Friday, August 10, 2012

ET Full Moon Midnight half marathon recap-o-rama: Part 3!

This all makes sense because you read Part 1 and Part 2 here.  Love me, love my verbosity.
Are you happy to be here?  Because I'm happy to be here.  And I'm happy you're here too!
I should have taken pictures inside the Ale'Inn to document how utterly unremarkable it was, but I was busy being done racing and looking for food.  It was hilarious to be there and I soaked it up because I can't imagine what would ever take me out that way again, but it really is a tiny little portable building with some souvenirs and a bar inside.  In the dark I didn't see where people would actually *stay*, since it is an Inn, but I trust there's...something.  ? 

They did lay out a breakfast with several different items on offer, but of probably ten I'd say eight were bread, so I kind of walked by it.  Probably tons of fun if you want cinnamon rolls or biscuits and gravy after a race, or if you can eat that stuff without becoming homicidal.  You would not be talking about me.

So once we crunched through some veggies (and a bag of My Fave sour cream and cheddar ruffles I brought as a reward- nasty delicious little buggers), grabbed our bags that the bus dudes had brought to the end for us, changed, rested, been enmedalated-

What is the proper term for receiving a medal?  Been medallionized? Medationed?
we hopped back on the bus for a restful 2.5hr ride back to the strip.

...At least, it would have been restful, if we hadn't been sitting with the ONE GUY on our ENTIRE BUS who was just raring to go and HAD to spend the entire time between 5-8am talking.  He talked to everyone within eyeshot.  He talked to me when my eyes were closed.  When no one responded anymore, he got on the phone and called all his friends who apparently couldn't wait until after breakfast to hear about his amazing marathon experience.  Talky guy, if you're reading this, I'm sure you're a very nice man and I don't mean this in a harsh way, but please know that fuck you.  I was tired and achy and that ride kept bumping me out of my nap and I did not want to discuss the relative merits of my barefoot shoes or listen to you wake up your wife to update her.  If you are ever around people again, please expend some effort in reading the crowd. 

This looks like a clusterfuck but totally wasn't.
Other buses may not have had this man on them tho, so please don't hold it against the race.  The race was awesome and exactly as advertised- better, because everything was run so incredibly smoothly. We never waited more than a few minutes for anything (including port-a-potties and post-race food), there was enough staff/food/ water/aid/medals/transportation/everything for everyone, everyone seemed to know what was going on (*ahem* I'm talking to you, Disney *cough*), and it was all great.  The only thing I'd say about it all is that you might want to bring some earplugs and a really good FuckOff Face for the bus if you want to get some rest, and some sunglasses for the ride back.  If you can go for days without sleep and love chatting in the middle of the night, this may not apply to you.  Otherwise, that's my advice.  And- don't stay at the Hard Rock.

Speaking of our illustrious/nefarious hotel, it was super convenient to step off the bus and walk 50 feet to our elevator and waiting superfeatherbeds.  It was downright luxuriant, since we were pretty trashed from running and not sleeping etc, and since BLESSEDLY the pool-rave hadn't started back up again...I'm pretty sure I fell face-first from the doorway to asleep on my pillow.  That part was awesome.  Willing myself to sleep past 10am when the bass started back up though- not awesome. 

I also requested a late checkout when I booked the room, and was told I just needed to call the day of and make the request then.  For some reason, it took me like an hour to actually get through to the front desk, and when I did they told me it was $35 to extend my stay from 11a-2p.  Bollocks.  After a little snarking about the lack of Ecstasy to complete my in-room rave experience tho, they did extend our checkout and waive the fee.  Nice, but not nearly nice enough to make me go back.  At least, not on a trip where I *need* to sleep during the day.

Anyway, eventually rousted from our room, we decamped once again to Pink Taco- did I say already I *loved* it there?- for food and drinks.  I had the same thing I was in love with the day before, but James tried something else that was also amazing.  And also- drinks!!

I could not have been happier with this situation.
It's just not Vegas without the drinks. And drinks you feel no guilt about, because you earned them running?  The Best!  I had a horchata colada, which- bear with me- tasted *exactly* like sunscreen, in the best possible way.  Love.  How have people not thought of this before?!  I followed that up with a Chupacabra, which was equally delicious but in a totally different way.  Savory vs sweet I guess, or 2nd-drink-satisfying vs 1st-drink-giddy.  Or it was the alcohol.

