the positive side of life. At the same time, ever since my trip around the world in ’99, I know that plans are made to be changed. Now, here’s another side of the plan making. ‘Make ’em, play all out to make it happen, but make sure you’re having fun along the way.’ L-o-v-e it! I think I’ll write that on several post-its and stick them everywhere I let my eyes wander throughout the day. Ok, maybe not everywhere but you get the picture.

The last quote she told me is just perfect for today.

If you want to make God laugh, make plans.

I had made plans to run a marathon, starting at midnight. I even felt ready to finally really PR and start 2011 in a totally different way.  I now even live only a 15min bike ride from the starting line. I did make God laugh a lot.

Luckily, my sister wanted to come by for dinner and stay until midnight. More laughter.

My nephew, my current love of my life, decided that this day is way too exciting to go to sleep but instead kept running around, pulling all sorts of things from shelves and dropping them on the floor. The only way to stop him was for my sister to take him home.

So here we go. I made this great running plan, changed it into a different plan and now just finished the bottle of champagne by myself, half an hour before the year is over. In my PJ’s. Ready to go to bed. And you know what? I’m smiling. I had fun all the way. And I know that I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the past few weeks leading up to this end of the year 2010. The value of friendship, the non-existence or non-importance of time, the importance of weighing the positive aspect of every situation and make it more significant than the not so good parts, just to spell out a few.

I am very thankful for every sucky part as well as every wonderful and happy moment. Thankful for everyone that was part of my year, that has made an impact on me during my learning time – there are more of you out there than you know!

And I know, 2011 is going to be even better! Happy New Year!

Aug. 26, 2008. Life changing wake up call

November 23, 2010

It was another warm late summer day, a Thursday, and I spent the afternoon by a nearby lake with my friend Nadine and her little daughter. We had an excellent time out in nature, laying in the sun, swimming and talking about anything and everything. I loved the fact that I was my own boss and could take time off whenever the weather report announced decent weather!

On the way back to the city, I felt uneasy, nervous from the moment I left the lake. I constantly checked my 2 rear view mirrors and also slowed down at every service road. The cars passing me did so with ample space between our vehicles. I finally started to relax as I reached the bottom of the hill and drove through the next village. My subconscious was on alert mode and my conscious tried to calm it down by reasoning that in a village, chances of getting into an accident were slim to none compared to the racy hill I just came down.

Little did my conscious know about the upcoming gas station and the driver trying to merge into the opposite direction – and not seeing me approaching at 35mph. 15 yards were just not enough space to break and avoid the driver’s door that now blocked my entire lane.

I had been dreaming about scooter accidents for about 2 weeks and every time I let go of everything and jumped up in the air. Exactly as I was told to do in training years ago. During these 2 weeks I never gave those dreams a second thought but in these 1.2 seconds before I hit the car, I or my reflexes remembered every dream. I felt like time went by in slow motion.

I tried to brake, realized that I would hit the car sideways and definitely not be able to stop, let go of the brakes and jumped up.

For a moment, I must have left my body because I was seeing the scene from above and my thought was “ok, let’s see what happens next”. There wasn’t any “oh no, I’m not ready to die yet” or “I’m not going to die anyway”. My thoughts were in a neutral place and separated from emotion. Something I have never felt before. Within a blink of an eye I was back inside my body and limping off the road, taking my helmet off, tears already rolling down my cheeks. The crying because of the shock only lasted a few minutes. Meanwhile, the gas station personnel had me sit still against a pile of tires, not turning my head. I still managed to take a glimpse of the driver, a very pale woman in her 30ies who was shaking uncontrollably. I asked one of my two helpers to take care of the lady who seemed in as much shock as I was.

The ambulance showed up shortly after, immobilized me on a stretcher and took my vitals. The paramedic radioed in that I must be in shock because both my pulse and blood pressure were “too low for an accident victim”. In other words, my long distance running payed off. In fact, as I was laying there, waiting for the police to ask the necessary questions before being rushed off to the hospital, I knew I wasn’t injured. Of course, my medical knowledge and reason told me different but it was a gut feeling that I somehow managed to get out of this unharmed. Granted, I did have a pretty bruised up arm, thigh and knee as well as a text-book whiplash but that was nothing compared to the horror stories the paramedic was telling me while we waited for the ok from the police.

