Bell Ringing 50k Ultra Trails Remix

Sometimes, you have to return to the scene and take back your lost mojo. In 2014, I tried my first 50km ultra marathon, after moving up from a half to a 25km and then on to a marathon distance. At just over 26 miles in the 2014 Bell Ringer, I dropped out of the race due to back pain. And, I let my fear and anxiety control me. Even though I dropped out of the race, I continued to trail run almost every day, but I never signed up for another race.

This year, 2018, I decided to train all year in preparation for this December 8’s race. I’m also a yoga teacher, and when I met with one of the park rangers in July to discuss a yoga class at Montgomery Bell State Park, I had no thoughts of the Bell Ringer being part of our discussion, but she asked if I would teach a yoga class before the race at the Friday night check-in. I agreed. Without a doubt, I would teach a yoga class and then run the 50km the next day, but my fears threatened to creep into my excitement.

Nonetheless, I created a rigorous training schedule at my home park, about an hour away, Dunbar Cave State Park, where I have been running regularly for just over a decade now. I felt confident when I surpassed 20 miles during a training run at Dunbar about a month before the race was scheduled.

All week leading up to the Bell Ringer, the forecast looked foreboding with high percentages for rain all across the mid-South, and a cold rain was predicted at that. I checked and checked, but the forecast held steady. My husband, Terry, kept reassuring me that it would hold off, and the rain wouldn’t arrive in the area until evening. I was hoping that he was right, but my gear check included a poncho, extra socks, extra shoes for the check-in at 21.6 miles, and more. He had provided me with all of my gear and new cold-weather running clothes the week before the race, so I knew that he had his own doubts about the weather.

The night before the race, I went to check-in, taught yoga to one runner who was brave enough to share a great slow flow stretch-out practice with me. I was proud of us for honoring the need to practice yoga and for not being intimated by the people who checked in behind us. He told me that I helped him with some postures, and he felt relaxed before the race, and that was all reassuring as a teacher. He would be running the 25km, and we wished each other luck as we parted ways.

I spent the night with my parents who live in the same town where the park is located. They prepared a light dinner and encouraged me, reminding me of how hard I’ve trained and how many miles I have run on my own since the last time I attempted the race. I don’t like to overload my gut, so I keep my food intake light and I try to consume several small “meals”, though sometimes that meal is only a pile of broiled shrimp.

I went to bed early, hoping that it wasn’t raining in the morning. I slept soundly until 3 am when I awoke with a feeling of wild excitement, wondering what lay ahead in a few hours. I willed myself back to a surface sleep.

Morning, and I was ready, preparing with my mom in the kitchen. She cooked egg whites and vegetarian sausages. I boiled water and prepared my drink food in the bladder for my pack and in the handheld plastic bottle. I planned for Vitargo to be my primary food during the race. I’ve never been able to eat and run, so I discovered that Vitargo will feed me as a drink and then I don’t have to deal with my moody stomach. This muscle food works for me wonderfully. I feel full and my stomach is happy while I run. This is what I kept telling myself that morning, too, because honestly, I wasn’t sure if that would be the case once I reached over 27 miles. I didn’t know how my gut would behave, and it had been a nemesis through many races.

I got everything ready and looked outside for a moment to see if it was raining. Instead, I saw white flakes illuminating the dark morning.

I yelled for my dad, “It’s snowing!”
He didn’t believe me and looked outside. “That’s better than rain,” he said. I agreed.

In fact, I was eager to go and get started once I had all my gear in place. On the way over to the race, my mom and I kept telling my dad to hurry up and go on, but he was spotting deer and kept slowing to point them out to us. “Yes, you’ll see a lot of deer this morning,” he assured me.

We made it through a couple more deer sightings and arrived at the park hotel where the race begins and ends in the parking area. The energy at the race start line felt on the jumpy-sluggish-eager-positive side. We were all ready to get going so that we wouldn’t be so cold. There were nerves about potential rain. It was cloudy so some of our own sleepyheads kept interrupting our need to run and warm up. We walked in circles, waiting to go, listening to Ranger Megan give us a quick briefing on the race course. Then, they rang the bell and suddenly, we were moving. “We’re all crazy!” someone shouted. I waved to my parents. My smile would not go away as we headed toward the golf course and turned into it.

I was suddenly aware of everyone’s music coming through their headphones and the conversations around me. I don’t usually listen to music or use earbuds during my training runs, and I realized that I had forgotten to connect my headphones and set up my music to play when I was ready. It was the one thing that I forgot in my excitement that morning, and for a race, I definitely need music. I’m usually a solo runner, and I’m not used to listening to other runners on the trail, and during a race, there are a lot of other runners who make their own sounds.

