Raegan Risks

Stepping out of my comfort zone, being vulnerable and trying not to regret it.

40 for 40

My 40th year is coming to a close, and with it, my 40 for 40 experiment. In the last year I have attempted things I’ve always wanted to but never did, and things I never considered doing. It has been a fun experience. What made it even better was the interest my family and friends had in taking part. The memories I’ve made with many of them has been the most valuable part of the whole experience. I’m sure I’ll write more about it later, once I’ve had more time to absorb the experience. But for now, here’s the list of what I did for my 40 for 40 adventure.

  1. Wrote an elected officialGov Rauner
  2. Learned to make a cheesecake Raegan prepping cheesecake
  3. Made an online portfolio
  4. Did a trail run Trail run
  5. Went through sobriety testing (the cops gave me the beer first)Sobirety Testing
  6. Tried mountain biking mountain-biking
  7. Went indoor skydiving 13912789_10154027891453303_6749774227911730568_n
  8. At chocolate covered insects eating-a-bug
  9. Went to the Taste of Chicago Taste of Chicago
  10. Took a paddle board lesson Paddleboard lesson
  11. Shaved someone’s head Shaved a head
  12. Went zip lining Ziplining 2
  13. Went to the State Fair (and of course visited the butter cow)State Fair
  14. Visited Disneyland Disneyland
  15. Ran the Dumbo Double Dare (on a fractured shin) Double Dare
  16. Tried pumpkin spice drinks – don’t get the hubbub Pumpkin Spice
  17. Learned to make sushi (sort of) Sushi Making
  18. Attempted an escape room – did not escape
  19. Made stencil signs Sign Making
  20. Took part in a protest march Protest March
  21. Attended a black tie event Gala
  22. Visited the Garfield Park Conservatory Garfield Park Conservatory
  23. Tried Cuban food (yum!) Cuban Food
  24. Posed for an artist Posing for Artist
  25. Finished Great Expectations (FINALLY – and it sucked)
  26. Took a Hip Hop dance class Hip Hop Class
  27. Made pasta from scratch Making pasta from scratch
  28. Learned to do a flip turn
  29. Hosted a sleepover with my nieces (without supervision) nieces-at-my-party
  30. Took a pole fit class – yes that kind of pole Pole Fit Class
  31. Went on a free reign road trip (Plan? Who needs a plan? We have a map!)Free Reign Road Trip
  32. Got a spray tan (and messed it up) Spray Tanning
  33. Read a story to a 1st grade class Reading to First Graders
  34. Got a facial Facial
  35. Did a mountain bike stunt (and ironically got my first mountain bike bruise crashing doing something else) Mountain Bike Stunt
  36. Researched my ancestry
  37. Took a drawing lesson Drawing Lesson
  38. Went on a winery bike ride Winery Bike Ride
  39. Conquered the “Emack Attack” 

     

  40. Flew a plane Flying a Plane

In My (Running) Shoes

Raegans First Race

My first race and my first win. I’m in lane two. My dad is the starter.

It was 8:30 on a Thursday morning when my identity was stripped from me. I sat in the doctor’s office excited. I had been waiting for this appointment for weeks. This was my surgical consultation. I was getting ready to schedule my surgery to relieve my compartment syndrome pain and get me back to what I do. Because what I do is run….and I haven’t done that in any significant way in months.

The doctor walked in smiling and shook my hand. And then suddenly his demeanor changed. There was an audible sigh. A look of resignation crossed his face. And soon he started saying the things that matched his body language. He did not want to do the surgery. He was worried it wouldn’t be effective. He estimated a 30% chance of it not working. The doctor that did the pressure testing two weeks prior had a completely different opinion and I mentioned that to the white coat in front of me. His response was a terse, “How many surgeries has HE done? Zero.” This shocked me because I was referred to that doctor by him. Surely the doctor before me now had confidence in the testing doctor’s knowledge base.

