A piece of Portland

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2016 by zoegoesrunning

I mentioned posting some writing about Santiago, but here’s a short ditty I wrote to welcome myself back to my imperfect hometown, Portland, Maine. Apologies for any odd formatting.

 

What Floor Were You On? Did You Have a Good View?

Last week I left work

to tackle some spirits

of the tequila sort.

I went to a place where the West meets the East,

up there at the Top

They wouldn’t serve me a shot.

It caught me off guard.

Up next, Portland’s Oldest Pub

with some now fellow thugs.

By then I’d learned

to enact a more adult code:

I asked for tequila and soda,

but this time

they told me,

they could only do a shot.

Which portland is more Portland?

That’s what I thought

as I sipped my tequila

last week after work.

A New Era

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2016 by zoegoesrunning

A NEW ERA!

Welcome to a new era for Zoe Goes Running, in which the next big adventure is a labor of mind rather than body. For the next two years I’ll be an MFA student, writer, and Rotary Global Scholar. I’ll spend two years writing, reading, and teaching, including six months teaching in South America.

 

MFA IN CREATIVE WRITING

A couple weeks after returning from Santiago, Chile, I’m now finally settling into a blog post. I went to Santiago to start an MFA program in creative writing with Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Most of the program is done remotely, except for every year, we meet for several weeks in one of three different South American cities, in late summer. This summer it was Santiago, next will be Buenos Aires, and my third and graduating residency will likely be in Rio. During the residency in each city, we attend seminars by award-winning faculty, readings, field trips, cultural lectures, and daily tutorials where we have the chance to line edit with our faculty mentor.

 

ROTARY SCHOLARSHIP.

I’ve also received a Rotary Global Scholars Grant for this program, which will allow me to spend two of four semesters volunteer-teaching in Argentina and/or Chile. This MFA program would not have been possible without Rotary’s support and I cannot thank them enough. I worked specifically with the Rotary Club of South Richmond (VA) in the application process, and their district, district 7600, will be my American host club during the program, joined by Rotary La Lucila in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who will be my international host club. The objective of the scholarship is, broadly, to enable graduate students to use their education and qualifications to serve others. I will be continuing Rotary’s mission in basic education and literacy by volunteering at community schools in Argentina and/or Chile. I begin in February ’17, teaching in Buenos Aires, but more to come on that!

 

SANTIAGO AT UNFILTERED FIRST GLANCE.

Santiago was, in a word, vivid. Everything about it. I was at first overwhelmed by how physically present the city is – there’s heavy smog, street dogs, once-a-week student protests, in answer to which the riot police regularly inundate the student crowds gathered in the main plaza with pepper spray, spray you feel in your chest for a long time afterward. You can buy anything you’ve ever wanted in the streets, people perform elaborate dances in the sidewalks between green lights, and every night in my neighborhood there were booming drum circles put on by the university students – who had been out of school for over a month in protest against rising tuition prices. Graffiti covers already-graffiti-covered surfaces. When I arrived at six in the morning, the sky was gray, spitting cold raindrops from too-close, overbearing clouds.

It was a lot to take in.

The first thing I did in my new city was to go for a run. A quarter-mile through my neighborhood brought me to the base of a very tall hill (Cerro San Cristobal) with an incredible view of Santiago and the mountains; I ended up running it almost every day. They call it a hill, I later discovered it’s taller than some of the mountains I used to train on in Virginia. Ha. What makes a mountain on the east coast of the US is referred to as a hill in Santiago. This was probably the moment the city began to endear itself to me.

 

SETTLING IN: EARTHQUAKES, WALKS, URBAN PITS.

There were twelve other students in the group, a couple coordinators, and four faculty – intelligent, provocative and courageous writers. From my apartment each morning I walked twenty minutes to the Catholic University where we had our seminars. The walk brought me past a construction site in and around a 70-yard-deep square ditch that covered an entire city block. I don’t know what they were building but I loved looking in that giant urban absence every morning. After that it was across the river, through the park, five minutes winding through a cobblestoned arts neighborhood, shortcut through the Gabriela Mistral museum, across the street to cut through the leafy, spacious courtyard of the University, down earthquake-proof stairs that bounced when you stepped on them, and into our classroom.

