Sunday, August 7, 2016

Music, the language of the soul

Mimi (our youngest daughter - and aspiring violin player) has been playing violin for a few years now. We met her teacher at a studio which closed the following year. We thought her teacher was a perfect fit, and so we hoped she would continue to teach Mimi. When she offered to teach out of her home, Virginie and I gave it absolutely no thought. She has nurtured her along with a balance between high expectations, and praise that is near perfect for Mimi.

A few weeks ago, her teacher emerged from her lesson smiling. "Mimi has picked out her recital piece" she announced with a smile. "It's a folk tune from Quebec, and she needs to practice it". Guilty as charged. I'll blame it on being too busy, but I admit, I've never heard the piece played, either during lessons, or during Mimi's practice time.

Until this morning...

When a musician performs, it's not just the music. Each performer using the expertise of their chosen instrument, their personality, style, and body language, to portray a story, which can cause each of us to reflect.

I remember playing in the University of Lethbridge Wind Orchestra many years ago. We were playing a collection of folk tunes called "Armenian Dances" by Alfred Reed. To this day, it remains one of my favorite Christmas tunes. This was a special performance though, there is an Alto Saxophone solo during the piece, and I was selected to play it. I fell easily, and instantly in love with the music, and over the course of the semester, I longed to return to that moment, wherein I would have the opportunity, to return to that place where music, passion, and the feelings of my soul could finally be released in harmony with the other musicians.

During our final performance, I was struck with the knowledge that this would likely be the last time, I would be playing this piece. As I played through my solo, and surrounded by the musicians, our music swelled to a musical climax that I felt so deeply, that I wept.

I didn't stop playing... but tears flowed freely. For the moment, this was my gift, that I could give.

After an epic battle, ultimately lost by the DVD player, the music was ready. I counted in my daughter, and she began to play. I went downstairs to continue painting.

And then I listened.

Folk music is beautiful. I absolutely love it. To me, it conveys much more than music, it tells a story, of a culture. Not of battles won or lost on the battlefield, but of stary skies reflected in the ripples of a river, or dances done in traditional costumes, or of something as simple as a mother kissing her child goodnight, and blowing out the lamp, promising him of sweet dreams to come.

And so of all the interpretations of that tune that have been done, none come even close to the beauty I heard coming from the strings of my daughters violin, because she played it with a quality that caught me off guard.

She played it with innocence. And I wept.

We have become so busy as a society, I believe that we have forgotten how to feel. We have work to be done, lessons to attend, fitness goals to reach, kids to rear, shopping to complete. And when we arrive home after these busy days, we learn numb ourselves from our emotions. A psychologist once told me some people will cut themselves, not with the intent to harm themselves, but with the intent to feel something, something real.

It's a gift that music gives for me. Something deep and real that I can savor like candy.

Music, it's what we can share, and enjoy when we love someone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Bathroom Story

I look down at my Son as he smiles at me. "Don't worry Dad, you totally look like a girl, you'll do just fine!" His confidence is reassuring. "Thank-you" I reply, "You go ahead, I'm going to worry a little more okay?" He smiles and heads into the bathroom. I marvel how easy it is for him, how easy it was for me. We are at Nakiska skiing on a planned Father and Son outing which we have planned for many months. The bathrooms here are among the busiest I have seen, and waiting in line at the women's washroom was too much... I mean, I would just be standing there in line, waiting to be judged... so I have held it in. Finally, it seems that there is at least no line going outside of the washroom, and its time to not let fear control me. I reassure myself, and begin walking toward my goal. Two girls chatting together walk in slightly ahead of me. For whatever reason, this scares me and I turn around and walk back to the entrance. Back to my corner. I begin to think to myself, "people looking at me must think that I'm a total pervert! Wait... stop that! Don't let your mind wander. There is never a perfect moment, just go". My son will be due out of the washroom soon, and I would like to at least be inside by then, he's been such an encouragement. I am so fortunate to have a supportive family.

And with that in mind, I'm able to walk in to the washroom.

It is mostly empty, with a few gals washing their hands, minding there own business. I look for a stall, and finding one, go inside, lock the door, and with gratitude, release the pain of hours of patience.

Truth be told, I've never had an altercation in the washroom yet. So far, the women have been for the most part, kind and accepting. Yet, I still wonder, while I'm sitting down doing my duty, "what if someone asks me for some toilet paper? Do I sound female enough? Do I look female enough?"

And then there's the media. Virginie reminds me often, that they just "focus on fear". It makes sense... Every species on the planet is hard wired to pay close attention to fear. It is our collective survival instinct. There has been a lot of media attention about it lately.

Last week I was walking into the women's washroom at work. As I entered, I looked over to see another gal heading to the same spot. When she saw me going in, she stopped, and turned around.

I keep reminding myself that I don't know her reasons for the change if mind, if even a change of mind took place, but it sure seems that way, and so the mind sometimes goes in circles trying to make sense of it.

I completely understand that a woman wouldn't want to go into the bathroom with a man. It would be weird and scary. The irony of the situation is, is that I actually feel normal now (yes, as in not weird) and while I won't, I could actually quantify this statement.

