I was fortunate enough to get invited by Bill to Seoul, South Korea where he was invited to speak at an anti aging conference. I had never been to that part of the world and since I love to travel I jumped at the opportunity. We had planned to run across the 32 miles of Jeju Island while we were there. Jeju is south of Mainland Korea and I was anxious to run across the forests and streams in that subtropical location. Unfortunately when we arrived the dormant volcano in the middle of the island was covered in snow and the weather conditions were not accommodating.
Nevertheless we were able to get a great run in at the national Forest of Jeju at the base of Mt Halla, the 6,000 ft volcano.
South Korean people were lovely. Everyone we met was gracious and welcoming.
My book, ‘Running Past Midnight’ was delivered to Seoul while I was there and we celebrated the arrival of my first novel. The organization that invited Bill to speak asked me to come back with him in May to do my own presentation on running and fitness. They want to have my book translated into Korean.
The highlights of the trip were meeting an incredible artist named Lee Young Soo, an 80 year old revered national treasure of Korea. He created all the artwork years ago for the Seoul Olympics and is a highly acclaimed artist. He graciously invited a group of us to his home and showered us with gifts. What amazing energy for 80! He presented Bill with a painting he made of a white tiger and he presented both of us with his hand painted scrolls and fans. Incredibly beautiful art!
There were so many wonderful people that we met. And so many incredible wonders in that country. Like the Mysterious Road….a road where you put your car in neutral and it magically drives all by itself ( it’s a mystery but Bill says he thinks it’s a highly magnetic area)
After 2 weeks in Korea it’s hard to adjust to arriving back home in the states. Everything is changed!
I love exotic countries where traditions are so opposite from ours. You can learn so much about yourself as a person and you get such a different perspective of your own life when you travel abroad. Everyday stress is reduced because you realize that your problems aren’t that big. Life really does become more simple as you concentrate on the amazing planet we live in and the beautiful trails and forests of the world. Stress melts away and clarity is formed.
Returning to your own world seems different. You realize you have been changed by the situations that you experienced. I think that’s a good thing. Every now and then you need to be inspired and awakened by new adventures.
Hmmmm, when is my next adventure!? Ahhh yes, Beijing, China in 4 weeks!
When the bottom drops out how do you gracefully deal with it?
I’d been running well building miles and feeling strong and happy. Life was good. I had a goal to complete a 100 mile race to qualify for Western States. My running resume was solid, Badwater Ultramarathon, Marathon Des Sables, lots of ultra distance, and I was the first US woman to attempt and complete 138 miles In the Himalayas. Not bad for an average runner.
Then the dreaded freak-day happened, Thursday, Dec 5. I was walking down stairs outside a friends house towards my car. Gazing out at the beautiful lights of distant Reno my foot missed the last step, I felt my body lose balance as my ankle made a horrible pop and the wrenching pain shot up my leg.
I whirled in mid air trying to break my fall, my arm bent behind me and twisted to an unnatural position. My hip smacked the pavement followed by my elbow and hand.
At first I was so shocked I just sat there. Then unbelievable pain wheeled up my body and I sobbed with disbelief and agony. Bill, my dear Buddy, was a few steps beside me, helplessly watching me tumble, unable to reach me in time.
I couldn’t stop crying. The pain was excruciating.
“You need to get to a hospital Molly” he said quietly as I lay trying to compose myself.
“No!” I sobbed. “I am not going to a stupid hospital!”
I was acting like a frightened two year old reduced to kindergarten conversation. Bill helped me into the car as I continued to sob. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I had been running so well. I had a great goal of overcoming a bad running season, bombing at the last several races. I had lost my focus and the shifting sands of a rough year had taken a toll. I was happy to be leaving 2013 behind me. It was not a good year. It seemed like every aspect of my life had been shaken. My dad had also just recently passed away and it had shattered me to the core. I was floating in insecure territory and now the thin thread of stability was pulled out from under me.
I had been hanging on to my new goal of running Umstead 100 in April, 2014. Working out and running has always been a stable, consistent part of my life. If all else fails I have running to fall back on. I received comfort and serenity with my peaceful meditational running in the morning. It quieted my mind and lifted my spirits. What would I do if that was taken from me?
