Friday, September 28, 2012

Toenails (With Pictures!)

I know, I know, you're sick of hearing about my toenails. Well, too bad. This is my blog and I can write about whatever I want, and I feel like writing about toenails today. I also feel like putting in pictures. However, I did do you the courtesy of putting the pictures waaaaaaaay down at the bottom, so they won't jump right out and scare you. I must warn you that they are extremely disgusting. Extremely! So don't look if you have a weak stomach or if you think that you might not be able to look at me without the sight of me triggering a gag reflex after you see them.

Some people (non-runners, obviously) don't get why things like this happen to toenails. Here is why. When you run long distances, especially down hills, your toes bang against the toebox of your shoes. Times a million in a long distance race. I am pretty sure this is inevitable. It's happened in many different brands of shoe. I don't think it has anything to do with the shoe being the wrong size. These shoes feel like they're exactly the right size. If I went up a half a size, my foot would be sliding around and would hit the toebox with even more force; if I went down half a size my toes would be squished in the front of the shoe and would start their blistering even before I hit the hills.

Multiply the impact of the toe hitting the toebox times... some really high number, and eventually you get a blister under the nail from the friction. If the blister is bad enough (and here's where my science gets murky and I'm too lazy to google, so I'm basically making this up), it somehow causes the nail to disconnect from the nail bed. Or maybe it happens because the nail sits and marinates in the liquid from the blister all day. I don't really know. But eventually the whole nail will just lift off, and you are left with smooth, shiny pink toe skin just like the day you were born.

Not! More likely you're left with (see below) an oozing crater with shards of nail clinging to the edges of the nail bed because the nail wasn't quite ready to be detached but you got impatient and numbed it up with ice and yanked it off because you got tired of it flapping like a saloon door in an old Western movie and catching on your blankets in bed and making you wake up screaming every time you turned over. Yeah, I know I'm not the only one who's done that.

Okay, I've made you wait long enough, scroll down past the pretty picture of pretty Chloe (you'll need this cuteness to inoculate yourself against the grossness that's coming next) if you reeeeaaaalllly want to see...

The first picture below is of my right big toenail... or, more accurately, the place where my right big toenail used to be. It turned black after Pikes Peak but hung around until after the 50, when it pretty much gave up the ghost. I went ahead and pulled it off, and it came off except for in the right corner, where it was still attached firmly. That hurt. Like pulling off a hangnail. And the fact that I left a tiny speck of toenail there means it will grow back in all uneven and double-thick and disgusting. Like a little horn.

The next one is of my left big toe. I call this one my zombie toenail because it turned fish-white instead of the usual black. (Though today it's looking yellow, maybe due to the hydrogen peroxide soaks?) Anyway, the blister under this one popped and drained and I should have just left it alone, but noooooo. I can't leave scabs or dead toenails alone; I just can't. So I picked at it and picked at it and eventually got it at least halfway off -- but it stopped there and wouldn't go any further. Now what? It hurts too much if I try to pull it all the way off. But if I leave it on it catches on everything. Solution: leave it on, soak it often, hope that the soaking softens it up enough to pull it all the way off eventually. And bandage it during the day so that my sweaty feet don't make it stick to my sock and create a nasty mess when I take my sock off at the end of the day.

You know, the sad thing is that my feet are structurally perfect. Really, they are. I don't have a foot fetish but the shape of my feet makes me want to get one just so I could worship my own feet. Then THIS shit goes and happens to my nails, making me want to throw up. I have heard it said that no matter how gross something is, someone, somewhere, has fetishized it, but I am pretty willing to bet that no one has ever fetishized ultrarunners' feet. And if someone has, that someone is a sick, sick individual.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Looking Into the Abyss

From the perspective of (almost) one week post-race, I can see that the whole thing was vastly different than the OP-50. I'm not talking about the difficulty of the course, I'm talking about the way I felt about it.