Honestly, I don't think it's the governments job to write rules about bathroom use... it just complicates the situation. In computer science, we often talk about the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid). When writing software, don't write more than you need to, and when writing, give the components of your software a simple, identifiable, reportable job. Each component is responsible for doing its job, and reporting on its progress.

For bathrooms, we need to be teaching our children basic principles of safety. Don't leave with a stranger, don't let people touch you what we taught our children as "their special spot", and to smile and be kind to others. With these things in mind, every individual can be responsible for their safety. Simple, identifiable, reportable.

I realize people are not computers, but this is not my point. My point is the KISS principle. Being kind to someone in the bathroom does not endanger us. With the proper information, we can all be kind, and safe.

I've spent too much time fearing over the bathroom. My plight to all is to be kind, honest, and smart. Let's not blow this issue out of proportion. Creating a beautiful culture in our society does not come from the top down (governments to people) it comes from the bottom up.

This is what we do when we love someone.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Random thoughts on God and Transition

It's been a long while since I've been able to blog... I guess I have not needed to. For the most part, I've got nothing to complain about at all, and if I do have anything, they have all been first world problems. But, there have been some recent events that really had me thinking, and as always, this blog serves as a place for my thinking "outloud". It does not mean that anything I say merits any truth, and serves only as a method to sort out the things which sometimes "plague" the mind. Its almost like, until I write them down, they don't go away. Once they are recorded for all the world to see? Then I'm able to make peace with them.

3 weeks ago our family received confirmation that our request to have our memberships removed from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the "Mormon" church) was complete. So our relationship with what I'll from now refer to as "the church" was finally severed. Ending, what I felt were many years of what still feels like spiritual abuse.

I don't blame the church for anything. Honestly, it's a wonderful organization, and the people do their best to follow who they feel is their "great exemplar". And they do a tremendous job! For me, it was all about my perceptions about God, and leaving behind the church, has been my way of breaking up with the most cruel man I've ever known. God himself.

For most of my life as a man, I knelt any prayed every night. Mostly to have God remove from me, what I felt was the one thing that kept me from knowing him better. Gender identity disorder. It was not the disorder itself, but the stress it caused. One of the great blessings I enjoy today are girlfriends! Honestly!!! It's one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received! (You know who you are). I always felt that I had better friendships with Women, but they never developed into romance... I was always just "too good of a friend". It frustrated me... but it makes so much more sense now why I felt that way. Because I am a woman too! Yet, there I knelt, night after night, pleading before my maker that I would have so much more with which to be a servant of him, if he would remove the trial of Gender identity disorder from me. But, year after year, the answer was obviously no. As I got older, issues resulting from the stress of gender identity disorder became worse and worse. I became suicidal, but worse, detached from my family, and what little friends I had.

I often think to myself, if I went into a test, on an undisclosed subject, and was required to write the test, but when I didn't know the answer and asked the teacher for any kind of help, the answer received was "no". The church sees life this way. It's our opportunity to come to earth, and be tested. I cannot get the information I need to make important decisions, I feel this is God's issue, not mine.

Yet, I've met members of the church with whom I've discussed this important topic with, and when asked if God will be merciful to me, because in their minds, I've made such a huge mistake, the only answer I could get was "I don't know". Honestly, if God really lives? surely he would be kinder than that... and so we sent in our church resignations. So that I could say my goodbye's to that cruel god, and have a chance to live a life, without feeling like I'm failing him every two seconds.

Tomorrow is May 8th. Yes, it's Mothers Day... but not only that... it's my one year anniversary of starting estrogen therapy!!! I could not be happier. I sometimes feel like I must have swallowed a horse shoe when I was younger, because so far I've defied many of the common issues girls who transition face. First and foremost, estrangement from their loved ones. Yet, for me, in spite of this reality, Virginie and I have become closer and closer. I cried today... I cried for many reasons, and for none at all. Gals, you understand right?!? and through it all, I found my way into my Wifes warm embrace. She held me, and looked with a look that said "I know your hurting, and I'm sorry." The most wonderful part is that I know if I lost it and started crying again? That she would come over immediately, and hold me, and love me.

This is what we do when we love someone.
One year ago tomorrow!
Just about 1 month ago. Hormones are amazing!!!





Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Giving Tree

Few books really leave something with me, but The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien did. It's a beautiful story about a tree that gave everything it had for the love of a boy throughout his life. The thing that really struck me about the story was I had no idea how many things trees give, and it expanded my mind.

I'm hurting inside these days. I'm not going to get into specifics because they are deeply personal, even for a blog, and for those who are really interested, text me or facebook me, and we can go for a walk. If the mood is right, perhaps caring will prevail. But for now, I will carry the burden I have, and I know that time heals all things. 

A few weeks ago someone contacted me, who felt similar about gender as I did. We texted for most of the day, and it was very nice. This person had asked me if I had ever had second thoughts about transitioning, and I had told them that I had, but only for very brief moments, and for the most part, I had really blossomed as a result of coming out and embracing what I felt inside. 

I still feel that way.

