Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The year before I became pregnant with Zoe (7 years ago now?) I earned a number in the New York City Marathon.  Not by running fast enough to qualify of course, but Nathan and I spent that year running enough New York Road Runners races to earn a number.  Shortly after doing so, I found out I was pregnant so supported and cheered Nathan on as he trained and then ran it just a couple of weeks before Zoe was born.  I wasn't disappointed because I was more than thrilled to be having a baby but vowed to run it at some point in the future.  If you don't use your entry, you can defer until the next year.  I did that for a few years, even after we moved out here to Colorado but finally let it go, realizing it was silly to keep paying the entry fee each year.  I told myself it was okay because I didn't live in New York anymore and it wouldn't feel as special going back to do it.  If I ever decided to run a marathon I could find one out here.  After a few years of being sure I was past the urge to do one, I signed up for the Durango Double on a whim the evening of my birthday 6 months ago.

Training lasted 18 weeks and was a roller coaster.  In my best moments, I felt I could conquer the world and at my worst like I had jumped in waaaaay over my head.  During more than 1 long run, I found myself wondering if I "had the stuff" to participate at all.  I knew I was tough but wasn't sure my body could physically handle 26.2 miles.  I made it through 17 weeks though and found myself in that last week, enjoying my taper with some of the very best friends we've made out here.

Although the actual visit with our Durango friends the May-Ostendorps was perfection, my mental state was a bit of a jumbled mess.  I'd heard people complain about that last week before the big race because you hardly have to run at all.  It can mess with your head because you feel like you're falling out of shape already even though you believe the science of it...resting your body so you can kill the race.  At first, I didn't think I was falling prey to the mental challenge.  After all, I was having one of the best vacations I could imagine, being completely spoiled by our friends and I didn't have to take much time out of the fun to do any long runs.

As the week went on though I started to dread the race.  I wasn't feeling pumped up.  I recalled the way I felt in the weeks leading up to giving birth to Owen and found the feelings to be very similar.  I knew I could do it..that I was ready and it would all be worth it but knew from experience it was going to hurt like a son of a bitch.  It's hard to feel excited about that.  I'd also been struggling a bit with a pain in my left foot and although I didn't think it was an injury, it bothered me more often as the miles piled on at the end of my training.  I wasn't worried about causing lasting damage to my foot but that the pain would ruin race day for me.  To top it off, Owen had a croupy cough for most of the week and spent one night in bed with me literally coughing in my face and all over my pillow.  I was terrified of catching his cold.

At the same time, as race day approached I received more and more supportive messages from family and friends near and far.  People who believed in me.  People who felt proud of me for the training alone.  They knew I could do it, but that if for some reason I couldn't, I had already met a life changing goal just by conquering the past 18 weeks. These people reminded me to look at the whole picture and although I felt nervous as hell all the way up to the point in which I jogged past the starting line (I seriously almost threw up at least 5 times that morning) I knew I would not regret my efforts.  Thinking back to my first attempt at a marathon in my beloved New York City and how our life has changed since then, I realized this race was somewhat of a farewell to this awe-inspiring state we've been lucky enough to call home for the past 4 years.  I wasn't going to let myself  forget that.

One of the things I know about myself is that I can get tripped up by negative thinking.  Conversely, I've been able to overcome many a challenge when prepared with a strong positive mental trick so I was sure to approach the starting line with one in my pocket.  I had gathered 26 of my favorite inspiring quotes and written them down on single note cards.  My plan was to take one out at the beginning of each mile and roll it around in my brain until it was time to take another card out at the beginning of the next mile.
It worked like a charm.  Here they are:

Mile 1
"This ain't no marathon, it's a SARAHthon.  This race is MINE!"

From my brother Ike, master of wordplay.  It was so great to enjoy the incredible view from Rim Road at Fort Lewis College (6,500 feet above sea level) while thinking of my big brother.
La Plata Peak.  Just a small section of the breathtaking panoramic view we enjoyed those first couple of miles (I didn't take this picture).

Mile 2
"Leap, and the net will appear." - John Burroughs

From my friend Don.  Fellow runner and former Lion King coworker. Being so high up in the mountains, running on what felt like the edge of the earth, it was impossible not to picture running and jumping right off.  Luckily, I knew the net I had cast was made of miles run on solid ground but still, the image made me feel light on my feet and alive.