On our third day there was a small earthquake in the morning, the next day our afternoon walk was canceled because of the student protests, and in the second week my walk home took me straight across the long parade of protesters, past the huddles of riot police, and past broken glass bottles filled with paint, which some students throw at the police. Walking was my favorite thing, there was always something to think about. (Pic below from one such walk, taken outside a school not currently in session)

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I ran every day and sometime around the fourth or fifth day I realized I really liked Santiago. After several days of clouds and rain, the sun came out and the Andes appeared as mystical backdrops to the skyscrapers of the city. I stopped bringing maps with me everywhere, I discovered a huge park four miles outside of town where I swear the air felt cleaner and I could practically touch the mountains, I went and watched the drummers perform at night, I shared tequila with the program director and our famously talented faculty, I made friends.

 

FRIENDS AND MENTORS.

In our little group of writers, there were several who I naturally gravitated to and who became familiar almost instantly, in the way that happens when a bunch of semi-strangers are thrown into a foreign city together with no real obligations other than to attend activities in the presence of one another each day. This experience of friendship was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The new friends – a group of two poets and two fiction-writers – were all veterans to this program. Collectively they were goofy and deadpan, perceptive, up-for-whatever, and made me feel like I belonged right where I’ve always wanted to belong – in a group of weird, mostly-introverted writers.

My mentor in Santiago was Francisco Goldman. Look him up if you have a chance, he is a wonderful writer and a warm human being. I’ll continue working with him on one story a month this year. In Santiago we had to submit four stories, and nearly every afternoon Francisco and I met to go over the different submissions, the content, technique, narrative, voice, line-editing, etc. This was a heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and ultimately encouraging activity. Francisco was always honest and never unkind, and there’s no better sort of editor.

I could go on, and on, and on. I’m working on a short, comedic piece about Santiago, which I’m intending to share here in excerpts over the next few posts.

 

Under Armour Video

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2014 by zoegoesrunning

A couple weeks ago I had the awesome opportunity to head up to Maine and take part in a video shoot for Under Armour. The morning we headed out to shoot just happened to be the morning a 14 inch snow storm decided to roll through – no big deal. It kinda perfectly represented how tough Mainers are, not only in that we have to learn to love to train through the snow and be prepared for any kind of weather, but the fact that dozens of local people came out to help (which involved a lot of standing outside and shivering). One of the men who helped, a former Marine medic, got to check my feet for frostbite after we reached our 9th hour out in the storm. I feel for him – my feet are not pretty.

So without further ado, here’s the video, just released!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyLFbblnVQY&feature=youtu.be  I’m still cold.

Running PRs and Learning to Become an Adult Ballerina

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2014 by zoegoesrunning

I’m so glad I wrote that last post and went ahead with putting it out there, because I got so much feedback indicating that I wasn’t the only one feeling how I felt. For everyone who sent me a note or response, thank you for your honesty – it ain’t always an easy thing to do.

Two fantastic things have happened in the past week or two – I started ballet class and I ran an eight-minute PR in the half marathon!! 1:35:40, and I have my eye on another PR in the Shamrock Marathon in a few weeks. The race was in Williamsburg this past Sunday and it was a really fun weekend, Alex and I went down on Saturday and had dinner with my coach and his wife in one of the cozy restaurants along the outdoor downtown area. The race has an unusually late start, 1:10 pm, and it happened to be one of those freak 70 degree February days, so it was a super hot race. About four miles in I found a guy to hang with and when I asked him what time he was shooting for, he told me he was just “out for a training run to prepare for a spring IronMan”  To all the triathletes that read this blog, ya’ll are crazy. Just so you know.

In the last three miles I picked off a couple girls who looked to be in my age group and then in the last mile I caught up to two more. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about passing someone in your AG in the last quarter mile of a half marathon, but if you’ve got strength left in your legs I’m sure it would feel worse to not give it everything. I finished 2nd in my AG and 12th woman overall and I went home happy as pie. I can’t say enough how much my running has improved by working with a coach and having dedicated speed and LT workouts every week.

