XXXI: Trail (Running) of Tears


I never understood teammates that I had played sports with in school.

If they missed the winning shot.
They cried.
If they scored the game winning touchdown.
They cried.
If they broke a state record.
They cried.

I never understood the emotional responses from these student-athletes that I knew through my education years. What could cause someone to be so emotionally distraught that they would break down and cry during a sporting event? In my mind that didn’t register as something that was acceptable. They were not professional athletes, there wasn’t a human life on the line…it…was…just…a…game.

***

For a few months I had been toying around with the idea of ‘trail running’. There really is marginal running, it’s more about technical footwork, strength, and a lot of hiking. I had established amazing friendships, found incredible support, and most of my nights have been spent traveling around dirt, single path trails along the countryside. It is brutal, it is hard, and yet there is something about surviving that causes you to want to do it again the next day.

This is the world of trail racing.

Saturday morning, 9:00 AM CST I stood in the grass with nearly 100 other souls at a local lake. People were holding bottles of water, vests held food and hydration packs, hats were on, shoes were laced, and the horn blew. We were the last group to take off during this day. An hour prior the runners that were partaking in the 20 Mile and 50K (31 miles) had already begun their journey. The group I was with was running the 10 Mile course. It was the ‘safe’ course for newer runners, compared to the hard mileage that laid ahead for the other two groups.

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Real photo at mile 7. Credit: Mile90 Photography

I’ll be honest in saying that the majority of the event is a blur to me now. The air temperature was a stifling 96°F with an extremely dangerous heat index of 103°F. The weather, mixed with being in the woods, resulted in an absolutely awful environment to run for any amount of miles. The first several miles my stomach was tied in a knot. I had ran this course a week prior, I knew it was a hard course, but by mile 4 my legs were completely exhausted. They were too heavy to move. I was in a struggle for this race.

By mile 7 I began seeing signs that stated, “You’re NOT almost there, but you look fabulous” and “Chaffing the dream!” I knew that this meant I was almost to an aid station that was being manned by the group that I run with on Monday nights…the ‘mud babes’. At the station I heard cowbells, screaming, a hairy man in a bikini top, and was inundated with the questions of “What can I get you?” and “Do you need your bottle filled up? Get him a bandana with ice, he needs to cool down.” Within five minutes of that small oasis I was back on the trail for the final three miles.

There was support raining from the trees!

There was support raining from the trees!

Becoming part of the trail running community has shown me so many different sides of humanity. It isn’t necessarily the race that really stuck out to my emotionally/spiritual self; it has been the people that I’ve been blessed to be around. They don’t argue, they’re not mean, and they are not stuck on their ‘pacing’ from their GPS watch. They help each other out through every obstacle. As one person stated, “Trail running isn’t about you against everyone else. It’s you against the mountain, the distance, your demons, yourself.”. In a world that is covered in competition this sporting event requires you to depend on the person your running against in order to survive (literally).

Mud Babes 16 Birthday

Tonight we celebrated birthdays (Mine, Darco, and two others), and then we ran (and ate cupcakes afterwards).

Being around these people outside of just race day has caused me to question so much in reflection to my own connection and growth within my own faith. How is it that this group of people can drink a beer after a run, moon a camera, and carry on in the heat for 3 to 6 hours…and still get along with each other? Politics are not brought up. Work is rarely touched. Family is mentioned frequently, and the next ‘fix’ of a race tends to be the highlighted conversation. There isn’t music players attached to everyones ears, and there isn’t asphalt for miles all around. Everyone is coated in sweat and mud, not pressed in dresses and slacks. Uniquely, the closest connection I’ve found to the world that God created is everything apart from the stone-faced, mortar-laid, carpet-clean church that I’ve been in for so many years. There is transparency (sometimes way too much of it in relation to bowel movements) on the trail, whereas I find so many hidden agendas laced throughout personalities everywhere else. Ironically, running through the woods feels closer to God than being in church on a Sunday morning.