Yet, life is a patchwork of relationships, woven together through friendship, tears, love, anger, forgiveness, and commitment. As a result of this patchwork, I sometimes feel that I may fit into it better as a man, rather than a woman.

Another person (sorry for my being vague) close to me had complained that I was being too personal on my blog. They suggested that I was giving a bad name to religion and that it bothers them. Prior to transitioning, my square grey patch matched the framework of the quilt to a tee. Although,  I felt grey inside, I suppose if I could learn to see myself as part of the bigger picture... 

I'll leave that thought hanging.

So, it's how I feel this morning. Questioning, second guessing, worried, and unhappy. More than I have been in a while. Yet, I know that however things work out, it will work out for the better, and that happiness is a choice that I can make, regardless of my gender.

The funny thing is that I've told myself this 100, even 1000 times prior to transitioning. "It's a choice!" I would remark in my head, and re-commit myself to being a better person. 

It _did_ _not_ _work_.

So what happens when you have become a shiny new elm leaf shape, with brilliant colors, and you don't fit into the quilt anymore? There must be a way to make it work. There must be! Again, time solves all problems.

Until then, it's the giving tree. Whatever I have, I offer freely. My love, my service, my commitment, my time. 

This is what I do when I love someone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thoughts on being transgendered, and transphobia

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to be talking about all things trans in this post.

I wonder these days about what it would be like if I had been born into the proper body, or that I had transitioned earlier, or that I had not been raised in the Mormon church... You know, all the what if's. Virginie and I talk all the time about these things, and you know what? There are never any answers to the questions. They are just distractions for the most important thing. Moving on...

It's not that easy to move on though. I've had people from my old church congregation coming over on the weekend to help build my new fence. They are all very helpful. They smile, work hard, but don't ask any questions. Then, I unfortunately get more information about how people gossip, and how they "really feel", and I get very angry that people don't ask questions so they don't have to harbour these feelings all the time. Feelings of disagreement and judgment. I mean it too. I realize many people feel that I am "ruining" my children by doing this. I'm teaching them to make poor decisions with my poor example. I would like to not feel this way, but everyone seems to skirt around the issue, leaving me with no information at all, and I can only assume it's one thing... transphobia.

I love the following explanation on cognitive dissonance:

"According to theory, states of dissonance will leave us uncomfortable.  Like thirst or hunger we will have an urge to bring a return to consonance.  There are many ways to resolve dissonance:  1) Change your cognitions (beliefs, attitudes, behavior), 2) Add new cognitions to explain or balance the conflict, 3) Alter the importance of the cognitions."(http://www.rationalrevelation.com/library/cogdis.html)

When I would watch a scary movie when I was young, my father would tell me if I didn't want to have bad dreams about what I watched, I should "think about it". It seemed completely counter-intuitive to me. Wouldn't thinking about it more make me even more scared? Actually, it didn't thinking about it allowed me to find enough closure in my mind, that my mind didn't need to act it out during the night. I'm serious about this. If you want to dream about something? Think about it, and then stop. Cast it out. Your mind will pick it up again as you sleep.

So here it is. What is being transgendered all about? Quite simply, when a persons mental gender does not match their bodies gender. It has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality at all. In my case, I have always felt female, even though I have a male body. So why is this a big deal anyway? I've found no better explanation than this:

"Consider this: from the first moment of defined existence, a person is identified and then classified as either male or female. This classification by sex assigned at birth influences every moment of a person's life thereafter. The very essence of socialization -- how each of us relates to our parents, friends, spouse, lovers, our work, our religious and philosophical beliefs -- everything we are, is contingent on assigned sex. I think you can imagine the enormous challenge a person with Gender Identity Disorder faces trying his or her best, every day, every moment, to live up to an assigned sex he or she has no innate affinity to." (http://www.avitale.com/GuiltShame.htm)

I think all I really want to say is this...

We are real.

Trans-folk have deep feelings, and have struggled deeply with something most would take completely for granted, to the point, it would not even cross anyones mind to question gender. I want to tell people that I'm not dangerous. I'm not even confused anymore, now that the gender dysphoria is gone. I'm not a danger to you, your family, or your children. I don't molest kids, I don't have weird sexual rituals, and as far as sexual preference goes, I have only one. Virginie. I would not even say I'm homosexual, or heterosexual. I'm Virginie-sexual. I love her, and only her in that way. I could not imagine my life without her, and I will live the remainder of my days, doing my best to treat her like the queen that she is.

In my opinion, that's what kind of people trans-folk are. So before making a judgement on a transgendered person because you are sure they are perverted, find out more about them. Talk to them. Listen to their story, because I can promise you, it will be one of heart break, sacrifice, renewal, disappointment, love, disgust, faith, and above all... hope.