Tremont Run Finish

As he kept talking, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. At first I tried to hide them. Then I didn’t care. I sat listening to the reasons why he didn’t want to do the surgery: he wasn’t sure it would be effective, I had REALLLY high pressure readings, the other doctor stopped my test because the readings where so high and that was unusual, mine was likely a complex case, the surgery is complicated and invasive. Then the reason that floored me: I was too emotionally invested in the outcome. What? It was at this point that he used the tears I had stopped trying to hide against me. He told me my reaction to the news made him even more convinced that surgery wasn’t a good idea right now. If I was this upset now and the surgery didn’t work, I’d be even more upset. Is that what oncologists tell cancer patients? “I’m sorry – I can see that having cancer upsets you and that you really, really want this surgery to work. If it doesn’t you’ll be more upset so we shouldn’t do it.”

Of course I realize that compartment syndrome is not life ending like cancer can be, and I don’t mean to trivialize that one bit. But compartment syndrome was threatening to end my life as I know it – a life filled with running and training and “racecations.”

My voice cracking, I tried to explain why I was upset. I told him my life revolved around running. I wanted to tell him that I work in a running store, my family is made of up runners and many of my friends are runners too. I wanted to say that I’d won my first race when I was 4 years old and that finishing my first marathon was one of my proudest accomplishments. Before I could get all that out, he interrupted me and said, “That’s not good. Your life shouldn’t revolve around running. Because if you are unable to do that, you’re going to be very upset.”

Roller Coaster Race

Mall Mile

He went on to say, somewhat flippantly, “I like to run. But I don’t anymore. My knees won’t allow me to so I don’t.” While I’m sorry for him, I doubt running was a prominent fixture in his life like it has been in mine. I would guess his father didn’t read him to sleep as a baby from Track & Field News. I doubt his social life largely involves doing crazy, silly or weird races. I imagine he doesn’t have a marathon tattoo.

After a while, my mom, whom I’d ask to come along to presumably learn about my upcoming surgery, that now wasn’t to be, spoke up. She mentioned that I had a few health issues and that she just had a feeling that they were all connected and wondered if he thought this too could have something to do with my thyroid problems. She brought up Mayo Clinic and asked if the doctor thought that might be a good idea. He said it couldn’t hurt. So we discussed the process of trying to get seen there. While the doctor was helpful in trying to help us start that process, I’m 99% sure he wouldn’t have suggested it on his own.

1 day 4 racesTri Shark Finish

I spent an hour with the doctor that morning. It was a pathetic example of someone who makes her living finding the right words, yet ironically unable to find the words to describe how just accepting this was my life now was not an option. I felt like I was unsuccessful getting him to walk a mile in my shoes to understand the importance of this decision.

I have nothing against this doctor. He’s a nice guy. In fact, our families know each other. His dad taught with my dad before they both retired years ago. I had seen him before when I had a stress fracture. In no way am I saying he’s a bad doctor. Maybe he was having a bad day. But it just seemed like on this particular day, in this particular instance, he was not advocating for me in the way I longed for him to be.

As we left the office, the tears came back. Now an hour late for work, I toyed with the idea of not going in at all. How much could I really concentrate anyway?

I did go to work. I walked into my office past a running poster signed by a local running legend and the congratulatory sign my coworkers presented me with after I’d completed the Dopey Challenge. I sat down at the computer where I typed in my running-related password. I checked my email and among the work items, also found messages from races luring me to enter. I pulled up the social media accounts I manage and when I logged in, saw promoted posts from stores trying to sell me running products.

We Care

The next day was the beginning of the Illinois Marathon Weekend. So many of my friends were doing at least one race during the weekend. It was at this race several years ago that I got my half marathon PR, besting my previous best mark by 7 minutes. The stream of social media posts featuring my friends smiling pre-and post-race continued well into the next week, every post reminding that this part of my life could conceivably be over.

PrincessThumbsUp

Realistically, I do have lots of other things in my life besides running. I know that running is not the only thing in life. In fact, there are times when I don’t even like running all that much. But it’s something I always comes back to. It’s part of who I am. And to be told that it might not be possible is like destroying a little piece of me – my identity isn’t quite whole without it.

Litchfield Podium

I’ve had a little time to process things and get over the initial shock of my situation. I’m still upset and disappointed. But I’m also preparing myself for the road ahead. Now the real work begins. I have to advocate for myself harder than possibly ever before.

After this, training for a marathon will seem easy by comparison.