When you move throughout the trails and enjoy the company of those around you, there is an emotional bond that is being built that individuals like me aren’t aware of until usually when we cross the finish line.

***

PS16 VIThree hours and six minutes, a time that I will never forget. I remember seeing the clock slowly tick by as the finish line came up to my sweaty, soaked, mud-caked shoes. Three hours and six minutes I had been alone in the woods, fighting off fear and disappointment, dealing with extreme heat and loneliness; all to cross one line and acknowledge that I had completed something I never thought I could ever do.

I crossed the finish line.

I saw Darco waiting for me.

I wrapped my sweat covered arms around her, and buried my head into her shoulder.

And I cried…

-D-

#getyourpraiseon


1 person says they want to run; 23 show up…

Somewhere around 6:00 AM I left the house. By 7:00 AM I was trekking through mud and rocks. I continued to repeat that process for two and half hours.
Welcome to my playground.

Welcome to my friends.

I’ve made note in the recent past that I’m finding myself around unstable trail runners. The addiction of this isn’t just from the insanity of running through mud and rocks, but because of an answered prayer.

For months, really years, I’ve been praying for friends. They’ve come and gone, but nothing really long lasting. It has hurt because it is something that I desire, but really struggle at creating.

My cup now overflows.

What started as being part of a running group for a local business has now turned to outings to run on Monday’s, Wednesday’s, Thursday’s, and now even random Saturday’s.

There’s laughter, beer, running, stories, and smiles. No one gets left behind due to their speed (or in my case, the lack thereof), and everyone encourages each other. Today I ran 9 miles with these people, they stayed with me, made humorous comments, and didn’t give up on me.

That’s a friend.

The reality for me is that God, one usual, was faithful in hearing and answering prayers. I’m smiling, I tell stories, I grab food afterwards, and I laugh. I laugh like I never have. It isn’t about running a fast race, it is about moving with good friends.

I’m happy. God is good.

-D-

XXXI: Ultras


I wanted to be fast.
I wanted to win.
I wanted to prove everyone wrong.
I wanted to prove myself wrong.
I accomplished none of these things.

Try to imagine this strange complex (some of you may be able to relate). You love a specific sport, soccer, football, baseball, etc…it is your life, it is your desire, it is something you dream about. There is just something about the event that just drives you. You play, participate, practice, train, etc…However, when the day ends, you are still too short, too big, too slow, or you just don’t ‘have what it takes’.

How do you accept that reality? Do you quit? Do you keep going? What is your exit plan when your dreams don’t always pan out the way you envisioned them?

For about a month, almost two months, that has been the life I have been living when it comes to running. I love running. I love everything about it. I train, I run, I eat well, I practice with others, and I run races. I just love to run. However, in a world full of statistics it turns out that passion doesn’t always equal results.

To be honest; I’m 6’5 and around 250 pounds. Overall I am just a big guy that towers over other people. There was not a lot of biomechanics that came with this physical package. Where MC and many other family members thrived in athletics; I looked good, but when push came to shove, I fell down. A lot.

I needed a change up. I didn’t want to vacate running because I still love the sport. However, I could slowly but surely feel the burnout growing within my own heart. I was growing tired of lining up for a local 5K race, running the race, and finding similar results. This year alone I’ve finished 4th in my age group in four different races. The ‘click’ just isn’t there, and now I’m starting to accept that reality.

Praise God for random strangers, stupid ideas, and foolish attempts.

Several weeks ago I wrote about making friends, trying out speed running sessions with random strangers, and even my involvement of being on a city running team for a local business. I needed all of those things, desperately. They were all the slight pushes I needed to move away from what was comfortable, but not fulfilling, and into something extremely uncomfortable yet incredibly fun.

Trail racing.

This is running on trails that are designed really for mountain bikes. A lot of rocks, roots, dirt, and the such. I’ve been out a few times, and each time I come back loving it that much more. Partly because of the technical challenge, partly because trail running people are a very special, close-knit group. Also, the distances for the races are a little different compared to standard 5K. They range from 7 miles to 20 miles to 50 miles to 100 miles, and everything inbetween.

