Monday, May 14, 2018

Madeira Island Ultra Trail of #NeverStopSmiling

This. Is. Paradise.
"Why are you here?"
I was asked this by new friends I met while travelling in Lisbon, the Madeira police at 2am, and myself in the cold, dark, wet hours of my training.
All packed in my VSD pack!
The one time I wore a bikini

After a year of battling injuries and the MCAT study crazies, I signed up for an epic vacation, WS qualifier, and totally rad adventure: the Madeira Island Ultra Trail. The 116km was farther than I had ever run and was on the most beautiful island (thanks google images). Though, the distance and 8000m vert were no joke and I had to spend the winter months training hard. Battling the snow, rain, frigid temps, and darkness, I had the help of awesome lady tiger jungle cats. These hardcore crazies kicked my butt up and over Section line repeats and kept my ab muscles strong from literally laughing out loud.


Since this was a long ways to go for a race, I wanted to make it into an adventure. I planned a 4 day layover in Lisbon. I swam in the ocean, made new friends of various nationalities listening to Fado music & drinking sangria, rock climbed under Moorish castles in Sintra, and just generally wandered around everywhere. After the race, I spent 3 days in Marrakesh riding camels, getting swindled in souks, and eating all the tajin. It was an awesome vacation.
My rock climbing routes!
Sangria > Water for hydration
Scooter of death
Side story: In googling this tropical island paradise, I envisioned myself basically in a bikini and riding a Vespa scooter I rented to get around (I have never driven these before). Unfortunately, when I landed at 10pm, a storm was raging across the island with cold rains and strong winds. I got the scooter and had to drive it 90km across the island to my AirBNB by Porto Moniz. White knuckling the handlebars, I gritted my teeth through 35 soaking km and managed to get myself lost. Around midnight I said F it and asked for directions to the nearest hotel. No room at the inn. Double F it, I sat outside the hotel and decided to leave the scooter to call a taxi. When the taxi arrived in the tiny town, I asked to be let out and reached for my purse. Only I didn't have it. F. The driver, not speaking much English, became frustrated and took me to the police. After questioning me until 2 am, they deduced through my sobs and fragmented Spanglish that my purse was at that hotel. (Pro tip: keep PDF pictures of your passport on your phone and memorize your credit card number). Their colleagues in Funchal were able to miraculously find my purse and we met in the middle to grab it (read: I sat in the back of a police car). I finally paid the taxi driver at 3:45am and the police kindly offered to take me to my Air BNB as it was still pouring out (rather than calling the embassy and deporting me as I thought they were). However, the street signs were recently changed and they could not locate the residence. At 4:30am they told me that I might as well just sleep on the bench in the police station and in the morning, the saint of a woman hosting me came to pick me up. After the fact, it is freaking hilarious but I got extremely lucky. The Madeiran people are generous, patient, and willing to lend a helping hand.
Lost in Lisbon
Starting the smiles early

The week before the race, I spent eating pastries, hanging out on the farm with Maria, my host, and resting up (the continued rain and my fear of the scooter didn't allow much room to explore the island). Before I knew it, I was receiving race instructions at the press conference, making a mess to organize my race gear, and nervously picking at my bib number on a bus to the start. I made some good friends that helped ease the nerves: Matt Schaar repping SFRC from the Bay, Claire a badass ER doc/PhD that also runs 100+ mi races, Australians Kellie & Tegyn, and some Brazilians. Thanks to my ITRA ranking (really, I think it's just the fact that I'm "young"), I was able to start with the elites in a flurry of cameras; I made sure to bust a few moves to embarrass everyone around me.

This guy got such a good view of my butt for some hours
Then, at midnight, we were off. We climbed and climbed, then steeply descended. This pattern is basically what was on repeat all day. At around 18k, we ran through a small town that was wide awake cheering us on with high fives and Forza! I was offered a Super Bock beer by one spectator, and to their excited (likely drunken) cheers, I stopped to drink it. I had hoped it would give me Super powers.