Luckily, I found my earbuds in the vest pocket but they were a tangled mess. I ran for 2.5 miles trying to untangle those damn things, and I was already cussing and dropping my glove every half mile. I used a spare pair of gloves (turquoise) to keep the phone warm so that the battery stayed charged for longer. I ran back three times to pick up one of the gloves. Finally, I left it back by a creek somewhere because I couldn’t even see it on the trail.

But the music was on, and I still had three gloves and two hats! Yes, that’s correct, 3 gloves. I wore a pair of red gloves and a red hat. I carried the spare turquoise gloves and a rainbow hat my friend Emily knitted for me for extra luck and warmth. I was good to go and the music was playing.

“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights started me off. I created this playlist of hip hop, electronica/ house and lounge music. My husband was obsessed with it during our twenties, so I knew this music could carry me the distance. It had been our music of choice for all-nighters in Amsterdam and riding the train back the next morning to Zandvoort. I imagined the clubs and people, the djs, the dancing and euphoria. Daydreaming on the trail is good stuff, especially since I am writing a book with that time period and setting in part of it. I planned to daydream when needed during the race.

Dreamy moments began early, once the music was in place, but then 25km runners began passing us. They had started 30 min later than us 50k runners, and they jolted me back into the present moment, descending a ditchy hill with big chunky rocks.

By then, my playlist rattled and “Down” by Marian Hill kept me going by the cabin and through the ore pits. Everyone was spread out with enough space around us, and the courtesy was unmatched. Everyone moved over to let other runners pass who were faster. It was easy going and pleasant running all the way to the park office. Passing by, I said hello to my parents and stopped at the aid station for a bathroom break.

I was a little choked up as I crossed under the bridge over to the other side of the park to run the mountain bike trails. “Waiting Too Long” by Hippie Sabotage played, and I felt that I had indeed waited too long to run the race again. To run any race. I realized that the Bell Ringer of 2014 was the last race I had run and I’d dropped out so close to finishing that it surprised me to realize that I had unintentionally stopped signing up for races at that point, even though I started running 100 mile weeks, and put in over 1800 miles year after year.

All of those thoughts weighed me down over on the twists and turns and ups and downs, round and round, of the mountain bike area. “Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet was there just in time to remind me that I needed to tell my own sabotaging self that very thing. It was a song for grinding and I had placed it perfectly.

While 25k runners knuckle-bumped me and sped on their way, including the yoga student from the night before, I was battling that area and myself. It was too early in the run to struggle, I thought, but every time I tried to resurge, I felt weighed down.

“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses was truth about the trail at that moment. I was in awe of the beauty—the snow covering the short pines, the creeks sparkling between snow-powdered stones, the cold white blankets lining the tree branches, the deep green of the ferns, the comforting squish of the trail underfoot, textures of bark above and below, and I reminded myself how in love I am with the trail. I snuck in a few Jimi songs to bring me comfort right when I would probably be needing them. “Little Wing” was what I needed to lead me out of that side. I stopped at the aid station again and passed my family.

“I’m so fatigued,” I told them. My trot was slow, and I waited for the group of runners ahead of me to take off on the single track that I knew was taking us to the stairs and then the halfway point of the 50km. “Just walk and hydrate for a few minutes,” my husband said.

I walked up the trail and in the direction of the stairs and drank, drank, drank. I found “River” by Bishop Briggs and that picked up my pace again. Moving me down by the creek and then up by the lake, where I passed a group of Boy Scouts with huge packs.

I was happy to be alone as a runner on the trail. I could see the group ahead of me when I needed to, and I didn’t see a soul behind me. I was in my solo run place and “Just Jammin’” by Gramatik by then. My feet were finally happy, my legs were happy, and my whole body decided to be happy around the lake, jumping creeks, and past another group of hikers to cover a section of the trail that we had ran earlier in the morning. This time, I was slower and stepped with care into the gulleys.

“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance lifted me across the road, where I told a volunteer at the aid station how happy I was feeling to be over the halfway mark. “Halfway home. Halfway there” DJ Shadow spun through my speakers.

I was dancing down the trails and drinking a lot of food. I love the part of the trail that comes next. Through the pines, across the creeks and bridges, Moss-lined trails sparkling with icy snow, another view of the lake, and everything was “Gold” by Chet Faker as I rambled alongside the lake on the single track, slippery, beauty of a trail with gorgeous roots from the trees decorating it. I admired the trail’s variety and movement, its ever-changing textures.