40 for 40 Update

I have 3 months.

In that time I need to wrap up my 40 for 40 adventure. I need to complete 13 more new experiences to be successful. I’ve had several people ask me where I am in my challenge and what I’ve done, so being 3/4 the way through, I thought I’d do a quick update. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

  1. Wrote an elected official
  2. Learned to make a cheesecake
  3. Created a website/online portfolio
  4. Ran a trail race
  5. Underwent sobriety testing (as a volunteer, not a because I had to)
  6. Went mountain biking
  7. Experienced indoor skydiving
  8. Ate chocolate covered insects
  9. Went to Taste of Chicago
  10. Took a paddle board lesson
  11. Shaved someone’s head
  12. Went zip lining
  13. Attended the State Fair
  14. Visited Disneyland
  15. Did the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge (10K followed by a half marathon)
  16. Tried pumpkin spice beverages
  17. Took a sushi making lesson
  18. Tried an escape room
  19. Made decorative wood signs
  20. Took part in a protest march
  21. Attended a black tie event
  22. Visited the Garfield Park Conservatory
  23. Ate Cuban Food
  24. Served as a model for an artist
  25. Finally finished Great Expectations
  26. Took a Hip Hop dance class
  27. Made pasta from scratch

I have ideas for some of the remaining slots on my list but I also want to be open to opportunities that arise. This year surely hasn’t been boring!

 

Honoring Those Who Persist

Persisted tattoo

Several weeks ago headlines were filled with an incident that took place on the Senate floor. During confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to read a letter written by the late Coretta Scott King. She was told by her colleagues to stop talking. She did not. At this point Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used an arcane Senate rule to prevent Warren from speaking for the remainder of the hearings. In essence, she was told to shut up and sit down.

Many people think this happened because it was an example of members of 2 different political parties coming to blows in an age where the parties are so far apart that they can’t even see each other. Prevailing thought is that this was a Republican telling a Democrat to stop talking. I don’t fully buy into that. I think it was more likely a Republican man telling a Democrat woman to stop talking. This theory is seemingly supported by the fact that three male senators, two from the same political party as Warren, were later permitted to read the letter in its entirety. And I think it illustrates that while woman have come so far in the fight for equality, we still have quite a way to go.

March is National Women’s History Month. It’s a time to honor the women that came before us and contributed significantly to the world. In the midst of the whole McConnell/Warren debacle, McConnell (now famously) said of silencing Warren, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” The phrase has quickly become somewhat of a rallying cry among women. During National Women’s History Month, let’s take a little time to appreciate the women who persisted to make it possible for little girls to dream as big as little boys do.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that while women in this country can do almost anything they want now, it wasn’t that long ago that this wasn’t the case. Women just one generation ago were not allowed to apply for their own credit card or play sports in school. My mother couldn’t have bought her first house without her husband signing on the dotted line along with her – something , thankfully, I didn’t need 30 years later when I bought mine.

The only reason it has been different for me was because of all the women who came before me who proved that women were capable of so much – the women who were ridiculed, insulted and mistreated. They too, were warned, but nevertheless they persisted.

Take Sandra Day O’Connor, who despite graduating from Stanford Law School and serving on the Stanford Law Review, was turned down as a prospective employee by at least 40 law firms because she was a woman. Nevertheless, she persisted. She took a job as a deputy county attorney – a position she only got because she agreed to work for no salary and share the same space as the secretary. Years of proving herself later, she would become the first female Supreme Court Justice.

Consider Kathrine Switzer who spent months training and then signed up for the 1967 Boston Marathon. During the race, she was physically accosted by race director Jock Semple because “no girls were allowed in his race.” Despite this man trying to push her off the race course, nevertheless Switzer persisted. She went on to not only run many more marathons but worked tirelessly to start the women’s running movement so that decades later I was one of many women who was able to run her first marathon (and second, and third).

Think about Raye Montague, who grew up fascinated with ships. Being a black woman from the segregated south, her options were limited. After studying science at a historically black college, she took the type of job that was open to a woman – a clerk typist – with the US Navy. Nevertheless, she proved her worth, working her way up and studying computer programming at night. She eventually became the first person to design a naval ship using a computer. She did this despite not having formal engineering training.