Even at 65km, you can still make a silly face
Coming into the first aid station, like a rookie, I almost left my poles behind. I had to double back and grab my magic sticks and proceed downhill in the pouring rain. I settled into a good groove and broke the silence by singing out loud to my ipod (Destiny's Child, Drake, etc). I ran a couple km with a fellow American living in Switzerland for her PhD and we traded funny jokes in the darkness weaving through farms, levadas, root-y forests, and tunnels. Soon the sun rose, but the thick fog and rain kept the mood somber as we trudged on. Soaked through, I grimaced as the wind whipped the cold deep into my bones. I wanted to stop at the refuge aid station and just drink the hot tea all day. But I forced myself out that door and on the heels of a Portugese woman. We didn't have a common language, so we climbed and descended in silence. Positions were shuffled in our group and puddles splashed. I was starting to feel light headed and tired. I kept my feet moving, but focused on eating as many calories as I could stomach right then. That did the trick and eventually I got to the 60km Aid station, where I found Matt and my drop bag. My expectations of warm sunny weather, did not leave me with extra clothes to change into, so I simply stuffed my pack with Clif blocks and stopped at the food table to eat as much as I could. We had the longest and hardest climb ahead of us, with almost all of the climbing already behind us.
I bring the discoteca to the euro party
Matt and I started the suffering climb up to Pico Ruivio together. The fog was burning off and I leaned into my poles on the endless staircase up. I was surrounded by terrain my wildest imagination couldn't create and ran paths carved into the mountainside. I took my time with the metal ladders and gripped the ropes tightly on narrow ledges. Going through several tunnels, they were just long enough that I didn't feel the need to dig for my headlamp, but dark enough that the dim light at the end created hallucinatory moving, dripping walls. I would exit into the light stumbling with vertigo to the left, overcorrecting, and twice banged my right hand against the steel poles barricading the cliff. I thought I had broken my hand for a solid hour, rendering it useless (fortunately just bruised and cut up).

Coming down from these peaks, from 75km to 100km, I felt devoid of everything inside. I had the will and motivation to finish, and no real physical detriment to my legs. But it was as if everything else inside had been sucked out. I simply could not run. It was all I could do to keep moving forward, at my glacial snail pace. My ipod and watch died, so time continued to deceive me and it felt as if the world slowed it's spinning. I didn't feel sorry for myself because I was giving it everything I had, and at that moment, it just happened to be power walking. I plastered a smile on my face and reminded myself how incredibly lucky I am as I put one foot in front of the other.

I arrived at the 107km aid station as the sun was setting. I knew my goal of finishing before the second darkness wouldn't be met. But I knew I was going to finish, and that was enough. I'm grateful I was able to run this section at sunset. Purple painted the sky as a full moon rose. I meandered around a singletrack carved out of a cliff. The ocean waves crashed hundreds of feet below with the lights of fishing boats out in the distance. Volunteers had strung lights along the trail and I felt full of happiness. I ran. My legs carried me around to the levada descending into the finish at Machico. I pushed hard and ran as fast as I could. I beamed down the finish line stretch, high fiving the many people cheering. I was greeted with hugs and kisses by two Frenchies that had shared kms earlier. Despite the pain settling into my legs, I could not stop smiling. I had done it. Best of all, there was no doubt in all 22:23 hours that I would not.

A little help can go a long-a** way

Gear Used:
-Salomon sparkle pack
-Garmin Fenix 2 watch
-TNF Ultra Vertical shoes
-TNF Spanx & BTN Tee (bib stapled on as euros don't believe in pins)
-Tumbler cup & 1.5L bladder
-So many Clif bars
-Safety blanket with a lucky 1euro penny
-TNF Hyperair goretex jacket
-gloves & rainbow arm sleeves
-pole magic sticks
-Petzl Tikka & Ledlenser MH10 headlamp
-Drymax mid calf pink (duh) socks
-Victory Sportsdesign buff

Big thank you to all those family & friends cheering me on, MIUT for an incredible race and experience, sponsors that keep me from running naked (almost), and the lovely people I met along the way. I highly recommend this race (read sufferfest) and beautiful island to anyone. Strava of what I got before my watch died HERE.

