Years ago, when I was quite a bit more public, under a different name, I wrote a blog post. In it, I described why I ran my first ultra. I didn’t think it mattered. But then several people told me how it inspired them to run their first. And, honestly, it’s still a reason for me, every day. It’s the reason I put my shoes on in the morning. It’s the reason I do everything.

For those of you who knew me, know me, will know me, my children are everything, especially over the last two years, as I have embraced single motherhood. I think as parents, we lose what our kids pick up from us. We lose what they see. They see everything. In my case, my kids have seen me struggle far too much and celebrate not nearly enough.

But ultrarunning is still a passion of mine. If I have a chance to let them crew or watch me finish, they are there. They are my best supporters. They tell their schoolmates that their mom can run 100 miles… and it’s satisfying, honestly.

However, for those of you who didn’t know me them, I have chosen to reprint the letter I wrote to my daughters when I first decided to run further than a marathon. I think it is more valuable to me today than it was when I wrote it. The words ring truer to me still.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

Deb

Letter to My Daughters

by dorthybitestoto

Dear girls,

You may find this hard to believe, but I didn’t grow up with very high self-esteem. Not that my parents were to blame. They weren’t. At least, therapy has not yet revealed that they were. My self-esteem was something that I have worked hard on, something that I earned over years.

And now, I’m thirty-five years old, and I’m looking at my three gorgeous girls. And I hope you don’t have to grow up the same way that I did.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in this life is that the human body is capable of handling more than one thinks: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I learned this very quickly when we asked for one child and God gave us three. And thank goodness that happened, because the three of you together, and alone, are the highlight of my life. That lesson is so vital because it teaches us that, when times are good, we can achieve greatness, and when times are tough, we can persevere, and perhaps ascend through the hardship.

This, my dears, is why I run. Don’t get me wrong; I like running. But the running is not about me. The running is about you. Running marathons is a way for me to prove to you in a very concrete way that, in fact, you can achieve greatness in anything you put your mind and hard work into. And that is why, next summer, I will delve into the world of ultramarathons. It’s not to prove that I can. It’s that someday I hope you look back and say that YOU can. I hope someday when your times get tough, you look back and decide to find the strength within yourself to persevere and to achieve greatness. Because showing you that is one of the greatest legacies I can leave you.

I love you,

Mom

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This morning I slept in.  This is unlike me.  Generally, I set three alarms to ensure I am up at five and showered by 5:30.  I have far too much to do to whittle the day away sleeping.  But I knew from the fitful sleep last night that all three of my children would be home from school today.  So I set my alarm for 6:30, which is unheard of for me.

And it’s not that I slept horribly.  I woke up with the kids when they got up in the middle of the night.  But mostly I slept soundly.  I just didn’t sleep nearly enough.

Oddly, it wasn’t one of the kids who woke me up.  It wasn’t the weather, as it has been so many times before.  It wasn’t the light, the dark, or a loud noise.  It was a steady trickle.

My dog was peeing on my wall.

I get it; it’s not entirely his fault.  He’s old, and he’s got a bit of an attitude problem.  We usually have him in a diaper.  But the diapers can be wiggled out of.  And he fucking pissed on my wall.  It was going to be a shitty day.

And truly, that was the start of a really shitty day.

One of my twins had been sick yesterday.  She had gone into work with me yesterday, where she slept all day, curled up in my office chair. 

I wasn’t concerned enough to take her in to a doctor. 

This morning she woke first of the three and immediately collapsed into the couch dowstairs, falling back asleep.

Then the second child awoke, also sick.

The third child woke, feeling neglected and boisterous because she wasn’t sick.

Then I noticed, on the oldest child’s cheek was blood, pus, and other pink junk gushing from her ear.

Crap.  It was going to be a shitty day.

As we pulled into the doctor’s parking lot, my second child noticed the splotches on the first’s hands.  She had a rash all over.

As we got into the doctor’s offce, her eyes began to crust up.

The next thing I knew, I was picking up antibiotics for three kids with strep. 

Before I knew it, it was advised that I get treated, that the foreign exchange student gets treated, that we quarantine, etc.  Meanwhile, my youngest child was screaming because she wasn’t getting the attention she wanted.

