The world lost an incredible mother, wife, daughter, friend, attorney, underprivileged advocate, and community member suddenly and unexpectedly on October 16, 2013. In honor of my late wife, Holli Wallace, I am training for the Hallucination 100 mile trail run and raising money for the Children's Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

On grief and ultrarunning

Holli and I used to talk about running a fair amount.  Even though she wasn't a runner, she was my crew at all of my major races.  In long races it isn't unusual to lose the ability to understand clearly what you need or what is going on.  You can forget to eat, forget to drink, forget to change gear, the list goes on.  It is nice to have someone who knows what you need even when you do not.

We inevitably lean on past experience to understand current experience.  I've found that the difference between ultramarathons (in particular 100s) and shorter races is the number of ups and downs that you experience.  In shorter races, there is often a clean arc that goes from feeling great to feeling tired to feeling the elation of finishing.  With ultras you must endure several cycles of ups and downs before crossing a finish line that, at least for me, rarely brings a sense of elation.  Only later does a sense of satisfaction set in.

The myth of grief is that there is some sort of clean arc to the process.  The finish line lies when one has gone through all the stages, taken enough time, finished grieving or moved on.  The language of grief coming to an end is so much a part of our lexicon that you don't notice it unless you are given reason to pay attention.  Of course, it isn't true.  There is neither a clean arch nor a finish line.

On Wednesday, I heard my 4 year old son explaining to one of his little friends that his mom died.  Moments like that are heartbreaking and I know that there will be more. There is no finish line, just more ups and downs in a jungle gym of emotions that is neither fair nor predictable.  At times memories are a comfort and at times they are an open wound.  There are moments of pride and satisfaction as well as defeat.

The night after I finished my first 100, I dreamed that I was still running.  It had it's ups and downs, but I was glad to still be running.  And I felt strangely disappointed when I woke up in bed. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Puke and rally

(Remarkably, I just realized that I was still using this blog the year that Holli passed so perhaps it is an appropriate time to start again.)

Photo at the start of the North Country Trail 50 in 2007
Holli and I had more inside jokes than I can count.  Many of them, like puke and rally, were sophomoric and likely only funny to us, but that had absolutely no bearing on their humor.  She was always young and humor was not dependent on the opinion of others.  Eventually such jokes become a language in and of themselves, a secret language and a shorthanded way of communicating.

The phrase "puke and rally" was chanted by a, likely drunk, frat boy in a movie theater in East Lansing during the opening night of the Legend of Drunken Master.   We were undergraduates at Michigan State University.  Patient as she was, Holli was indulging my appreciation for Jackie Chan and Hong Kong kung-fu movies.  The movie's protagonist had consumed too much wine to fight effectively and had, as the chanting frat boy and his friends enthusiastically cheered on, puked and then rallied.

I remember the phrase coming up many years later when I watched a friend of mine running his way towards his first and my second 100 mile completion.  After about 50 miles, he literally vomited his way for about 4 more miles, before rallying and finishing well ahead of me.  Perhaps not poetic, but representative of running 100 miles.  You run, fall apart, recover, run some more, fall apart some more, recover enough to keep going, fall apart, recover, run.

I have a file folder on my computer littered with Excel files outlining training runs for races that I never signed up for, never finished training for, and in some cases never even started training for.  I have floated the idea of doing a run for Holli for more than two years and it has lingered on a post-it note on my phone for over a year.  Each time, something got in the way, something was more important, or I just couldn't bring myself to lace up those shoes for the next run.  I'm registered for the Hallucination 100 in September and maybe something will come up and I won't make it to the finish line.  Even if that happens, I like to think that they are just small steps and detours in moving forward.  And I'll rally.