Now that it's over, I opened my medical school applications. Recovery with ice cream and writing never felt so good. Next up: Broken Arrow 55k in June!
"Oh hey"- awkward American tourist 

Never Stop Eating Pastries 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Rim to Rim to Rim. On A Whim.

Photo creds: fellow tourist
     After trudging through snow in pouring, freezing rain, I had called it quits on a long run attempt, which I intended to make good on the next day. It had been the X long run in a string of soaking, snowy, awful weekends with no end in sight. I wanted, nay NEEDED, sunshine. So, as soon as I got to my car, I booked a trip to Phoenix for the next weekend; I had decided I'd run the Grand Canyon. Spontaneity or Stupidity?
I guess it's okay.
     Ordinarily, people spend months planning and training for this bucket list goal. I, on the other hand, googled maps and winter conditions that week on my lunch breaks. Quickly I discovered that winter running would actually be difficult and that a major storm was passing through during the week.

Hitchhiked for a ride. No dice. 
     The night before (classic) I packed everything I thought I might need to run and camp for the weekend. With 20/20 vision in hindsight, I overpacked things I didn't need and missed the things I did. Rookie seemed to be a trending theme.

     Saturday I flew & drove uneventfully to the South Rim. I arrived right at sunset and joined the tourist flocks in gawking. I greatly underestimated the raw, insane beauty and true grandiosity; I was shocked. That night I slept uncomfortably and freezing in the car I had rented. Tourists pouring into the parking lot at 6:40 woke me up. Rattlesnakes. My alarm did not go off. I rushed in getting dressed and slurped down some PB & bananas while driving to what I thought was the South Kaibab trailhead. Wrong.

    I set out and had to run a whole extra 0.86 mi to the actual trailhead, along the rim, on an already long day. I was a little glad I had woken late as I got to revel in the glorious sunrise as I tumbled down the steep trail. I wore microspikes as the trail was covered in a sheet of ice. Olympian skeleton bobsledders would be afraid to practice on this. I also, in my cold rush to get ready, decided to wear my puffy and full tights (le-gasp, me in pants?!) as the pre dawn temps were 17F. However, the snow soon gave way and the rising sun started to bake. I ditched my puffy and long sleeve at the bottom by the bridge as they wouldn't fit in an already full pack with my winter mitts. I did not know the conditions on the north rim, so I supposed bringing the spikes and mitts would probably be a smart idea.
lol. K, South Kaibab.
     The trail meandered along the river and I passed by a sleepy Phantom Ranch. I was able to get into a good groove and the miles clicked by. At one point I paused with an outstretched arm towards a doe standing on the path. I knew the day would be a good one and considered petting my spirit animal to be a good omen.
    The sun was starting to cook and this Seattlite began to sweat profusely in the 50-60 degree temps. I regretted wearing the tights, but thanked god I didn't have a fleece lined option earlier, as I would've surely chosen that. At least I got the heat training I sought? If I had worn bun underwear, I would've stripped the tights off without hesitation. Alas, running half naked though was probably not kosher.

Accurate description of how I felt about
turning around at the North Rim
     The trail to the North Rim went from gradual to steep, real quick. I whipped out my poles as I ran out of water around mile 17.5. I was power hiking and felt relatively good, so I figured I'd be at the North Rim in no time, since blogs I had read said it was 21 ish miles. I was wrong on so many levels. The trail became steeper and consisted of either snow or red clay mud that stuck to my shoes like bricks. I was losing steam after so many fakeouts and trudged until I finally got to the rim (at mile 23 by the way). All along, at the little camp huts, the water was shut off or frozen solid. I would have known this- and that it was off at the Rim, too- if I had remembered to pack the maps and notes I printed...