I needed this. Road running was just becoming stressful, frustrating, and the love was really lacking. This is new, refreshing, and at the level of insanity that I’m comfortable with.

Because of all of this I’ve joined up as a volunteer for construction projects on our local trails (AKA: more friends), I run with a specific group each Monday (AKA: more friends), and of course our running team comprises of several trail runners (AKA: more friends).

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Flyover Trail Racing (I have no idea what I’m going to do with this)

This has also allowed me to experiment with design and concepts for logos, brands, and marketing. I launched (for fun) a Facebook page, blog, and Twitter account really recapping my experiences in this new sport.

Personally, and this is not something I would have predicted, it is the support that is best part of this transition. These crazies all enjoy doing foolish things on the trails, and they don’t make excuses about it. I don’t have to go to races alone, I don’t have to talk to myself about my adventures, I now have a group of people that are all just as unstable.

I consider that quite the blessing.

Here’s to the ultrarunners. You untable, insane, awesome group of people that I can call my friends.

-D-

XXXI: Be Our Guest


It isn’t that I forgot about writing a blog entry, it is the fact that humorously since school has ended for the summer; I haven’t had time!

School let out for the summer nearly two and half weeks ago. I kid you not; I have been doing something nearly every day since that moment.

I apologize in advance because there is so much to catch up on; I’ll easily divide this entry into a subsections with the beloved “***” type. With that random intro out of the way and a glass full of fresh pressed black cherry juice on the nightstand, let’s get started!

***

How to survive teaching:
A. Enjoy the eight months and three weeks of absolute delight with your students. Create ideas and innovations, open doors for creativity, and dare your pupils to dive into the unknown.
B. Hang on for dear life on the last week of school.

I had no idea. I almost say this rocking in a corner in my bedroom. I had no idea. The final week of school is a delight, and at the same time it is absolutely, easily one of the most stressful times of a young teacher’s career. Students are ready for summer…teachers are ready for summer…administrators are ready for summer…the community is ready for summer. The last week of school was truly a blur in which I believe I lost both ten pounds and nearly ten years off my life. Kids were hyper are they said their goodbyes; there were movies, field trips, field days, and more selfies than I could have possibly thought would be feasible.

All in all; I made it through my first year of teaching. It wasn’t perfect, I made countless errors, and at the same time…man…I had a lot of fun. I did receive a nice surprise for perfect attendance; Darco and I were issued tickets for the local Major League Baseball team for July due to myself not missing school this year (truly, a blessing). Make no mistake, I absolutely LOVE teaching. It is one of the coolest adventures that I have ever been on. With that said, a three month summer break is so desired, just so I can refresh and restart for next year.

***

Upon the completion of school, the attention inside our house immediately turned to the first weekend of June. If you’ll recall past adventures; Darco and I have found ourselves exploring Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on more than one occasion The journey always revolved around a couple that I had known since the fall of 2005; truly some of the oldest friends that I have (especially from college). This summer though, the tables turned and for the first time ever…ever! Darco and I were about to be hosts for people staying with us for an extended weekend. Needless to say; plenty had to be done around the house in order to prepared…

I praise God that I grew up in a house with parents who compulsively spent time outside. Gardens, construction, fishing, hunting, etc…MC and Jim always (to this day) can be found outside. Some of this rubbed off when Darco and I started working on some of the repairs needed for our house.

Make no mistake; where we live is amazing! It’s a blessing that I’ll go into detail some other time when I’m not already pushing 3000 words. However, there were a few bumps that came with the property. Mainly, a collapsing retaining wall and front garden area that needed some serious landscaping. With Darco working, the world discovered if indeed I was capable of replicating anything that my parents had done without struggle for year.

First, repairing the retaining wall (with huge assistance from Jim…ok…mainly Jim with my assistance).

