Thursday, July 26, 2018


Dear LAVS, 

A culmination of factors found me here, silent tears of complete fear escaping behind dark glasses, standing amongst my fellow racers on some ferry endless miles from home.  I wonder if they feel the same sense of unknown?  The vets must not.  They know what’s coming. They’ve stood here before.  In my head I am trying desperately not to feel alone.  I put myself here alone.  I did this.  There was great value in standing here without my protective guides.  I can’t see that now though.  I am drowning in a longing for a safety net I always bring.  This ache, this ‘missing’ will haunt me for the next ten days I’m sure.  These will be my company in my darkest hours: the ache of the missing and the ever present fear.  

The ferry lands back where it started, firmly in Kentucky. The runners disperse like scattered thistle seeds in the wind.  At first I see them, then I feel them, then nothing.  A mass of warmth first close and then wavering away.  The heat is already incredibly intense, but now that they’ve moved away I am feeling cold.  Cold and yet again alone.  

We are after all, each here on our own journey. 

The Last Annual Vol State, some 314 miles of country side through most of Tennessee from the north west corner of the state to the south east corner.  A journey that is meant to challenge your sustenance, your self understanding, your fibre and control.  Ten days we are given to make the crossing.  I’d cross my fingers but i need both hands free; one for accessing my water and one to float my cane across the asphalt.  All I can do is breathe and move from here to there with hope and belief.  

I’d planned to walk the entire first day.  Not to help acclimatize to the heat and humidity. Not to ease into the journey, not to short myself on a daily distance.  I’d planned to walk because the sun was ever so bright and I did not know what the roads would be like.  I’d planned to walk when my vision was poorest.  I’d planned to walk and convinced myself that this was a warm up to the days ahead.  Movement for movements sake.  It gave me time to adjust to the ear piece in my left ear providing the turn by turn information I needed to follow the map.  People came and went from my day.  I did a lot of nodding.  I asked them questions.  I tried to avoid answering any.  I am far too choked up to talk about home and what had brought me here.  The missing and the fear whispering in my head.

Just who do you think you are?

Ghosts of what could have been, lost among the shadows of what is, dancing on the sides of the road.  The sun grows high, the heat grows thicker and the shoulders come and go.  My cane finds and feels.  My heart and head talk to themselves about struggle and hope.  I may have come alone with my crew, but I brought so much worth fighting for.  Patience is a difficult thing to muster while walking.  I crave to break out into a run, spread the wings on this dream, move from point to point with a grace I don’t possess.  Patience under the sun. 

Aid stops with Chris go smoothly.  Body is behaving well enough.  The sunburn comes quickly.  Lessons are learned ongoing. The day cycles through and I lose touch with the where and when.  I have yet to find the here and now.  I’m aware that you cannot feel the ocean while tethered to the dock.  You might tickle your toes in the water but it cannot move you until you surrender to the current.  I’m not ready yet.  The day grows quieter, cooler, sun sets adrift the humid heavy cloudless sky.  The traffic is unrelenting.  There are times I hide in the grass as two or three big truck blast by.  I stand still holding the cane that found the ground I stand on.  Stand and breathe and let tears I cannot control find their way.  Who am I to put myself here? Who am I to believe there is strength enough inside to face such a fear?  

Into the evening I start to shuffle.  This is my tentative pace that allows for last minute step correction should I need it, you know for snakes or dogs or trucks.  It’s my happy little shuffle that I know can carry me a number of miles without complaint.  I’m happy, dare I say I’m happy?  Alone to run along the shoulder of an unknown, along the edge of something I can’t quite fathom yet.  The sun bleeds away completely and darkness wins.  Sight grants me more than two feet of vision in the dark, but fear of the wild I don’t know might actually win this.  What’s out there?  What do I hear?  What do I almost hear?  What possible monster could trump the daylight fears I have? 

We finally make it to the firehall at 48 miles.  This would be my biggest day, my biggest push.  It’s after midnight and I can shower here.  Shower and sleep.  My body seems to let me go tot that dream.  Or so I think. Sleep comes like a wave… tide coming in.

Vaguely I’m aware that Tim and Andrea are there.  I’m also aware Chris is still awake.  This sleeplessness sets a tone.  If I know my body and cycles, I’ll be awake and ready to go just as he drifts off.  