     I had passed some hikers a half mi from the top and ran back down to them. I asked where they were headed. I wanted to forget this whole mess and steal a ride back to the South Rim (there wasn't a soul in sight up top). Unfortunately, but fortunately, they weren't and kindly filled me up with water. I graciously thanked their Texan hospitality and was on my way running (read: dancing) down again. It's amazing what a lifeforce water is. I returned back half because I really had no choice, and half because my spirit was rejuvenated and this adventure excited me.
Stairs on Stairs on Stairs
     Loping along the canyon floor again, I didn't see nearly as many hikers as before & I was grateful for the solitude- not only could I sing unabashedly to Destiny's Child- but I truly felt the power of Nature. Evolution was etched into the vibrant lines stratifying the canyon walls and I was transported into a limbo of time, sharing both the present but also experiencing the past. I was proud to be a resident of a world that could be so diverse and beautiful. With all the thousands that visit this national monument, I was genuinely shocked, and pleasantly surprised, at how Leave No Trace was stringently adhered: I only picked up two wrappers in all 46 miles.

     The way back seemed to go by more quickly. Before I knew it, I was back at the Black Bridge at the base of the South Kaibab trail. I knew it would be a few more hours, but I hoped to top out before sunset and avoid using a headlamp.

     This side seemed more grueling than the North side. Perhaps it was the 38 miles on my legs? That my watch died and I had no gauge for time? That my subconscious wished the adventure would never end? The trail carved out steep switchbacks spiralling up for miles. I leaned into my poles, wishing one of those mule trains I saw earlier would carry me up.
Oh lookey! the only flat section
     After what seemed like eons, I ran (exaggerated term) the final switchback to top out at 6:21pm, right as the sun cast purple hues across the sky. I looked back at the 46 miles, thousands of feet and raw adventure I had experienced in the last 11 hours 1min. I had not only run, but cherished the canyon. I can't believe I actually freaking did it. I sat in delirium leaning against the trail sign without a single thought in my head- only one emotion prevailed- true satisfaction. I made a lot of mistakes but succeeded in my mission. But soon my sweat dried and I hustled to the car to eat my heart out. The day was done and so was I.
Sunset finish
Here's what I carried with me vs What I wished I carried:
Omg I actually did it.
- TNF Ultra vertical shoes
- Salt tabs & 25 gels (only ate 17)
-Kahtoola microspikes
-SPOT Gps (my worried family & friends loved this)
-TNF Motus tights (wish I wore shorts)
-Squirrel's Nut Butter lube (TG)
-puffy & long sleeve (wish I just had arm warmers and sucked it up)
-Petzl headlamp (booyeah didn't need it)
-my redesigned Salomon vest & 1.5L bladder (that I should've filled more often when I could)
-VSD buff & wool headband (wish I just brought the buff)
-TNF MT mitts (thick but light gloves would suffice for just the beg & end)
-I totally spaced on bringing printed maps marking the available water spots
-Garmin watch (died and missed last 6 mi, but here's my Strava)
-ipod full of jams & my phone to take 1,001 pictures
-A good attitude and grateful heart to experience & love on this land
Neature is neat.
Aptly named.

#NeverStopCheesin #TheyCallMeQueso

Another boring picture

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The MCAT Ultra

Thursday, August 24, I completed possibly one of the hardest exams I have ever taken. After 7:03 tedious hours, I had ended my life long streak of #NeverStopStudying. For now...

The journey to the finish is never what we anticipate when we take the first step. It is fraught with obstacles and surprise hardships. However, we always seem to come out triumphant in our efforts and with more knowledge of our selves. And that is the ultra way.