And I just felt like I could hear the dog pissing on the wall still.

Three temper tantrums, two vomits, and a gushing ear later, we stumbled our way to bedtime.  The kids are all sleeping soundly as I type.

It was a shitty day.

It used to be, not so long ago, I would face a day like that, then crawl into the fetal position and ask anyone who would listen for a hug. 

But today, I found myself looking at my children and saying, gosh, they really look like they could use a hug.

In fact, I’ve though that about a lot of people today.

It’s not that I don’t need or want a hug.  I want endless amounts of them to arrive on my doorstop daily.  But I didn’t crave one.  I didn’t feel empty without one.

I felt whole.

I felt okay.

I felt like I had just had another day.

Some people may say I’m not as fun as I used to be.  That may be true.  I’ve weathered a few storms…and some of them have been rough…heartbreaking.

But the point is that I have come out alive.  I HAVE come out whole.  I have come out leaner, tougher, stronger.

I guess instead of writing one of theose popular open letters to Lance Armstrong, I’d write one to my own adversity.  It would say something like this:

“Adversity, I hate you.  You are one tough motherfucker who can screw yourself with 10,000 rusty nails.  You are not welcome in my life anymore.  But goddamn it, in spite of it all, you have made me stronger.  You have made me grow up.  You have made me who I am and who I need to be.  I never want to see you again, you lousy piece of shit.  But thank you for the person you made me.
“Hugs,
“Deb”

Life has been humbling for me the past 18 months.  But if you think for one second I’m not sticking around to kick ass in round two, then you’ve got another thing coming.  And this time, it’s personal.

Anyone need a hug?

One of the most interesting things that has happened over the course of my very adventurous year is watching my kids grow from preschoolers into grade school children (dare I say tweens?).  And they’ve had their first exposure to bullies, to the fact that I so very  obviously like know NOTHING you know (duh), and their first team sports.  This spring, the twins played soccer, which I think every single child in this town does.  They played non-competitively, of course, on the team where we cheer when they score a goal for their team, we cheer when they score a goal for the other team, or we cheer when they pick their nose and twirl their hair the whole time.  No goalies, no score, just fun.  Everybody wins.

However, as the season went on, some of the kiddos stopped picking their noses and started really getting competitive.  One of my twins was even seen throwing elbows (defensively, of course).

Don’t worry.  My other twin still picks her nose and twirls her hair.  I actually tried to make her a better player by telling her the ball was a unicorn and the goal was the castle.  The other team would kill the unicorn if…yeah…it didn’t work.  Instead, all of the parents cheered (and I cried) when she kicked the ball down the field for the first time in the last game.  Yes, it was to the wrong goal.  But it was the most movement we had seen out of her all year.  It turns out she WASN’T afraid of the ball.  She was just  not really very talented…yet.

But some of the girls got quite good as the games went on.  Mia (not her real name; none of these are), the shortest kid on the team, was a ringer.  Erin scowled as she played.  And Hannah… well Hannah grew about four inches over the season, making her the only real FAST player on the team.

Saturday, the girls had their very last game.  For the second time this season, they played the team that had matching soccer balls, matching socks, matching hair accessories, matching snack bags, matching cheers, and matching really aggressive-over-the-top yelling parents.  Their coach was a ripped mom who went hoarse in the first quarter.  Clearly, they were in it to win it.

And even though we didn’t keep score, it was clear  who was kicking our little ragamuffins’ asses.

Hannah, who had grown so much, was the only player who could make it down the field before the matching team.  I think those extra four inches all went into her legs.  She could beat the Heathers down to the other goal, over the protests of their parents.

And then she would simply kick the ball out of bounds.

Play over.  New start.

It was kind like when Indiana Jones shot his pistol at that fancypants kung fu guy.

She did this probably ten or twelve times before one of the Heathers (played by a young Winona Ryder, no doubt) looked at Hannah and said, “STOP DOING THAT!”

Hannah retorted, shrugging her shoulders, “It’s just part of the game.”

Hannah is absolutely right, though.  So many times in life, we set ourselves up, knowing 100% that we are set up for perfection.  We are so SURE that we have everything in place.  We are going to WIN this time dammit!