This is what we do when we love someone.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sinister 7 : Conquering mind and mud

My name is Stephanie, and I am transgendered. It means that I was born as a male, and at least in my case, was socialized as a male, and lived as a male for 40 years. How I came to my decision to transition my gender to female is not in the scope of this post, but it sets the stage for how I was living, as I toed the start line at the 8th annual Sinister 7 Ultramarathon + Relay, set in the beautiful Crowsnest Pass in Alberta,  Canada. I had registered for the race as male, because at that point, I had not even met the psychiatrist that would assess me, and recommend me for transition. I have been full time on female hormones for about 2 months now and have stabilized finally in the female range about 1 month ago. Definitely not enough time for me to fairly race as a female. So, there I was, with bib number 4 and my male name “Stephen” printed on it at the bottom. My Wife Virginie had dropped me off at the start line, so she could head up to TA1/2 the transition area at the end of leg 1/start of leg 2 to volunteer. She dropped me off with a kiss, and I said “see you soon” to my 3 children.

The electricity of race day morning was already in the air. Runners, clearly prepared for their runs were amassing from all directions, clothed in all types of colorful running gear. I set off to look for those who ran in my own club (fast trax) to wish them luck and kick butt on whatever portions of the race they were doing.

I’m particularly biased to my run club. I came out in January of this year, and did so on Facebook. The efficacy of the method is highly debatable, but nevertheless, as I pushed “okay”, I did so with a sense of dread, excitement, worry, fear, and relief all at once. Literally within minutes I received my first reply. A gentleman from my run club. He congratulated me on what I did, and offered his complete support. Messages like this came in throughout the next 3 days, including friend requests from runners at the club who had not been out for a while.

It’s never been really easy for me to trust people, especially as a man, but in this environment, I felt I could trust people, and I began to feel more confident in socializing. In time, trust soon followed. It’s not just the run club. Almost every runner I’ve met has been the same. Kind, generous, and not the least bit concerned about what gender I was, rather more interested in what kind of workout I was interested in.

I took some selfies with people, laughed, and generally tried to remain calm about the next 30 hours. Yes, I was planning on running the course solo, or by myself.

Shortly after I quit last year
I’m writing a lot of background information, but it’s really important that I set the stage properly. Bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety run in my family. Fortunately, I don’t have bipolar disorder, but have struggled with depression and anxiety. Mostly, in my opinion, due to gender dysphoria. Yet, worrying is in my nature, and starting a race with it is my reality.

Last year, I tried running the 100-mile course solo, and dropped out at the end of Leg 4 (approximately 55 miles in). I dropped because I did not want to run anymore. I had had a very bad leg 3. I got sick, but had avoided heat stroke. When I finished leg 3, my family brought me a number of slices of juicy watermelon. I literally gorged myself. It was cold, wet, sweet, and so delicious. After eating, I decided to go for one more leg. By the end of leg 4, I could feel myself rebounding, but I was lonely, discouraged, and looking for an out. As soon as I heard another soloist drop, I followed suit. I was happy about my decision until I woke up the next morning, and was able to walk up the stairs. “Dang it!” I thought, I had not left it all out on the trail. “I have something left!!!” I regretted to myself.

The gun goes off! Finally, I can redirect my energy
Since that day, I have run 6 ultra-marathons. 3 50km ultras, 2 50 milers, and 1 100km. I finished
them all! Not just finished, there had been absolutely no points in any of them where I thought to myself, “I want to quit”. So, my anxiety was a little lower this year. I trusted my training, especially my mental training. I had learned a lot, especially on the mental part. The quote I love is “Ultra running is 90% mental. The rest? It’s all in your head.” This year, I set an A goal of under 27 hours, and a B goal of just finishing. I HAD to finish though.

I lined up and the gun went off! At last! I find the hardest part is sometimes the anticipation of a start. Your nervous and have nowhere to direct our energy. Once is was running, I had a purpose, and could work through each difficulty as it came.

Waiting my turn during a little traffic
jam on leg one
Leg one was awesome! With fresh legs, it's easy to set down a good pace. I buddied up with Kristina, a friend and crazy fast runner from my local running club, and Christine, a fellow soloist to who battled out incredible odds last year to finish just shy of the final cutoff. There was a section of narrow single track where a number of us in a hurry got stuck behind a struggling lady. It's tough for me to know what the balance of politeness and assertiveness is and so while my plan was to wait, a more anxious gentleman asked both of us to step aside. Not wanting to be left behind I asked the lady to move over as well. She did and we all ran past.

Leg one was completed 10 minutes faster than last year. It was now 8:45.

I met Virginie and the kids at the transition area. After the town of Hillcrest Mines, the road turns to gravel and starts an upward climb. Eventually, this becomes a mixture of double and single track. This climb continues as runners ascend up Hastings Ridge. My plan, power hike the uphills, and enjoy the downhills. I met Mark, an ultra running friend from Red Deer. Mark asked how I was doing, chatted briefly before hurrying up the hill. I had not trained with poles and so I was not planning on using them. A young 13 year old boy passed me, part of the sponsored high school team from the Crowsnest Pass. I was so impressed with him! It's so nice to see a younger generation getting involved with the sport. After I reached the summit of Hastings Ridge I let loose into a comfortable run. When behind me I hear "Stephanie!" It was Carrie, a friend from my run club. We ran together for a bit but she was going a little fast for my liking. She went ahead and we began a nasty climb where I caught up. Carrie ducked under some deadfall but came up too quick. She rose up into a pointy stub of broken branch. I could see instantly that this was not going to be good. Carrie looked stunned for a second and took her hat off, telling me she could tell she just split her head open. I looked into a nasty gouge, already starting to bleed heavily. Carrie was smart and immediately began to call back for help. The aid station was not far back. Carrie began to move back and reluctantly I began to move ahead.