Women have come a long way since these pioneers were told they couldn’t achieve what they knew they could. We should honor our past but still look to our future. The fact is, we still have work to do. Women make up roughly 46% of the workforce but only 4% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs. Women make up 50.4% of the US population but only 20% of Congress. Women are 21% more likely than men to be a college graduate and 48% more likely to have completed graduate school, and yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earn approximately 83 cents for every dollar a man makes. Room for improvement? Definitely.

We can be the generation that changes this. We can pick up where the pioneers left off. We can do it because we will persist.

 

Why I’m Not Sorry About 2016

plan-vs-reality

As 2016 comes to an end, I can’t help but think about the past year what it included. While many people are ready to write off the whole year as a bit of a dumpster fire, I have to admit that like the years before it, for me 2016 had both its ups and downs.

In 2016 I entered a new decade, made new friends, watched my nieces grow, and learned that there are so many people that love and care for me.

I pushed myself to the limit physically and came out victorious. I pushed myself a little more and came away a little worse for the wear. I broke myself, healed myself, broke myself again, and healed myself once more. I accomplished things I didn’t know I could, and did things I know I probably shouldn’t have…and paid the price for it.

I traveled far, farther and near. I spent time close to home in Chicago and St. Louis, and further away in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and California. I visited the “happiest place on earth” and the “most magical place on earth.” I rode in planes, trains and automobiles and a boat too. And everywhere I went, my camera came along with me to document the journey.

I made a concentrated effort to try new things and kept doing some of my favorite old things. I was successful, a failure and a lot of things in between. I saw the sun rise more times than I can count and sometimes didn’t quite make it to see the sun fully set.

I had high expectations and severe disappointments. My heart broke for my country and it was partially healed by the good of the people around me. I experienced some relationship strain and discovered newly-formed bonds.

run-to-vote

I worked hard and took it easy. I put out some really good work and some slightly polished pieces of crap.

working

I read books, watched movies and revisited my favorite fictional town as well as my own hometown and discovered that you can go home again but it won’t ever be exactly the same place you left.

 

Many people looked back on 2016 as an unmitigated disaster. I admit, that can be easy to do on some days. But the year did was it was supposed to – made us a little older, a little wiser and gave us many experiences that made us who we are today. And for that, I choose to be grateful.

Not So Different After All

run-to-vote

We are in the midst of the longest, weirdest presidential election in recent history. Every day – often multiple times a day – another element of it makes the headlines, causing us to shake our heads, drop our jaws and wonder if the future of our country is in serious jeopardy.

Despite myself, I have been glued to the news, unable to look away, much like the reaction to a car crash. I’ve tuned into the national newscasts, watched more CNN than I ever have in my life and taken to reading the Washington Post and New York Times. I take in the news trying to figure out what is happening…and what will happen next. And one day I realized the last time I was glued to the news like this. It was September 11, 2001.

While nothing like on the scale of that awful day in 2001, I think most of us can agree that this election has been a national disaster. It’s brought out the ugly side of America. It’s pitted friend against friend, family member against family member. Each “side” wondering just how the other can think like they do. It’s enough to make you want to lose faith in humanity.

But before we write the obituary for the America we know and love, I think we should focus on something: despite all of our disagreements, we are all more alike than different. Whether we are concerned about missing emails, sexist attitudes, or an unfamiliarity with Aleppo, we all want the same basic things.

We want a system that proficiently educates our children, a society where college is an option for anyone who wants it and works for it, and a pipeline of quality educators who inspire us all to reach for our dreams.

We want to feel safe in our homes, schools, churches, movie theaters and clubs. We want to feel ok about sending our kids out to play or for us to go for a run around town. We want to board a plane free from fear.

We want a planet that provides us with clear air to breathe and clean water to drink. We want to enjoy the wonders of nature and the fruits of harvest. And we want our children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy them too.

We want every child to have a family that loves him or her. We want the ability to have our own family…or not, if that’s what we choose. We want to feel loved and be able to love others. We all want a sense of connection.

We want to be able to support ourselves and our families. We want to be able to work and earn a living that allows us to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. And after all that we want to have some left over to save for the future and maybe afford a luxury here and there.