Again, Yes. Please.

I think we had slightly overestimated our capacity for post-race fun, because by this point, at 4pm, we didn't want to do much beyond sit in one place and we still had five hours before our flight back to Phoenix.  I lobbied for a foot rub, because that is one of my top five joys in life, and because I'd spotted a place right next to the CVS.  Jaime might have, but I didn't care that it looked like this:

Yikes.  Side note: that is a piece of my awesome matching luggage set right there. 
Only ever seen one other like it!  Don't pick it up off the carousel, it's mine!

If I have to ring the bell at the massage place, do I want to know what you're doing in there-?
It definitely looked a little freaky, but then doesn't everything? It's Vegas.  The inside was pretty nice:

And here is where I spent the next hour, having all my crankiness removed.
It really didn't suck.  The place was called Angel Hands or something and had about half good reviews on yelp; for my money, it was a little pricey for the hour but pretty good thai massage (read: clothed and with joint manipulation- can you tell I'm like a massage connoisseur?) and not creepy on the inside, just the outside.

We managed the trek back inside the hotel but couldn't bring ourselves to venture to the strip, so we spent our remaining time in the bar on the casino floor, just people-watching. The Hard Rock is a great place to do this, especially if you are into virtually-naked girls; if my camera had a silent mode I would have surreptitiously taken a picture of the one who sauntered in literally in just her underwear.  There were a lot of bathing suits and bikinis and, again, it's Vegas, but this was literally underwear.  And not a lot of it.  I understand I sound a bit curmudgeonly, but for reals- ass. on. seat.  They should probably put those toilet-seat protector dispensers out at the bar because otherwise..there's just no point.

So that was the weekend. Not much else to report, except that I talked to even more random people on the way home.  Like I said, the small size and probably stunt-like nature of this race seemed to bring out the friendly in everyone we met on the adventure...but also, wearing my medal around afterward I had several people stop to ask or tell about the race.  I always wear my medal for the rest of race day, because seriously, when else do you get to do this?  It's fun.  And when I get home, it's going on the wall for the rest of eternity, never to be worn again, so shouldn't it get a little air time-?  I think so.  But usually people don't ask me about it much- maybe because there are forty thousand other people nearby wearing the same thing, it seems more obvious?  This trip, a guy physically stopped us in the airport to ask about the logistics, because he'd heard of the race and wanted to go, and I wound up talking to some guy on the plane for half an hour about various races once he'd seen the medal too.  It was really pretty cool; I'm not the world's friendliest stranger, so it was nice to have a basis for some random conversations that I was actually interested in.  (Translation: if you see me out somewhere, definitely say hi, but make sure you're amusing and/or flattering for best results.  ;) )

(...or wearing a costume.  or bearing drinks.)
So, would I do ET again?  Maybe.  I don't really feel like I need to, as I feel like I Had The Experience... and I don't see a way to minimize the logistics to spend more time actually racing and recreating; it's a lot of flying/driving/luggage-schleping/in-checking/out-checking for only a few hours of "event".  You definitely have to bring your sense of humor for that.  If I went again, I'd *definitely stay somewhere else*, maybe fly out early instead of hanging around homeless after hotel checkout...or stay a day or so longer so recovery can actually happen before playtime starts.  I'd consider staying out in Rachel, just to be able to make that drive earlier in the day and settle in, instead of taking a long ride right before starting to run; I'm sure it's pretty quiet out there so you could actually rest sans dancing fools!  Otherwise, it was a great run filled with fun people, and well-organized-- a unique and ridiculous experience worth having!

ET Full Moon Midnight half marathon recap-o-rama: Part 2!

Did you miss Part 1?  I doubt it but click back if you did!