This is where I began to see a difference from last year. Last year I was still fresh. But for whatever
My cousin and her daughters soul healing smile!
reason, my legs were starting to get tired already. "Good," I thought, "I need to get used to running on tired legs if I want to be successful at this sport anyway... Bring it on!" Phillip Lagace greeted me near the end of leg 2 and soon after I saw 2 of my Kids: Baden and Mimi waiting for me. How wonderful it was to see their faces! Thy clapped and jumped, cheering me on as I drew closer. As I passed they ran with me to the solo tent where my Wife and Daughter were waiting with open arms. It was 11:30am.

My cousin Janna and her Husband Joel had shown up to say "Hi" and wish me luck. They brought their young daughter, who appeared to not even be 1 yet. I smiled at her and received a gracious smile in return. It was medicine for the soul. Another round of hugs and I was on my way to Leg 3.

Duking it out during the heat on leg 3.
Leg 3 and 4 were to be my battleground. They are hot and relatively unshaded. I was anxious to get them done and over with. "You'll have more strength once the sun goes down", I reminded myself. Over the ski hill and just before starting the loop, there was Christine. I had caught back up. I stuck with Christine and another Gal all the way through to the first checkpoint. Then Christine was way quicker through the aid station and I had to take out my tailwinds, cut off the corner, and dump it into my soft flask. The whole thing took a while. But, I was drinking and well hydrated. As I left I felt good and ready to climb. Not too far ahead I caught Christine again. We ran together for quite sometime. Always stopping at the puddles to cool off. I ran into Calli and Kate from my run club. Calli joined Christine and I, and we ran together until we arrived at the second aid station. I took my sweet time again trying not to waste my food, and Christine and Calli went ahead. I did not see them again. I set off at a careful pace to see dark clouds rumbling in the sky. It looked as if they would pass me by. The remainder of leg three was tough. I felt out of juice but mentally okay. I was in this for the long haul. As I climbed back up the backside of the ski hill it started to rain. Slow at first but eventually it began to come down harder. By the time I hit the gravel road I was drenched. Still, I was close, so with renewed energy I ran down. There they were! Baden and Mimi were at the same spot to welcome me in. Down we went together. It was close to 5pm.

Upon arrival two things were very clear. I had to ditch my road shoes. Yes... Up until that point I had been wearing my Altra Ones. They are a fantastic shoe, but once the trail and rocks got wet, I was struggling. On went my Altra Superiors. A new dry shirt, socks, and tailwinds. I was ready for leg 4.

Leg 4: Running for chicken noodle soup!
After all that climbing on leg 3, One might think that you will be given a break on leg 4. Not so... the first thing you do is go back up the ski hill. Okay, it's actually not that far up it, but at this point in the race, my heart was pounding furiously in my chest, begging for the top. Because of the temperature drop, and the rain, which by now was falling steadily, I was feeling refreshed, and a little more energetic. I kept drinking and soon found myself running down a forest road. I was making great time. It was then that I received a message from Virginie. She told me they had chicken noodle soup for me at TA4/5. This was the motivation I needed. I ran for chicken noodle soup. As I neared the end, I rounded a corner flying furiously through the mud. My friend Mark was there cheering on the runners. He looked surprised at both my motivation and speed. When I told him what I was running for his comment was "Your Wife must make some pretty damn good soup!". I arrived at TA4/5, and began to look for my family. There was nobody there. I called Virginie. They were running behind, and would be there in a few minutes. I decided to wait, and grabbed some banana's and oranges. Once they arrived, the usual round of refueling (including a nice cup of chicken noodle soup), hugs, more hugs, and best wishes ensued. I went out for leg 5 with my headlamp on. It was 8:00pm.

Not too far into leg 5, the race marshal pulled up beside me as I was running along the side of the road. She asked if I had a whistle, to which I replied I did. A whistle, space blanket, coat, and warm hat are all required items runners must carry for the entire race. We were warned at the pre-race meeting that there would be random checks. "Runners who are not carrying the mandatory equipment will be disqualified" was the warning. With this in mind, I replied quickly that I did, pulling it out of my pack to show that I was being honest about it. She replied quickly that a grizzly had been spotted on the trail, and quickly moved on ahead.