We want to be able to walk down the street free from persecution and attend the church of our choice, or none at all. We want to be judged on the content of our character and not on the color of our skin, the gender on our birth certificate or the country of our origin.

In short, we all want a good life in a great country. We might disagree on how to get there, but we can agree on the things above and more. And in an election season that has been so divisive it’s more important than ever to try to remember that. A quote from a book I’ve been reading struck me recently. Though it was written years ago, it’s more appropriate now than ever.

“While our differences make life more fascinating, our common humanity matters more.”

Well said. Now go out and vote!

40 for 40: Meet Me at the Fair

To some people it seems unbelievable that’s I’ve reached the age of 40 and have never gone to the State Fair. I guess technically when I was a baby, I was at the fair but since I likely spent most of the time asleep in a carrier, I’m going to say that I didn’t truly go to the Fair. So weeks ago when my friends and I got tickets to the Meghan Trainor concert at the Illinois State Fair, I decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to add to my 40 for 40 list.

Being a Fair newbie, I did some primary research before going. I asked people a bit about what to expect and what to be sure to do. The butter cow was the most popular suggestion. (Side note: Am I the only person who thinks with all the fame this cow has that he/she should be named every year?) So when we arrived at gate 7 we grabbed a map and stated navigating to the dairy building. As luck would have it, this attraction was on the opposite side of the fairgrounds from where we entered. Needless to say, we got distracted along the way.

state-fair-lemon-shakeups

We had gotten maybe 100 feet when we encountered our first lemon shakeup stand. We each ordered a large, which was roughly the size of a snare drum, and sipped the sugary goodness as we continued our trek.

Since we were at THE fair we figured we should go into one of the show barns so we cut through the swine building. The smell immediately overtook us. As we made our way across we looked at the pigs – sorry – swine, and it quickly became clear that we had no idea how to tell what made any one of them different, or more prize-winning, than any other.

Upon exiting the swine building, I noticed a couple of vendors with trailers lined up to sell their wares. The only thing I recognized was a saddle. I was clearly out of my element. Then the thought occurred to me: going to the State Fair for a farmer is probably like going to the biggest, best mall around is for city girls like me.

Soon we happened upon a corn dog stand. They had corn dogs for a dollar. Of course we had to stop. Armed with our snare drums full of lemon shakeup and our $1 corn dogs, we found a table at which to sit and chow down. As we were sitting there, my friend Bridget nudges me and juts her head sharply in the direction across from her. And there in his Wrangles and plaid shirt is Governor Rauner. Just as Mr. Raunder disappeared into a building a golf car decked out in a pink boa and a huge crown pulled up beside us. Out popped what we assumed was the Fair Queen and an attendant. They followed the governor into the building.

That brush with celebrity now over, we finished our corn dogs and continued on our mission to the butter cow. We passed just about every kind of food imaginable – about 90% of it available on a stick, including pizza. How on earth was that even possible? Turns out it was more of a calzone than a pizza, but the idea still intrigued me.

Finally we arrived at the dairy building. And inside, in all its refrigerated glory, was the butter cow. A little secondary research told me the cow, sculpted by Iowa artist Sarah Pratt, is made of approximately 700 pounds of butter and took 65 hours to sculpt. This year’s subject was a simple jersey cow. We saw the cow and took the requisite selfies with it.

state-fair-butter-cow

Since it had been at least an hour since we put something in our mouths, we decided it was about time to check out some more food vendors. We settled on an elephant ear to share. That was a wise decision because this cinnamon treat was roughly the size of a car tire. We bought two more snare drums of lemon shakeup to wash it down.

state-fair-elephant-ears

There we were eating and people watching when we see a small group of people walk past us. Again, Bridget points out that it’s the governor. All the sudden he stops, turns around and walks back to us to shake our hands. Interesting to note: the governor has really soft hands. I know, TMI.

After we finished our elephant ear and lemon shakeups it was about time for the show. The concert was great. The food was deep fried. The weather was decent. The butter cow was buttery. The multiple brushes with the governor were weird. All in the all, my State Fair experience was everything I expected it to be.

state-fair-concert

Things I learned from going to the State Fair:
1. Get the lemon shakeups – the bigger the better.
2. Watch out for elected officials. They tend to stalk people.
3. Just about any food can be served on a stick if you try hard enough.

