The Ultra of Life
Here I am again, trying to write a blog, for about the millionth time since May, when my racing season didn’t go as planned. “They” say that if you’re having trouble with a writing block, chances are good that you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to say. What do you do, though, when months go by and no, you’re not sure what you want to say, but also need to somehow make sense of those months and get back to an even keel? I’ve framed it in many different ways: the role of stress on training and racing (and more broadly, health); changing priorities with a growing family; and growing a business that I’m really passionate about but still putting it in front of other parts of life. But basically it comes down to the fact that life happens, and sometimes life isn’t fun. I often relate things that happen in an ultra to larger themes in life, but last spring and summer have been a practice in the opposite: take things one day (or hour or minute) at a time, things don’t always get worse (but sometimes they do), focus on the good, and keep moving forward.
Right before my first race of the season, Sam decided not to renew his contract with the ski team that he ran, which was the reason we moved to Seattle. Cascade Endurance was growing to the point that I couldn’t handle it on my own, and we decided to take the leap to devote his efforts to it. In response to that, I decided I should work as much as possible, which I did, and then got sick. Just when I thought I was getting better, I got sick again. And so it went, through three separate races, giving me a DNS and two DNFs. Well, I thought, my main goal is still a 100 miler in September, so I didn’t care too much other than a little blow to my ego.
We also knew that we wanted to move back to the Methow within the year, but weren’t quite sure how that would happen given the difficulty in finding housing. Being self-employed, I’d only heard horror stories on how hard it is to buy a house, so was floored when we were approved for an amount that could actually buy a home. June came around and while I was getting back into the swing of things with training, we made a quick trip over to the valley, fell in love with a house, made an offer, and waited with baited breath.
Sam and I ran up to Kendall’s Katwalk on Father’s day, discussing all the things that would have to line up for us to be able to move back, and it seemed impossible. We got back to the car to hear a voicemail from our realtor that our offer was accepted.-one hurdle overcome. I excitedly called my dad, to tell him all about the house that reminded me so much of the one I grew up in. True to form as a retired insurance adjuster, he wanted all the info so he could make a more educated opinion on our choice. He also mentioned he’d been having stomach problems that had been bugging him for a while, but that he would finally see a doctor next week. I pushed yogurt and probiotics, and wished him a Happy Father’s Day.
I excitedly went through the following day, dreaming about being back in Mazama, in our own house. I didn’t want to get too excited, given all the things that still needed to fall into place, but I couldn’t quite believe my life. I have a career (two actually) I love, to the point that I have to remind myself (or Sam does) to not work every waking hour of the day; a great husband; and a happy, healthy, daughter who is up for pretty much anything. How can one person be so lucky? How can things work out so well? My best friend from college agreed that it almost seemed two good to be true, but that both of our lives were that way. “Someday one of us will get a shit sandwich, but until then, we just need to be grateful.”
The shit sandwich arrived the next day, when I received an email from my dad’s wife that he vomited all night after his Father’s day dinner. After a battery of tests at the ER, they found a tumor on his pancreas and a lesion on his liver. Fuck.
I know enough about cancer to know that pancreatic is the least desirable. I also knew my dad well enough to know that, at 82, he wouldn’t want treatment (nor would I). Finally, I knew that we would get the house, and moving would all work out: there is now universal balance in my life. But how can you be simultaneously ecstatic about one thing while devastated about another?
I remember wondering when we came home from the hospital after having Fiona how life could go on as normal when something so monumental in our lives just happened. I get the same feeling after an epic run or race, and I got the same feeling when my dad passed away. How does the world still goes on as if nothing has happened? I’m not writing this post for sympathy, though losing a loved one of course is terrible. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this, other than when I write something, it’s real and becomes true, and it’s time for this part of my life to become true. As always, having something difficult in life makes you appreciate the good, and for that I’m grateful. My dad taught me so much in life, and also in death. He was patient, had an awesome, dry wit, and even at the end of his life, or perhaps because of it, was the essence of calm, cool, and collected. He was able to live his life exactly as he wished, then gradually faded from this world, much like we enter: sleeping often, communicating through simple gestures, being with loved ones, and finally, becoming otherworldly.
This summer was the worst and best of my life. It has not been about running in the slightest, as I’ve never been one to delve into running when things go awry, which I suppose is another reason for this post - to acknowledge the void of my dad in my life, which took running too, for a time. Gradually the running is coming back, and now is a time I can remember him in my favorite place in the world that we again call home-something I can’t help but think he pulled strings to make happen.