When I reached the finish line at the OP-50, I was filled with horror and was truly appalled that such an event existed and that I had voluntarily participated in it. I remembered the dread I felt out there on the course at Mile 33 and the sheer misery and the knowledge that the misery was going to last for hours and hours and hours yet. When I said at the finish line, "Never again", I meant it with all my heart.

After the OP-50 I couldn't even think about trails for months without that feeling of dread settling over me. I didn't get back on them until Pikes Peak forced me to get serious about them. And somewhere in the process of training for Pikes Peak, I remembered the neat part about doing stuff that is really challenging. That is that looking into the abyss -- i.e., facing something that is so scary and impossible-seeming that you just want to lie down and quit -- gives you a new perspective that you can't just go out and get in run-of-the-mill daily life. It took me a couple months to figure it out, but I finally did, to the point that when I signed up for Flagstaff on a whim I really didn't worry about it at all or spend much time analyzing whether it was a mistake or not. I was excited about it. Really excited! I wanted to see what horrible things would happen to me out there and what I would think about them. I could care less about my time other than wanting to finish within the time cutoff.

I got this strange energy in the days leading up to the race. It's like the things in my everyday life got smaller and race day got bigger and brighter. My feeling on the start line was a mix of a wild, giddy kind of happiness and plain curiosity -- what the heck was going to happen?

It was surprisingly, disappointingly unremarkable for the first 35 miles. I felt pretty good, no hallucinating, no stomach problems, no body parts threatening to fall off, no shitting myself, these were all good things! In fact when I left the Schultz aid station at, I don't know, Mile 31 or 32, I was feeling almost disappointed because I felt so normal. I was slow-running just like I would any trail, any day. Then, suddenly, around Mile 35, in the middle of a steep, nasty climb, ultra brain took over and the feelings of weirdness started.

I stand by my statement that ultra brain is a lot like LSD brain. Hikers walking by look really funny, like they have their heads on sideways or something. I noticed the quality of the afternoon sunlight and think about how, yup, time is passing and I've been out here in the forest the whole damn day. I see things like trees breathing. I start to cry and plead with the trail to please get easier. Then I come around a corner and see it goes up even steeper and start swearing at it.

Then I finally drag myself into an aid station and fall on the ground with no energy left at all and it is incomprehensible that I can walk ten more steps, let alone 13 more miles. But after enough food and soda I start to come alive again, sort of. But I still don't want to leave the aid station. I start thinking about dropping. Who cares anyway. I made almost 40 miles, isn't that enough? Then I picture writing my blog explaining why I dropped -- wasn't trained, shouldn't have attempted it -- and know that my only real excuse for dropping is "I don't feel like continuing" and that is unacceptable. So I get up and trudge out. I keep stopping and looking over my shoulder at the ever-more-distant aid station, waiting for someone to come along and tell me to quit, I guess, but no one does. It's just me and the sunset and the rocks and the aspens.

After Mile 40 is when the serious weirdness starts. This is the good part. It was scary in OP-50 because I didn't know what to expect. Now I do. I start to look forward to it, like, what will I see next that is weird? All the Japanese hikers, that giant gnarly tree down at the bottom (can I just say, Whomping Willow?), the endless stream of conversation coming out of my mouth directed at my invisible hiking partner, all that. Then comes the part that's just lame. The 2000' climb up the mountain, feet dragging like I'm pulling them out of quicksand with every step. Then the beauty of the sleeping bag and the heater. Eyes closed, asleep in five seconds or less. Volunteers won't let me sleep. Get up! You've got five more miles, all downhill. I make half-hearted noises about not wanting to finish but I know I am going to.

So grateful for company on those last five miles through the Blair Witch-y looking forest. The finish line is almost deserted. A couple race people in hoodies and jeans looking frozen. No fire, no hot soup, no cheering crowds. Who cares. It was awesome. I looked into the abyss and did not become paralyzed with dread. I made myself keep moving when everything in me wanted to stop. What a thrill that is! Someone tell me where you can get that kind of thrill in daily life. I'll sign up, no doubt.