That is of course what happens.  3:30am and I’m awake and need to move.  Now.  Like a fire was set under my skin.  Chris has finally found sleep in the truck and I hobble around looking for an exit.  I’m also aware of a fellow runner Mike parked beside us who is battling his own demons.  It takes a bit of effort to get things organized but then I set off down the road away from town.  My tummy seems to be slow to get the memo.  After a few miles only I find myself drinking ginger tea in a chair road side preparing for 9 more days of digestive discontent. 

There are angels along the course, stocked coolers of cold water and sports drink.  Chopped melon and cheeseburgers.  Tents and cots and shade.  Smiles and hugs and .. admittedly a lot  of confusion about my BLIND runner vest.  

“You’re not one of them are you?”  I answered with the best smile I could … “I ask myself that every day”

“Wow you’re brave out there with that traffic and … everything”.  Thankful for dark glasses and extra humid weather that makes everything drippy, “I’m not sure brave is the right word, incredibly naive perhaps?”. 

They’d collect my name, promise to watch results and look for my name.  It’s a sweet surrender that comes with knowing people are counting on you.  I’d leave them, grateful, anxious, and return to my shuffle.  Just me and the road.

Me and the road, the missing and the fear.

Hours turn to days.  Sunrises, sunsets, cows and traffic.  Sometimes other runners.  Sometimes none.  Several times I had heat exhaustion from not wanting to stop in the heat of the day.  Stubborn?  Maybe.  I know my speed, sonically slow.. I can only make up for that by constant forward motion.  Regardless of how I feel about it.  Move.  I’d try and nap, try and rest and get 45min to an hour and bolt up thinking several had gone by.  Move.  with all the blood in my veins and fight in my soul.  Move.  I’d find myself along a road crying for no reason and unable to stop.  My only self talk was that’s fine, it’s just pieces of me falling away.  Tears i don’t have to carry anymore.  Cry if you want.  BUT MOVE.

The shoulder varied from a single lane on the side of a divided highway, wide enough for two or three runners to move side by side, to a white line painted over the rumble strip beside a ditch or mountain side.  Sometimes the earth would grant you one step sideways to avoid being run over by traffic.  Most times it offered you nothing but the chance to stand bravely in the face of oncoming blasting moving sounds and demand that you take up space.  This must have been my most difficult challenge.  Disability does it’s best to blend it, to not be noticed, to not disrupt the norm.  I had very little time to adjust to the place where I was forced to do just the opposite. 

Hey you there, driving too fast towards me, yes you.  Pay attention.  I am part of your world.  I am here.  I breathe and eat and sleep and struggle just like you.  I am part of this.  I am here.  More than once I’d smile and wave a gracious thank you to someone I couldn’t see through windshield.  More than once I’d be wiping tears away between breaks of traffic.  But I am here for just this reason; to illustrate the struggle people with low vision go through daily to fit in to the abled inaccessible world we’ve been fostered into.  Why then, should I expect shelter from its gale force assault now?  I am not above struggle.  I am not worth more.  I will fight the fight in my head.  I will brave this onslaught.  Apparently no matter what the cost.  

On one such road, that winded and twisted on banked corners and blind curves, on the miles between the aid stops, Jan the meat wagon driver pulled over and came upon me in  a moment of mustering.  

“How are you doing?” she asked.

Voiceless I wanted to tell her of oppression and obstacles and fight and anger at being held back and the driving pain in my soul at thinking I was ever even slightly enough to conquer this task of my choosing.  I wanted to collapse in her arms and beg to be shown the exit door.  Stage left.  Somewhere safe, away from this, away from all the monsters that followed me in.  I wanted to fall into her back seat in the air conditioning and give her my life’s worth to be driven away.  I wanted nothing more than to give up.

I took a breath.  Answered in my steadiest possible voice “I’m okay.  It’s just a bit hard”. Retrospect tells me she knew better, could read between all my syllables.  She crossed her arms over herself, almost as if to say this is not the refuge you seek girl.

“This road is tough, and I have vision”  The rest trailed off in words I didn’t retain. 

It’s okay.  Army of one. Right here.  I carried the belief of so many.  Someone has to be on the front line.  It’s okay.  There is a time and place for everything.  I ran my fingers over my Saint Christopher and wedding ring on my necklace and stepped back onto the road.  For if there is no way - make one.  