Second, pulling up an insane amount of tarps that were ‘preventing weeds’ and replacing them with mulch, transplanting a few plants, and utilizing a pretty sweet ‘Welcome’ sign that MC had hand painted.

The images also do not show the fact that Darco and I constructed a guest bedroom downstairs, she cleaned the house like a feigned, and at least vacuumed up cat hair on the carpet twelve times. While this isn’t necessarily listed as “Favorite Things To Do This Summer”; I’m glad we did it. Several times Darco and I were working on the yard that it came across my mind, “Two…three years ago I would have never imagined that I’d be in this position.” The work was a nice reminder of the blessings that God continues to provide for us.

***

Honestly, the work in the yard and in the house truly took a solid week at least. Factor in track practice, Darco’s work schedule, and just doing laundry like normal people and time flew all the way up to June 2, 2016. This was the evening that our friends were arriving from Pittsburgh. I’m not sure if I’m speaking on behalf of Darco or not, but I was absolutely terrified of hosting people in our home*. Recall, Darco and I both are only children and neither of us are from households that were frequented by house guests

The whole experience over the following four days was pure, exhaustive bliss. Unlike Pittsburgh, where we live, we’re not locked in geographically by mountains or rivers. Meaning, to drive thirty miles to get to a restaurant is not completely unheard of. Seriously, that’s what Darco and I grew up. We dragged (I’m still apologizing) this couple for over 300 miles throughout the urban and rural areas of our lives. We’re talking it ranged from tractor pulls on Friday night to the new streetcar on Saturday to BBQ near the lake on Sunday, and sushi on Monday. Yes, we scheduled our events and adventures around where we were going to eat. We witnessed massive museums, really cool food markets, and even an old psych ward in the mentally insane from the 1900’s. I’m typing like a tourist because I wasn’t even aware of all of these things throughout the region that I call home.

There was local fudge that was found, organic, handmade soap that was purchased, and ice cream was enjoy not once…but twice in these four days. An art museum that we walked logged us at two miles, just to see all the exhibits. Ty, one of the folks with us, nearly died from satisfaction eating burnt ends at one of our restaurants. Amy, the other half of the couple, could have made off easily with half an antique store (and did drive home with antique fencing, hummingbird feeders, and an old window frame for their home).

One thing that was amazing through this entire experience was having a four day weekend packed with events, without a single local sports team having a home game. Yes, no soccer or baseball in the entire region. I’m rather certain that has never happened before.

True story though; one of the coolest things that i’ve done in my life definitely occured this weekend when we road the new 2.2 mile electric streetcar in our downtown.

We have a street car, and it is actually pretty sweet! #kcstreetcar #transit #streetcar #pittfriends

A video posted by Shawn (@overcoming_ace) on

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Circa Summer 2016

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Circa Fall 2015

Sadly, even like the streetcar line, all events have to come to an end. At 5:30 this morning we said our goodbyes and they embarked on their journey back home (which they safely arrived early this evening). I’m grateful for these friends. Even though they have a few ‘new’ things going on in their marriage compared to ours; they’re very similar. We’re all near the same age, all still finding our dream jobs or we just found them as of late. We’re paying bills, learning budgets, keeping with the faith, and exploring new adventures. I can be honest in saying that my marriage, even with just four days worth of activities, is stronger with Darco just by being around another couple in our generation that fights the same battles we do every day.

***

I suppose, in conclusion through these random events, there is something that can be taken away from these experiences. The takeaway is simply that we’re adults living ‘adult lives’. We talk about taxes, we work on our houses, stain our decks, and imagine larger families in the future. I’m still not a huge advocate for the ‘American dream’ when it comes to family size, house, job, etc…but two weeks into this summer I can see a few glimpses of what a peaceful life is worth dreaming about**.

-D-

*Spotted! I found Darco watching YouTube videos on how to fold towels into the shape of swans for guests staying at your house!

**Darco and I have four days to clean our house, do the laundry, etc…and then we’re leaving town for another eight days!