When I rose up over the Spillway trail, I was in the place of “Feeling Good,” the Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone’s classic. When we were dating twenty years ago, my husband and I would meet at the Spillway in the evenings. He and I would run the Spillway trail to the church road, and that was the exact route of the race.

Passing through the aid station at just over 19 miles, I felt great and picked up a little speed. I was in time with “Lovin’ It” by Marian Hill, and crossed the roads and back up the ore pits, this time in the opposite direction from earlier in the morning.

Again, I had trouble with my gloves as I tried to text, take photos, and change my music. “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, and I backtracked for the glove again and again, until finally losing another one. I stopped looking and kept going. But then, I couldn’t find one of the unmatched gloves, and was aggravated because it was somewhere in my vest, I thought (turns out, one of the turquoise gloves was in my parents’ car the whole time, so I only had 3 gloves with me at the start). At that moment in the race, I assessed that I had one red glove on my left hand, one red hat on my head, the lucky Emily hat in my pocket, and one turquoise glove lost in my vest (but it wasn’t); the other red glove was lost somewhere in the half mile behind me, and one turquoise glove was lost between miles 3 and 4 at the start. “Errrrr!” I growled. Then, I put the lucky Emily hat on my hand that didn’t have a glove. It worked out.

I bounded down a big hill and met up with a fellow runner whom I had seen back at the beginning of the race and again at one of the aid stations. Someone had asked him if he was in the 101st, which would have meant that he was from Ft. Campbell, my neck of the woods. I asked him about it because I hadn’t heard his exact answer, just that he wasn’t in the 101st, but that he had been a soldier. We talked about where he had been stationed while he was in the Army.

He and I ran together past the cabin and alongside the creek back up to the cemetery. I was listening to “Sure Thing” by St. Germain as we talked about running, yoga, life. Turned out, he was a yoga teacher, too. Having the company was great, and making it to the next aid station felt like a breeze compared to my struggle with picking up the gloves.

My new running friend stopped to eat at the aid station. My husband caught up to me there and refilled my Vitargo, and I took off again. I was cruising around the outback area toward the fire tower road. I knew the out and back was coming up, and that part was challenging for me in 2014. I told myself to get rid of the negative thoughts.

About the time I was listening to “Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance, I saw signs attached to the trees. Dirtbaggers were waiting, I realized, and then heard a loud scream ahead, followed by cheers and more screaming. In the distance, I saw a large human-sized panda bear screaming her head off at me. Cheering for me. She opened her arms up and I opened my arms wide and ran toward her. We met and embraced, and she screamed more. High fives with my fellow dirtbags, noticing that they had quite a spread laid out for those who could eat and run, and I was scooting down the gravel road. I told myself to keep running through the out and back and then I’d walk. I was getting tired again and needed to drink more of my food.

At the turnaround, a volunteer had stocked the back of his truck with every kind of snack you can imagine. It was like a convenience store. “Grab some calories,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, “but I’m okay. I’ve got juice.” I took a big drink and kept moving.

After I made it through the turn, I stopped and slurped down as much food as possible. About that time, the running friend I made earlier had caught up to me. We chatted a little but he was in the zone. I told him to go ahead, and we’d see each other later if we were meant to.

I started to trot again but I was feeling “Faded” (by Zhu) and it was playing. I ran through the Dirtbag station again and up the hill. I didn’t see my running friend at all. I was guessing that he had paired up with the two guys who had been running about a tenth of a mile in front of me for a while. I lost track of them somewhere around the Dirtbag station.

After I made it up the hill, I struggled a lot. There was a stalled train on the tracks that ran alongside the road. The train sat there beside me, unmoved. “Brighter” by Rufus du Sol reminded me of how low I was right then. I argued with myself about being too cold and too hot, being hungry, getting stuck at the same place in the race. My positive thoughts fought to win out. “Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd was this moment. I heard a runner approaching behind me. I moved over to the right side.

“Hey,” my runner friend said from beside me and began to walk with me.
“Oh, I thought you were long gone,” I said. “Did you stop back there?”
He had and eaten some potatoes. I was relieved to see him. I told him that I was struggling. He told me that my husband had stopped as he was leaving the aid station back at mile 21.6, and my husband told him to watch out for me. He said, “I don’t know if he meant that he wanted me to look after you or to watch out because you might beat me.”