There were nights I fell into hotel beds and couldn’t tell you my name.  Three hours later I’d be awake and aware forward was the only direction to go.  There were times food was put in my hands and I couldn’t tell you what it was.  I’m not very good at this sport you know?  Some ultra runners seem to know themselves and seem to be alert and awake and capable of holding it all together.  I float in the middle somewhere.  I can carry a banner and hold ground, but I may not remember what town we’re in or what day it is.  

My questions were always about Oprahs location.  And how far away sleep was.  There was two nights in the tent.  Those were harder mornings.  Getting up off the ground was tricky.  My right shin had developed a mind of it’s own.  That’s okay, it took my mind off the blisters.  We slept in a church parking lot once night.  I napped in a park, in a postoffice lobby, in the bath tub.  One time along the road I wanted to sit down and knew Chris was a few miles up the road soon.  Spotting a guard rail I nearly stopped to unburden my feet.  Told myself it was ok to need a break.  There on the end of the rail a sunbathing copperhead changed my mind.  Okay world, I’ll take your message. Keep moving.

There was always bacon.  There was always ice.  There was always clean clothes.  I found out on the last day that Chris had provided me matching outfits each day.  This made me laugh, I’m colourblind and never match.  My feet would literally bake in my shoes.  Every time I stopped we’d switch them out.  That worked until they were swollen enough that only pair fit well enough.  I learned to hid in the heat of the day, impatiently watching an hour or two drift away.  I learned to embrace going into random stores and asking for Popsicles and cold water.  People were so very wonderful.  

The country side would open into expansive miles between shelter and towns.  Then out of no where a general store would appear and be open at 5am serving eggs and bacon.  People would ask where we started, where we finished.  Why are you going?  Why indeed. I myself am going (running and now walking) to raise awareness for inclusion in sport.  In my head would ring this why… it’s a good distraction from the sunburn, the leg, the blisters, the some hundred miles left.

Dogs charged.  From here there and everywhere.  Surprising dogs.  Angry dogs.  Thankfully loud dogs.  I was on the phone with my husband during one such charge and screamed and yelled and hung up.  Charging back at the dog.  Regaining my stance.  Composure long since gone.  It seemed endless. It seemed heartless.  It seemed like a lifetime of struggle in 8 days.  Strength was missing and yet the miles clicked away.  One such dog warning came about mile 240.  I’d had enough at this point. Angry that I had to be so on alert all the time.  Betty, Mikes wife and crew came back by car to warn me this was up ahead.  I texted Chris what was upcoming.  She offered to drive between me and the dogs.  I asked her to hold my sunglasses.  Trekking poles in one hand and pepper spray in the other, I was ready.  There is a place where you decide what to tolerate and when to fight back.  They call it ‘enough’.  Chris got to the dogs before I did. The dogs got easier after that.  I felt less afraid, or more equipped to cope.  They still frightened me, but I felt more ready. 

From that point on Mike and I fell into pace.  Company was nice.  I was ever so grateful he didn’t need to talk.  I think we spent some 60 miles together and I could tell you very little about him.  We climbed the first mountain pass together.  I made sure to call my husband before starting that climb.  So many warnings had come my way I didn’t know what to expect.  Mike seemed confident.  Our crews could not be in touch for the entire three miles of ascent.  I needed to hear Steven’s voice and make sure he knew why I had to be here.  Maybe make sure I knew why I had to be here.  Somethings are worth fighting for. 

The climb proved unremarkable and i lost the bet on how many cars we’d have to dodge on the way up.  38 in total I think.  And a lovely hotel bed waiting at the top.  

The next day I knew had to be my last.  I could not put pjs on one more time and curl up under the covers counting wishes and moons waiting for well rested legs to carry my both down and up the next two climbs.  The weather seemed to give us a break, until it didn’t.  My leg cooperated, until it didn’t, Until I could feel the line of pooling fluid and blood rising in my calf.  The day gave away to darkness just after the blue bridge.

The blue bridge was only 15k from the end.

I texted ahead “I’m on the blue bridge, not that I can tell it’s blue”

I don’t even know who got that message.

“Did we tell you? They painted it yellow just today!” was the reply.

“Yellow?  OMG memories of yellow gates!!” I sent back.

And still we walked on.