Mile 3
"Start by doing what is necessary, then do what's possible; and suddenly you're doing the impossible." -Francis of Assisi

From my friend Marisa.  Marisa became a dear friend of mine after her son Cameron and Zoe became each others first ever chosen friends.  In other words, Cameron was the first best friend Zoe had that she had chosen herself and vice versa.  Marisa and I spent a lot of time together talking about the ups and downs life throws at you and I still miss checking in with her regularly.  Her insight is always comforting, supportive and kind.  Mile 3 was also the moment in which we came down from Rim Road and away from the dazzle the race organizers treated us to at the start of the race.  Reality was setting in...this was going to be a long morning.  This felt like a solid point of view as I settled in for the journey.

Mile 4
"I took a deep breath and listened to the bray of my heart.  I am.  I am.  I am." - Sylvia Plath

From my friend Jessica.  Jessica and I spend a lot of time together.  Our girls are as close as any girls their age could possibly be and since we will all be moving in May, we get the girls together as often as possible, knowing as adults how rare it is to find kindred spirits in life.  Jessica is a talented writer and has been my biggest cheerleader, supporter and teacher during this new challenge I've set for myself as far as writing goes.  She is calm, creative and inspiring and this quote made me think of her and helped me find my rhythm.

Mile 5
"Life is a journey.  Time is a river.  The door is ajar." -Jim Butcher

I found this one while searching for Buddhist quotes.  I'm not Buddhist but like many people identify with most of it's teachings.  I often feel inspired while reading about Buddhism so knew I'd enjoy mulling over some of the ideas while running.  I've tried meditating in quiet rooms and find it very difficult to stop my brain from racing but when I run, my mind slows down and I can finally think clearly.  Pushing myself to the max physically somehow allows me to focus spiritually.

Mile 6
"If you want to do something, all you have to do, is do it."

From my Ironman sister, Rachel, my biggest inspiration, trusted mentor and stalwart supporter on this marathon journey.  Immediately after I told her I signed up, she sent me my now trusty fuel pack and continued to cheer me on and keep me focused at every twist and turn.

Mile 7
"Take a look above you.  Discover the view.  If you haven't noticed, please do.  Please do.  Please do." - Kermit the Frog

From my friend Emily here in Family Housing.  The more Em and I get to know each other, the more we realize we are almost the same exact person.  We get teary eyed over things like our kids growing out of a favorite pair of pants.  We appreciate the beauty of nature and how noticing little things in every day life can jolt you out of a rut and down a more positive path.  I loved thinking of her during this mile and was grateful of her reminder.  The clouds were soft and whispy and I let myself get lost in the wonder of the sky above me.

Mile 8
"Whether you think you can, or think you can't - you're right." Henry Ford

A classic.  This was the first of many I just repeated to myself over and over again for the whole mile.  My foot had been hurting since the start and at this point I was getting frustrated.  I told myself the pain didn't come close to matching the pain of childbirth and that if I could stand that twice, I could certainly power through this.

Mile 9
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do." -Eleanor Roosevelt

Initially I considered shortening this to the last line.  I was afraid I would get frustrated by so many words on the card mid run but these long ones served a couple of purposes.  I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to memorize them before really thinking much about them...it was a great way to switch my focus from the pain in my foot to something else.  After I had it memorized I could enjoy finding inspiration within the words.

Mile 10
"We know what we are but not what we may be." - William Shakespeare

From my therapist, Kristi Pikiewicz.  I'm including her full name with a link to her website for those of you who are local and looking for someone completely awesome to help organize your thoughts.  She is a mother and a runner (and member of Boulder Moms RUN This Town, by the way) and I warned her that if this went badly I would most definitely be blaming her.  Without her support and advice this would not (along with Raising Little Heroes, as a matter of fact) have happened.  She was able to recognize a part of me still wanted to run a marathon and believed without a doubt I was strong enough to do it.