Bill got me into the house and half carried me to the sofa. I sobbed inconsolably. Bill quietly looked over my leg. I hurt so bad I could not stop the tears. But still, I was not ready to surrender to a doctor.
“Molly, your leg could be broken. I really think we should head to ER.” Bill looked at me compassionately.
“No! Doctors are stupid and they don’t know anything and I’m going to spend a bunch of money for them to tell me to go home and ice it…..forget it!” I was yelling and throwing a ridiculous tirade but I couldn’t help myself.
Then there was the pain. I couldn’t remember hurting so bad. It was becoming excruciating. I looked down at my ankle and it was misshapen, swollen and purple. The reality started to set in. I needed help.
“Okay, let’s frickin go see the stupid doctors at the stupid hospital and get the stupid Ice pack!”
Bill was smart enough to stay quiet. I so badly wanted to just keeping yelling at anyone around me and he was the only one. I wanted to punch something. I wanted to scream that it wasn’t fair.
Bill drove me to the hospital as I sobbed. I started to feel bad that I was acting so irrational.
The nurse on duty was so kind and understanding. She grabbed an ice pack and I was suddenly grateful. The doc told me I had torn a major tendon in my ankle and needed crutches. No running for a couple months. It was time to face reality and the needs of my body. It was time to chill out. I didn’t really have a choice. The first 2 weeks I had to deal with the shooting pains up my leg. And I had to get a grip. Both my daughters were graduating from college a week a part. Bailey was graduating from University of Reno. Taylor was graduating from University of Las Vegas, Nevada. I needed to quit moping and appreciate the blessings in my life. I was so proud of my girls. I needed to grab the crutches and keep moving.
So the holidays sped by. I attended and celebrated at the graduation parties. I appreciated the quiet time I had and slowly reflected on new goals and a new direction. I put together a new work plan for my business and I focused my attention on 2014.
I decided (after talking to my awesome foot doc) that I would keep the goal of Umstead 100 mile race in April on my schedule.
Bill invited me to go to South Korea to a science conference and we are running across JeJu Island off the coast while we are there. After the Umstead 100 mile I am leaving for China to run the Great Wall Marathon with a group of runners including my daughter Taylor and my son Devin ( Bailey is working and can’t make this one!)
Will I be able to complete all those goals in the next couple of months? I don’t know. But I’m giving it my best shot. When the challenges hit hard in December it took me awhile to see past them. The new goals helped. It took the focus off the negative and propelled me into a reflective time in the present and a promising future of adventure. We all can get inspired by one another with our goals and dreams. What goals are ahead for you?
It took 24 hours to get from Geneva to Leh. I woke up in Padma Guest House in Leh with a screaming headache, feeling like I got hit by a truck.
My bag was lost somewhere between Zurich and Leh. I didn’t expect to ever see it again even though I paid a whooping $300 to get it from the states to Leh.
I was arriving in Leh to run the Eleventy One race, 111k race, over Warila pass, 18,000 ft. The other runners I was meeting there were running the 222K race over two passes of 18,000 ft. I had completed that race in 2011. I wanted to do the 111k race because I had never crossed over Wari La and I was excited about that section of the course. I had already gone over Khardunga La, the mountain on the first half of the 222k race, twice in the past. I felt that Kharduga La had given me safe passage twice before. I didn’t want to push my luck with her!
The mayhem trying to get to Leh began with a canceled flight in Geneva. I got on a flight to New Delhi but it landed me there at midnight which is not a good time to arrive in Delhi. I then had to leave the airport and take a bus over to another terminal 15 minutes away. I left the airport carting my backpack and suitcase ( still missing one bag!) and walked into a mass of humanity outside the airport at 1am. You would have thought it would be quiet at that hour but, on the contrary, I don’t think Delhi is ever quiet. Men started grabbing my bags to drag me to their cab telling me the shuttle bus was not working at night. I’ve been to Delhi 4 times and know to never trust a cab driver! I found an information stand. A young man with a beard, western clothes and suitcase was asking for information in front of me. He turned and ask me if I was looking for the shuttle for the terminal. I told him I was and he said I could stay with him for the ride over. I was immediately grateful to have someone who was going the same place as me. It made me feel safer traveling with another person at that particular time of night.