40 for 40: Day Drinking for a Cause

sobirety-testing

Thankfully thus far in my life, I’ve had little interaction with the police. That all changed one day in early May 2016.

A friend had texted me that some police officers she works with were desperately looking for volunteers to help with their officer field sobriety testing training and asked me, would I be able to help? An officer would pick me up at home, drive me to the testing location, feed me beer half the day, turn me loose to police officers to test my sobriety and then drive me home. Being the responsible citizen I am, I figured it was my civic duty to help the cause.

When I decided to try 40 new things for my 40th birthday, I never fathomed that I’d spend a random Thursday day drinking under the supervision of police officers, but I guess that’s kind of the point of this 40 for 40 exercise – trying new things. I was game. Luckily so was my friend Lauri, who fortunately had Thursdays off and was able to also do her civic duty with me.

Several days before the big day, I was asked what kind of beer I’d like. Fortunately – and unfortunately – cider beer counted and that’s what I chose as my drink of choice. I like the taste of a cider beer a little better than regular beer so that was good, but it has a higher alcohol than many standard beers so that was….challenging.

Lauri and I were picked up at our homes a little after 8 am and driven to the community college, where ironically I work and had taken a vacation day from. This was where the officer training was going to be held. The officer in charge introduced himself and went on to ask us a bunch of questions – how much we weighed, how often we drank, when the last time was that we felt we were drunk – and then gave us the lowdown on how the day was to go. We were told, given our weight, drinking history and alcohol content of our chosen beverages, how much he wanted us to drink. I was assigned to consume 2 drinks an hour for 2 hours. We’d be given a breathalyzer after each hour and then sent in to the adjoining room to be field tested by the officers going through training.

Lauri and I decided it would be informative, and a heck of a lot of fun, to film a quick video every hour to document our descent into drunkenness. I started in on my Angry Orchard and Lauri her Summer Shandy. After the second drink we already had to go to the bathroom. We were required to be escorted down the hall to the restrooms so we all went together. When we returned we got our first breathalyzer. I felt woozy enough after 2 drinks that I mentioned I would not be comfortable driving so I was curious how close I was to the .08 legal intoxication limit. I tested at a laughable .036.

View video #1 here.

As the second hour began, we were charged to consume two more drinks, at which point we repeated the restroom trip/breathalyzer routine. Now four drinks (at 5% each) in, I definitely felt I was beyond being able to drive, and keeping score in the Farkle game we had going was getting increasingly difficult. My second breathalyzer revealed my blood alcohol content (BAC) was only .059, oddly far from the legal limit.

View video #2 here.

View video #3 here.

Now it was time for us to submit to field sobriety tests. Each of us went with a set of 2 officers and were evaluated by eye tests, walking the line and balance tests. Each of us was tested twice. I failed miserably both times. So did Lauri. We were deemed a menace to society and it was noted that we would have been arrested both times. Later after all the officers finished their training for the day, we were called back into their classroom and the officers explained on what they based their arrest decisions and just for fun, they were asked to guess what our BACs were. The officers guessed I was at .09 – way off from my actual level.

View video #4 here.

View video #5 here.

Soon we were sent back to our room to allow our BAC level to go back down. We were fed lunch and snacks and given water and soda. We would not be driven home until our BAC went back down to at least .04. I was ready to go pretty quickly but Lauri took some time to get back down to the acceptable level. Now that I had stopped drinking, I was desperate for a nap. Since we couldn’t leave yet, I pushed 3 chairs together to form a makeshift bed and waited for Lauri to sober up. It seemed to take FOREVER.

Soon enough we were driven to our respective homes were both Lauri and I proceeded to nap for several hours. Having done our civic duty, we felt we deserved some rest.

Things I learned from doing sobriety testing:
1. You can feel drunk WAY before you’re legally intoxicated.
2. I have absolutely no business driving when I’m remotely close to .08 BAC.
3. Day drinking takes a lot out of you.
4. I feel guilty for drinking to excess even when the cops tell me to.