And someone comes along, and with one fell swoop, kicks the ball out of bounds.

And there we sit, crestfallen…brokenhearted…dejected…defeated.

It must be unfair.  After  all, we did all of that preparation.

But it’s not.  It’s all part of the game.  It’s all part of life.

And it is fair.  Sometimes others just outsmart us.

And to the winners go the spoils.  And to the losers go the lessons, the wisdom.

I guarantee that little girl who was so dejected during the soccer game took away a valuable lesson from that game.  I guarantee next fall she will come out with a new defense.  Or perhaps she will have learned to kick the ball out of bounds herself.  And while she was very upset that day, I guarantee it will make her a better player.

As much as it hurts at the time, this is what those “defeated” moments teach us in our own lives.  It is up to us to just keep having the courage and tenacity to come back to play another day.

I always had a really tough time growing up with the fact that I had curly hair and eyes that your can’t pin a color on (to this day, they’re concentric circles of brown, grey, and navy).  I had tons of freckles and a really flat chest.  I just never really felt like I fit into a blonde, straight-haired, blue-eyed world.  And I suppose that took a toll on my self-esteem.

Fast forward to now, where I couldn’t love my hair and eyes more.  They show youth and hide my aging, where my colleagues all appear to be aging exactly the same way.

But regardless, over the last several weeks, I have been called all of the following by well-meaning people:

-Middle aged

-Past my prime

-Average-looking

-Not skinny, but curvy (an odd combination with a flat chest)

It’s funny because now more than ever, I can tell you this:

DON’T tell me I’m anything but beautiful.  You vision of me means nothing.  I am exactly in the skin I am in for a reason, and I earned it, every last wrinkle and every last freckle.  Don’t think for a second I’d trade with one of those supermodel-types.  No, I’m exactly who I am supposed to be right now.  And that, in and of itself, is beautiful.

But let’s not forget that I have three beautiful daughters.  Have I mentioned that one of them looks nothing like me?  Oh, she has my personality.  She is sensitive, kind, and mathematically inclined.  But she has long, straight, blonder-than-blonde hair, a very petite will-never-be-curvy figure, and bright blue eyes.

You know what?  She cries because she doesn’t have dark curly hair like her mom.  She cries because she is petite, unlike her twin.  She makes cut-out glasses so she can look more like me.

It never dawned on me that she could feel outcast because she doesn’t look like any of the women we know.  All the women in my family, all of my friends, all of our sitters, have brown hair.

Then I had a lightbulb moment when Andrea came to visit.  You all know Andrea? She has straight, long, blonde hair.  My child suddenly had a role model.  She suddenly knew someone who looked like her.

And she was okay, which I am thankful for.

All the same, to all three of my daughters, I will keep repeating it:

DON’T tell me I’m anything but beautiful.  You vision of me means nothing.  I am exactly in the skin I am in for a reason, and I earned it, every last wrinkle and every last freckle.  Don’t think for a second I’d trade with one of those supermodel-types.  No, I’m exactly who I am supposed to be right now.  And that, in and of itself, is beautiful.

Even if they do look like supermodels.

At one point during my run, I looked at my crew member and said, “I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove with this run.”

She looked back, “Who says you’re trying to prove anything?”

I think I have explained to the world several times over why I run.  I run because I believe every woman is a goddess.  Every human is empowered.  This is how I choose to empower myself, to unleash my goddess.  To make me feel alive.  I run.

And I have explained many times over why I run ultra.  I run ultra because I believe I am stronger than I think.  I have more to give when the reserve runs dry.  I believe everyone does.  And I want to prove this to my kids.  Someday, they, too, will need to give more than they think they have.  And they can.

With this in mind, I have celebrated several Mother’s Days running.  Or somewhere around that holiday.  It’s just what I do.

But last year, my life changed drastically.  Details are unimportant, really, but I suddenly had no ability to escape to the trails to find my goddess.  I no longer had the camaraderie of trail running buddies to bring out my strong. Suddenly, it was just my kids and me.