The only scary thing is wondering whether I'll need a bigger high some day. A marathon is not really a challenge anymore. Even Pikes Peak. Even the Pikes Peak Double. What happens if you just keep raising the bar? Is this how people end up doing 100's? Running Badwater? Help!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Redefining Brutal: Flagstaff Endurance Run Race Report

Where to start with this? Maybe with a link to the website:

(I wanted to copy and paste the elevation profile and map, but couldn't figure out how. So if you want to see a visual of the torture, go to the website and look at the elevation profile for the 50-mile race. Especially look at the really thick band of red right before Mile 40. I should have looked at it more closely when I was telling myself that even though I wasn't really in shape for this, if nothing else it would just be a nice day spent hiking around the forest in Flagstaff. Mmmm hmmm.)

Everyone knows I didn't really train for this and thought I could sort of wing it on 40 miles of running in the past month (very little of it on trails) and lots of biking. Plus, I did have a good Pikes Peak Double, so I had that in the bag going in. Well, compared to this... event (I can't call it a race; it was an endurance event), Pikes Peak was a walk in the park. Or a stroll on the beach. Or some other really nice, easy activity that did not at all compare to this. I cannot compare this to anything I've done, not even the OP-50, which was, up until today, the hardest thing I ever did and the worst I've ever felt in an event.

If you didn't look at the website, let me summarize: the course starts at about 7200' or so, and meanders around the forest with 5 significant climbs that go up to right around 9000' each. There's a total elevation gain of around 8000', which is the same as two Mt. Wrightsons (which I have never done, by the way -- perhaps I should have) or one Pikes Peak. My mindset going into this race was that I would plan to spend all day out there in the forest, walk any time I wanted, and just enjoy the hike. There were 29 people doing the 50-mile and I'm not sure how many doing the 50-k.

We started at 6:00 a.m. with perfect temperatures -- just slightly chilly in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts.  The first climb, up to the Sunset aid station, was not too bad. I walked it and so did most of the other runners. It would have been runnable if I had been in shape. The Sunset aid station was on top of a ridge line at almost 9000'. Immediately after leaving it the trail dropped down the side of the mountain. The ridge was lined with aspens, and their leaves were all blazing yellow for the fall. They were stunning. The view down into the valley below was also stunning. I did hear a couple of other runners say something unpleasant about how we would be climbing back up the mountainside at the end of the day, but I tried to ignore it. The trail dropped for about two miles and then came out to a dirt road that climbed for about four miles and then came to the Shultz aid station. Tom caught up to me right before the road. (I had to stop to pee and to retie my shoes since my feet were slipping all around in them. By the way, unlike the last 50-mile race I did, I did not emerge with a single gross or interesting shit story. I didn't even pee on my shoes. Boring!) Anyway, Tom and I were not in a hurry. He trained about as well as I did, and we strolled up the road chatting and not doing anything resembling racing. We were only at about Mile 11 and I felt like we were being a little too casual. I mean, neither one of us cared about time but there was a 16-hour limit for the course which I really thought I might end up coming pretty close to.

After the Shultz aid station, the course left the road and climbed a couple miles on trail before coming out to another road. This one went down. It was about three miles of beautiful downhill. I caught up to a guy named Mike, who was also a Tucson runner. I had never met him before. We ran together down the road into the Kachina aid station. They told us at this aid station that it was 3.3 miles to the next aid station, which was a turnaround. I didn't think there was an aid station -- I thought there were only three, Sunset, Schultz, and Kachina. But since they told me there was, I believed them and drank all my water before I got there. It turned out that the "aid station" wasn't. It was just a couple people sitting there checking numbers. They gave me a tiny bit of water from their personal stash, which I felt bad about but I didn't want to go the 3.3 miles back to Kachina without any water.