My friend and I also started taking ballet classes, which, so far, have proved to be the complete opposite of running. Movements are refined, constrained, and there are clear rules of etiquette for class time. Our teacher gave us a handout during the first class which described these rules, the list included coming to class freshly showered and smelling nicely, hair neatly tied back into a bun, and no wearing red nail polish because it looks creepy on stage. Nonetheless, the class has been a lot of fun.

My best friend was a ballerina all through our childhood and I went to her recitals every single year and never understood why anyone would want to do ballet. Fifteen years later and I’ve finally come around to it – it’s just such a beautiful way to move the body. And our teacher is great – funny, intense, talented, and full of ballet history. We start off the class with a discussion of dance culture, then we scatter to the barre for barre exercises and then to the middle to string a few movements together. Maybe in 25 more lessons I’ll be able to connect a full minute of actual ballet!

 

Look What This Body Can Do

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2014 by zoegoesrunning

I read a blog post last week that’s been stuck in my mind ever since. The post is written by Lauren Fleshman, a professional runner formerly with Nike, one USA’s top middle-distance runners. (if you’ve read the post, skip the next two paragraphs).

Lauren had recently participated in New York Fashion Week as a runner, cat-walking new sports bras and styles from Oiselle, a women’s running brand.  After the show, she found herself flipping through all the photos of that night to find the one perfect image that would be suitable to blast out on social media. She deletes many less-than-satisfactory photos before finding THE ONE (the photo has now been shared, posted, Tweeted, Instagrammed a hundred times over). In thinking this through, however, she admits that she’s only contributing to something she herself dislikes – our universal anxiety about how our bodies appear to other people. By always posting only the one perfect image she – and all of us, really – create a conception that we always looks amazing, fierce and toned, and perfectly postured.

Her point is that we can blame magazines and media and Photoshop all we want, but at some point we have to realize that it’s on us too – by deleting all unflattering photos of ourselves and only posting those rare perfect ones, it’s like we’re dressing the monster that Photoshop has created. It’s crazy to hear Lauren tell it, because here’s a person who makes her living based solely on her body’s ability to accomplish amazing feats, and she still frets over the public perception of her physical appearance. So next to her killer photo from Fashion Week, she bravely posts two very unflattering, candid photos taken at track practice later that same week. Her blog got over a million hits, so it’s no small thing she’s doing.

When I returned from France, nearly every single person I spoke to asked me a question about weight: How much did I lose? How much did I weigh before? Did I eat a zillion calories a day and never gain a pound? A few times, it was even more awkward: people close to me exclaimed that they just couldn’t believe it, they had thought I would’ve lost a ton of weight, but there I was, all done, and it didn’t look like I had changed at all!

Um, I’m sorry? I’ll try harder next time?

Those questions always made me feel so uncomfortable and I’ve wanted to write about it for a while but have never found the right reason. I never knew what my response to that observation was supposed to be, and I know those people were always well-intentioned, but still. Of course I had changed: I could run over thirty miles a day no problem, I had just run 90 miles in one go, 40 more than I’d ever run at once before. I was more flexible; stronger, leaner. I could now say I ran up one of the steepest mountains in the Alps, TWO DAYS IN A ROW. I was tougher. I was wiser. But the question was hardly ever “How have you gained fitness?”. It was, almost always, “How much weight did you lose?”

On the surface these conversations made me frustrated because I wanted people to ask more interesting questions, and I wanted them to understand that I couldn’t have lost too much weight, or I wouldn’t have been able to do the run. I wanted them to realize that running thirty miles a day isn’t what they might imagine, that after a few weeks your body gets used to it and even your hunger abates.

But lots of these people were just curious friends, and what really mattered was the feeling that lurked just below the surface irritation; something much worse: these conversations made me feel inadequate. Of course, I did lose some weight, (and I even got taller) but I sometimes felt like I should’ve come back even thinner, leaner, stronger. Without those questions, I felt so strong, and proud; but with them I somehow felt like running the Tour de France wasn’t enough; like I should’ve emerged from it looking more like what people expected me to look like. It was ridiculous.

It’s not the easiest thing to write about here – I feel a little bit like I’m peeling back a layer I’d rather leave on, but if Lauren can describe her insecurities on a blog for Runner’s World, I guess I haven’t got any excuse.