Like most long races, we build a base of endurance and tolerance. From April until June, I reviewed every concept in science and math I had ever learned: psychology, sociology, chemistry both general and organic, biology, biochemistry, physics, and more. During this, I was working full time. I am actually grateful, in some ways, that I had torn my calf in March. For it allowed me to wake up at 4 am to study until 7, before working and to have time in the evenings to also take comprehension tests. I had been training to compete at Lavaredo but I simply underestimated the amount I would need to give to my books. All in all, during these months I would work & study about 65-75 hours per week, with no time for the trails. I also doubt the 50lb weight limit would apply to my books alone if I had travelled to Italy.

Quality WS cheerleading
Visiting Rory!
I eventually took June-August mostly off and only worked 1-2 days per week. Initially, when planning the year, I had aspirations of camping nearly every day, running long mountain miles, and studying my textbooks by the campfire under the trees. However, like most things in life, the reality is entirely different than what we expect. Given my injury recovery, I was barely running at all. And most of my studying lasted 8+ hours on days off of work, usually requiring cell service. For some time, I was getting out for "long runs" the Sunday evening after I would finish a 7 hour practice exam. When it got down to the wire, even this dissipated into loops around Seattle. I had deleted all of my social media apps except for Instagram, and I longingly followed my friends' adventures, experiences and excursions. It was frustrating at times, but I don't regret the sacrifice. 

Geting ready!
In the course of 50 miles or longer, it is almost inevitable that we have lows and doubt ourselves. This was perhaps my biggest struggle. I had days where I couldn't remember simple concepts for the life of me. Or that I just didn't understand what was meant by the information presented. The frustration by my lack of progress (and sleep), despite trying my absolute best, wrecked my confidence. This frustration created so much doubt and anxiety that I would struggle through my weekly practice exams. Unable to focus, I would score poorly and reinforce the doubt. It was almost cyclical and impossible to rid myself of. However, I armed myself against this and comforted my thoughts by knowing I was doing absolutely everything in my power to pursue this. I let the passion, desire, curiosity for knowledge guide me in my studies and fuel my determination. This was what I wanted more than anything and I was not going to be apathetic or complacent in my pursuits.

I found many new ways to study and really incorporate the MCAT into my life. I listened to Kahn Academy videos (Sal I love you) on my runs and would pause them so that I could quiz myself. Yes, I realize I must have seemed like a crazy person muttering about theta this times that is the torque of whatnot and gesturing wildly with my arms. I would find review sites/blogs and take notes on their notes and then make flashcards with the headers. With these flashcards, I would lie in my bed at night and try to discuss everything I knew about the topics. I took pictures of the comprehension tests or practice passages and completed these during any break I would have at work. I tried to relate patients and people in my life to psychology disorders/ stages of development. I lived and breathed this test.

The week of the test finally came, albeit much faster than I anticipated. Eerily, I felt calm. I knew I had done a great deal of work and exhausted my capabilities to prepare myself to reach my potential. I was emboldened knowing I had no regrets or "shoulda coulda woulda's." In a way, my test was like the penultimate ultra race. I tapered off of studying and just relaxed; reviewing the occasional notecards and sleeping lot. I prepared my "race kit" of my lucky T shirt, lucky Superman underwear, "Carpe The Fuck Out of This Diem" socks, slippers and my bag of goodies the day before. On test day, I woke up after a fitful night and ran in the dark to Meredith Grey's house for a quick adrenaline shake out. I drank my coffee, ate my breakfast and drove to the start (test center). I had packed all kinds of snacks and peppermint tea hydration for the allotted breaks. Each time I entered the test room, I had to pass security more stringent than TSA: I was fingerprinted three times, my ID checked, my glasses were inspected, a metal detector wand, and my "suspicious" friendship bracelet had to be cut off.