The shuttle bus was working and it was free. The taxi drivers all wanted our business and when they realized we were on to them, they suddenly disappeared.
The shuttle bus was old and dark and creepy. The young man with the beard was delightful. He introduced himself as Yaqeen. He was Moslem and going back to his homeland of Kashmir after studying in Malasia. His full name, Yaqeen Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander. He spent time telling me the meaning of his name, Yaqeen means Conviction, and Haq means Truth. There was more but those are the two I remember! His English was wonderful and I enjoyed getting a bit of history about Kashmir and the conditions there. We ended up spending many hours in the dark airport sharing our different backgrounds.
At about 3am I hear, “Hello Molly!” It was Alex Kaine, one of the runners for the race who I had met in Arizona. Alex was waiting for the early flight to Leh. Yaqeen was waiting to fly to Kashmir and I had a later flight to Leh that morning.
We all chatted for awhile then we were joined by Rajat and the rest of the group heading to Leh for La Ultra The High race.
Everyone grabbed flights early, except me. I had another four hours waiting for a later flight to Leh. I was so tired at that point that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Earlier Alex had offered to watch over me if I needed to sleep for awhile in the airport. At that time I was not sleepy and turned down the offer. But now, hours later, I was dead tired. I had to risk someone stealing my stuff with my eyes closed. The best I could do was lie on top of my backpack and crash in the corner of the airport, which I did.
I arrived in Leh hours later, missing the beautiful view of the Himalaysa on the flight in as I was still exhausted. I was delirious with lack of sleep with over 24 hours of travel. Stepping off the plane I was happy to see the sign ‘Molly Sheridan’ held up by an Indian man named Bickey who whisked me off to my room at Padma. I dropped all my stuff on the floor, fell into bed and slept for a day.
I woke up with the headache remembering that I was in Leh at 11,000 ft. Headaches aren’t unusual as your body adjusts to the altitude.
I had 10 days before me to prepare for another intense race in the Himalayas.
I wondered if my second bag would ever arrive. I figured it was close to impossible because Zurich was worlds away. How could my little bag find its way to this lost corner of the world…somewhere between China and Pakistan, in the middle of a hundred mountains over 15,000 ft? I let it all go. There is a different pace here and a lot of patience is required. This is not fast paced USA.
I settled into the vibe of this special country. I relaxed into the serene peaceful mountains. I opened up my shutters and looked up to the monestary, Shanti Stupa. I was happy to be back in this world of adventure and mystery.
In early April of this year I was planning my trip and gearing up for an incredible race in July called Eleventy One which is part of La Ultra The High race in the Himalayas. My dear friend and race director Rajat Chauhan came up with another intriguing race in the mountains above Leh, India. This would be my fourth trip to those awesome snowy peaks attempting a run at elevations from 11,000 ft to 18,000 ft.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend and ultra running pal, Georganna Quarles invited me to come to Chamonix, France in the French Alps and train with her for her upcoming race on Mont Blanc, the infamous Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (or UTMB for short!) I surprisingly found a cheapo flight to Geneva was able to join Georg and combine both trips for my summer adventure.
Arriving in Geneva, Switzerland on July 5, I arranged for a company called Mountain Drop Offs (Georganna’s great suggestion!) to pick me up to take me the hour drive up into the French Alps, to incredible Chamonix, France. Words can’t describe the incredible views of the surrounding mountains. They were so different from the mountains of the Himalayas. They were more green and lush. Of course they weren’t as high as the tallest mountains in the world but they were nonetheless majestic and daunting.
I arrived a day before Georg and grabbed a room at Hotel Alpina. I spent a day getting over jet lag and wandered aimlessly through the town that looked like it should have Julie Andrews twirling in a circle and singing The Sound of Music! There were flowers in every window box and flower boxes lining the streets. Every structure looked like a cozy chalet with colorful window shutters in red or green. The streets were so clean they looked as if they had just been washed. Poking up behind the town were the snow capped peaks raised like giant skyscrapers. Magnificent peaks of rock and snow with huge glaciers in between their spires. Georganna met me at the Hotel Alpina and helped grab my bags to move into her chalet after she arrived. Her back windows opened up out into grand views of Mont Blanc.