Through darkness we climbed the last mountain.  I knew in my heart of hearts I was slowing Mike down.  What I fine young man to stick with a stranger for no reason at all.  At the top of the climb we met our crews one last time.  I instantly elevated my leg and iced, knowing it had to be brief and that the barn door was calling.  Both Betty and Chris told us there was a tornado warning for our area and that Carl had messaged all the runners requesting either they hurry up or seek shelter.  Now I’m to finish this battle in a tornado?  On a mountain?  Right after the last text from Steven saying he had to close his eyes?  Every step determined.  Every step in painful awareness it wasn’t the last.  Every step down a dark lonely road to the Castle rock.

I had emailed Carl before the race and said the last mile on the dirt track worried me the most.  I don’t typically run trail without a guide.  Thankfully he agreed either he or Chris could walk me in, if I’d made it that far.  Fair enough good sir.   And indeed when the time came and my feet turned left on the dirt, Chris wasn’t far away. I assured Mike we’d be fine and that he should go.  That mile of earth was the longest mile I’ve every travelled on foot.  Lightning flashed upon the hill and in my heart too I’m certain. The hair on my arms stood on end.  The thunder danced in the clouds.  

I begged to be done.  Begged to just stop.  Begged to be anywhere but here.  This, was just too much.  Chris spoke softly, counted down in meters, detailed the ground for my steps, Just let me be done.  Done and down from here with it’s pending tornado's.  Almost almost, he’d say.  I said all I really wanted was some Italian Wedding Soup.  I must have reached my bargaining phase.  Chris said hey let’s just walk 400 meters more and then go find some Italian Wedding Soup. 

And here I stopped.  Dead stopped.  In the middle of the trail.  Jammed my poles in the ground and bent over sobbed openly.  Chris was instantly concerned.  “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”  

“It doesn’t matter how far I run” I said sobbing still. “I can’t eat that soup, it’s my favourite soup too, but I’m allergic too most of what’s in it!”

That must have been my last fight.  Instantly swarmed by fatigue, I felt there was no single one more step within me to give.  Months before when I was training and testing out the technology , the use of RunGo through a long night run and the crew expertise of Chris, I’d warned him at some point he’d need to slap me.  He refused then of course. Vowed up and down never to do such a thing.  

Now here is this forest, nearly fast asleep I said “Chris it’s that time, I need you to slap me”

I hadn’t made the request once in 8 days.  Never once did I feel that sleepy.  But now?  Now I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I think I was surprised when he did.  That was the point though right?  Surprise. Adrenaline.  Refocus.  Oh I laughed and laughed.

And then cried once I remembered how sunburned my cheeks were and how bad that hurt for such a gentle tap.

Then there were lights, and a few cars.  And Mike and Betty swimming in victory.  All I could do was wander to a well described rock on the edge of a cliff and say the few words I’d come to mutter, hopefully in a voice that was recognizable.

“Everyone should be given the chance to fight for their finish line.  That only works if everyone is given the right to stand at the start”

I remember asking Carl why they’d put so many god damned miles between the start and the finish.  He’d replied with “It’s actually a trail race with a really long warm up”.

Later, after driving back down the mountain as the storm finally hit, I sent a simple thank you message to Laz, who is out on his own journey throughout my mini adventure.  
I woke up to his reply late the next morning;

“It is not the physical limitations of the body that count, it is the poetry in the soul.  if you have not limited yourself, how is it my place to limit you?”

I’m left with that to ponder.  Why do we let others place limits upon us?  Why do we place limits on ourselves?

Take me right now for instance… I am setting no limit on my recovery naps.

Dear LAVS, you are a beast and I know not which of us was slain, but now neither of us will be the same again.

It is my firm belief that strength has nothing to do with the ability to endure or tolerate pain and suffering.  I think I’ll work on finding the strength to celebrate the happy moments, the loving myself part, all the tough parts are there.  Endurance is, to me, more about struggle. 

I am so grateful for all the hope and belief that came my way through this journey.  I am so endless grateful for the crew and support from Chris throughout it all.  It must not be easy to send a friend into the fire and not be able to follow.

much love


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Finding My Place

This is a tough one. 

There’s no good place to start. There’s no good place to put the voice that’s crawling up from the pit of my stomach. It can’t be stifled down; or it would rot my courage, decay my strength. It can’t be set loose; it would run wild into traffic and topple over the innocent. It would take no prisoners ....

Yet I feel it holds me so; Breathless against the unknown edges of a world I tend to skirt and dodge. Each minute drawing me closer to the ‘Start’, pushes me closer to the ‘End’ of my safe zone.