Once dressed and outfitted, we headed down to find our place on the buses that would take us out to the desert and leave us for dead drop us at the race start.  I should have taken a picture of that too, because I was so busy thinking that 700 is not a lot of people, until I saw them all lined up in the same place.  It makes a big line.  But I have to hand it to Joyce, the mind behind Calico Racing, we were on those buses inside of ten minutes.  Everything she arranged for the race itself ran like clockwork and went off without a hitch.  That part was impressive and really pleasant; the woman knows what she's doing.  I've run plenty of smaller 5ks and 10ks here in town that weren't managed as well as this one, and she had 700 strangers in the middle of nowhere for twelve hours.  Not bad!

Anyway.  The buses leave from the Hard Rock at 830pm, and drive for 2 1/2 hours, till your cell reception disappears.  Creepy.  We tried to split the difference between napping and chatting with the other racers until we arrived at the fabled Black Mailbox, where the ultra and full were to start.

Yeah, that really is it.

To Do: look up who tf is Steve Medlin-?
I totally meant to find out the deal with the mailbox before we got out there, but I didn't.  It sure doesn't look like anything, and can someone paint it black please-? Bizarre.  I did like its X-files other side:

We all hung around while the long-runners donned their glow-in-the-dark stuff and their headlamps, then after the official start we piled back on and drove 13 miles up the highway to our start.  It was pretty awesome watching the steady stream of runners go by the window as we pulled out...Even though the race happens as close to the full moon as possible, it is *in the middle of nowhere* so with the slight cloud cover we had this weekend it was pretty dark at times.

Yeah.  You're not alone...much...
So half an hour later (that makes it 12:30am, if you're counting) we were all dropped off, milling around, glowing and stretching and staring into the blackness.  And shivvering- it was a pretty brisk something-in-the-high-60s I think-- so long, heat island of Las Vegas, it gets pretty chilly in the actual desert at night!  That might have been what totally made the race for me, too; it was just downright GREAT to be running in the cool after so many weeks of fighting the heat at home.  And, no sun on my eyeballs-? MASSIVE BONUS!  <3

O hai! Thanks for being out here with me, actual people!

I'm actually not totally sure how we knew when to start, but I think it came down to Joyce standing on the other side of the highway and shouting "3, 2, 1, GO!".  Everything was pretty hilarious by that point, so it was totally in keeping.  Off we went for our first six miles of uphill...

Yes, the entire first half of the race is a steady incline.  All I can say is, it must be a lot worse in the full, because I think their entire first *19* miles are uphill.  Barf.  But for the half, as inclines go, it wasn't a nightmare.  We've been running some hills in preparation for NYC (EEEeeeee!), and because I was nervous about this race I did a handful of other treadmill runs at 5 and 6%, but the Area 51 course is never steeper than a 4% (by my amateur calculations).  So while I'd say it felt harder than a "normal" run (read: flat Phoenix) and you definitely know you're going uphill, it really wasn't bad.  If it had been 98* and sunny, I can see how that might have felt like Everest, but in the middle of the night when it was cool and I already had my silly goggles on, it was totally fine.  And when I got past it, I really felt like I'd accomplished something!

Mile, like, 3-?  That "T" underneath the sign is me!  We had to wear something reflective on the front and back of our shirts, and T's are easy to make with straight pieces of tape.
Hard to keep your eyes open through a flash after running through the dark for two hours!  I don't think I got a single picture of Jaime where she did :)
 Other than the incline and decline (pretty steady but more gradual downhill for all of miles 7-13), there is no other variation on that stretch of highway.  It doesn't so much as veer, just stretches straight for more miles than we saw.  No intersections, no turnoffs.  Just highway, desert, and 700 insane people bobbing along it.

There were, I think, three aid stations, which is *unbelievable* given how late it was and where we were.  I thanked everyone profusely for being out there but I should have asked them wtf also, because I'm really curious why they drove all the way out there and stood around handing out water and bananas at 2am!!  Angels?  Probably.  OR!- aaaalieeeeens woooooo...

There were a lot of these dancing cow signs.
There wasn't actually anything very alieny about the experience of being in Area 51, unfortunately.  There is a big cow presence, apparently.  And we saw about a dozen shooting stars, which seemed pretty unusual.  As the pack stretched out and everyone hit their stride, it was awesome to look ahead and behind and see a string of multicolored lights on the runners stretching for literally miles in either direction...and the quiet (beyond the thumping of my ipod, obvi) was pretty absolute.  There were a few costumes and some stalwart runners carrying blowup alien dolls, but not quite as many as I expected.  But it is a green race, so if you get tired of carrying or wearing something, that's just 13.1 miles worth of too bad, because you're not dropping it for the cleanup crew like you could in a giant city race.

