Sunday, December 29, 2013

Salt Lake City Cemetery

Here are some photos from my trip to Salt Lake City. My folks have lived there about 15 years, so I've seen and done a lot of the usual touristy stuff before. My sis took me to visit the SLC Cemetery, which is enormous and very lovely in winter. She told me ghost stories about visiting with friends in the dead of night, finding an urn that is always warm even in winter, and a mysterious force that pushes people off the top of a particular crypt. We visited on a quiet, unremarkable day and saw nothing mysterious.

A lovely headstone with what looks to be Arabic and Hebrew writing on it. I've never seen anything quite like this before.

A stone monument that looked like an AT-AT from afar.

View of graveyard with mountains in the background.

A broken tombstone is balanced atop another.

So I might have recently watched Star Trek and have limited reverence for the dead.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gilgal Sculpture Garden

I visited family in Salt Lake City, Utah, for Christmas, and at the recommendation of an acquaintance, my sister took me to visit the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, a park created by Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., in the mid-twentieth century. From Wikipedia: he "conceived of a symbolic sculpture garden that would be a retreat from the world and a tribute to his most cherished religious and personal beliefs."

It's a wacky little spot featuring "12 original sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts." It had snowed that week, and the fresh snow was pristine when we arrived. There were no signs telling us not to climb up on the rocks to take pictures, so we did.

(A phoenix with the face of LDS leader Joseph Smith)

(A close-up shot of Joe's great, hooked nose)

(Me with two sculpted hands framing two sculpted hearts in a rocky alcove)

(Me with a plow with swords and other farming implements welded to it)

(Me alongside an obelisk with a faintly visible wire man atop it)

(The stone back of one piece)

(Additional stonework I cannot identify)

So if you're looking for something odd to do in SLC for a half hour, check it out. It doesn't look like the place gets very much traffic.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 9

Self care:

Going to bed as early as I please, even if it's 7:15 local.

There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is
enough to be taken care of by my self.
--Brian Andreas

See the photos that didn't make it here on Instagram.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 8

Something about yourself that you are grateful for:

My perseverance

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.
--A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

See the photos that didn't make it here on Instagram.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 7

"'Playfulness is an antidote to Fear' and I think its an antidote to frustration too, and to our inner critic!" I did not enjoy the playfulness theme as much as others. But looking back at what I shot, these are pretty fun after all.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
-George Bernard Shaw

See the photos that didn't make it here on Instagram.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 6

I took a few days' break since the Spartan Race consumed so much of my time. I shot these yesterday for the theme: movement.


Hair blowing in the breeze

In the process of high kicking

Walking past a mirror


I didn't pay attention to times or distance, instead focusing on how it felt just to be in motion,
knowing it wasn't about the finish line but how I got there that mattered.”
--Sarah Dessen

See the photos that didn't make it here on Instagram.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Built Like A Runner

Content note: rambling about body type and weight

Something I think about occasionally but try not to stress over is that I'm just not built like a runner. At least not like the ones you see in the commercials, magazine ads, in-store ads, web ads, the Olympics, or even any of the promotional materials for local races and fun runs. And it's something that's been tripping me up mentally.

It's virtually impossible to change one's body type, and the effort required to do so is not sustainableneither is the stress by a long shot. I will never be competitive in this sport. It's disappointing because it's just not an option, but mostly I'm happy with the running I do.

I had been worried about the Spartan race because all the participants in ALL the event photos are RIPPED. All of them. And overwhelmingly male. Logically, I know appearance ≠ ability, but the idea is still ingrained in the subconscious, and I was really very anxious.

(Like this chick)

Leading up to the race, I searched and searched for photos of Spartans like me and found this lovely blog (note: contains weight loss narrative).
Then I remind myself that I’m an athlete because of what I do, not what I look like. I remember that people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels will be running alongside me. I remember that the running community, and particularly the OCR set, is one of the most supportive I’ve ever encountered, always ready with a kind word or helping hand when fellow runners need one. 