Stand behind the yellow line.

That’s easier if you can tell where the bloody line is. But if you’re out there, in this world, foundering around amongst the endless noise and chaos and movement, how can you find your place? How do you know where to stand at all?

This is a tough one. All fibres of my being ache for the soft hushed tones of my guide runners. I crave their directions, step here, watch that, stop and wait, okay forward. All comfort has abandoned my senses, leaving them raw and open. 

Ten days of over stimulated. Ten days of on alert. Ten days of.... 


.... I can’t write the story before it’s lived. 

All I can do is celebrate the small victories so far. Like today? Today I found the restroom in a Walmart. Today I said the I love you’s. Today I didn’t drown in the fear that seems to be my endless company for 314 miles.  

Tomorrow... I will summon the fight from somewhere I’ve hidden it. Tomorrow I will find the fierce I will surely need....

Two more sleeps. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Dinosaurs and Nightmares.....

The fridge light floods the kitchen floor.  A tub of yogurt I’ve been searching for in my dreams for what feels like hours, is right there; centre shelf, middle of my view.  I extend my hand to reach for it and then stop.  What was that?  A gurgle?  A groan?  a … laugh?  impossible… My stomach must be talking.  Midnight snacks usually happen when your tummy is rumbling. I reach again towards the plain white container of yogurt… It looks familiar now.  This whole thing feels odd.  I don’t often indulge in dairy products.  They usually leave me, well, gurgling and groaning…  Yet here I am still reaching forward.  Almost as if I can’t control my impulse.  

The Stuff, the label says.  Even that sits funny.  Where have I heard of that product before?  Who bought this stuff? I try to retract my hand, beginning to think better of my choice. The yogurt, though, seems to have a different force pulling me in.  It’s as if The Stuff was Alive????

This can’t be a thing?  The lid opens on the container, from within?  Something forced it open?  How can that be?  Yogurt doesn’t move?  Doesn’t think?  Doesn’t NEED?  Still the lid came ajar and the yogurt itself bubbled up over the edge of the container and began to move down the side of the container, as if to reach for my hand. My fingers, outstretched, shaking, now inches from the ever growing blob of white… STUFF?  

I need to scream.  I need to escape.  I need to NOT EAT THIS STUFF!!! Make this stop… must make this stop… 

…. and then I’m sitting upright in my bed.  A bit sweaty.  A bit shaken.  A bit relieved I hadn’t actually eaten that alive yogurt from my dream.  1980’s B horror movies can really mess with your head.  

There are no Dinosaurs in Tennessee.  

I keep telling myself that.  I’ve given up watching scary things these last few months.  That leaves our movie choices to Oceans Eight and Mama Mia.  Ask me how much dear husband will be happy when this is over?  But last weekend I agreed to watch Jurassic World.  Because, frankly, there are no dinosaurs in Tennessee. My Chiropractor asked me this morning if I was nervous or afraid for the adventure?  

“There are no dinosaurs in Tennessee.  Surely I’ll be just fine.”  Was my reply.  The secretary, who had a bit of back story, suggested I go home and watch Deliverance.  I left their office with a chuckle and, white cane extended and ears to the ground, began navigating the construction nightmare that was their parking lot, and my entire street.  

I have these skills.  Let’s call them Batskills.  In truth they are Orientation and Mobility training skills.  Given to me gratefully throughout my high school years.  They help me make educated decisions before crossing a road.  They help me assess and evaluate before jumping into a thing.  Trust me when I say, they are always in use.  As I walked home and approached the only road I needed to cross, I followed all the bat skills I had.  


Line yourself up with the intersection.



Make a judgment call.

800 meters from my door I did this thing. It was a “T” intersection.  One car turning left from the road to the right.  One truck waiting to turn right from the road I intended to cross.  I arrived with the truck.  Car was in mid turn.  Cane out.  Lined up to cross.  After car turned, I made my way to cross.  It was distinctly my turn.  However much that may have been true, the driver of the truck disagreed.  Did not care.  Did not rethink.  Did not wait.  

It continues to amaze me how little of the world people with vision actually see.  

I stopped.  A foot from harm.  Not willing to take on this battle today.  Another day, perhaps I’d make more of a stink.  Perhaps I’d have been more startled.  Perhaps i’d have reacted a bit differently.

800 meters from my door and I can’t help but think…. Well fuck. This is gonna suck.