Because I couldn’t leave the house to run, I began to get up early before the kids and run laps inside the house…in the dark…carrying my GPS.  My shoes striking the wood made too much noise.  So I began to run barefoot…every day.  Thus was born a barefoot runner.

I don’t JUST run barefoot.  And I’m not a barefooter.  I believe in barefoot rights.  I’ve long been a minimalist runner.  But I am not a barefooter.

So I’m not sure what I set out to prove by this run.  Nothing and everything all at once, I suppose.

I wanted a challenge.

I wanted to push myself.

I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day in a way that said, “I have lost a lot this year, but you cannot have everything.  You can’t take my soul, my running.”

Thus was born my Barefoot 24 hour run.  I decided that I would celebrate Mother’s Day by running barefoot for 24 hours, attempting to break the world record for distance barefoot running in 24 hours.  This record (held by a man) is commonly regarded as 102.something miles.

My lovely friends Andrea and Skibba came in to help.  While both athletes, they are green to the ultra world, so I knew some coaching would be in order.  After all, I’ve done this enough times.  I know my pitfalls.  I know my weaknesses.  And I know they had Twitter to cry out to when all else failed.  Oh, and a car to drive me to the ER if need be.

So, Friday afternoon at  12:26 pm, I handed over my driver’s license, credit card, and insurance card to my crew and set out for a loop on the sidewalk.

My first issue became heat.  I was running 8-8:30 miles in 80 degree weather and full sun.  It was not good.  While it usually takes me 40 miles to get the ick, this time it only took 20.

At the 20 mile break (which I had to have, due to the way I felt), we borrowed a scale from my neighbor, pulled up this chart: http://www.succeedscaps.com/articles/water_electrolyte_balance_table/, and began to diagnose me this way.  When I came in, it became, “how is your head, your tummy, your thirst, your hunger?”  Wash the feet and rub them.  Then go.

After my crash, I came back and felt terrific, smiling without intention.  I had hit a new strong moment.  With minimal nausea issues, I powered through to 50.1 miles in the first 12 hours.

Amazingly, my feet never bothered me these first 50 miles.  And neither did my muscles.  Just my tummy if I was under-hydrated.  But after this, my feet began to feel the pavement.

What I haven’t noted is I live in a new development, which has new sidewalks.  New sidewalks are very rough.  They had been acting steadily as sandpaper the whole time I ran. However, I had a few more miles in me before this would truly become an issue.

Another thing that I haven’t noted is that timed races are special for a few reasons.  One is that there isn’t that sense of urgency to get to an aid station.  You can’t quit a trail run.  Well, you can DNF whenever you want.  But no one will care until you get to an aid station to tell them.  Timed races are different.  They’re comfortable.  There is a loop with an aid station.  You know the route.  You know how far you are from it at all times.  It gets hard not to quit.  It gets especially hard not to quit when that aid station is your home, and the neighbors are staring at you at midnight, and your bed feels neglected.

But I digress…

Let’s just say that night became difficult.  By 2 am, I was bargaining with God, the Devil, or whoever would listen to make it storm so I could quit running.  In a childlike state, I was plotting against Andrea to get into a chair and fall asleep before she noticed.  I fell asleep on the toilet three times.  I did not want to keep going.  But I never questioned my crew.  And I went.  I managed 100km before dawn.

The sunrise hit.  They always say you have new life at sunrise in an ultra.  But I had NEW LIFE.  I ran 6 fast miles (like, in an hour fast) before the pain of raw feet actually set  in.  My pads were worn thin and beginning to spring leaks.

Then Barefoot Michael showed up and “ran” a loop with me.  I encapsulate that in quotes because my feet felt everything at this point, and I walked…a lot…from there on out.

I finished my last mile very painfully with my crew around noon Saturday.  My feet were shot.  My crew had been amazing.  I was happy with my 76.62 miles (which may or may not be a world record for female barefoot running distance in 24 hours).  I had a glass of wine.  I had a bath.  I slept, joyous, soul quiet again.

I learned so much from this run.  One of the things I learned from this run is that experience doesn’t make a great crew.  Heart does.  These ladies wanted to see me succeed more than anything else.  And I have never been so spoiled by a crew in my life.