This costume was wisely left on the bus at the last minute.

Overall, I posted my most dismal half marathon time yet, but I felt happy and strong from beginning to end.  I think the temperature and novelty factor accounts for how well I felt, and maybe a bit of credit goes to a solid month of focused marathon training...On the flip side, I'm not completely sure the incline was steep enough to account for an extra 2min/mile of overall time, but maybe that and the stopping to take pictures in the dark really does. this one.

...and this one.  I feel like all the fun pictures of me are on Jaime's blog, because she's always the one taking them.  Also, her recaps are shorter and she posts more often.  You should go read her.

...and this.  That has to be a couple of minutes right there, right? But how do you not take a picture of The Sign?
When we finally came in sight of the finish line, sometime around 4 in the goddamn morning, it was like a mirage in the night.  They must have run the ultra course past the Little Ale'inn and back in, because the glowing line of runners went on past the only buildings in sight, reinforcing the impression that it was all just a hoax. 
     Oh, and somehow I've gotten this far in a really long recap without mentioning that I forgot to bring my garmin- and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.  I stayed with The James and (tried to) let her pace us, but without the constant feedback to chew on and confirm that yes, I am still a really really slow runner, I felt awesome.  For a while in the middle Jaime kept telling me to slow down so I didn't burn us out- how great is that!  A far cry from most races, where I mentally classify every number on my watch as either "okay..." or "GO FASTER!".  I like having the data to review afterward, but I may have to start hiding my watch on my ankle or belt or something, until I can become a kinder runner in my own mind.  It certainly helps!
    Anyway, the end.
(of the race, ha!- there's more in Part 3...)

ET Full Moon Midnight half marathon: A recap-o-rama in three movements!

In which I tell you almost absolutely everything about this race weekend. 
It takes a long time.  But there are pictures!

So.  This past weekend we ran the ET half marathon in Rachel, Nevada (find it for yourself here),  god save the queen.  And while there was definitely half-marathon action involved, I wouldn't call it so much a race as a stunt.  Right up my alley.

The James and I planned a whirlwind, turn-around trip, so as to keep things low-budget and have the scratch for squeezing in more races.  Quantity over quality, I always say! (no, I really don't, but when it comes to travelling that actually does cover it.)

Brand-new awesome extra-headroom plane, Southwest?  Why, thank you!
Knowing it would mean some tight timeframes and sleeping-under-duress, we booked flights for Saturday Morning and Sunday evening, and a room at the host hotel, the Hard Rock Las Vegas so we could minimize the running around.



Apparently there are other race reviews out there that warn against this course of action.  Apparently I should have read them.  Because apparently, although the rooms are hella cool and the beds can swallow you whole (witness:),

Super. Fluffy.


the Hard Rock's idea of an awesome weekend is to have you wait in a three-hour line to do this:

No matter how many times I looked out the window, this just did not look fun.
I should have taken a picture of the line so you could see what I mean.  At the time I didn't know what I was walking past- until I got up to my 8th-floor room and this was the view from our window.  It got a lot more crowded.  What it *didn't* get was a whole lot louder-- BECAUSE IT WAS ALREADY LOUDER THAN A JET ENGINE CHANNELED THROUGH A MEGAPHONE BLASTED THROUGH CONCERT-SIZED SPEAKERS DIRECTLY INTO YOUR EARDRUMS.  AM I STILL SHOUTING?? BECAUSE I CAN'T TELL.

It was so loud even on the 8th floor behind windows that don't open that we had a hard time hearing each other talk from across the room.  Believe me, even with my tendency to hyperbole there's no need to exaggerate this scenario.  James came out of the bathroom at one point and said, "you can still feel the bass in the shower with the doors closed".  It still makes me laugh out loud that they just handed over our room keys at check-in without batting an eye.  Do they assume the entire world knows about their epic summertime pool party that happens EVERY WEEKEND FROM 10AM-7PM, or figure you'll be out on the town during the day anyway so no harm done, or do they really not give a rat's ass?