Mile 11
"Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free:  Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing.  This is the ultimate."  -Zhuangzi

Another buddhist quote I found while searching and another I memorized and repeated, this time in a whisper.  The pain in my foot had blended with pain and fatigue in the rest of my body and I was starting to lose some mental footing as well.  This was the beginning of a lonely 10 mile out and back (which I HATE).  No shade.  Downhill on the way out, uphill on the way back.  I was going down hills unable to enjoy them because I knew I'd be turning around and going  right back up.  This quote helped me focus on the downhills and accept I couldn't change the course.  All I could do was to do what I was doing.

Mile 12
"The miracle isn't that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start."  -John Bingham


Mile 13
-"Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss it you will land among the stars."  -Les Brown

I was reluctant to include this because I didn't want to give myself permission to walk.  I've always struggled with the feeling I've failed a race or run if I walk at all, even though I don't logically believe this.  One of my goals for this race was to embrace walking and to not let myself feel defeated if I had to.  I wasn't walking here, but was feeling sure I would have to for at least some of the brutal uphill return.

Mile 14
-"Methinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow."  -Henry David Thoreau

Yup, pretty much

Mile 15
-"All that we are is the result of what we have thought.  The mind is everything.  What we think we become."  -Guatama Buddha

The beginning of the uphill return and when I started peppering my slow pace with a bit of walking.  This quote helped remind me I had a choice:  I could feel proud of my hard work and all I was accomplishing and accept that success doesn't come in a standard mold or I could feel like a failure.  It wasn't an instant change of heart but it helped keep me brave enough to run again after my walk breaks.

Mile 16
"Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain." -Joseph Campbell

I focused my memory on the 3 most magical, euphoric days of my life:  my wedding day, the day Zoe was born and the day Owen was born.  I let my memories flood my mind and relived the joy.  It totally worked.

Mile 17
"What we achieve inwardly will change our outer reality." -Plutarch

Another one that helped get me to a place of acceptance, appreciation and pride.  I was still going uphill  and walking some (I probably walked a total of 1.5 miles but was afraid walking would feel so good I'd stop pushing myself) and needed to be reminded that how I felt about my performance was completely in my hands.

Mile 18
"Believe you can and you're halfway there."  -Theodore Roosevelt

'nuff said

Mile 19
"To uncover your true potential you must first find your own limits and then you have to have the courage to blow past them."  -Picabo Street

From my friend Gretchen.  Gretchen is an amazing athlete.  She kicked ass as a swimmer in college and lived the kind of dedicated life as an athlete that most of us would run crying in self pity from.  She is strong and brave and when she tells me she believes in me, I feel like a superstar.

Mile 20
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." -T.S. Eliot

When I found this one in my searching I  knew it would strike a chord with me on race day.  I was lucky I chose to write it on the Mile 20 card because it came at the perfect time.  The official end of the out and back, I now had the home stretch in front of me.  Nathan, Mariah and the kids were there to give me a cold drink and walked with me a few paces, the kids filling me in on the days events so far.  Hearing their voices centered me and brought me back to who I know I  am.  A strong woman and mother.  I had walked more than I'd hoped and it would have felt wonderful to stop right there and continue talking with them, but I had to finish what I'd started.  I dug deep and kept running.

Mile 21
"I  believe in redefining my impossible."  -Nike

I felt unsure about including this one because I felt a little cheesy including a quote from Nike.  I'm so glad I kept it.  I literally chanted this out loud the whole mile (there were so few runners in this race, I was completely alone through most of it.)

Mile 22
"Preoccupied with a single leaf you won't  see the tree."  -Vagabond

Drove the point home that my success wasn't dependent upon how much I did or didn't walk.  It was the complete picture.  The decision to sign up in the first place through to this moment where I was still running even though my body and mind wanted to stop.

Mile 23
"Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage." -George Patton

Beginning to believe I could be included in this sentiment.

Mile 24
"All it takes is all you got."  -Marc Davis


Mile 25
 "Anything easy, ain't worth a damn." -Woody Hayes

Another from Gretchen.  Not much thinking happening at this point.  Just all guts and insane determination.

Mile 26
"Pain is temporary...pride is forever."