We both laughed. I said that it was because Terry knew that was the toughest part of the race for me and he was asking him to look out for me. We walked. He tried cracking a few jokes, but I missed them. My brain wasn’t firing on time, and it took me a few minutes to catch up mentally as well as physically. I drank more, knowing I needed more fuel. I felt so bad that he was walking but he assured me that he needed to slow down for a little bit. We talked about life again, yoga, running. I drank a lot of food and begged my brain to release an endorphin. About that time, my second Jimi song played, “Hear My Train A-Comin'” and I had to laugh at the irony. My new friend talked about 100 mile and 50 mile races. I said that those were crazy. He reminded me of the potential in the human body, the ability for endurance and strength. We talked about injuries and how yoga can help. My husband broke his leg/ankle this year, so we discussed that. We walked. Finally, he said, “Do you think you can shuffle run up to that tree right up there?”

“I’ll try,” I said. We did the shuffle run and kept going. We alternated between running and walking. We neared another road crossing at the back of the park, and my friend told me that he had never ran a full marathon yet. I checked my timer to see where we were in our mileage. We were over 26 miles, and the two of us did a high five in honor of his first marathon!

Finally, once we crossed the 27 mile mark, I was relieved completely. I had made it past my old stopping place from 2014. “Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker played somewhere in this time, and I was at the approaching sunset with a friend, but it was so fitting in melody. We had made it past the final cutoff an hour and a half ahead of the time. Everything in my body woke up at that moment. All my anxiety dissipated. I was excited, relaxed, and feeling strong. I wondered if my running friend was an angel, and told him thank you for helping me through the terrible slump I had hit back there. He said that he just wanted to cross the finish line and feel good at the end. I agreed. “Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker coincided. I had experienced enough races when I couldn’t drive myself afterward and felt so terrible that I could barely make it to the end.

We rambled down the hillside and crossed a bunch of creeks again, talking along the way, feeling good. “Telemetron” by Hexstatic and a couple more from the Listen and Learn album propelled me with beats. My excitement grew as we neared the final aid station. I heard the highway as we ran atop the hillside. The hotel was through the trees in the distance. I pointed it out to him. We would run the hillside down to the front entrance of the park and then hook back toward the hotel. Both of us were eager to make it down the hill and across the road to the final length of trail. Shirley Bassey’s “Easy Thing To Do” remix by Nightmares on Wax was like a lullaby giving me a lilt in my run.

My family was waiting for us at the final aid station and cheered us on. My dad said that he would run with us if we needed a pacer to the end, but we were okay and ready to make it.

Up the hill, we wound our way toward the hotel, down the stairs, across the bridge, and up, up, up stairs at the end. We high-fived as we crossed the bridge. We ran up the stairs side-by-side. Jimi always plays for me near the end, and this was no exception. “Who Knows” his guitar wailed.

In the parking area, about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, my friend said, “You go ahead and run across the finish line. Your family is up there.” His calves were cramping up.

“No way!” I said. “You stayed with me when I was having a hard time, and we’re crossing the finish line together.” We walked.
I said, “Let’s walk around this last corner and then there’s a straightaway, we can do it. We can run it in.”

And, that’s what we did. We ran side-by-side, increasing our pace until we crossed the finish line together. He jumped up in the air just as we crossed the finish line or we would have had the exact same time.

Thrilling. Powerful. Joyful. Emotional. My daughters were watching and cheering. My family hugged me. Terry called me his hero. My parents were proud.

My runner friend rang the bell to signal his completion of the race. I rang the bell, and then rang it again and again. I wanted to make up for 2014 and any race I could have run in between.

I felt wonderful after the race. I was ready to keep going. “I can run a 50-miler,” I told my husband.

In the car, Terry handed me my other red glove. “Another runner gave it to me at one of the aid stations. He picked it up when you dropped it on the trail.” Back at my parents’ house, my mom gave me a turquoise glove, “you left this in the car before the race.” So, I only lost one glove on the trail, a turquoise glove at the beginning.

I set new running goals immediately because everything felt different. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been during my training runs. I was aware of my shortcomings–too much multitasking and too many negative thoughts about my ability. After the 50km, I felt more alert and positive about running races than I had been in years. I was renewed. I set my sights on a 50-mile race in May.


Notes: I could have gotten the order of some things mixed up. After twenty miles, I can’t exactly remember where a thought and/or conversation took place every time, but I try to get close and recount what mattered.

Also, this was my horoscope from Rob Brezsny the Tuesday following the race:
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Danish scientist and poet Piet Hein wrote this melancholy meditation: “Losing one glove is painful, but nothing compared to the pain of losing one, throwing away the other, and finding the first one again.” Let his words serve as a helpful warning to you, Gemini. If you lose one of your gloves, don’t immediately get rid of the second. Rather, be patient and await the eventual reappearance of the first. The same principle applies to other things that might temporarily go missing.
Week beginning December 13
Copyright 2018 by Rob Brezsny
Grammar key: Asterisks equal *italics*
Rob Brezsny is amazing–check him out. His expanded audio horoscopes are even more eerily accurate.