What was I thinking?

Scary movies out.  Time spent in my own fear kept to a minimum these days.  I cannot sit still.  I cannot stand and wait for the kettle to boil without shaking.  Can’t seem to brush my teeth without crying.  

I suppose it’s because I feel this way in my every day that I have to do this.  I should not feel less than simply because the Way is inaccessible.  I should not need to quiet my voice of frustration to make life easier for those who have no issues navigating the world.  

My insides are screaming.  My heart is exploding.  There is a want that yells louder than the fear.  Do not ask me if I want to do this.  Please ask me if I must.

The world is a big place.  So very big.  The world has so many moving parts.  

The last of my bags packed and now loaded in the truck, I have one last task; I needed to assign a distinct text tone to my crew captain Chris.  This is so when I’m running I can pick it out against the endless traffic and other sounds.  Can you guess what I chose?

A T-Rex roar….

So maybe I’m a bit wrong.  Maybe there are dinosaurs in Tennessee?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Undoing At Sulphur Springs

It feels like a tearing down of camp.  

A disbanding of the community.

It feels like years of effort washing out with the tide.

Someone sold me a yard sale jigsaw. A ziplock bag of edges and colours all askew.  I’m so stubborn that I have to see it through.  Maybe there’s a picture coming.  Maybe there are pieces missing. 
… an incomplete set

Still I am fixated on piecing it together.  It’s finding peace with that, that is overwhelming. 

I am stumbling in the light, bumping into things, tripping over things, jamming my toes against rocks I’ve known were there.  I am increasingly lost the more I am found.

I sent them away, my guides I mean,  I sent them packing.  Oh how I loved them.  Oh how I enjoyed their edits.  Oh how I miss their buffer.  My doing.  My choosing.  My footsteps in the light, in the blinding, blazing splattered light.

I’ve been struggling as to how best to tell this tale.  I’ve been rattling around with syllables and imagery of how best to describe barriers and obstacles.  Maybe, like my yard sale puzzle, the picture will appear clearly.

The grocery store plaza 800m from my door is under construction.  Upgrades. improvements.

Noise.  Commotion.  Distraction. Smells. People. Moving parts.

It feels inhuman to not be able to go make a bank deposit alone, to ‘elect’ to avoid that coffee shop for six months, to fear the next time I need tylenol from the drug store, to not eat the last apple because then you’d have to go buy more.

These are not things I can’t do.  These are things I currently can’t manage under the conditions set out in front of me by society at large.  

Why no guides?  

This is why.  

I need to tell the tale of how inaccessible the world is.  I need it to be persuasive.  I need it to be compelling.  I need change to be something worth fighting for.  I need to be heard.

That has to be my biggest fear; not being heard.  Disability should be heard. It deserves a place beyond a token card holder.  It deserves a voice.

Fear grows like a weed, like a fungus, like a wild thing. Fear of the unknown, fear of the misunderstood, fear of the lack of control.  This Vol State training has consumed me with that fear.  It bubbles and simmers on the back burner.  It spits and froths under the excess heat and stress.  Fear, I know your name.  I know your name more than I know my own.

Friday at 8pm we started running at Dundas Conservation Area.  Not quite dark, no longer bright.  Sulphur Springs officially begins exactly 10 hours after my first step.  Seems like an unfair advantage right?  Let me tell you, it felt more like extra punishment.  And I was there to embrace it all.  

The forest was sleeping and dark.  Steven kept me company.  Head light bobbing up and down in the dark beside me.  Silence between us. Company only.  Usually on a run I can anticipate his next step, feel his heart quickening before a hill, hear the inhale before a mouthful of descriptives were thrown out in order.  It nearly broke me, this silence.  No words.  No gestures.  Not even sure his socks were different colours.  Promised myself I wouldn’t look.  I don’t envy him, or the position I’ve put him in.  No one wants to put their loved one in danger.  No one wants to walk them to the door and say go on, go… No one wants to walk beside and SAY NOTHING when there are things to say, obstacles pending everywhere.  I had to get over myself pretty fast in the first few miles.  I wasn’t more than three feet away and wanted to scream “why are you doing this?”  “Don’t you love me anymore?”  

Yes he does.  So much so he could do this.  Remember I asked him to. Not sure that makes me a very nice person.  More on that later.

I broke the course up in my head into sections.  Maybe they make sense to you who have run this place?