Now, this paramedic might need to take a class in bedside manners but after all, I can smile at what he told me. It was his second call of the day and the first one had been the exact same accident. He told me the guy riding the motorcycle that morning wasn’t as lucky I have been so far. He died before they could put him on the stretcher. Gulp. Then he told me that the worst thing that can happen to me would be a cut on one or both sides of my neck if they need to fix my broken neck – tracing the imaginary surgical cuts with his finger on my neck. Double gulp. Since the two of us had already come this far in conversation, I went ahead and created more weirdness to the situation. I asked the paramedic if he could take a picture of me with my camera so I would know what it looked like later. He did have a startled look on his face but did as I asked.

The adrenaline was wearing off on the way to the hospital and they did decide to turn on the siren as I told them I was getting uncomfortable. That stretcher should have had a tempur-pedic cover, my bones were getting rubbed raw on that bumpy ride. The ER doctors very quickly decided that I needed shock room treatment because nobody believed I wasn’t injured. In the shock room, things got busy. 10 people surrounded my stretcher, put me on a bed and checked every vital part of my body in less than 3 minutes. X-rays from head to pelvis, nerve testing, lots of questions, pulse and pressure again, ultrasound to rule out internal bleeding and before I knew it, I was rolled into a different part of the ER where they would keep me for the night. I did indeed not brake a single bone or organ. It left the doctor in charge literally scratching his head and every person I came in touch with told me how lucky I had been.

It didn’t dawn on me that this sort of luck could mean something different than just pure coincidence. Coincidences don’t happen in my book. Everything happens for a reason, we just might not or never know that reason. When I was let out of the hospital the next morning at 8:30, wearing the same clothes as the day before, I felt as if I had just partied all night. Slightly numb feeling in the head, the sun too bright for my eyes and extremely tired. I made it home on the tram, called my friend Bettina who is also an osteopath on the way and ask her if I could come in for a whiplash treatment that day. She’s the best! That’s all I have to say about that.

Home, showered and on the couch with the newspaper, I had the next feeling. The space of my apartment was too big. I felt as if I needed to run for cover from the aggressive space. Something had definitely changed.

And then I started to see things differently. Earlier that year, I had a sprained right ankle, then a left one right after the other was ready to run on again. Next one was a stress fracture to the fibula that had me stop doing any sort of activity for 8 weeks. And then, 2 weeks after picking up training again, this accident. Someone is trying to tell me something. And I knew precisely what because I had been feeling it for quite a while but I successfully silenced every attempt to make me see and finally act on it.

I had not been happy having my own private practice in Zurich. Both, place and setting weren’t right for me. I had chosen both because I thought it was “the best thing for me” and what “everyone else would do”. Never had I listened to my own needs and instincts in the process of becoming a professional. While I succeeded to say no in other parts of my life, I was too much externally focused in that matter.

In the next couple of months, it all started to change. I found a smaller place to live, space eventually wasn’t a threat anymore and the decision to sell my practice and do something else, slowly started to show some sort of shape.

Oct. 24, 2010. Javelina Junderd – a race in the process of life

November 23, 2010
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Compared to my first 100 mile experience, I did not train under as much pressure and was very sidetracked in the weeks leading up to the race. Then I got that one phone call 10 days before the race with the news that my job offer with visa and a life in California have gone up in smoke. Due to unfortunate – in my opinion – wrong investments these news almost paralized me. Leaving me with a void on how and where to continue in my life, I also had my dad arriving 3 days before the race. While I was excited to show him my current country and city of choice, I also wanted it to be a memorable moment for him and spent most of my days planning our road trip.

Dad arrived and we did eventually make it to Scottsdale, checked into the hotel and also got my race number in time. Getting lost on the way and realizing that I had forgotten my entire energy food in Los Angeles had me stress out completely. Thanks to Katie and the fact that she hadn’t left yet, I still got everything delivered to the starting line. Meeting new people and seeing friends did help a little to calm me down but did not entirely slow down my racing mind. It was weird. I was expecting to be nervous for the race but instead my thoughts kept going back to the job/life situation I was in. Sleep had been a 3-4h affair in the last week and this next one was no different.