Most athletes are incredibly driven, and we’re often perfectionists – a combination which feeds our dedication to whip our bodies into incredible shape – into whatever shape we think is perfect.
And I won’t lie, I love being in shape. I like feeling my quad muscles as I walk, I like the tightness of my shoulders. I stand in front of the mirror and flex my ab muscles every single day. I don’t mind seeing a perfect picture of myself in action. But I think the issue here is that, even perfect shape doesn’t always look so perfect. We shouldn’t take the one ideal image of ourselves, or celebrities, or world class athletes to represent the whole, nor the constant.

I started training with a coach this past November. During our first workout, I ran four repeats of one mile. I averaged 7:04 for each mile and I had a three minute break between each one. Last week, my workout was eight repeats of one mile. I averaged 6:34 for each mile and had 85 seconds of rest between each one. In the space of just three months, I doubled the distance of that workout, dropped thirty seconds in speed/mile, and cut the rest period in half. Yesterday I ran my fastest 10k ever, in the middle of an 18 mile training run. As a runner, THAT is what I find most incredible about the body, the fact that it can improve so drastically in three months. I look at that and wonder, what else can it do?! Our body is capable of so much, it’s absurd to think that we let its mere appearance get all the attention.

As Lauren writes in her post: “”Why aren’t we walking around naked, like ‘Booyah! Look what this body can do, bitches!'”

Honestly, why are we not?

My last post was in August so I guess it’s time…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2014 by zoegoesrunning

Time to get the blog kicking again! It has been a while, and although it seems like everything should come to a relaxing standstill after running the Tour de France, life has been busy! As February is slowly rolling around towards spring here in VA, I’m starting to get that familiar itch in my legs and reminisce about how last year at this time I was full into my first month of training. The thing I’m really grateful for is that after the US run life felt a little flat for a while because I was suddenly without this grand goal and intense focus. Luckily, this time around I’ve found a way to flow from the France intensity into some smaller adventures and goals which keep me excited and challenged.

So that I can get to actual writing in future blogs, I’m summarizing all life updates here. Since I’ve been back I’ve gotten to participate in many speaking events, which has been a very interesting and engaging experience – I think for a while I didn’t necessarily understand my own story and everything I went through in France until I had some distance from it and got to work on presenting it to an audience in a way that we all can relate to. It’s been very unique in that it’s given me a chance to look back at the experience and understand it on a deeper level besides the love/hate relationship I had with the French roads.

In December, I finished an 81 page book proposal and was intensely excited and enthusiastic about the prospects. I’ve been lucky to have a lit agent helping me, she sent the proposal out in Jan, and two weeks ago I got the final word that twenty five (twenty five!!) editors had passed. That was rough. Every single editor, however, gave me valuable, positive feedback and after taking some time to digest it all, I have to say I agree with most of what they said. I suspect I might’ve been overly eager to write the proposal and didn’t yet have enough time between finishing the run and writing to really understand it all (besides knowing that my legs were really sore and I was exhausted and constantly hungry but often happy). So it’s back to the blank Word Doc I go, hopefully with a little more wisdom this time ’round. And I know it would’ve been just too easy if I got the best deal from the best publishers right out of the gate. I’m stoked to say I did publish my first print article earlier this year, “Running in the Eye of the Tire: Chasing Summits on the Tour de France Course” in Marathon & Beyond, and am working on more with them.

Alex finished his first teaser/trailer for the TDF film and we premiered it at an art event in Richmond two weeks ago. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to share a film with the community! It was awesome, and I got to help on the trailer by writing the text for it, a poetic ode to why we run and why we go. The official final is still being tweaked but I will link it here when it’s ready.

Last but not least – running! I’m training with a coach now and I’m way faster than I thought I ever could be! I’m discovering another whole aspect to the sport – I’ve always been a dedicated, disciplined runner but have never trained this deliberately for specific times at specific races. Now I’ve learned how to hit paces and hang there and drop recovery time and it feels freaking awesome to look at notes from the past three months and see how my times have gotten faster while distance has gotten longer. Running is probably the simplest sport, but it’s so unique in that it evolves with you and can be different things to you at different points of your life. I like that.

Photos below from the final day on Corsica – 90 miles in 23 hours. It was 110 degrees. Just sayin’.