The descent - Martin rd… the optimistic beginning

The gimme - everything until you cross the road, because honestly it was the easiest part

The new altitude - a few climbs that were added to keep us off the road.  This took away a portapot access point, added hills, showed me a jeep road looking trail that make my goosebumps tingle in barkley memories.

The Bruce - a warm hug for those that know her… the first escarpment sight.. the one everyone takes a picture of.

Aid station one - thank the heavens

The dive - Those incredibly technical steps down off the bruce into the ravine, and the root tiptoeing after, plus the climb.

The round about - Seriously who puts a roundabout in the woods? 

The new altitude take two - seems hillier this way

Two way traffic zone - after the road crossing

The blurry grass lollipop - the new last year edition.  This section hid the roots, played mayhem with my headlamp, made me cry. two hydrocut crossings, timing mats to trip on… and oh the way the sweet grass smells in the heat.

Last loop - the second turn off the trail you dam well know takes you to the lollipop. ITs like someone decided you hadn’t gave the climbing your best so here’s a second chance bitch… (Or second, or hundredth)

Aid station two - people who smelled better than me and who promise only 7 km to the end to the loop

the lollipop - Root dancing, bugs are the worst here. The trails feel older.  The ground doesn’t drain the same.  The stick, the round, the up and up and up those sisters, the lick that never seems to end, the down and down some more and the stick again.  Ending again in the root dancing and bugs

aid station once more

The ascent - one last fuck you before someone might offer you a freezie.

The first loop we got half way down the hill and Steven retreated to get his headlamp.  Geez, these ultra runners I tell you!  Everything went as planned.  Including the lump in my throat.  At the Dive the caution tape was before my memorized steps. They wanted us to use the old way down?  But I’ve never gone that way.  I’ve never walked those steps.  I’ve not… Fine.  Fuck you fine.  And then mud and slippery ground and Steven offering his hand.  “Go the other way the next time” he said …”let me help you” he said.  Oh Jesus… I can’t give in so close to the beginning?  One second of hand holding, one dart in my unguided run of the year, one million pounds of instant guilt.  More than anything, I want your help.  I think that’s what makes this whole journey to Vol State so incredibly frightening. 

At the Blurry grass section I had to ask Steven to run farther ahead.  His headlamp made the ground dance.  20 meters have never separated us on a run.  “Just here to keep the coyotes away baby” Stupid running.  But they were indeed out and prowling around.  As were owls, deer, skunks, raccoons, and Hooligans apparently. 

On our second loop 80% of the reflective markers had been removed or deliberately turned away so that they wouldn’t reflect oncoming light.  I cannot believe the people who did this thought it was, what funny? What if I’d gone alone?  It’s bad enough I can’t see the pink ribbons anywhere.  

On our third loop the sun came up on the lollipop.  And yes, it actually does take me that long to run 60 freaking km on unguided trail. I am so sick of defending my pace; it’s a nauseating insult to my soul.  People were beginning to staff the aid stations.  They were of course confused as to why we were out there.  I was happy to see them.  Happy to know my next solo loop wouldn’t be just me and the coyotes.

Loop four I took my poles, interpreting my steps by sound and resonance of taps.  I left Steven to nap.  I hoped Jennifer-Anne got some sleep as well, although from the size of her newly knitted blanket, I doubt if she got any.  People started popping up around me on the course.  Rounds of ‘good job’ ‘amazing’ ‘doing great’ … you racers, you’re the best alarm clock ever.  That voice in my head that you may never understand, answered each one of you with a ‘this isn’t great, I’m not great, I’m tired and barely moving, don’t kid yourself’.  The filter won over and I only allowed a “you too” to escape my lips.

This ultra running business can build you up.  It can move mountains in your soul.  It can change your life, if you let it.  

This ultra running business can tear you down.  It can bury you under avalanches in your soul.  It can change your world, if you let it.

All that stands between you and that… is a matter of belief.

Loop five I think was my longest loop.  I lost my running bounce and was hiking.  My foot was talking back.  I’d been taking a mental inventory of the aches and pains and NONE of them were worth stopping for.  None of them worth giving up, giving in for.  I found myself once again standing at the Dive.  It was then I realized my vertigo was winning.  Think I’d been ignoring it for a while.  The root steps I knew were there in front of me.  They had multiplied however, morphed into about a zillion dancing steps I couldn’t steady.  Runner noises from behind brought me back to the present, back to the place of knowing there was no other way out.  I took a step back and asked them to go first.  Said it was more difficult to have noise behind me on the descent.  Most went without question. One turned and asked if I needed help, if I could see the ledge.  Filter allowed me to say no I can’t see it, but I know it’s there.  Thank you, I’m fine.  Still I stood. 