Georg had meticulously planned out our training schedule. She was on a mission to get a ton of training in before her race 2 months away. I was along for the ride and was ready to go along with any agenda she had. After all, I felt fortunate to be invited in the first place. I had no expectations and no agenda of my own other than to experience this new and interesting place.
The next day we jumped up, put on our running gear and backpacks and prepared to run a 28 mile course. we took a bus across the border to Courmayer, Italy. The plan was to run the UTMB course from there to Switzerland. This was tough and intricate trails weaving through the Alps. The plan was after we arrived at our goal in Switzerland, at the 28 mile mark, we had reservations at a little hotel and would spend the night. We were planning on continuing the next morning for more 17 miles, rounding the mountain and ending back to Chamonix.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned.
The morning started off beautifully. We got off the bus in Italy, found the ancient church in Courmayer, and located the trail behind it that ran up into the Alps. The first 4 or 5 miles are straight up! Calves burning and legs aching, it took a long while for me to warm up. Georganna was a machine. I could tell how much she had been working at this level of difficulty. She made it look easy and I tried to keep up the best I could.
The views were incredible to say the least. The trails were pristine and single track amidst green grasses and flowers. It varied from thick forest to meadow and valleys, then jagged rocky peaks. Sometimes we would trudge through snow patches. I noticed that even as we made our way higher and higher we occasionally saw lots of hikers in every age group. I saw elderly grandmas, and little kids all out and on endless curling paths going in every direction.
Every few miles we would come to a Refuge. A Refuge is a small little cottages where you can buy bread and cheese, beer or wine, a cappincino and take refuge. Many hikers make it to the refuge and sleep a night in little dormitory rooms then get up the next day and continue their hike. There are no roads or vehicle access to the Refuge. All supplies are dropped in by helicopter.
When we arrived at these points, Georg and I simply grabbed some bread and cheese and took a few minutes to regroup and continue along our course. We had a long way to go and wanted to get through the 28 miles before dark. Occasionally we snapped pictures and chatted about some of our favorite races and people. It was an awesome day of moving quickly, power walking then running, depending upon the difficulty of the grade. As the hours progressed the weather started to deteriorate.
Huge angry clouds began to block out the happy sun and the wind swirled and blew and to picked up speed. We noticed a big change in temperatures dropping when we were attempting our second climb of the day. It seemed to me that it was our 20th huge climb of the day but Georg assured me that the other climbs were babies compared to what was ahead! We made a quick stop at a Refuge and pulled on our rain jackets and gloves out of our packs. At this point the wind was picking up and big blotches of rain started to spill. We headed out and up! A quarter mile up the trail the downpour started. Heavy rain, then hail, then lightening and thunder clapping right over our heads.
The thunder pounded so hard at one point I thought my eardrums were going to burst and my chest reverberated with the sound. The lightening lit up the sky and the thunder clapped right on us. I saw Georg sink to a squatting position in reaction to one of the booms of thunder. She turned back to me with rain pouting off her head and shoulders running down her jacket.
“I think we should turn back” she yelled above the booming.
“There is no shelter for miles”
I seconded the motion to turn back. I thought one of us was going to get hit by lightening. A couple of hikers behind us continued past as we turned to go back down. They didn’t look very confident in the flashing pound of the thunder and lightening. The woman stared at me and I knew from her facial expression in the flashing light that she wasn’t thrilled about her partner trudging on ahead.
I was suddenly freaked out holding my trekking poles and wondering if they attract lightening! The mud and rain started to race down and wash out our trail. Big clumps of mud and water made running difficult and we scrambled, ran, slid down down back to the refuge. The hail hit my legs so hard it hurt. Visibility was limited as the dark cloud enveloped us. Small mud slides were sliding over my shoes as I tried to find footing on the washed out trail. Within minute I felt like I was inside a full blown shower raining down on all my clothes and pack. I wanted nothing more than to get to a structure that would protect me from the lightening bolts.
We reached the refuge and scrambled into the building. Ahhh warm safety! A trekker from Irleand arrived just ahead of us and was shaking off his backpack.
“You made a wise decision,”he said when he saw us. ” I saw you two head up the mountain and knew that the storm was going to break and I wondered what you would do. it’s not smart to be out in that”
We agreed and stood for a few moments letting the tons of water on us pool at our feet. My Patagonia jacket saved me. The top half of my body was totally dry. My running skirt unfortunately did little to protect me from the elements. My running shoes were trashed with mud and soaked through. I was also chilled to the bone from the the hail dumping on us.