Playlist In-Part (the Highs and Lows):
Warning: Some of these songs obviously contain explicit lyrics, and the videos could be as well if you choose to look them up…
“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights
“Down” by Marian Hill
“Waiting too Long” by Hippie Sabotage
“Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses
“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
“River” by Bishop Briggs
“Just Jammin'” by Gramatik
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance
“Halfway Home” by DJ Shadow
“Gold” by Chet Faker
“Feeling Good” Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone
“Loving It” by Marian Hill
“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo
“Sure Thing” by St. Germain feat. John Lee Hooker
“Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance
“Faded” by Zhu
“Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd
“Brighter” by Rufus Du Sol
“Hear My Train A-Comin'” by Jimi Hendrix
“Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker
“Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker
“Telemetron” by Hexstatic
“Easy Thing to Do” by Shirley Bassey; Nightmares on Wax mix
“Who Knows” by Jimi Hendrix

Music Creates Magic in the Story


Music is essential to our lives. We use it to change our moods, propel us forward when we need an extra boost of energy, to motivate us, to woo a sweetheart and set the mood, to soothe a broken heart, to comfort when lost, and to give a healing balm during the most challenges times in our lives. We make friends over songs. When I was growing up, my friends and I used to make mixed tapes and stay up all night watching music videos, we made song requests to radio stations at midnight, and later, in high school, my brother and I begged our parents not to throw out the CDs that came with explicit lyric warning stickers. I see my characters the same way–they have worlds of music, too. I create playlists for the characters in my novels. How does music change their moods? What is the role of music in their lives? Are they musicians? Do they sing in the car? Can they “carry a tune,” as my grandparents called it?

I’m like a kid during this stage of crafting a story. I learn new songs, cry through old ones experienced anew, discover a fresh meaning for a tune I’ve never liked in relation to my own life, and notice how music affects the choices we make whether we admit it or not.

Music and food play a central role in the Ballard family, the focus of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, my latest novel. From songs shared during family get-togethers and hootenannies, to town festivals, talent shows, and bands forming during college, music connects people and is one of the guides on the journey of life. We follow our favorite bands and become connected with people over our shared tastes in music. We discover new rhythms and create our own melodies.

I’ve added part of my playlist (some with YouTube links) for the characters of Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel:
1. Wildwood Flower by Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters
2. Rattle My Bones by The Secret Sisters
3. Pretty Thing by Bo Diddley
4. Fever by Tom Waits
5. Tennessee Waltz by Patsy Cline
6. That’s Alright Mama by Elvis Presley
7. Dirty Lie by Bob Dylan
8. Laundry Room by The Avett Brothers
9. Wabash Cannonball by Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys
10. Polk Salad Annie by Elvis Presley
11. Wang Dang Doodle by Koko Taylor
12. Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
13. Fortune Teller by Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
14. Live and Die by The Avett Brothers
15. Hurt by Johnny Cash
16. Wildwood Flower by Loretta Lynn
17. Tennessee Me by The Secret Sisters


Join us at Parnassus Books on May 9, at 2 p.m., for the Book Launch of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel

NaNoWriMo 2011 Novel: Poke Sallet Queen


An Ultra Blog for the Music City Trail Ultra Run

The Challenge: I registered for an ultrarun, the Music City Trail Ultra 25km to be exact, but told only a handful of people. The course description is below, taken from the website: WARNING – The Music City Trail Ultra is a hard course especially for the 50k. We are not saying this to impress you, read some of the reviews from last years runners on our site under the “News” link. If you’re willing to take this extreme challenge and still be humble, we welcome you. Also we request that all 50k runners be capable of finishing in 9 hours.
The course will start at our family farm in Pegram, TN that connects to the Cheatham Wildlife Games Reserve. This park offers 20,000 acres of beautiful steep trails and stunning ridge-line views. The course has a good mixture of rugged jeep trails and single track trails through technical terrain.
* 50k – Half the run on trail and other on jeep or gravel roads. This percentage might change as we will be adding new trail to the course this year
* 25k – 65% trail and and the rest on jeep and gravel roads
* 12k – 75% trail and the rest on jeep and gravel roads”

Background: I was intrigued. The details inspired and intimidated me. I started running about six years ago, one mile at first and adding them on little by little. Signed up for a 5K with a friend and went from there. I stopped running halfway through my second pregnancy about three years ago, and started again slowly when my baby was about a year old.