The first section is always my worst: chemistry and physics, and it was really, really hard. I tried not to let this shake my resolve and to remain calm. I exited the room looking like a stunned deer in headlights: wide eyed and difficult to collect my thoughts. I spent the ten minute break breathing deeply and meditating. I thought of my favorite Eminem/Sia songs and used them as a mantra. I went into the reading & comprehension section ready for more. That one was uneventful and I spent the longer 30 minute break after gearing up for my favorite and best sections: Biology & biochem and psychology & sociology. These flew by and buoyed my confidence. I felt intelligent and prepared with careful consideration for each answer selected. When I finally finished the test, 7:03 hours later, I got into the front seat of my car and cried. The sobbing was mixed with intermittent hysterical laughing; I do not know how to surmise the waves of emotions that flooded over me. It was indescribable. I quickly dried my tears and changed to my running clothes. I sprinted through 6 miles around the area on a local bike path. I kept trying to push faster, faster to help dissipate the building adrenaline. I screamed out at the halfway mark. I skipped around mile 5. I really just couldn't contain myself anymore.

post practice exam respite
I spent the rest of the weekend with my good friends celebrating a birthday in Disneyland. Making the trip down to LA was awesome and we had such a good time. Other than my excessive "nerd vomit" (ie calculating my gravitational potential energy and the max velocity on Splash Mountain or the centripetal force of the Teacups ride), I almost forgot that I will not have my scores for another month.  The waiting game will be difficult, but I am so happy that it is (sort of) over. I can finally relax and be a real person.

I am truly so lucky to have had the opportunity to study and prepare for this exam. My work has been super accommodating to let me take time off and still hold my job. My family, friends, previous classmates, the doctors I work for, and many people have all wished me the very best and tried to help in any way they could. I am so grateful to really have a squad stand behind me while I'm chasing my dreams. It's never easy and the journey is far from over, but I am very fortunate to have the kind of encouragement I do in all my pursuits. Now, happy trails!
I can finally Stop #NeverStopStudying... for now...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Black out or Get out

Whoop there it is. I am officially done with every undergrad class I ever need to take. Forever. However, as I like to say, #NeverStopLearning. I will soon be embarking on the wonderous journey that is studying for the MCAT. And soon after that, I will be able to apply to medical school. It's a long and arduaous path, one that has been forged many times by others- often unsuccessful, but will be my most challenging yet and I hope to come out on top.

Can't. Stop. Staring.
PC Steph Howe

Whilst bush wacking through textbooks and navigating through countless hours of practice tests, I will also be adventuring my face off. Gotta let out that creative energy and steam somehow...

Last summer I got the smallest taste of what the PNW has to offer; it was really just the tip of the iceberg. I have been dreaming all winter of skinny dipping in moraine lakes, scrambling high ridgelines, hugging innumerable trees, and picking every wildflower that blooms my way. While running to work through the urban jungle at zero dark thirty, primarily in the pouring rain, I have envisioned myself tanning amongst the mountain goats. I am particularly looking forward to falling asleep under the stars to lullabies of marmot whistles or elk bugles. Morning coffee tastes best with the cool, crisp sunshine illuminating the mountain views from my sleeping bag.

Doggie kisses sharing chocolate PB s'mores
PC Steph Howe
I have a great schedule of events lined up this summer:
-Travelling to the Italian Dolomites to camp all of June (including my 23rd birthday!) culminating in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race on the 24th.

-After Lavaredo, I will be backpacking through the Julian Alps of Slovenia to return to the US on the 4th of July

-various big alpine days in the Olympic Natl Park & North Cascades Natl Park, some of my favorite remote areas

-the "PNW Triple Crown"- stay tuned ;)

-MCAT exam August 24. (yeeps!)

-"Ultra Trail du Mont Rainier" in September, a circumnavigation along the Wonderland Trail for my first "hundo" (93 miles, but yeah I'm rounding up)

Always studying. Anywhere. Anytime.
PC Steph Howe

Through all of this, I will largely be out of cell service and will delete my social media apps (except Instagram, because I love photography). If you wanna reach me, you can call me, beep me, email, or just follow my Insta/blog adventures. (@run_kels_run).