Also, I am a little tired, and I have congestion, which is all post-ultra normal.  But my feet are not swollen.  I have one blister.  I wore “normal” shoes to work today.  Also, I have little soreness.  I walked into work this morning normally and functioned all day.  In fact, I cleaned my house yesterday.  I attribute the lack of soreness to good form and the lack of foot issues to no shoes.  Most of the foot issues I have had in ultras are due to friction from shoes.

I’m not sure what I had to prove by running this, but I don’t care anymore.  I’m just glad I did.  What a wonderful, empowering experience.  I will do it again in a heartbeat.  Only next time, I will choose a smooth sidewalk.

I was a stay-at-home mother for six years, and I loved it.  It was absolutely the right thing for our children and our family.  The children and I had a strong bond, I was there for all of their “events,” and I could teach them to follow our family values and way of life.

And I wasn’t JUST a stay-at-home mom.  I raised chickens with the kids.  I took extra kids sometimes to give other moms a break.  I cooked elaborate locavore food that I bought with my kids at farmer’s market or harvested with them on a farm.  I was really good at it.

I never  though much about the difference between stay-at-home moms and working moms.  I just knew that all families looked a little different from each other.  And I knew I liked where I was.

Then, around a year ago, we got to the point in our lives where I needed to work.  It was absolutely the right thing for our children and our family.  And I love it.

Again, I never thought much about the difference between stay-at-home moms and working moms.  I just knew that all families looked a little different from each other.  I knew this was how my family needed to look. 

However, I do know the community that I am in.  It’s incredibly suburban.  Most families have two parents present (mine does not).  And about half of them have a stay-at-home parent (ours does not).  While there are probably a lot more families that look like mine than I think, it’s the same families I see over and over again, the overachieving PTA members and home room mothers, with their available Watch DOG dad husbands.  People are just heavily involved with the kids.  And the expectations of involvement by parents is high.  And sometimes, I just cannot make it to every performance or every practice.  But my kids are there, usually with a family member.  And it’s not like I miss a lot of things.  I really do try and make it.

But I have become very aware of the fact that I don’t meet the expectations of a lot of parents.  I am not the norm.

I became painfully aware of this a few days ago.  I had signed up to help on the school party committee, run by a stay-at-home dad.  As he was assigning tasks, he publicly announced that he had only given me “small tasks.”  I took this as a bit of a slight, mostly because the only way he would even THINK I was not up for bigger responsibility was if he had been gossiping with the “power crew” of mothers that generally take over during homeroom parties and at school functions.  They would whisper to each other, as if I were inflicted with some insidious disease they couldn’t say aloud, “She just can’t be here that much.  She works.  And her husband doesn’t live with her.  Those poor kids.”

I’ve seen them do it.

Suddenly, I truly did become aware that there was a divide between the parents of the world who stay at home and those who work.  I’ve been on both sides.  And I’d guess I’d like to tell the stay-at-home moms a thing or two about me:

1.  You are not a better parent than I am because you stay home.  Just because I work doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be at every function with my kids.  And it doesn’t mean I support them any less.  Nor do they feel unsupported.  I spend a LOT of time catching up with my kids, their teachers, parents’ friends, and family.  I know what my kids like and dislike.  I know what subjects they excel at.  I know what they want to be when they grow up.  I know their friends and their friends’ parents.  Get the picture?  Just because I am not around all day doesn’t mean I cannot be just as involved in their lives as I used to be.

2.  My kids do not have fewer opportunities than yours do because I work.  Because you stay at home, your kids are not smarter.  They will not do better at sports.  They will not have better friends.  If your kids do these things, it’s because you have good genes, and have instilled values in your kids.  I read all of the notes that come home.  And if there is something that we, as a family, feel is a good opportunity for our kids, we will fight to be able to take it, whether I am there or not.

3.  At least for now, working makes me a better mother.  I was a great stay-at-home mother.  But my psyche began to need more after a few years.  I missed an emotional and intellectual connection with my peers.  I missed wearing pretty clothes and going to business meetings.  I’m not going to lie.  I did.  And now, I am able to get that, then come home to my kids, calmer, more articulate, more patient.