Preparation: My goal-oriented training began last year, but in the past three months, I pushed myself harder and into covering over 100 miles of trails a month. I sought motivation from Instagram, and receive daily doses of it from those trail runners and trainers I follow and who follow me.

What surprised me was the unwanted and unwarranted resistance from some strangers I encountered along the way. My family and friends were supportive and encouraging, but the haters found me…out there…on the trails. Discouragement in all its forms–envy, jealousy, dismissal, pessimism–used to debilitate me. I allowed the negativity to affect me, but this training created a change.

I was running about a month ago, running my favorite trail, straight up Big Mama. As I was beginning the trail, I met another runner, a woman who looked like she was sixty, coming from another trail. “Good morning,” we both said to each other. I went ahead of her, and in the distance heard a man say hello to a woman and she responded the same to him. Then, I met the same man running toward me down the hill. “Hello,” we both said. Just after we passed, I turned the corner and headed straight up. I then saw the woman who had spoken to the man. She walked up the hill. I ran by her and said, “Good morning.”
She shouted at me, “Show off!”
I shrugged, kept running, and said, “I have to do this for my head. And, it took years of practice before I could run it.”
“Whatever. You are a lot younger than me!” she shouted again.
I shrugged. Laughed. I knew the runner who was older than both of us was about to pass her as well.
“Hello,” they both said to one another from behind me.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the Greenway when I was uplifted by another runner during a slump. He had passed other runners, and they kept going without any acknowledgement, but I slapped the hand he had raised for support. He smiled, “good run.”
“You too,” I said. “Always.” I was bewildered by the dis, but I had seen it before, felt it plenty of times.

Later, I passed two men walking who decided to run after I passed them. They mocked one another about being able to keep up with me until they faded away. I passed another group, coming toward me, about five or six runners, said, “good morning.” No response. Glaring.
Told myself to focus on my run. Good practice on focus and discord.

The ultrarun approached. My husband and my best friend knew I was having second thoughts. In races years ago, I experienced almost debilitating social anxiety from the frenzied, competitive type of environment present during big races and half marathons. I feared that type of atmosphere at the ultra, even though the organizers had included the word “humble” in the description of how we runners should be.

Race week: I got sick the week before the race. Major sinus and chest congestion with sore lungs. I maintained a moderate running schedule and pushed ahead. Then, what every woman does not want during an important performance happened. Yes, yes, it did, the day before! Cramps, back pain, all of it, without taking it easy on me.

I voiced my concerns to my husband and best friend. I wasn’t close to 100%. I didn’t want to hurt my body, but I had trained for so long that I didn’t want to deny my spirit (my body) either. And yet, I knew that it would hurt more than usual, that I would struggle more to breathe as well. My lungs were tight and sore.

Day before: I followed through with the plan to pick up my race packet the night before, have dinner with my best friend, and see what happened the next morning. I went back and forth. I shouldn’t do it, I should. The trails love me, they love me not. I love the trail, it may make me not. It’ll be magical in the forest, but it could beat the shit out of me. Looked at Christy, “Ides of March tomorrow,” I said seriously.
“What does it mean anyway?” she asked.

Told her the story of Julius Caesar. Thought, I will have no frenemies there.

Sleep, then toss and turn in the early morning. Crows cawing. Can’t sleep. Wheezing chest. Sleep. Crows cawing. Awake. Awake. Dressed. Coffee. Eggs. Water. I resolved to try. To complete the course. “I don’t want them to have to pick me up,” I said. “I want to be strong enough to make it to the end.” Move in that direction. Go, go, go.

Time for adventure: The drive down highway 70, listening to bluegrass, I stopped in the middle of the highway to take this photo. imageThe trail from two planes crossed. I told myself, “X marks the spot.” I knew the X was over the race location. Listened to “Moves like Jagger”, dancing in the car. Trombone Shorty reminding me to be “For True” as I pulled up to the farm.

I was just on time with five minutes to spare. Jumped in the portajohn. Called my husband, texted my best friend, took an Instagram of the horse’s ass cause that’s what I felt like (and it’s the Year of the Horse). Noticed the X still in the sky. image
Called my Dad & they announced “30 seconds” while I talked and ran, “good luck,” he said, “call me when you get done. You got this. How long you think it’ll take?”
I ran between the flags, “Several hours. Love you, Dad.”
“Be careful.”