Moments later I was sipping a hot cappincino with a foamy cinnamon top shaped like a happy face. I thought I had a momentary nightmare and had dreamed a terrible trailmrun in inclimental weather until I heard another big boom outside our refuge and flashed back to George ducking from the lightening.
A short time later, the couple who had passed us to continue up the trail, were making their way through the door. Clothes dripping and hoods hanging low they made their way exhausted onto some chairs in the corner. They were speaking in Italian is excited voices and waving hands. I think they we happy to be safe!
So, here we were stuck on a mountain in a refuge miles from Chamonix. We weren’t going to make it to our reservations at our little hotel in Switzerland. The weather was not going to give up. Georganna asked the inn keeps what our options were. The inn keeper told us that a bus would be coming to the bottom of the mountain at 6pm. If we could get down to the bus it would take us back to Courmayer. If we missed the bus we would,have to stay at the refuge all night. It was 5pm. We sucked down our cappuccinos and loaded on our wet jackets, grabbed our trekking pulls and hauled ass. We ran down down down the mountain. We race through thick streams of glacier water as the rain fall made the streams rapid and overflowing. I gave up trying to keep my shoes dry.
We actually started laughing and screaming, thankful to be off the top of the mountain and horrified to, still be out in the elements of cold, wind and wild rain. It was an insane run with a couple of crazy women laughing and screaming their way to safety and security. We made it 17 miles instead of our 28 for the day. I loved every minute of it!
Down through the trees and forest we popped out onto a bus stop…in the middle of nowhere with a bus driver sitting and reading the paper. Georg and I both looked at each other and and stood by the door. He opened it and let us in. George asked if he spoke English. He didn’t.
We said ” Courmayer?” ( the city that we needed to get to)
He said ” oui! ”
We hopped in, the only passages on a bus in the middle of a forest. He started the bus and began driving away as we giggled like a couple of kids. Georg pointed out the window as she spotted other runners running towards the bus. We couldn’t communicate with the bus driver so we just hoped that another bus would be on its way to get any other stranded runners out of the storm.
The bus dropped us at Courmayer and quickly learned we had missed the last bus to Chamonix and our little chalet. All the trains were down for repairs…stranded! We found a travel center and they ordered us a taxi. We arrived back to our cozy home and lavished ourselves in hot showers and a big dinner. After a restful sleep we popped up the next morning, put on our running clothes and headed out for another adventure.
It was a stunningly gorgeous day. We picked a 13 mile trail up, into the alps and enjoyed miles of challenging hills and rocky terrain with panoromatic views as we ran along the cliffs. Everything was fine until the witching hour of 3pm….same time as the previous day. The clouds rolled in and dumped! This time however we were already over the top of the mountain and headed down back to the apt. We also had tree cover at times but the mud slides and rushing water did wreck havoc on our trail. We finished again as drowned rats with smiling faces happy to be badasses in The Alps.
What kind of crazy person likes to do that? Obviously there are at least two of us.
The last day in France I played typical tourist and walked among shops and browsed and strolled, but I have to say, I kept glancing up into those mountains and was a little sad that I wasn’t on some ridge a few thousand feet above looking back down on this little town. What a magical place.
Now I am sitting in an airport in Geneva, on my way to Zurich, to catch a flight to New Delhi, to catch a flight to Leh, India…my home away from home. My legs are pleasantly tired. My calf muscles remembering the Alps. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for my race on July 23.
Onto the next adventure, to run 111k up on the top of another mountain, worlds away in Leh.
Relentless Forward Progress
This month has been challenging and amazing. I had the opportunity to run two completely different and unique race events in the month of May. I also took the time to contemplate life lessons, its ups and downs and how it all relates back to distance running. In April I was invited to run the Badwater Salton Sea race as a 3-person team. The course runs from the Salton Sea California to Palomar Mountain. My race report is below. It was a rugged 81-mile distance with difficult weather conditions and a tough go at the end. It was a team event with a totally different set of challenges.