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Going for broke in Corsica

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2013 by zoegoesrunning

I did it!  We did it!  Officially ran the route of the Tour de France and raised $166,000 in the process…I cannot believe it.  I arrived in Maine on Saturday evening after a 36 hr bonanza of traveling, and even after two full nights of sleep and being surrounded by my family in celebration, it’s still a hard thing to get my head around.  4 days ago Alex and I were out on the unforgiving Corsican roads going for broke in our final hours.

There’s a lot to be said and a lot that still will need to be said, but I’ll start this post from the beginning of the 90 miles and follow up tomorrow with more.

Alex and I tucked ourselves into bed at 6 pm on Wednesday, hoping to get some sleep before starting the 90 miles at midnight.  I wanted to start at midnight because running from the dark into the light seemed much more enticing than running from the light into the dark.  (I discovered on Thursday evening in the last 5 hours that this was more true than I had anticipated)  We tossed and turned and got up for snacks and water and around 9 pm we had nearly decided to just get out of bed and get started already.  By 10, however, we were both sort of asleep and stayed that way, in fits and starts, until midnight, when our alarm went off.  We packed our bags up for the last time, by now a routine we could do with our eyes closed, and headed out into Ajaccio to find a bar that would serve us up some coffee before taking off.  Unfortunately almost every place was closed or closing, and it was not until an hour later that we found a coffee machine at a gas station and eagerly dropped our coins in to get two coffees each.

We finally started at 2 am, and in the first 2 1/2 miles I saw 7 roadside memorials for people who had died in car accidents, and 3 pairs of glowing eyes in the bushes lining the streets.  It was a nerve-wracking way to start.  The eyes went away as the road climbed up and up, but the memorials did not and by mile 12 I had seen 14.  Yikes.  I’ve run in the dark plenty of times before, but it was an entirely new feeling running on an obviously dangerous mountain road that I am completely unfamiliar with and which is obviously twisting up and up away from civilization and towards a more wild nature.  Running uphill right away was also a weird thing, I might not have noticed it so distinctly had I not peered down at my Garmin to see I had climbed 1400 feet in 4 miles.  But mostly those first 15 or 20 miles went by physically unnoticed, and my focus was more outwards, taking note of the palm-sized grasshoppers and spiders dotting the roads, and any animal-like noise coming from the woods, and the squint of car lights approaching in the distance.

Early morning, I got a little too confident in my eyesight and decided I didn’t need my headlamp, which worked for about two minutes until I stumbled over a rock and went down hard on both knees and palms, bloodying them up and giving me a good laugh – a true proof in point that there’s always something new that can take you down.  After pausing to wash the blood off and clean my knees up a bit, I managed to repeat the feat a mile later, again tripping over a rock and again going down hard on both knees.  Sheesh.

The sun came up on the other side of the mountains and I hit my first 30 miles around 9 am.  I had decided to run with my Garmin but break up the distance into three 30 milers, since that’s what I am used to.  Alex brought me coffee and croissants, and I took a nice 15 minute break.  The next 30 miles were HOT.  And sunny.  And hot.  And ridiculously beautiful.  The road curved up around mountains with two more big passes, and then down towards seaside towns and back up again.  The water around Corsica is the most astounding blue and it was never out of my eyesight for more than half an hour for the entire day.  By afternoon I was too nauseous  to eat anything and on most of my drink breaks I was managing only a couple pistachios or a bite of a peach.  Probably a mistake.

Late afternoon, the backs of my arms started itching like crazy and I spent the better part of ten miles simply focusing on not itching them.  By the time the sun was going down, I looked down at my legs and realized I had large swaths of red dotted rashes all over my quads, shins, and back of my calves.  My knees were swollen and bruising.  The road I was on was no longer beautiful but intolerably miserable.  It wound around and around and around the coastal mountain range, not going down towards the sea nor up towards the summit, but crusted endlessly mid-mountain, winding around in so many curves that I had the distinct sensation I was going in circles.  The road was no longer marked with distances, there were no towns to speak of, and it felt like we were an awful maze with no way out and no idea where we were.  No cell phone service, no place names, no road signs.  It felt like an elaborate, endless trap and more than once I wondered if we had somehow missed a turn off the mountain.