First obstacle: Field full of horse shit. Dry creek bed crossing to an uphill into the forest. Climb that ridge line in a line, and dive with the rolling hills.
imageSideways trotting, switch sides, switch sides, trot, trot. The pitch of the hill became so steep, people were gasping, cussing, hesitating. I paused on top of a chipping, limestone piece embedded with mud. Below it were the muddy slips of previous runners into leaves and grass and pieces of slate. Just then, I heard a man behind me imitating the sound of a galloping horse. “Yes,” I said. “Thank you. I needed that.” I jumped on my own imaginary horse and trotted on down. Pthpththpthpthpthpth

That’s when the music began to play in my head. I don’t listen to music when I run, but for this race it played for me automatically. Not the whole time, but randomly, my brain chose songs and played them. It began with the massive uphill, the insane hill–imageZZ Top “Have Mercy, been waiting for the bus all day. Have mercy!” Repeated “Have Mercy!” ZZ Top style all the way up. And closer to the top, “Right on! That bus done got me back! Right on!” Taking the photo at the top. “Jesus just left Chicago and he’s bound for New Orleans. Oh! Take me with you, Jesus!” Tweeting while I run. Texting best friend. Facebooking the same pic. image Keep trotting. Last easy time for that. There would be no more texting or tweeting…pay attention…

Briar patches, muddy downhills, imagestuffing my phone into my bra, holding onto the bank as I run, grasping trees, using them as leverage, jumping creeks, hauling myself up the roots by the roots. Flat jeep path, looking around at the beauty. Airborne. Don’t know how. I fall and bounce, scoot in the gravel and leaves. Two male runners stop and gasp, “you okay?” I get up and keep running, “yeah, just when I thought it was safe to look around, that’s when it gets me. Thanks for stopping.”
“We wouldn’t leave you,” they say.

We continue on. Constant obstacles. Trees, limbs, mud, briars, slippery leaves, invisible trails. The birds sing. imageThey call out. I listen. Just absorb the cool morning mist, the sunlight in stripes through the trees. The gray sycamore. The pines shadowing the trail, leaving their cones, limbs, fringe for a cushion. Soft padding under the feet–can’t even see a trail from other feet so swiftly and lightly they did tread. Birds calling. Dropping down into the hollow and grateful for the cold. Hearing laughter. Hearing rhythmic breaths of other runners. Imagining pixies. Bird music I don’t even recognize anymore, something from long ago.
We pass runners retuning from the out-and-back portion of the 25km, they encourage us all along the way. “Good run!” “Looking good!” “Stay strong!” “Doin great!” “Keep it up!” “One of the only women!” “Not many women, you’re awesome!” “Keep going!” And that’s how the encouragement from runners during the race continued until the end. I never felt more supported. “Indian War Whoop” by John Hartford yodeling in my brain all the way down the hill and through the next creek turns. Pulling up the hill with the “woooooo-hoooooooo-hoooooooo!” at the top. Meditation while running. Saying thank you to my body, thank you to my family & friends, thank you to the forest, thank you to the trail, thank you to the organizers, thank you to the spirit.

Out the out-and-back to the Jeep road. More fox trotting on an invisible trail plunge. I heard the dirt bike and recalled my childhood when my brother rode dirt bikes through the forest–and it was real–the dirt bike came straight up the hollow at me! I moved aside and followed his tire track where my feet fit perfectly in a single line. “Thanks, brother.”
Reaching the last check in, relief. Stop finally. Drink two gulps of water. Tell the volunteers, “legs are complaining, but it’s beautiful.” They bolster me, “almost there. Go. Your legs will be so happy after they cross the finish line. You’re doing awesome!”

Turn and go. Just go. Climb, climb. Lose the trail. Climb. Climb. Climb. Get out of there. Gotta get out of this hollow. Entanglement in briars and limbs. Errrr! Think of bears and move, move, heavy big steps.

I hit my wall just three miles short of the finish. The forest began to play tricks on me. I couldn’t find the flags. No one was around. I stopped, thought about the map before I opened it and saw the flag from the corner of my eye. Continued. Finally found a field with a rugged, rough cut…hit that stubble and ugh, realized, this is not going to become a smooth field. Song interrupted my thoughts, “crawling back to you,” the Arctic Monkeys sang over and over. No! I didn’t want that song. Certainly, for a moment, I felt like crawling, but I needed another song. Told myself to think of one, and Karen Dalton’s “Katie Cruel” began. No, no, no. That made me tired…and thirsty…like I needed to sit on the bank of the creek and find a fiddle. Big opposite, Cypress Hill jumped in with “Insane in the membrane! Insane in the brain!” jerking me around for a minute.