4.  I get plenty of quality time with my kids.  I see my kids every night and all weekend.  Most weekends, we spend the entire time together.  It’s just that, rather than playing catch, we have to grocery shop or clean the house.  Truly, my girls and I have a really strong bond.  And we have a great time together when we are around.  I don’t lament not being there enough.

5.  I’m not anti-social; I’m tired.  If you ask me to go out for a beer on a Friday night, even if I have a sitter, I will likely say, “No.”  It’s not that I don’t think you’re the bees knees.  It’s just that I have probably averaged about four hours of sleep a night all week, between packing lunches, prepping meals, writing letters to teachers and nannies, filling out paperwork, doing housework…add in a run, and I’m spent.  The weekends are chill time.  Mostly, we just want to have fun as a family…and sleep.

6.  My kids are not “latch key” kids, passed around from caretaker to caretaker, without consistent supervision.  I admit, I have hired a nanny for one day a week, but that’s only because I don’t have enough family to go around (my nanny is excellent, by the way).  Every other day that I work really means a day with cousins, grandma, an aunt…And I think this is important.  Honestly, I am not in this game to raise mini-mes.  I want to raise well-rounded individuals who can think for themselves and act independently.  Really, I think that a good way to do this is to have several people who spend time with the kids.  After all, how will they know what they like unless they see a variety of options?

7.  I don’t lack tradition with my kids.  Friday night is movie night. Saturday is family day.  Thanksgiving means we feed our leftovers to the homeless.  And Christmas means we make paper chains and string popcorn.  And on top of this my family’s traditions and my husband’s family’s traditions, there is plenty there.  We have ample of time to create memories, even though I am not around 50 hours during the week.

6.  You don’t need to pity or feel sorry for me or my kids.  I am not brave because I am a mother.  I am not courageous or amazing.  My kids do not suffer.  I do know how I do it.  I work hard.  I work very hard.  I make sure that caring people are with my kids.  I make sure their needs are met.  I make sure my needs are met.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.  I am guessing that, other than my 6 year old, who wishes I was a unicorn, neither would they.

7.  I appreciate parents like you.  Yeah, I know, my kids see my face every day.  But they also see yours.  And that’s important.  It’s important to have other parents and caregivers who are familiar faces, and nurturing and loving in my kids’ lives.  It’s important to have tireless parents who can plan the school party and help with every homeroom event.  It’s important to see the way different families work.  I’ve been that familiar face at times, and now I come to pick up and drop off when I can squeeze it in.  So thank you for being that familiar face right now.

I really wish that the world population were required to take a class in what it really means to be married. So much of what we learn from media, at least in the states, is that marriage will sweep you off your feet and keep you off your feet through all eternity.  I can only assume that this is what it means, since most movies end once we know true love and/or marriage has commenced.  However, if I were to personally give advice to someone thinking of getting married, I think I would give different advice than “follow your heart.”  I would actually include the following items:

1.  You really DO marry your in-laws:  You know those people that you have dinner with once a month?  Yeah, well, they hold much more power than you think.  As your parents and siblings do for you, being a part of a family means fending off the unsolicited advice and the annoying habits.

2.  If the most important thing was superficial love, half of all marriages wouldn’t end in divorce.  Look, your puppy love and infatuation will fade.  So will your looks. And his.  If you have kids, your free time will vanish.  In many of those years, what is left between the two of you is largely a business partnership.  It’s about money, division of time, and values.  Marry someone you would go into business with or can at least speak with like you would.

3.  It’s okay to go to bed mad.  You may cool down and see things better in the morning.

4. Sex will still be good in ten years.  In fact, it may be better.

5.  Life is long, and marriage is too.  We all make mistakes.  Most of them can be forgiven.  In my honest opinion, too many people throw away a marriage because they’re in a bad temporary situation.  Yet most people that I know who have divorced have said that, had they done it all over again, they would not have left a marriage just to deal with a temporary situation.  Rather, they should have permanently dealt with the situation, then let the marriage heal itself.

6.  That said, please, still marry for love.  I believe that true love IS out there, and that, with a smart head screwed on, we can still let it sweep us off our feet.