40 for 40: Mountain Biking

mountain-biking-with-jill

The first time I was on a mountain bike, I flipped over the handlebars.

I am a “roadie,” meaning I mostly ride road bikes – you know, the kind with the skinny tires and curved handlebars. One day a while back, I was finishing up a bike race and heading back to the parking lot afterwards I ran into a friend and her brand new mountain bike. I asked if I could see what if felt like to ride it. She agreed and I rode to the end of the parking lot, turned, headed back towards her and hit the brakes. The disc brakes. Disc brakes, as it turns out, stop on a dime. The problem is, the person sitting atop the bike does not. Before I knew it, I flew over the handlebars, and landed with a thud in the gravel with the bike bouncing off the top of me. Mortified that I’d scratched my friend’s new bike, I quickly jumped up and apologized asking if the bike was ok. It was. I was bloodied, bruised and dirty but mostly ok. After my friends, who watched the whole scene in horror, were pretty sure I was mostly in one piece, one of them said, “You’re a natural mountain biker!”

It’s been a couple years since my inauspicious introduction to mountain biking. In all that time, I hadn’t tried my hand at proper mountain biking, mostly because I didn’t have a mountain bike, but the draw has been there. I have been oddly fascinated with this activity since that summer day several years ago. It seemed like a no-brainer to attempt mountain biking as part of my 40 for 40 list.

I’ve come to know several mountain bikers. It turns out one of them has an extra bike and agreed to lend it to me to give the sport a try. My friend Jill, a mountain biking enthusiast, offered to take me to the local trails at Comlara to show me how it’s done. We met up in the parking lot one Saturday in late May. As I got out of my car she greeted me with the loaner bike and asked me what I wanted to do. I had done a mini triathlon that morning so my legs were a bit trashed and I asked her to take me to the “beginner” trails and go easy of me.

mountain-biking

We decided to start with trail 6. It was a single track trail, which I learned means it can only accommodate bikes single file instead of multiple bikes abreast. As I adjusted the seat for my height, Jill gave me a few pointers: stand up when you go downhill, brake lightly (memories of the disc brake incident) and don’t be afraid to ride over things since shocks and mountain bike tires are quite a bit more forgiving than the road bike I’m used to.
With those pointers in mind, we headed to the trail and began riding. I followed as close behind Jill as I could. I had no idea if it was easy or not to get lost back there. From time to time she’d point out something she thought I needed to be aware of. We came upon the first stunt and she let me know that on this trail, I could avoid doing the stunts. That was a relief because I wasn’t sure exactly how to ride a 12” wide board balanced on pieces of wood.

We maneuvered around trees, over bumps, into ravines and up hills. My legs soon reminded me of my morning triathlon so when we got to the first major uphill, I swallowed my pride and hopped off the bike to walk it up the hill. I managed to handle several other smaller hills. Trail 6 morphed into trail 5, then 4 as we kept riding, me slowing Jill down measurably. At one point Jill stops at the top of a little hill. I see why pretty soon. At the bottom of the hill is a very short muddy section that looks sloppy. She tells me I can do whatever I feel comfortable with but she’s going to attempt to ride through it. I hopped off my bike and looked for the easiest path to carry my bike through the slippery muck. I made a good decision because Jill didn’t quite make it through. There’s no way I would have.

We made it back to the parking lot and Jill asked me if I wanted to try to the flow track. I had no idea what that was. She described a man-made dirt track with mounds and bumps. Why not? Go big or go home. We rode down the street to the flow track and I saw something that resembled the BMX course I used to ride near the house I grew up in. I hadn’t ridden anything like it in 30 years. As soon as we started on it, I knew I was going to love it. Gravity carried me over the bumps at high speed. I screeched with absolute joy. I let centrifugal force carry me along the edge of some of the obstacles. I was transported back to my 8-year-old self when I was too young to be concerned about broken bones or bad backs.