From Nathan.  He saw this on the shirt of a fellow runner in his marathon and told me about it afterwards.  Due to have Zoe any minute I asked him to remind me of it during labor.  He did, but it didn't hit the mark for me during that particular form of pain.  I had forgotten about it until he reminded me a couple of weeks before my marathon.  It's perfect.  Funny thing is, I had somehow gotten myself behind a mile mentally ("Did I just finish this mile or am I just starting it??") and thought I had 1.2 miles left when I came around a corner to find Mariah and her kids with Zoe.  The plan was that Zoe was going to jump in and run the last .2 with me and when I saw them, I called out to Mariah: "I thought I had one more mile??" to which she said "Nope!  It's RIGHT DOWN THERE!!"...I made her promise while Zoe trotted along beside me.  Mariah, the ever steady and loyal friend I am lucky enough to have promised me and then bolted ahead to the finish with her kids so that they could be there to cheer us across the finish line.  I was sure to appreciate my last mantra while chatting with Zoe and thanking her for helping me through the last bit.

We rounded the corner to the finish area and were treated to our support crew, cheering and ringing those cow bells.  I smiled and smiled as we ran down the last stretch hearing the announcer saying "HERE SHE COMES!  MOM WITH HER FUTURE MARATHON RUNNER! WAY TO GO, MOM!! FROM BOULDER, COLORADO! SARAH STITH!!" and as I crossed the finish line: "3rd IN HER AGE GROUP!!"  I almost laughed out loud at that as a volunteer floated up to me, handing me a little prize for placing.  I knew the whole way by the tiny number of participants that this might be my one and only chance to actually place but had forgotten until I heard it.  Right away I knew it was entirely possible there were only 3 people actually in my age group (there were 4--woohoo!) but I didn't care.  It was so much fun and I felt so proud.

I'll never do it again.  I know what you are saying: "Never say never" but to that I say "Never again" again.  I am so glad I did it.  I feel so proud to have worked so hard and I truly left everything out on that course. The journey was one of the most rewarding and unique of my adult life but once is enough.  I'll find another challenge but you can bet your ass I ain't running that freaking far ever again.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Natural Disaster

3 weeks ago, I returned home from my pre-sunrise run laughing as I told my family how wet it was. I don’t run with a headlamp so tend to run on main roads when I go out early in the morning. However, that morning my route included a short stretch of pedestrian pathway devoid of streetlights and nothing but distant traffic and muscle memory guiding me through the thick darkness. I run that part of the path often, but usually in at least partial light. Realizing my mistake too late, my imagination started to stray as I pictured wild animals lurking. I swore if I got through that stretch of path without disturbing a coyote I would be more careful from then on. Just as my fear climaxed, it was converted into surprise and then morphed into frustration as I felt my feet splash in a puddle deep enough to soak my shoes, socks and the bottom half of my calves.

Not knowing how big the puddle was I forged ahead whispering, “Shit. Shit. Shit….” with each slopping footfall. I couldn’t go around it and didn’t want to turn back so took the next thirty paces on my tiptoes in the hopes I could keep my shoes somewhat dry. A futile attempt.  Luckily, I was able to find the humor in it by the end of my run and marveled at the size of my puddle as I retold the story to my family.

The rest of the day, everyone I came into contact with shared my disbelief over the amount of rain we were getting. Boulder is known for dry, sunny, beautiful weather and because of the wildfires we witnessed last year, a bout of rain always brings a collective sigh of relief. It’s no secret we live on a flood plain but we worry more often about things being too dry, not too wet. 

By the time I put the kids to bed that night, a lake had formed in our backyard and a river was flowing by our front door. 


From the comfort of my 2nd floor bedroom, I listened to flood sirens and nursed a stiff drink while Owen clung tight to my chest. Zoe, asleep on the floor next to us in a sleeping bag, had barely registered the sirens at all.  When they started, I was downstairs settling in for an evening of Greys Anatomy and thought I was imagining things.  When I realized it was the real thing, it took me a few moments to move.  To be honest, I really didn't want to turn off my show.  It didn't take me long to remember the insistent tone of the protocol we've heard each flood season since we moved here: "If you hear the sirens, GO UP", and so I did.