"What?!?" I thought, "Where is this grizzly? ahead? behind? near the trail, in an open area?" my mind
Leg 5: Bring on the Bears...
was buzzing about what this meant. In the end, it mattered very little to me. I was going to finish the race, and if a grizzly got in my way... well... I would politely tell it I'll find a way around him and to continue doing whatever it was doing (provided it was not hunting). As I continued toward Mount Tecumseh, I saw a number of quad's up ahead which included the race marshal. I was not sure what was going on, but by the time I got to the place where the quads were, there were no Bears in sight. An aid station and 10 minutes later, I was at the base of Mount Tecumseh, and needed to turn on my headlamp so that I could see the trail. As I moved farther and farther up the trail, it became clear that the trail conditions were getting worse and worse. At literally every low lying part of the trail, there was a large pool of cold muddy water. It looked like runners before me had tried to get around them by using the bank. Some may have been successful, but the prints of sliding shoe prints going towards the muddy water gave hints that navigating around them would both slow me down, and would not likely be successful anyway. I opted to just go through them. "10 km to the next aid station, and then I'll be going downhill again. The trail will be wider and easier to navigate. Just be patient and do your best to get there" I thought. I ran that script over and over in my head, forcing myself to focus just on this one spot, and not get overwhelmed.

The mind is amazing. Although I've not looked anything up, and I'm totally theorizing at this point, I'm fairly confident in saying that the body will obey the mind. If the mind says "I'm done", inflammation goes up and energy goes down. If the mind says, "I feel great", inflammation goes down and energy goes up. I had been waiting for checkpoint 5b for seemingly forever. I was now death marching toward it patiently, but the patience was wearing thin. Before a river crossing I slipped and went down into the mud. When I got up I was drenched in the stuff. Fortunately the river crossing was nearby. During the day the cold water was a god send, but now, by the time I had washed the mud off my hands, I could barely move them because they were so cold. I was tired, sore, discouraged, cold, and still not at checkpoint 5b. We ran through a campground and I could see the campers roasting marshmallows by the warmth of the campfire, and yet, here I was, in the middle of nowhere, freezing my butt of in an attempt to do something which was impossible anyway. Such was my state of mind when I arrived at checkpoint 5b. I refueled and discovered the distance to TA5/6. It was 9.6km away. I nearly fell down and cried.

At this point in the race I was just death marching my way to TA5/6. I picked up my phone, noticed I had reception, and called Virginie. I told her I was sick of this, and that I did not think that I could continue. She listened, and told me that we could talk about it when I got to the transition area. Runners would come by and encourage me. "Just keep moving" they would say. They were right. In due time, and much to my surprise, I saw the warm glow of tents an the bottom of the hill. I had been so lost in my own misery that I had forgot all about the time. I had arrived!

When I arrived at TA5/6 Virginie ushered me into the food tent and had a chair there waiting for me. She showed me the poles she had procured for me, smiled and said "I got these for you!" My heart was softened. She explained that she knew that I could do this. I had trained for it, and to trust in my training. With some food in me, I felt perhaps I had nothing to loose. I could go out for one more leg. It was 2:00am

Leg 6: Running on trust alone
By this time, after the uncountable number of mud pools I had tromped through, I was not in the best mood anymore. Runners would come by, tell me "good job" and move on. If one talked, my responses were quick and to the point. I would muster a smile, but I felt that my suffering was coming through anyway. Half way up seven sisters I was again ready to quit. It's funny how some things work out. I was moving well up a steep section, vowing to myself that I was going to quit at the next aid station. "I will simply wait for someone to pick me up and take me down this stupid mountain" I thought. Just then I saw lights up ahead! It was the course marshal, the one who warned me about the grizzly. I stepped politely aside as they passed and kept moving upward, muttering to myself about my intention to quit. It dawned on me about 5 minutes later that I could have quit right there. I could have hopped into the back of that quad and got my ride down the mountain. I laughed to myself that I had missed that opportunity. "You idiot!" I chimed to myself. Oh well... onward and upward I climbed.

7 sisters mountain. Runners summit on the
right hand side.
I reached the first checkpoint after considerable patience. Shortly before I arrived I told a fellow soloist named Steve that I was planning on dropping at the next checkpoint. He said that the climbing was almost over, and that it was only a few kilometers to the summit. Once again, I felt my heart soften. If I had come this far, "surely I can get over this DUMB MOUNTAIN!" I thought to myself. Upward I went. The sun rose shortly before I summited. I was finally able to look over to the other side of leg 6.

Once over the top, I felt that I could run again. Really, it was just the "ultra shuffle," but I was making way better time just doing that. I was reminded about great runners. People like the winners. They are all very consistent. You don't really have to go fast at an ultra marathon, you just have to keep on moving.

Once more I found myself discouraged, and practically falling asleep. At nearly the same place I called my Wife Virginie and talked to her. "It's taken me 2 hours to go 10km, and its been torture. Leg 7 is 10km, I dont know if I can do it... I am not strong enough..." I mumbled through the fatigue. "Just get to the transition area" she reminded me, "I have hot ramen and food for you." "Hot ramen..." I thought, "That actually sounds really good." I mustered all the strength I could to make my way as quickly as possible to Virginie. I crested, and descended the hill to the transition area where I was once again met with cheers, encouragement, and the smiling face of my Wife. Leg 6 was finally done. It was 9:15 am.