Before long, it was time to go. My legs were exhausted and I was dusty, sweaty and in need of a shower and a cold drink. As we rode back to the parking lot I tell Jill I want to try this mountain biking thing again, but on fresh legs. I note that I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t break anything – on the bike or myself. I call that a win.

mountain-biking-path

Things I learned by going mountain biking:
1. Even going a short distance can be a challenge if you make it hard enough on yourself.
2. Don’t ride through mud. It will not end well.
3. There will always be obstacles in your path, it’s how you approach them that determines your level of success.
4. Sometimes you just have to act like you did when you were a kid.

40 for 40: Trail Runnin’

Hello readers! I have not posted for a while, but be assured, I have continued my quest to experience 40 new things for my 40th year. It could be argued that posting to the blog has been a casualty of this endeavor. Nevertheless, I will attempt to post more of my shenanigans to keep everyone up to date on my mission! Without further ado, I give you….trail running.

trail-run-number

It was snowing.

I looked out the window several times the day of my first trail run and saw something different each time: rain, wind, sun and now snow. Great.

I had decided a while back that running a trail race would be one of my 40 new things for my 40th year and when I heard that the Allerton 5K glow trail run was happening soon and was on a night I could do it, I decided to go for it.

It’s one thing to attempt your first trail run – there is a steep learning curve – it’s something else to attempt your first one in the dark, and something entirely different to attempt it when the trails have withstood a day’s worth of rain and snow. Go big or go home, right?

I prepared my pack by throwing in 2 flashlights and a headlamp, an extra dry outfit to wear after the race, a pair of gloves, a hat, a bandanna in case the hat was too hot, my inhaler and my ID. I also threw in granola bar and a water bottle. Happy that I’d thought of just about everything I’d need, headed out to meet up with my friends to drive to the race.

We arrived and headed to the visitor center to get our race bibs. As soon as we stepped outside of the car we knew it was going be to be a cold and windy run. We took shelter in my friend’s car for a while and then it was time to run.

trail-run-statue

We followed the trail of lighted runners walking to the starting line, arriving just in time to hear some important pre-race announcements. One of these announcements was that the precipitation during the last week had caused the stream along the course to overflow its banks and it was too deep for us to cross safely in the dark so part of the race would be slightly re-routed. It was at this point that my friends and I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

trail-run-with-melissa

The race started and we took off. The sky was starless and the only light to see by was what each runner carried and a few glow lights here and there along the course. The first half mile wasn’t so bad. Then we hit the forest.

The course was narrow and there were bodies everywhere jockeying for position. Now we had to navigate tree ruts, rocks, twigs and various other trail debris. Soon the grass and gravel gave way to what normally would be dirt, but on this night was mud. And it was slippery. I barely stayed on my feet but thankfully managed to slip and slide my way forward until we hit more solid ground.

trail-run

My sister-in-law caught a picture of me just as I was about to faceplant.

The flat ground started to give way to hills. I wasn’t sure which was more difficult to manage: the uphills that tested my calves or the downhills and tore at my quads. We made our way out into a clearing and the ground became a little more stable. It didn’t matter though. My calves were already on fire from navigating all the uneven terrain. I was only a mile and a half into my 3.1 miles. Before I knew it, we were heading back into the forest. This time through, we had the added challenge of running on a trail that we had already trashed on our first loop. The mud was deeper and sloppier. More than once I was sure I was going to lose a shoe. I ended up walking much of this section because I was I struggling to stay on my feet.

We finally made it out into the clearing again and I heard my watch beep indicating that I was at 3 miles. Just a little bit longer. I scanned the distance with my flashlight looking for the finish line and didn’t see it. We turned a corner, and another and another. Still no sign of the finish. I had a fleeting thought that I had somehow missed the finish. We kept going and turned another corner. The finish – finally! I crossed the line and looked down at my watch and saw that it read 3.4 miles instead of the 5K distance of 3.1. One final indignity from the race that just about chewed me up and spit me out. I had finished with probably the slowest time of my life.

train-run-muddy-shoes

The proof of a trail race well fought.

Things I learned from running a trail race.
1) Expect the unexpected.
2) What doesn’t knock you on your rear end propels you forward.
3) Sometimes the rain in your life can make things a little messier than you’d like, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still trudge forward.
4) You can still be proud of some of what you think are your worst performances.
5) The end result of something doesn’t always take into account the struggle to get there.

 

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