In my well lit, no cell service hole. #inwoods
PC Aimee Tetreault
I have decided to take a black out, because I get very distracted by all the glamour and discussions posted. I do enjoy seeing what others are up to, but I need to put my head down and focus on the task at hand. It'll be a grind, but so worth it. While at my job, I am interacting with doctors everyday, and this further reinforces my MD dreams, which is more important than anything I could otherwise be doing. I strive to be as transparent and authentic as possible, so I apologize in advance if this is a compromise. However, just know I will be working hard somewhere in the middle of nowhere, either running uppity up big mountains or working my flexor digitorum superficialis/flexor pollicis longus turning the pages of my MCAT books.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Question Madness

The North Face is celebrating the 50th anniversary. Though, I have not even been around for half of that time, it is inspiring to see the expeditions and progress that has been made as the brand reminisces on it's journey. It is also fascinating to see the new adventures and limits pushed by the athletes as they jump into the unknown future. Here are my thoughts with a storytelling exercise they have been promoting:

Why live a life that’s perceived as mad? As Jack Kerouac so aptly put it, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”.

Most of the world spends their time maintaining boundaries of safe, conventional, inconspicuous lifestyles that conform to set norms. With stringent social policies governing our actions, starting early in our formative years, individuality and risks are squashed; the teenager that enjoys solitude outdoors rather than on the football team is isolated. Our parents, through love and care, seek to protect us constantly in the face of danger, as we are often scooped up into their arms right before jumping off the monkey bars. Even evolution’s Natural Selection strikes fear into our chest as we peer over the cliff’s edge and hesitantly plant our feet farther back. However, with every aspect of our lives working against this infectious madness, we still break free of the boundaries towards the farther, higher, harder, and unknown.

 I live my life through passion. My affinity for the outdoors and pursuing new sights to behold is fueled by a captive wonder of nature’s intricacies. My academic zeal sets the tone for my curiosity of what the human body can accomplish physiologically. My manic desire for dreaming big is constantly churning creative adventures in the recesses of my mind, one that can push my mental attitude deeper than most would be willing. I consciously choose pain, discomfort, “to suck the marrow out of life” (Thoreau) than the sheltered vanilla. I may appear to be conforming to the mundane: commuting, working, studying, and exercising; but my goals far exceed reality: I want the prestigious accolades of medical school and to run longer, farther & faster. I have always been set apart from my peers at university or in the workplace to pursue my athletics & academics. I am repeatedly foregoing social interactions and expectations, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as it can be a raging party of one. Sometimes I would wake as early as 3:45 am in order to train in the mountains before heading to work, after which I would spent the evening hours poring over textbooks, only to repeat again and again. This kind of lifestyle did not allow for attendance of prom afterparties or frat beer pong Olympics. Often, I am completing these tasks solo, save for the company of a few quality friends.

 I am mostly asked “why”, as the people around me do not understand what drives a person to live like this. I usually cannot answer why exactly, but feel it as I stand next to an impossibly tall tree while sweat drips down my cheek onto the smooth dirt of my favorite trail crunching below. As I gaze out at a vast expanse of beauty unfolding before me, I rejoice in the unknown and untouched land, save for the vibrant wildlife inhabitants. That fleeting moment where the golden sunlight illuminates my tango with the dancing shadows echoes throughout my dreams. The wind blowing through my hair, the flower crushed in my pocket, and the tight strain in my filthy legs rejuvenates me. Being brought to my knees after emptying the whole of my being running farther and faster than I ever have imagined brings a whimsical smile to my face. Tender moments that we, as explorers, are privy to stumble across are why & what we spend a lifetime chasing. Sometimes, though, I am tired, and would rather stay home than walk out the front door. But the will to be much greater than I am keeps me both intrinsically motivated and intrinsically satisfied. I always tell myself: This is my passion. This is what I strive for. This is madness.