Out on the course itself, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many women and so many folk at my same pace, whatever they looked like. To be fair, we were all slim and I only saw one chubby guy and one chubby gal all day. The final numbers actually show a total 307 women finishers out of 1300+ participants; I wouldn't have guessed the numbers so disparate.

It's taken as a given that in order to become a better runner, you have to lose weight. Though the charts say I ought to drop about 20 pounds for my height, I call shenanigans. Carrying less body weight might make long-distance running easier in some ways, but I think I'd be much more likely to succumb to hypothermia and/or exhaustion. It might make rope climbing easier but would definitely make the weight-lifting obstacles worse (which I can't even imagine them being any worse than they were; I cried, literally).

I like my body as it is and don't want to lose weight. I don't believe I could ever become a competitive runner, so I'm just trying to enjoy my training. I want to get stronger, and I that I can do.

I run. I'm a runner. Appearance has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I am Spartan: Texas Spartan Beast 12/15/13

I finished the 15+ mile 12/15/13 Spartan Beast, my first Spartan Race, in Glen Rose, Texas.

I am a Spartan.

I'm also a crier. It hurt a lot and I cried. I cried when I kicked a rock in the second mile and when I tripped just after the second aid station and fell on my bad knee, bruising it deeply enough that I know it will last for over a month.
(Cell phone picture of my bruised knee)

I cried on the second bucket carry when my elbows strained against the weight and extension and were surely overworked. I finished that obstacle by myself.

I finished the race with a lot of help on many obstacles. I finished my 180 burpees (on my knuckles because of a sprained wrist) for the three rope climbs I didn't attempt and the three obstacles I failed altogether. I finished the Spartan Beast in 6:59:52, just barely before dark.

(Dim cell phone picture of me and my finisher's medal)

And I don't honestly feel very proud, accomplished, or excited that I finished. Neither do I feel inspired to do better next time. I've run so many races that they're not all fun and enjoyable. (Update: This might be anhedonia.) All I feel is hurt and fatigued, and even my brain feels slow. I'm struggling to compose a narrative about the race that is organized in any logical way, because the retelling is at least fun. I'm also excited for race photos to be posted.

I had planned to run a 4- to 5-hour 12-mile Spartan Beast. I had run a 1:47 10k (6.2 mi) trail race in October in soul-sucking humidity with some of the fiercest hills I've ever run, so I knew that I could make it through half the Spartan. And knowing my body, I knew I could make it to 8 or 9 miles. From there, it would be a good chance I could berate and shame myself to the end. That was my game plan going in. It may not sound healthy, but when the goal is only to finish, it would at least work. I was misinformed; the Texas event had apparently been touted as 13+.

(Image of Spartan Beast banner advertising the 10- to 12-mile race)

Putting on my Vibram FiveFingers, I spied a new hole in one.* That did not bode well. Walking from the parking lot to the event, I was told the course was 15.2 miles. Welp, there went all hope of finishing. The 2-hour drive had me already in a foul mood; it was going to be a rough day.

Participants have to scale a 5-foot wall to enter the Starting corral, and I couldn't even manage that without help. It's something that used to be easy for me, but I just couldn't get any height and accepted a boost from another runner.

I told the two women I was running with, whom I met from Meetup, that I really didn't think I would finish. But they were stubborn bitches who had already decided we would finish together and told me I was wrong. One of them was much faster, and we encouraged her to take off around the fourth mile because we two were otherwise keeping pace with one another. She finished in about 5 hours total.

I really wanted to quit in the fourth mile. Running on the injured knee was awful. The 20-pound sandbag carry up and down a steep hill surprisingly wasn't. That might have been my favorite obstacle, which should tell you a lot about the others.

(and so should the look on my face)

The worst, by far, were the bucket carries. We had to fill a bucket with gravel and carry it up and down a steep hill with no handle. I'm still incredulous that I didn't injure my back. I hoisted the bucket up, managed 10 to 20 paces, dropped it heavily, sat for a minute or two, and repeated over and over. There were two of these obstacles, and though the second had a kinder slope, I whimpered, moaned, and cried through most of it. And I finished.