With 16 miles to go, I grabbed my  whistle from the car, explaining to Alex it was “feeding time” and though I had no idea what kind of animals were around in this land, I had my suspicions.  Two minutes later, Alex has just passed me by, heading down the mountain finally, and I hear some loud chewing in the trees just ahead of me.  Just by the sound of it, I know right away it’s a wild boar.  Not to mention that the boar is the only animal I am absolutely sure lives in Corisca.  I pause, reduced again to trembling fear, just like on that day in the very first week.  Trying to be smarter this time, I blow into my whistle as hard as I can, because I’m thinking maybe that will help scare it or them off.  Instead, the boar starts grunting at me and I hear his slobbery chewing getting closer.  So I ditch the whistle and instead book it, as quickly and quietly as possible, up the mountain – once again, just like that day in the first week and once again not sure of the logic in running in either direction, because for all I know there are more boars in the direction I’m now running towards.

I had no cell reception, so I waited a couple hundred yards away, shaking and shouting Alex’s name, until finally enough time passed for him to wonder why I hadn’t passed him yet and to drive back up towards me.  After that, Alex drove right behind me until I finished.  I sprinted the next 4 or 5 miles, monumentally frightened and wanting the time to move from dusk to night as quickly as possible in hopes that the boars had to sleep at some point.  And after those 5 miles is when it all started to fall apart.

The last ten miles took so long, and sucked so much out of me that they deserve an entire chapter in the book I hope to write.  My head and face were burning up while the rest of my body was shaking with the chills.  I had to stop and pee every five minutes but I had a thirst that I thought I would never catch up with.  The physical pain on my hips and knees was bad, but what was the worst was the nausea that had been developing all day and which had bloomed into a full-tilt dizzying ocean of nausea.  Talking was out of the question, and even just running with my mouth open was enough to make me want to puke.  At some point I think I realized those bumps I had seen earlier must be sun poisoning, and the fever and debilitating nausea I’m experiencing must be because of that, but I also think I was so delirious with exhaustion that I just assumed that’s how it feels to get to 80 miles.  And I’m sure it was a little of both.

The final ten miles were five miles up the last mountain pass of the Tour, and then a steep five miles down towards Calvi.  Let me say that running 5 miles up a mountain in a dark so thick that you can’t see four feet ahead of you even with car headlights shining on from behind is no fun at all.  There’s no joy in getting to the top of the mountain if you can’t see anything and it’s incredibly disorienting and for me, discouraging.  We had to go up countless hills before we even got to the point where, according to the TDF website, we officially started going up.  And then I would make the mistake of lifting my head and seeing some headlights shining way way above us, impossibly high above us, and I knew that that meant I had to run not only that far, but also that high.  Alex had to talk me through the entire last 10 miles, telling me stories about Maine, and Richmond, and all the things we’d eat and drink and do with our friends and family once we were back home.

I finally reached the mountain pass, where, disgustingly, there was not even a sign to mark my progress.  No black Col sign I had come to appreciate so much, no altitude marking, nothing, just an obvious pass through one side of the mountain to the other.  There was TDF writing on the road and at this point I’ve never hated cyclists more in my life for the simple fact that I still had five quad pounding miles ahead of me and they had done this with the luxury of wheels.  After a couple miles of painfully steep decline, I realized that I wanted to get this over with more than I wanted to avoid the pain of running quickly.  So I switched from my shuffle-slog into one final last kick, running the last 3 miles as fast as I could, giving every single last thing I could, laying it all to rest out on the pitch black road.

When I finally did finish, at 1:05 am, my knees and elbows were crusted with blood, and my palms dotted with blood blisters from falling down, my skin pickled and covered in a sun rash, my ankles swollen red and hot, dirt everywhere, and my face completely flushed with fever.  It was, after so many runs in my life, the first time I felt so deeply that I could not possibly have gone one extra step.  So often people have commented upon seeing me after a 30 mile day that I look great, considering.  I’ve always felt conflicted about that – sure it’s nice I can run that much and not look awful, but on the other hand, I want to look awful!  I want to look like I’ve been through something.  And finally, at 1 am on Friday morning, I looked like I had been through something.  23 hours, 110 degree heat, 8000 feet of elevation gain, all of it was written on my face, etched in my body.  Finally, I looked like hell.   And it felt great.