My first stop was the kid’s room because Owen is terrified of the sirens.  The city tests them once a month and whenever they do, the poor little guy runs for the nearest warm body in order to snuggle and cry.  That night, when I opened the door to their room, I found them huddled together on Zoe's bed, Owen whimpering, Zoe quietly soothing her little brother, half asleep herself.  I ushered them into my room.  Climbing into bed with Owen, I felt grateful to have thought to bring my drink up with me.  This was going to be a long night.

I didn't sleep much. Checking my phone every two minutes for updates on Facebook and emails from coworkers, I worried about friends in harm’s way and wanted to be sure to stay on alert.  I work as a resident manager in CU's Family Housing and although I would not have been permitted to leave my house, felt I should be available in case anyone had questions or felt afraid.  It was frightening, but for the most part I was concerned for those I knew to be in much more precarious situations than we were.  Our apartment is only 1/4 mile from Boulder Creek but I knew from the flood training we go through for my job every year that we were very safe.

The next few days were a roller coaster.  The rain slowed down and let up here and there but there was always more on the horizon, threatening.  We stuck close to home and stayed in contact with those friends who were evacuated or on the brink.  The nights were particularly terrifying because the threat of flash flood was at its highest when the city was already swimming in darkness.  On the second night, I was texting a friend who was reaching her breaking point, taking shelter on the second floor of her near creek-side building with her young family. She had just said "I just want my precious babes to be safe and out of this mess" when I noticed an alert from the city saying there was a 30 foot wall of water coming down the creek carrying cars and other debris. The wall was expected to hit at midnight and it was 11:52pm.  Midnight came and went and we could only assume the wall had been absorbed by the creek.  This was the way it was around here for 4 days. 

After the rain stopped and the emergency officially passed came an awful awakening.  While we felt great relief knowing our city was safe, we began to open our eyes and focus our attention on surrounding communities and roadways.  The reality of the tremendous loss and scope of damage became almost too much for me to comprehend.  Part of me wanted to go on with life feeling grateful for coming out of it all unscathed.  I didn't have the right to feel sad.  The moment I made the decision to go with that outlook, another part of me felt guilty for going about my day as if the whole thing was no big deal.  I spent a good 5 days going back and forth between those parts of me and in the meantime, my priorities were washed clear off the table. 

Other than my family, I couldn't sort out what was important.  I continued to run because I felt I should stick to my training, but found zero joy or fulfillment in it.  As the days passed I watched the city dry and could feel myself getting back into a regular daily rhythm only to be reminded, by army trucks and helicopters passing through and flying over us, of the very real struggles going on in neighboring towns. I felt paralyzed by guilt and sadness.  Normally when I'm feeling this way I write my way out of it,  but I couldn't seem to do that either. I witnessed grass-roots groups form, helping people shovel mud out of their basements before mold had a chance to set in.  Heroic people who dropped everything to help those in need while I sat on my computer and felt sad.  I told myself I couldn't help because I have kids to take care of, but wondered if I was relieved to have the excuse.  More guilt piled on.

Finally I reminded myself of Raising Little Heroes.  The purpose of the group is to show our kids that we don't have to feel helpless in times like this.  There is always something you can do, and every little bit helps.  Here was an opportunity to get our kids involved in helping our community in the wake of a huge natural disaster and to teach them that things can be scary sometimes, but then they can be beautiful.  I got together with RLH board members and we decided to organize a food drive.  After our meeting, I began to feel my energy returning.  I knew our food drive wouldn't generate enough goods to help very many people but just knowing it would help some was all I needed to find my momentum again. 

It's returning slowly but it's returning.  I still have a lot of guilt.  I've wanted to write this for a few weeks but haven't been able to bring myself to.  I feel pretty selfish and silly, having all of these emotions even though we were completely safe the whole time and our daily life hasn't changed at all.  The emotions are there though, and I think they are for a lot of people who witness disasters first hand like we did.  We live in a world where people can fly planes into buildings full of people, where tornadoes can mow down entire towns in mere minutes, where a person can decide to open fire on a school full of children and where a meandering creek can suddenly resemble a freight train, barreling through communities, showing no mercy.  I think it's important to talk about how scary that is.  Not to dwell on it, but to talk about it.  If no other reason but to add to the strong community we are a part of.  It's what holds us all together, for better or worse.