(Bucket carry image from internet)

I've always been a crier when I'm hurt, upset, sad, stressed, tired, angry, overwhelmed, or whatever else. It caused me a lot of frustration throughout most of my life and well into adulthood because it was/is easily triggered and I couldn't control it. Nobody wants to be the kid who cries. But now I accept it. I no longer fret about doing it in public but manage to say to strangers who ask if I'm alright, "No, but I will be. I'm just very tired (or in a lot of pain) and need to cry right now. And then I'll get on with it." Crying doesn't have to be a big deal, or shameful, or a sign of weakness. It just is. I cry and I get on with it. That's how I cope.

I had really been looking forward to testing my strength and skill on the tractor tire flip. I squatted low, eager to hoist the tire up and over . . . I couldn't budge it more than an inch. I tried two or three more times to no avail and resigned myself to 30 penalty burpees. This was perhaps the most disappointing obstacle.

(Tractor tire flip image from internet)

I gave a good run and a clean, straight throw at the spear toss, which fell short of the target but I was very pleased with the attempt. Others' spears had helicoptered through the air to strike the targets along the shaft and fall to the ground. Few succeeded in striking the targets.

The Tyrolean Traverse is an obstacle that looks both simple and complicated. A long, heavy rope is strung across a pit of water with a bell hung from the middle of the rope that you must ring. I climbed on top, hooking my left foot over the rope and letting the right dangle as a counter-balance, and I slowly pulled myself forward, focusing only on the rope. I made it over a third of the way before the roughly 8- or 10-foot drop spooked me and I fell into the water. Though I'm satisfied with my effort, I'm a bit disappointed because I think I really had a shot at succeeding on this obstacle.

(Tyrolean Traverse image from the internet)

We were feeling good and ready to finish when the course looped through the festival area and my running partner thought we were near the end. I knew better and stayed silent, letting her high hopes buoy us forward. We still had a long way to go. I am so lucky that the weather was glorious, and I think that's the only reason I finished. Much of the afternoon was a pleasant hike to my mind and I focused on enjoying that and silencing all thoughts of upcoming obstacles. Throughout the day, my body temperature was always comfortable.

(me rolling under the barbed wire)

There had been an icy lake swim planned, but it was canceled because the water was so damn cold and replaced instead with a long trek around the edge of the lake in knee-to-thigh-deep water.

"Oh, how it burns us, Precious!" I exclaimed throughout the trek, breathing deeply and steadily pushing forward. Many participants stopped halfway and climbed out before continuing, but I knew I needed to keep up my momentum. I heard later that some of the volunteers required burpees of the breakers and was glad I kept on. I was lucky, too, that my Vibrams dried quickly and I never lost feeling in my toes. My running partner, though, struggled with numb feet in her sneakers that trapped the cold water.

I can't remember any more the order of the obstacles. I worried about the pulley obstacle because the descriptions I'd read made it out to be pretty tough. You have to pull a rope with a weight on the other end so the weight rises to the top and then lower it without dropping or slamming it. I'd read that the secret was to put your foot on the rope to control your speed. The cement blocks didn't look like much, but it required most of my body weight to lift it on each pull, and my running partner offered to help. I declined, telling her I just needed to take it slow. Walking it back down was definitely easier.

(Rope pulley image from the internet)

Daylight was fading fast on the last mile, and we slowly slipped through creek crossings near the end. I didn't pause to free and light my headlamp; we were so close. Folks were cramping up all over the course. I usually suffer pretty stiff calves when I run, but I wore compression sleeves this time and was A-OK.