I heard a strange bird call from the creek. The steep banks along the creek commanded my attention, lured me…I wanted to get a drink of water, imagebut when looked up and I faced this big insane hill just when I thought the trail was taking me to the farm, I dug in after a quiet cussing. Thoughts of my childhood and being lost in the woods. Missing my grandma. Lungs hurt when I thought about watching her die of cancer. Momentary tears for her. Felt her calling me like I was a child. Remembered how I felt exhausted as a child after I roamed the forest and pastures all day. Reminded me of the landscape. Began to mourn for my family farm. Heard Mick Jagger come to my “emotional rescue” with some dancing music after I reached the top. “Whew, steadfast and true.”

But, when the trail obstacles carried on, “Crawling back to you” fought its way back into my head. That made me angry. “I’m shakin” by Jack White interrupted. Told the trail “you got me sweatin’ you got me shakin'”. Trash talkin myself was going to get me back to the beginning. I was moving again. “Jumpin’, sweatin’, shakin'”–the trail snaked on and on.
Met up with some other runners, lagged behind them. We all lost the path in the leaves. Five of us, “where?” Arms up. “There’s the flag!” I pointed.

Going, “I’m Bo Diddley,” dancing and sidestep running downhill, switch sides, switch sides, “voodoo child, baby.” I was waiting for Jimi, and finally within site of the farmhouse where we began, his guitar wailed. I trotted across that horse shit-filled field and got 3rd place female. Amazed! Then, I leaned against the pasture fence and vomited a few times.

Altered state. Said, “not again” to my best friend. An hour later said, “will train even better.” Slept. Refueled with water, bread, potatoes, Kerrygold butter, broccoli, cabbage, bread & butter pudding, and apple crisp made by Irish Rita. Next day, big pot of chicken noodle soup made with my man.

When I danced with my family and friends to a Celtic band that night in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, I knew that challenging myself was the correct decision. I experienced more than I can capture in this blog. Many meditative moments. Remembrances of people who have crossed over to the other side. Recollections of childhood adventures. Old friends. I worked out some issues with my next book and told myself, finish it! And, I finally know that I’m strong enough to do that.

My unofficial stats: image

Update: my official time was 3:30:54 so I’ve got to improve on timing my timer, but makes sense with the 30 seconds or so I talked to my Dad at the start of the race.

My brain’s playlist:
For True by Trombone Shorty
Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5
Waitin for the Bus by ZZ Top
Jesus Just Left Chicago by ZZ Top
Indian War Whoop by John Hartford
Katie Cruel by Karen Dalton
Do I Wanna Know? by Arctic Monkeys
Insane in the Brain by Cypress Hill
Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones
Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix
Trash Tongue Talker by Jack White
I’m Shakin’ by Jack white

A Playlist for the novel, Multiple Exposure

Recently, I traveled with my husband and baby to San Francisco for a wedding. When we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the stretch of city, in an engulfing stack that wasn’t my experience in Europe, even if Paris reached into the gray beyond. A quick walk, and we found ourselves at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and someone was singing one of my favorites–Blue Moon of Kentucky–a song on the playlist for my next novel, Poke Sallet Queen, but we’ll get to that book later.
Recently, I’ve been mourning the growth and calm from Multiple Exposure, rejecting all of the stimulants related to writing it, even the music that provided the background noise. It’s almost as if after publishing it, I’ve had to reject it in order to move forward. But standing there in San Francisco, I was moved by music–bucket drummers echoing under a bridge, swing dance with the stand-up bass, boom box beats groovin the roller skates, banjos and harmony on the horizon, a violin in the valley, band screamin’ on the top floor, his iPod shuffle bustles on the Muni and off again, the djembe making her middle jerk in the park, workin’ it any place…dance floor is the space under your feet.
Just like the variety of musical performances in the city, characters offer opportunities to listen with different ears. I even go so far as to imagine how their musical choices get on each other’s nerves. And, how they might use music–to elevate a mood, to seduce, to drown the cries of heartbreak into their pillows, to tune out the stranger next to them on an airplane…
I pressed play on the playlist for Multiple Exposure, and decided to share some of those songs here.

These were some of the songs on Ellen and David’s playlists:

1. You Turned the Tables on Me– Benny Goodman Orchestra with Helen Ward
2. You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby – Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Edythe Wright
3. I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl– Nina Simone
4. Paranoia in B Flat Major– Avett Brothers
5. You Don’t Understand Me – The Raconteurs
6. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
7. Cheap Sunglasses – ZZ Top
8. Miss You – The Rolling Stones
9. Precious Memories – hymn
10. Blues Jumped the Rabbit – Karen Dalton
11. Under One Groove – Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain
12. In a State – UNKLE

Here’s a blog post I wrote about music and character development at Her Circle in 2011.