Mike and I were going to try to stay together but he started having trouble and eventually I just left him. I mean, I am all for staying together if you're doing the same pace but everyone should really run their own race unless it's pre-established that you're going to do it together. (Like escorting a friend through a first marathon, or something.) I never saw Mike after the turnaround and later found out he dropped though I don't know why.

The out-and-back also let me see exactly how far ahead of me everyone else was. I was keeping a loose count of the people who passed me and who I passed and the numbers didn't seem right. There were only about fifteen runners ahead of me and I knew there should be more than that. And there were I think six behind me, including Mike and Tom. I had the vague thought that there must be quite a few people dropping. I myself felt pretty good at this point. I was going slow but I was at the halfway point right around six hours, which really wasn't that bad considering the difficulty of the course.

I went through the Kachina aid station for the second time and then had six miles till I got back to the Shultz aid station for the second time. (For people who do not do ultras, you never EVER think of the whole distance. You would sit down and cry at the start line if you did. You have to go aid station to aid station, and those are manageable distances, about five to eight mile stretches.) Anyway, there was a three-something-mile climb back up the road and then a two-something-mile drop on the trail. I caught up to and passed three of the six other women in the race. (The other three were so far ahead of me I never saw them once they passed me on the Kachina out-and-back.) I beat everyone to the top of the climb and, even with stopping to pee again, also beat them down into the Schultz aid station. The one who came in right behind me  had introduced herself as T. She said she had a long, complicated first name so always went by T. She was nice. We grazed at the aid station and then left together to do the 5.6 miles to the Sunset aid station, but I was feeling much better than her so I took off and left her.

It was another big climb back up to Sunset. I felt good for the first two miles and then felt BAD. I walked the rest of it, slowly. When I finally dragged myself into Sunset (at Mile 37), I was completely on empty. They asked me what I needed and I told them I needed to lie down. They showed me to a sleeping bag and I crashed there. My legs and feet were shaking and I was starving but also nauseous. Finally I managed to get down a peanut butter sandwich or at least most of one. (One complaint about this race -- why no jelly in the peanut butter sandwiches? Seriously, do you know how hard it is to choke down peanut butter and dry bread? I ended up dipping my sandwich in my cup of Mountain Dew just to make it go down easier. Yes, looking back that sounds disgusting. However, food takes on an entirely different quality in ultras, and you do things you would never do in real life.)

I felt awful leaving Sunset. Rock-bottom. All three of the ladies I had passed after Kachina -- T, Stephanie, and one other whose name I didn't get -- came into Sunset and then out. Well, T was still there when I left but the other two took off looking great. I didn't understand that. The trail out of Sunset continued up the ridge line and then dropped down. Almost two thousand feet down, straight down. And we then had to climb back up the same two thousand foot drop. I thought of how I was basically a walking corpse dragging into Sunset, and the thought of doing that climb again with eight more miles in my legs was appalling. I was really ready to admit defeat and DNF right there. Korey, one of the fast Tucson runners, was dropping and I saw him sitting in the chair waiting for a ride down and was SO envious. My thinking went along the lines of, OK, I gave it a good try and a great effort, and I still got almost 40 miles in, so is it really worth it to keep going? What if I get to the bottom and physically can't make the climb back up? Will I just sit at the bottom while it gets dark and cold? All these things were running through my head, but yet I found myself standing up and allowing the aid station volunteers to shove me out on the trail again (after warning me that it was a really tough eight miles and was I sure I had enough fluids? No, I did not, only one bottle, but the thought of opening up my bag and getting the water bag out of there and filling it and readjusting everything was way too complicated.).

I wanted to cry walking out of that aid station. I pulled out my phone and texted Rob telling him I wanted to drop. I knew he would say if I felt that bad I should just drop. I waited for him to text me back saying that, and kept walking in the meantime. I wanted to hit 40 miles on my GPS before quitting. I got further and further from the aid station, still no text from Rob. The trail was beautiful here -- right through the aspens, yellow leaves all fiery from the start of the sunset -- but I could care less. All I could think about was my own suffering. Finally I got to the point where the trail started to drop again. It was either turn around here or keep going. Rob still hadn't texted me back giving me permission to drop. Also, I knew Tom was still behind me and knew he wouldn't drop no matter how bad he was suffering. Also, I've done 50+ races and never DNF'd, and always said as long as I could still move I would never DNF. ALSO, I wanted that pint glass finishers got. All right. Decision made, I would keep going.