"Um yeah, no... I could not give less of a fuck."
Let me give you a little taste of what being in this room was like.  Keep in mind we are on the 8th floor, and the windows *don't open*.  You get to partake in our amateur anthropology as well, as we were studying this interesting spontaneous "splashy splashy" ritual the natives had; somehow they had some kind of group consciousness thing that told them all when to start and stop splashing...but what you really need to experience is how loud the fucking rave was in our room:

I mean, I brought glow sticks, but I need them for tonight.

Anyway.  A little dumbfounded and a bit worried, we headed down to grab some food, last-minute race staples and hit the expo.  We wound up eating at Pink Taco, despite my exreme aversion to the name, and found it was *super* *good*.  I had their namesake dish, and I must tell you: pickled onions on tacos = yes, yes! and read that in a dirty way.  Fucking yum.  We have this place in Phoenix and I'm just going to have to get over my aversion to ickily-named restaurants bc everything we had there was outstanding.

Yes, please.  I watched these corn tortillas being made.  Yum.
I guess it's supposed to, but this reminds me so much of a Senor Frog's I once drank at in Mexico that I could almost hear the waves.
I don't know how but I am putting this idea in my house.  Cute design!
Another good point in the Hard Rock's favor was the CVS directly across the street; in Vegas it's not so easy to skip into a convenience store and there are always last-minute things I need before a race.  In this case it was snacks for the bus and *water*, since I like to cram all my hydration in a few hours before the race (read: I never remember any earlier.).  So, I did like that.  And they have a complimentary shuttle to the strip, which we didn't use but I thought was nice since it's really too far to walk to.  I'm just throwing these things out there so you can feel like I was fair while I panned the fuck out of the place. 

Snacks in hand, we moseyed back to the expo and chatted with other runners while we waited for it to open.

Packed house.

At 700 runners, this was definitely the smallest race I've ever been to.  By a factor of about 60.  But, I also talked to about ten times more people than I usually do at bigger races.  I loved that.  Everyone seemed so normal (well, for runners ;) ) and I really appreciated actually interacting with some of the people I was around.  I'm not sure what the difference is...Maybe at bigger races people go with larger groups and tend to stay within them, or there are more nervous newbies just focusing on their own stuff, or people are more tense and jaded with the effort of crawling through the enormous crowds and tons of red tape...Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed the feel of the smaller race.  I'll have to look for more of that.

Back at the room at 430pm, it was time to confront the weakest link in our plan: trying to get some sleep.  I donned earplugs and with a few trusty yoga tricks managed to eke out a few hours of fitful rest-ish.  Good to know if I ever need a nap at Grand Central I could probably manage it...but when I woke up to get ready a sleepless Jaime was in a bit of pique from three hours of slamming techno.  Sucks.

This bed was totes awesome tho.  I should have smuggled it home.

Did I say there was actual race recap information here?  There is!  It's mostly in Part 2... ;)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fear and laughing in not las vegas

So, I had an extraordinary experience at the track yesterday.

Now, in the cold broiling light of the next day, it seems possibly silly.  Definitely strange.  Potentially unwarranted.  But yesterday, as I was running my last 1200, I totally went there.  I cringe admitting it, but the truth is yeah, cranking out that last 100 meters I was seriously worried I might die. 

just stick with me, House.
 I was doing my usual thing, trying to keep up with the plan for the group and manage my speed and breathing and emotions and music and hydration- you know, how you do- when one of the other women ran up next to me.  She started encouraging me to go faster, push a little harder, and throwing out all those kinds of encouragement I sometimes think but rarely believe.  "You look great.  Just a little farther.  Your arms are carrying you.  You're doing really well."  My running inner denial of whatever she said didn't dull my appreciation for it; it was really awesome to have someone right there in my ear saying nice things, even if I was starting to worry about how it was making me pick up my pace too much.  Every time she said, "come on, just a little faster", I immediately thought, "that's not in my plan, I'm already working hard, I don't want to overdo it, if I listen I'll burn out and positive split my last laps..." but every time I looked at Guru Garmin I found that I was following orders anyway.