No red. Beck's brain is shutting down.
In the book "into thin air" is the account of an expedition to Everest that went horribly wrong. The group chose to summit the worlds highest mountain late in the day, despite fatigue and other complications that had led them to the decision they now had to make. They chose to summit and the impending disaster that ensured is one of the sad tales of mountaineering. There is an amazing survival tale though. Beck Weathers had collapsed on his way down from the summit and was freezing to death in the blizzard that had already caused much of the exposition to perish. At this moment Beck Weathers caught hold of the memory of his family. TED Talks has a video where the presented shows what he things likely was happening in the mind of Beck Weathers. As
Red in the center: Beck begins to
think about his family
Beck sat in the snow, slowly freezing to death, his brain also slowly began to shut down. The brain scan showed no "red" activity in the brain. Beck began to think of his family, and thus began the miracle. A tiny red-spot showed up in the middle of his brain (again only a theory according to the presenter). As Beck continued to focus on them,
brain activity continued to increase. He willed himself to get up and start moving. He wandered for hours until he stumbled back into camp IV where assistance was rendered. Beck was not expected to survive the night, and his face and hand were severely frostbitten. Yet, Beck lived to tell his tale. For the whole story, follow this link.

The human body is an amazing thing. It can rebound from the most unimaginable lows, to conquer amazing things. I had been thinking of Becks story, and felt that despite all the negativity I had allowed, that could all change now. I ate, kissed my Wife, announced "See you in 2 hours" and set off on the final 10km of leg 7. I was going to complete!

With thoughts of the finish line in my head, and convinced that with even a tiny spec of hope and positive energy, great endurance can be found, I made my way up Wedge mountain, through the single track, and toward the last checkpoint where the volunteers announced with a smile that I was 97 miles in. I continued to pound out the miles while nurturing my mind. In time, I finally saw the water tower, then houses. As soon as I was in the community of Crowsnest Pass, residents cheered as I ran past. Through a field, then on to the side of a road. Up ahead was Alissa St. Laurant. We exchanged hugs and congratulations and on I went. Through the temporary RV park, left toward the arena, and finally right to the finishers chute.

There are not words to describe what it was like to run down the finishers chute. The crowd around the finish line had already began to applaud. I could see my youngest two: Baden and Mimi waiting to run the final stretch with me. As I rounded the final corner the finish line in all its glory came into view. It welcomed me with the invitation "you can stop running now!" I ran through the finish 28 hours, 18 minutes and 5 seconds after I left the start line.


My shirt from the Iron legs 50 miler says "Wanted: individuals who will run, walk, and crawl over steep mountain trails, all for the glory of crossing the finish line."
I remember seeing the race director Brian Gallant pass out bottles of wine and medals to the solo finishers last year. I was filled with regret! Brian smiled and congratulated each one who had conquered his crazy course. After exchanging hugs with my family, and Gary and Linda Sigsworth, dear friends who have allowed us to stay in their home for the past couple of years,
Brian came with a bottle of wine. He smiled, congratulated me, and said "I'm so glad you were able to complete this year Stephanie!" I felt like I would cry. Lisa gave me a hug and then I saw Christine! She had finished just a few minutes before me.

My final thoughts? This whole experience could not have happened without Virginie. I cannot say that enough. I would likely have quit except that she continued to remind me that she believed in me. She loved me, and she knew that I could do it. When I heard her encouragement, I could feel that tiny spec deep within my mind begin to grow. So long as I continued to nourish it, it continued to grow, grew into a successful race. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Virginie and my children for their loving support.

I've said it before in this blog, but when we love someone, anything is possible. We can overcome so much when we feel loved, supported, and trusted.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ordinary Miracles

Virginie and I travelled to Phoenix and got back just list last Wednesday. To say the trip was enjoyable would a gross understatement. Apart from getting lots of sun, there were a number of other things that made the trip super enjoyable. It made me start to think about all the miracles that happen around me, often enough that I take them for granted. I'm going to try and set the stage, so I can outline all of the little miracles I've witnessed over the past 7 days.

The purpose of the trip was to run the Zane Grey 50-mile endurance run. I admit, I registered for the race on a whim. My good friend from Phoenix challenged me, and besides, I kind of wanted to, I guess I just wanted someone to egg me on a little. He did not have to try too hard! I remember sitting in front of the computer, staring at my registration filled out, with the mouse over the "submit" button. I thought, "Have I not learned my lesson about these things?" I don't remember the exact day I pushed the submit button, but it would have been right around the time I finished the Iron Horse 100k. I was riding high!

I'm not going to get too much into the history of the race, apart from the name of Zane Grey being a person of historical, and literary significance, the race itself, running in it's 26th year, is one of the oldest 50 milers in the country.

I admit, I didn't know what to expect in terms of what kind of challenge it will be, so I was going down with no expectations is mind. I soon found out that what I was about to run, despite the fact that I had read it over and over again that what I was about to run was one of the hardest 50-milers in the country. I still did not believe it.

The Canadian Death Race is now a couple of years ago, and melting into memory. I joke with Virginie a lot that ultra running is like delivering a baby. It hurts, and you don't like it when you're doing it, but you also forget quick. Within a week, I'm always basked in the glow of a laptop screen hungrily searching for more punishment. Anyway, CDR was always touted as the "toughest race in the country". When I first heard of it, I believed it, but as I toyed with the idea of running it more and more, and especially when I finished, I began to see the virtual potpourri of "killer" trail runs that were popping up. I figured, every race has to make themselves "marketable", so I generally tend to ignore all comments about how tough a race is. I mean, running an ultra distance is hard enough without all the marketing...