Almost immediately I regretted that decision. The trail was basically straight down, and it was a mix of giant step-downs and loose slippery gravel-type under footing. The kind where if you step down too fast your feet will fly right out from under you. Every step down jolted my whole body, from the soles of my feet up to my shoulders. Every slippery gravel spot forced me to practically sit down and go down on my butt because I was so afraid of falling. I was wearing my Newtons and wished I had changed into my Hokas at the aid station. (I had them there, in my drop bag, but it seemed like too much trouble to put them on. Ultra-brain at work again. Any time you have a vague feeling that you "should" do something -- eat more, get your gloves out and put them on, change shoes -- and don't do it because it's too much trouble, you should take that as a sign that you are making a mistake.)

As I was going down, and down, and down, I kept passing hikers. They were all Japanese. Seriously, like 20 or more of them, all spread apart. My ultra brain seized on that -- why so many Japanese? (Ultra brain also does that -- picks out things that aren't really that weird and starts perseverating on them. Ultra brain actually bears a surprising resemblance to LSD brain, come to think of it.) One of the little Japanese kids said to me, "Everyone else is ahead of you. well, not everyone, but 15 or 16 people at least." His mom tried to shush him but I just cracked up laughing hysterically. Of course everyone else was ahead of me! I couldn't stop laughing. The first time anything had seemed funny in many, many miles. Thank God for that punk little kid.

I finally reached the bottom of the trail. 6900'. I could not think about the fact that I had to climb back up to 9000'. Impossible. I worked on my game plan instead. I would walk the rest of the way, of course. Take one gel (my last remaining gel) at the bottom of the climb and drink half my water, eat a pack of Clif Bloks and drink the other half of my water when I hit 8000'. That was my plan and I stuck to it.

I was on probably a couple dozen trails and I only remember the name of one -- the Heart Trail, the one that led back up to the Sunset aid station. At the bottom was a sign saying, "Not advised for horses." Why? Because it was too steep and narrow. Ultra brain thought it was very funny that it was too steep for horses but not for runners with 43 miles in their legs. I started up, one slow, plodding step at a time. There was one guy visible ahead of me. His name was Mike and he was from Prescott. I'd met him somewhere else on the trail but couldn't remember where. I kept him in sight but then had to pee again. I started thinking about just peeing in my pants. I could totally understand why people do that in this kind of event -- it's not because you're in such a hurry and can't take the time to stop; it's because squatting down to pee is so painful and getting back up is difficult. I really considered it for a while but then decided I wasn't that bad off quite yet, and managed to pee the normal way without falling over. (I did tuck my shirt into my thong by accident but luckily discovered and fixed it before I caught up to Mike.)

Mike and I dragged ourselves up the mountain together but then he stopped. He said he had to sit for a while. On the one hand, that looked really tempting. On the other hand, I knew I didn't have to stop and that made me feel good because at least I was stronger than someone even though I was barely moving.

After another agonizing mile, I dragged into the Sunset aid station for the third time just as it was getting dark. I immediately headed for the sleeping bag, which was now in front of a portable heater. Lying down there was pure bliss. I closed my eyes and knew I could easily sleep for 12 hours right there. The volunteers were so great. One of them made me the peanut butter-banana sandwich I requested (which took me almost 20 minutes to get down); another brought me my drop bag and helped me put on long pants and another shirt since I was now shaking uncontrollably; another brought me a cup of hot chicken noodle soup; another hung out with me and cracked me up telling stories about stuff that happened to her in ultras and using the "F" word liberally. Lindsey from Sedona Running Company, you are the best! Eventually T and Mike dragged into the aid station behind me and we decided to head down together. Still no sign of Tom. I wondered if maybe he DNF'd but decided superstitiously that I didn't want to know because if he did then I would want to too.