By the last lap, I was breathing hard, and I would have said I was at capacity.  I was pretty sure I'd done a good job of negative splitting, and if I finished out at my new, faster pace I'd be really proud of having gotten the job done.  It was hot, I tend to the melancholic, I've had a lot of (at least semi-)failures recently.  I was impressed that she'd gotten me to pick it up at all, let alone sustain it for two laps.  But as we rounded the corner, she called two other people to come and run with us. 

These are them.  Just kidding.

It hardly needs to be said that all three of these people are faster than me (because everyone there is).  I wanted to live up to it.  I wanted to stay strong and happy and enjoy it since I don't often get to run *with* anyone, just near them as they whiz by. (Not bitter. Just sayin!) So with the addition of their energy and my gratitude at being "picked" in this way, the stage was set for a triumphant last lap.

The only problem was, I was spent.  I'd been running beyond where I thought I should be, where I planned to go, and I was already way beyond any breathing and heart rate that felt sustainable.  Like I said, I was looking forward to just keeping my pace to the end; if you'd asked about increasing it, I'd have said "I literally can't."

Except, they didn't ask.

With all three of them throwing out gleeful tidbits- "You're doing great! You look strong! Good form! The end is right up there!"- it was harder to hear the scream of protest in my head, just a little bit harder to keep track of my worries about how I was doing internally...and, unbelievably, I kicked it up just a little bit.  With every step and every screaming breath I still saw myself over and over dropping back, giving up, slowing down to where I could finally breathe again--but I guess I was too distracted to actually *do* it. 

I kept going.  Until that last little stretch, the last 100 meters when unexpectedly my impromptu coach suddenly said "Run it out! Don't stop! Give it everything you have, sprint to the finish!!" and for some unknown reason, my body listened to her.

This is probably how actual runners feel.

I can tell you, my mind was not on board.

How I found time to have so many thoughts in 1/16 of a mile I don't know, but there were an astounding number of them.  Chief and loudest was "I CAN'T DO THIS!!!" followed by "OMG listen to my BREATHING" and "MAYDAY MAYDAY!"  My breath was literally screaming in and out of my lungs; I think I might have started to have that panic-attack reaction where your lungs close in.  I vividly recalled, over and over, a story a friend once told me of her brother's mother-in-law dropping dead of a heart attack on one of her routine jogs, in only her 40s or 50s; of course that brought with it a horror-movie loop of exploding-heart imagery I just couldn't resist.  I became convinced I was about to throw up.  I couldn't see.  Over the chorus of frantic mental "NOO NOO NOOOOO" I don't know how I even heard my coach yelling "great form!", but when I did I thought, "why are you talking about form, can't you see I'm about to DIE?!"

Shut up, House.  Just shut up.
And then it was all over, except that it wasn't, because even though I stopped running and doubled over, my heart continued to pound (dangerously, I felt) and my breathing continued to scream alarmingly and I continued to imagine a million horrible things happening next....  The fact that they didn't barely seemed to matter.  The fact that I was finished barely seemed to matter, or the fact that I'd just done something (yet *another* something) that I didn't think I could. 

What felt important was that I'd just gone to the edge of what I know- and then stepped off.

I'm sure what everyone saw was a tired (cranky?) girl with a red face wheezing (shuffling) through a recovery lap.  I know from asking that "does anyone else ever feel like they really might die?" was kind of a routine question, as was the answer ("yeah, of course!").  And the assurance that no one actually does die, no one has died ("yet!" I thought) on my coach's watch came with a slightly incredulous 'duh' kind of air that I went along with, like that didn't really need to be said.  But for me, it did.  In those few seconds of panic and being beyond what I knew, I really wasn't sure.  If I'd had room for calculations I could have told you it was ridiculously improbable that I would die, but I hadn't had room and what eclipsed everything else for those few moments was that I might

I know. You don't have to say it.

Like I said, it's a mundane place to confront your mortality.