We did make it to the starting line in time and without any major stress. Even my leprechaun costume was all in place. What happened then, I can’t quite explain. From the start, I knew I had to tame myself and slow down. I thought I was. Until I finished the first of 7 loops. I was running slightly ahead of schedule. 1 hour ahead to be precise. I named that one the “Wow loop”. Trying to slow down, I was still 35min too fast for the next loop. By racing on my feet it seemed I got away from my racing mind. The 3rd loop was probably the most beautiful part of the day. It was warm, I felt great and finally somewhat at peace with the world. It turned out to be “the singing loop” as I was running alone alot and kept singing instead of listening to music. It was not that much slower though. During loop 4, “the one when I finally slowed down” and eventually finished in 4 hours, I ran the way I haven’t run in a long time. My legs were just doing their job at making me move forward and I could just take in the beauty of the desert, not having any negative thought weigh me down. All this time, I tremedously enjoyed seeing every runner several times as those washing machine loops made us cross paths every couple of hours. I hope I could give all those friendly runners as much energy as they gave me.

It was getting late and Adam joined me as my pacer for loop number 5. I was motivated to do this and was actually looking forward to running through the night. Retrospectively, I should have had a bit of coffee before leaving. While my mind was sort of switched off, my body finally got to relax as well. But it wasn’t time to relax yet. I still had 38 miles to go. Shortly after leaving headquarters, we crossed a runner that I had the chance to run with for a while, earlier in the race. Seeing the expression in his face hurt me probably as much as it must have hurt him. The mix of exhaustion and disappointment somehow reminded me partially of what I have been going through – and what is still in the process. Giving him a hug and saying a few encouraging words weren’t enough as he dropped after that loop. We were off into the darkness.¬†Adam had paced me for my last mile at this year’s L.A. Marathon but we hadn’t talked much since. I really enjoyed his company and won’t ever forget that 5th loop, “the one when things broke”.

I noticed the pain in my left foot about halfway up to the first of two aid stations on the loop. Loosening up the laces of my shoe didn’t really change anything and the pain increased as we kept moving. And then the fatigue hit me. Throw in a little hunger and you get what Adam got to experience and probably many ultrarunners go through. My mind went to that dark place where everything was negative, without hope and being a victim of life was ruling over everything. I verbalized my thoughts, my life, everything. Although I had been expressing my frustration and concerns to a select number of people, I finally admitted that I was scared. Scared what to do, where to go, just frightened of basically everything I usually embrace and enjoy exploring. Far away was the believe that “everything will be alright”.

Somehow, Adam listened to all I felt I had to say and even succeded to bring me back to the lighter place. My foot continued to hurt and I started fearing a stress fracture. That would have been the least evil of the breaking things. My believe in finishing had long vanished and my whole life, although I was on the way out of the dark spot, seemed not important anymore.

Once we reached the second aid station, we asked if we could get a ride back to headquarters as I was also getting really cold and didn’t see the reason why I should walk the remaining 4.7 miles of the loop. The guy looked at me intensely and insisted that we are all running 100 mile races to hurt and enjoy it. That we only do it to push through that pain. Hmmm, did I miss something last time I finished 100 miles? And did I miss something this time? Was I really only looking for pain? I was very tired at that point and Adam agreed with me that trying to explain my situation, pain and reasons why I wasn’t going to finish these 100 miles this time, was a waste of time. I did not get a ride back and walked through the night, now also wearing Adams windbreaker, still shivering.

My dad came out on the trail to walk me in and I was grateful to see him. To finish the day, my car battery was dead but luckily, we found someone who could help us.

A couple of things broke that day. Some were fixed on the spot, some took a few weeks and some might take a little longer. I am glad I got to run my heart out and got see and show more of who I am what moves me.

My hoping and wishing abilities are broken and need some more time to mend. Both are¬†expressions of my conscious and are highly influenced by what I think is best for me. Maybe taking a break from those two will get me further than I know now. Faith has never left me. Faith is giving up the control over my life from A to Z. It’s the trust in fate and my subconscious who knows what I really need and how to take care of me. I should let that rule my day a little more. After all, the universe, God or whatever you call it won’t give me problems I can’t handle and deal with.

In the meantime, I proudly wear my 100k finisher buckle and plan to come back to finish one day.