This weekend I went to the Nanny Goat 12 hr/24/hr/100 mile race. I had originally registered to run the 100 mile before the Salton Sea 81 mile popped onto to my schedule unexpectantly. So, when I arrived at Riverside to run Nanny Goat I decided to go with an open mind. The plan was to start for the 100 and see where my head and heart (and feet!) took me.
It had been a challenging month at home. I could name all the things that cropped up this month that some would consider setbacks and others consider lessons. They weren’t any different then similar challenges everyone faces. Life throws out all her glorious demanding tests and trials and we are meant to work through them the best that we can manage.
At first, I wondered if I should go to the race with all the work I had to do at home. I had registered for it so long ago. I felt tired and sluggish from all the everyday decisions making. I was feeling overwhelmed, unsettled and questioning everything from the mundane to my life’s master goals.
Bill encouraged me to go even if it was just for the ride. He reminded me, it’s one aid station at a time, in life and in a race.
So, I decided to take the plunge and head out. Bill drove and I sat like a zombie, my mind swirling, thinking about all the things I should be working on, feeling tired, feeling uninspired, lacking motivation.
I got to the race late, later than I liked for preparing for a 100, or whatever it was that I was doing. I don’t even remember packing my bags or preparing…I just showed up with a swirling mind of fog. When we arrived at the race and stepped out of the car we were met by Steve Harvey, race director, (adorable man!) He immediately made us feel welcome and he was excited that we were joining his party.
I saw my dear friends, Ed (The Jester) Ettinghausen and Famous Ray Sanchez (who I have run with in the Himalayas and New Zealand). There were lots of veteran runners looking to test their speed and endurance. There were also a lot of new faces too. Bill and I shared a horse stall turned into an aid station with 4 women who had never attempted an ultra. You couldn’t help but pick up on their high energy.
I started gingerly down that dusty trail at Nanny Goat race, next to horse corrals with Arabian horses, along shady orange tree-laden paths. My mind once preoccupied and cluttered was taking in the positive energy and good will of nature and the people and runners around me. The course is one shady mile loop circling a huge, gorgeous ranch in Riverside, California. I had no idea that Riverside was so beautiful. Bill blasted along the course lapping me, totally enjoying the race and setting a great time for himself.
I started off fast. I needed to blow off some steam. I recognized many runners and settled into my pace waving and chatting to my fellow competitors. A couple miles into the race I realized the decision to run was a good one, a healthy one and I let my mind drift and settle into the peaceful miles of the loop course.
It was interesting that my mind didn’t ponder on problem solving. Instead it took in the sights and sounds of nature. It regrouped in the rhythm of my movements and steady pace of my stride. I took deep breaths and felt thankful…thankful that I am a runner…thankful for all my blessings including the challenges that came before me. I know with any struggle you are given the chance to rise above it, to prove yourself. Just like running. When you are exhausted and feel that you can’t go any further you learn through endurance running that you can indeed, go further then you imagine. It is a mind-set and it is an obstacle that can be overcome. Take the next step, move to the next aid station. You are tired? That’s okay…it’s all part of the experience. It’s time to push into that part of you that no one can overcome. When I tap into that place, deep inside me, I know there isn’t anything I can’t do.
10 loops into the race a woman on the side of the path held up a sign:
Dear Stranger, you inspire me….
She was quietly crying and had a big smile at the same time. The message hit me hard and I was seriously humbled. She had watched all the runners running next to the ranch and scrawled the note to let us know her thoughts.
My mind quieted…my thoughts calmed. The steady rhythm of my footfalls cleared the fog in my head. I found peace and clarity at a ranch in Riverside. For 49.5 miles I let my mind find its peace and my heart retrieve her excitement and joy for life. The last 2 miles I ran the hardest I have ever run at the end of an ultra. A full-blown blast of energy and exhilaration. After 12 hours of running I was satisfied and ready to get back into the world. I arrived at the finish line and received my medal and swag from Steve Harvey. I stayed on to clap and cheer for my fellow runners who were all participating for their own individual reason and purpose.
Running settled this runner’s heart and mind. Nature cures and running/walking/moving through space on Mother Earth’s paths, brought balance and joy back into my heart. I’m once again traveling on my life’s path with my feet firmly on the ground in the direction I need to go.
Ultra running’s true mantra…
Relentless Forward Progress and I add; peace, happiness and pure joy, one step at a time.