Still I stood.  Tears stealing the day.  You can’t run 100 miles afraid of the one you might have trouble with.  Still the roots danced out of focus.  Five minutes? More?  I stood.  A few more friends came from behind and really wanted to help. That nearly broke me, as it meant they could see my struggle.  Graceful in an ultra I will never be.  Gratefully they too went on.

I took a picture.  I took a picture of the steps, then zoomed in on the image and used that memory to steady the roots in my view.  Closed my eyes and went down on my rear.  Fumbling in the light.  My only way, in the light.

Once at the bottom of that ravine, and over the bridge more roots and a climb to write home about only because of the angle of the dirt.  Another friend from behind, “How are you doing?” Please don’t ask that.  There is no question I’d like to answer less.  That ultra running stuff…

At the last aid station before the lollipop, I sat.  I sat and rubbed my feet, removing the stone that had wedged its way into my left heel, bruising it nicely for the memory.  I sat and listened to the people who said things like “you look so strong!” Someone sat beside me complaining of knee pain, saying he was done.  This is when I knew my vertigo would win.  As a Massage Therapist, I would have stopped my race and helped any other day.  I’ve never turned away a need before.  Instead?  I offered him tylenol.  That was good for a few guilt points.  

I texted Jennifer-Anne that I needed a break.  That I was trying to piece things back together.  Once I’d gathered, into the lollipop I went.  On my way back down Jennifer-Anne met me.  I think she most of all struggled with not telling me things.  We walked back to the start/finish to eat and regroup.

They fed me. They humoured me.  They let me change.  They sprayed me for the bugs. Too late I’d been their feast last loop.  There was so much noise in the base camp.  Incredibly loud chaos.  My head was spinning.  I think I left on loop six more to get away from the noise than to run.  

Loop six, what would be my last loop, I went entirely off the clock.  12 minutes to get to that section. 35 minutes to make that loop.  Aid station one I texted back that the vertigo wasn’t getting better, but that I was hopeful that darkened skies would settle it down.  I found my run again.  I knew it would come back.  It always does.  Wait for it.  It will.  I promise.

Run or no run, the earth was moving.  I could feel it rotating under my feet.  The dive was just as bad as the time before.  I had expected it.  Didn’t even look at the ground.  Checked my picture and went down on my rear again.  Every effort was for making it to the aid station before the lollipop so I could put my head lamp on there.  I almost didn’t make the self imposed cut off before dark.  

Aid station volunteers cheered when I arrived. Angels you are.  I can’t eat your food, but I love that you bring breath to the forest.  “See you in an hour!” they offered.  Um no… 2 maybe?  90 mins at least. 
Coming down the hill my third nose bleed of the race hit me, which did not help the vertigo, but man did the bugs love it.  Head lamps danced in the distance ahead of me which made me believe they were stars above.  I tried to look up and pull things into focus.  Perspective?  But every time I looked up everything went white.  Blasting glaring white.  Send me to the ground, hands in the dirt, bright white.  

My wonderful crew met me with medicine at the bottom of the road.  Because I knew it wasn’t safe to be out running anymore - even if my legs couldn’t care less if we did. we called it.  There was no rally.  There was never meant to be a buckle, having started some ten hours before the pack, even if I’d covered the entire 100 miles, I would have defiantly turned a buckle down.  

You know what there was though?  120km of unguided trail running.  More than 26 hours of unspoken roots and bumps and horse shit and ravines.  There was over 36 hours of awake time with no asleep on the side of the trail.  There was zero gastrointestinal upset.  There was intake of real food 100% of the time and, sorry aid station staff, proper digestion at nearly every pot.  There was supportive family and friends and strangers everywhere.  

That ultra running stuff batman… It can change you, if you let it.

Oh and my favourite line of the entire event goes to the one guy with (humour? balls?), who made me smile anyway… after seeing my “blind runner” bib on my back, came up beside me and said 

“You’re going the right way!”

why yes… yes I am…

Constant. Forward. Motion.