But it really shook me.  And because it shook me I realized how even the edge can become a comfort zone; how even though I've eliminated a lot of fears, I haven't eliminated Fear itself.  I'm often tempted to assume I have, because the things that bother my people don't bother me.  My mom is quite allergic to heights; nT has a paralyzing fear of scorpions.  One of our kids at home literally trembles too much to actually make it off the high dive ladder, let alone out onto the board.  I've flirted with a serious aversion to flying things that sting, but have settled down into standing still and breathing deeply when they come around- at least a little bit, I've accepted that I may get stung and there's not much I can do about it.  So whenever one of these challenges arises, I have almost a little emotional routine about it that gets me through: I recognize that I'm uncomfortable, that my emotion is distracting me from handling it the way I want to, I breathe and accept, and then I do what I feel needs to be done.  I mean, I don't *like* scorpions, but something has to be done when they appear and I can do it.  When I walk out on the high dive at the pool, I definitely feel something...I just tell myself science has shown the only difference between excitement and fear is the label.  So I remind myself that the worst that can happen is barely anything, and jump.  The only time heights bother me is clinging to a rock face at the gym 30 feet in the air, but I exhale, remember that I'm tied to a rope, and just let go.  Confronting these things in my little way has made me prouder of myself, and led me to feel like I have a handle on fear.

But I don't. 

I don't know if having a "handle" on fear is really even possible; maybe we just desensitize ourselves to the situations and things that can cause it.  I thought that by repeatedly challenging myself with little opportunities to be brave that I was making friends with the idea of uncertainty, inoculating myself against the possibility of terror.  But what I learned at the track yesterday is that there's always a place for it to live, because there's always a boundary to certainty.  What I've been doing is giving myself an extra measure of certainty, and becoming practiced at it- an important skill, I'm sure, but not what I thought I was doing.  The thing about fear, I think, is that it's by definition about *Not Knowing*- and there will always be something beyond the edge of what we know.  What I've become adept at is walking right up to that edge- and not crossing it.

All of this could have gone right by me if I were less prone to dramatics; nothing incredible (certainly not judging by my times!) happened to justify tears in the car on the way home or this long, rambling, ridiculously introspective post a day later.  But I am who I am, and it mattered to me.  Immensely.  I'm so grateful to have had this experience and the realizations that came on its heels...and super grateful to my impromptu cheerleader-turned-teacher, because without her insistence I never would have gone to that place.  I didn't even know that place was there.  It was just a moment of surrender, maybe ten seconds of handing over the reins and trusting that someone else was in control, but those few seconds of going over the edge of my own certainty taught me more than years of strolling right up to it.  Camping out next to it. 

I thought the usual things, too, like oh my gosh if I really could die like that then I could die any time any way and life is precious so don't waste it...but somehow this doesn't impress me as much.  That you can be, not "out of control", but beyond your own control...*that* is exciting.  There really is something to all this "letting go" stuff we're always going on about, I guess...

Anyway.  After I calmed down, showered, worked, went about my day doing whatever it was that I did, the experience paid me one more big dividend-

I woke myself in the night, laughing.   

I know, dude.  Maybe it's funnier when you're asleep.

I still almost remember the joke, and of course now it doesn't seem that funny, except that I vividly remember the sheer hilarity and hysterical joy it produced, unconnected to anything and otherwise completely meaningless.  But in a lifetime of fretful nightmares, missed nights of sleep or no dreams at all, I've actually laughed in my sleep maybe twice.  I don't know if this regularly happens to other people or not so much, but it doesn't happen to me.

It.  Feels.  Awesome. 

And I know the two experiences are connected, because intuitively I recognize the same feeling of hysteria in both- it feels like, not knowing what will happen next, but still moving inexorably toward it.  Maybe those researchers really are right, it's the label that makes the difference... Once I pushed beyond my reasoned running limits, I didn't know what would happen next.  But once my legs had carried me to that internal state, that's where I was, like it or not, come what may.  Likewise, if there's anything you can say about sleep-laughter, it's that it's involuntary; you don't even know you're doing it until it's already happened!  Involuntary anything is beyond our volition, it doesn't need your assent or permission- in fact, it can't even coexist with "permission".  You may be able to see what uncertainty looks like by standing on its shore, but it doesn't actually exist there.  It only exists within Letting Go. 

I guess that's a place I'm going to have to go more often. 

And *that*, yes, is really scary.