The final obstacles were back-to-back. I walked around the rope climb, did my burpees, rolled under the barbed wire, walked around the muddier rope-wall climb, did my burpees, and lined up to leap the fire. I ran forward, quickly slowed to approach the hurdle at a walk, and eyed it closely. These logs were piled twice as high and deep as any other fire obstacle I've done. Spectators called out to show me where it was lower and narrower that I couldn't see. I lined up a second time and easily cleared the jump, though not with room to spare, and ran through the Gladiators with a smile on my face, happily checking both and chuckling when the second swung around to swat my bottom.

(Fire obstacle image from the internet)

(Gladiators image from the internet)

I crossed the finish line, got my medal, and drank deeply of the hot chicken broth handed me: glorious manna of the gods!

I got my first cramp while trying to put on dry clothes; my left foot betrayed me. Useless foot. What has it ever done for me? Oh, right.

Then I had to find my car, having failed to make a mental note of where I'd left it. I knew which side of the road it was on and that it had seemed a solid walk from the lot to the festival grounds. I walked slowly in the near dark, clicking my beepy button hopefully, and found it without too much trouble and without passing it. I inhaled the cold half burrito that had sat there unfinished since breakfast, and it was delicious. The two-hour drive home seemed another obstacle in itself. I was near to dozing in the last half hour, but once I made it home, my friends took me out and fed me.

The pain, stiffness, and discomfort have been waking me every night since the race.

(Image of bruises on my arm)

I hung out naked or near to it at Spa Castle for several hours the next day, covered in bruises below the neck and looking like nothing so much as a victim of domestic violence. Awkward. Nobody said anything to me until after I was dressed and about to leave when a young woman commented on my medal and asked if I'd run the Spartan Beast. I told her I'd done it yesterday, and we chatted briefly about her running the Spartan Sprint (5k) earlier in the year and her dad's running the Spartan Beast another time. "I'd be wearing that medal everywhere, too, if I were you," she remarked. Indeed. I wore it again to work two days after the race.

(Image of bruises on my leg)

The rankings are posted but photos aren't yet. I wasn't last. My percentile rankings are 89/85/89, easier numbers to digest than the ones I was given:

Pace 34:59, Overall: 1231/1369, Gender: 263/307, Age group: 82/92

This pace and finishing time would put the course at exactly 12 miles, so I assume the computer is only configured for a 12-mile race. Too many other sources put this event at 15 miles, in which case my pace was about a 28-minute mile.

*Wearing Vibram FiveFingers for long races: It doesn't work for a lot of people, but it was the best choice for me. I get wicked blisters from socks and sneakers on even the shortest runs. I know where the Vibrams typically rub too much and coated those areas with liquid bandage before the event. I have one blister to speak of, which I didn't even notice until the next day. The Vibrams are no fun on rocky trails, but our course was mostly dirt and my feet weren't as sore as I expected them to be at the end. These get much better traction than sneakers and are ideal for balance obstacles, slick hills, and so on. I wore the KSO Sprints, which don't collect much water and do dry very quickly after water obstacles. The fresh hole in the fabric didn't give me any trouble on the course. I stumbled a few times because I was tired and my vision is weak. It does hurt like the dickens if you do stub a toe on a root or rock.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Here are my pictures from Dallas's great big ice storm that shut everything down for 3 or 4 days, which I spent snuggling pets, drinking wine, and watching The Walking Dead and American Horror Story.

Beloved Beginnings, Day 5

Today's theme is Light and it is a rainy, gray day, making this a special challenge.

There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
--Leonard Cohen

See the photos that didn't make it here on Instagram.
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 4

A reflection treasure hunt:

I’ve finally stopped running away from myself. Who else is there better to be?
-- Golden Hawn

See my honorable mention photos on Instagram.
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Beloved Beginnings, Day 3

"Today we are going to invite a different part of ourselves into the photo. Our feet!
As you're discovering, self-portraits don't just need to be our whole bodies. Having our whole bodies in a self-portrait doesn't make it more valuable or 'better'. Every time we invite a little bit of ourselves into a photo, we are taking a self-portrait and telling the stories of ourselves in our world!"

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
--Marcel Proust

See my honorable mention photos on Instagram.
Day 1
Day 2