My friend picked us up in Phoenix. A cool desert breeze to welcome us as we exited out Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport. He pretty much became our taxi for the next week. A miracle because he manages a group of developers, has a family, and his own ultra's to prepare for. I don't doubt that it took sacrifice to accommodate us.

We had no place to stay while in Phoenix. I wanted to keep things on the cheap, but ever since coming out as transgendered, I'm wary of asking things, because I want to respect other peoples lives and their freedom as well. People have every right to ignore me if they want. They have every right to keep me away from their families. Having to explain awkward things like gender transitions is a difficult thing. 

Prior to travelling, I had not been running. 3 weeks to be exact. I had 1 day of elliptical, and 3 weeks of biking. I admit, I figured most of the endurance is in my head. If I can keep focused and keep my goal in a positive light, training would not matter as much. Seriously! If you can believe it, you can do it. But it really helps to have some decent training under ones belt. 

By the end of the pre-race meeting, and by the time I had finished eating a boat load of spaghetti, I posted my jitters to Facebook. Within moments, I had all sorts of encouragement. I was ready!

What can I say about the race? There are 5 aid stations. 
  • Geronimo (Mile 8)
  • Washington Park (Mile 17)
  • Hells Gate (Mile 23.5)
  • Fish Hatchery (Mile 33)
  • See Canyon (Mile 44)
When I arrived at Washington Park, I had respect for the course. I had been making descent time, especially considering I had not run in 3 weeks. The hernia that I had been suffering from had flared up a little, but it was tucked aways in "that far away spot in my mind", and I was determined to keep it there. I'm not joking about this, and maybe only runners will agree with me on this one, but I don't think all pain is real. Some of it is just fake pain. I was speaking with the race director briefly. I told him, everyone had got me scared over nothing! The course was not that bad... He smiled and said to talk to him after I had finished the next 16 miles through hells gate. Often regarded as the toughest portion of the course.

I won't stall on this one. It was tough. Really tough. I recall getting to the Hell's Gate aid station and thinking "I'm not even half way through". It was a very brief thought. Stuff like that will kill a race very quick. There is no room for doubt and worry in a race. I had been listening to my race standards (like this one), and was reminded of the good advice I received. "Don't try to eat the elephant all at once". 

It's funny, if I were to measure my energy in a race, it would be highest on either side of an aid station, and lowest in the middle. It was no different in this case. As I left Hell's Gate, I felt unstoppable. 90 minutes later, I was really struggling. I remember walking by a Gentleman with a twisted ankle, his face twisted in concentration. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He responded that he had a walking stick, and all he could do was slowly make his way to the next aid station. I wished him best of luck and continued on.

At the Fish Hatchery I met my Pacer Marc Thomson. The video shows Virginie's video of me coming into the aid station. Marc and I grew up best friends together. I think it's so cool we have the same hobby. I admit, it was my idea to do ultra running, but Marc has become the teacher. He has some crazy races under his belt now including Mongollon Monster 100 (106 miles), and the Western States 100 Miler. Another miracle, Virginie had thoughtfully remembered my favorite "picker upper" on the trail. A vegi-delight sub from subway on flat bread. Mmmm divine!

Once I had my belly full, and with Marc, I found renewed energy. We made good time toward See Canyon, and because I was not feeling lonely anymore, and also Marc had a very good balance of pushing me just a little, we talked about everything, but mostly about our passion for running (which I admit wanes a little at points during an ultra marathon). 

I have so much to say, so I'm going to pick things up a little... Near the end bad weather moved in. It was in the forcast, and the hourly forcast said around 7:00 it would start. I figured, if all goes well, I will get done by then, and not have to run in the rain. Yet, not too long after departing See Canyon, the rumbling of thunder came closer. With flashes of lighting and thunder (2 seconds apart), we got rain in torrents. Fortunately, they did not last long. The second torrent turned into a small hail/sleet. It was cold! It eventually dried up, and just a few miles from the end it started again. Except this time it did not stop. The end of the Zane Grey 50 goes through 2 large rocks, at the end of a small hill. Marc assured me I could run it. I thought, "are you insane?!?". Yet, as I saw the finish line, and saw the hill, renewed strength came. I ran up the hill, and across the finish. 14 hours, 2 minutes after I started 50 miles back at the Pine Arizona trailhead.

I wish I could give credit to all the people who made this possible. So many people played roles, but I think my biggest thanks go out to Marc Thomson and Virginie. When I think of Zane Grey 50, I will think about you.

2 days later, Virginie and I hiked to the top of Lookout mountain, just south of where we were staying. We got up at 4:00 am, so that we could be at the top to witness the 5:45 sunrise. While waiting, and while holding Virginie's hand, I turned on "Ordinary Miracle" by Sarah McLachlan. Music became the language of our souls. I have tried to capture that moment, along with all the other moments from our trip in the video. 


video


I think the biggest miracle I see everyday is the love that we share with each other, and it's affect around us. It's a miracle that generates miracles.