The last five miles were almost all downhill, but very rocky. None of us were interested in running. T and I chattered the whole way; Mike stayed behind us and was silent, lost in his own suffering I guess. That trail became elastic at the end. (Elastic trail = a trail that stretches out at the end for way longer than its actual distance.) Worse, my GPS had measured long (probably due to all the stopping/starting and extremely slow pace) and I was at 51.8 miles when we finally crossed the finish line. Interestingly, I knew the exact mileage but not the exact time, and forgot to push "Stop" on my GPS. I know it was almost 9:00, so it took us almost 15 hours.

The finish line was nearly deserted. There was nothing hot and no one offering anything. In fact we wouldn't even have gotten our pint glasses except that I saw them sitting there and asked if I could have mine, and someone said "Sure" so I got it myself. I sat at the finish line and waited for Tom and found out that out of 29 starters, 7 had dropped. That was almost a 25% drop rate. I was extremely proud of myself for finishing with any time. I firmly believe that getting to the point where quitting seems like the most appealing thing in the world, and then pushing through and not quitting, is a lesson that can be applied to life too.

So would I do this race again? Hell no! Not even properly trained I wouldn't do it. That drop and climb at the end was a clear sign of sadism on the part of the guy who designed the course. And whose idea was it to put the longest stretch between aid stations -- eight miles -- there at the end? The course was well-marked and the aid stations were great (except for the lack of jelly in the peanut butter sandwiches), but... no. Never again. But will I do a 50 again? Sigh, probably. The feeling of accomplishment is just too precious, and can't be gotten any other way that I know of.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flagstaff in 3...2...1...

No word on the job. I don't think they're going to offer it to me, which means I can't use that as an excuse to get out of the 50. Damnit! I am not ready for this race.

I've only run maybe 40 miles, total, since Pikes Peak. And I've gained, oh, three pounds or so. Three pounds if I weigh myself after I work out and I'm dehydrated. Six pounds if I weigh myself when I first wake up or many hours after a workout. So I am fat and out of shape. At least I've been biking a lot. I hope that is going to save me up there in Flagstaff. I think it will at least help. Since long trail races are much more about strength than about speed, and biking does work the quads pretty good (especially if you ride hills, which I've been pretty good about doing), I'm hoping it carries over. As for the rest of my race plan? Cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I'm not really nervous, believe it or not. I'm curious. I mean, seriously, what does happen when you do a 50-mile race -- oh yeah, a really tough 50-mile race, with altitude and elevation changes -- without training for it? We'll find out! It's hard to imagine how I could do worse than I did at the OP-50. Well, no, I guess it isn't that hard. At OP-50 I walked the last 20 miles; I guess it would be possible to have to walk all 50 miles of this one. Though that probably wouldn't get me in under the 16-hour cutoff. 16-hour cutoff -- that's 3 mph. Surely I can do that, right? Well, I decided I don't care. I used to say I would never DNF. I would crawl if I had to. Somewhere my mindset changed. If I really feel like crap on this course, I will DNF and not worry about it. (Boy, do I want that finisher's pint glass, though, and I am pretty sure I have to finish to get it.)

I am so excited to see Flagstaff, though! I am convinced every Tucsonan fantasizes about Flagstaff all summer long. The temps here in town have cooperated to feed that Flagstaff lust by shooting back up to almost 100 this week. That cool mountain air is going to feel pretty damn good. And I am telling myself that the total climb looks to be around 8000', which is exactly what I climbed at Pikes Peak. (Although that wasn't up, then down, then up, then down, repeat, repeat, repeat. But Flagstaff only goes up to 9000', which is nothing compared to 14000' at Pikes, right? Right. Plus I did have a pretty good Sabino Basin run the other day. I felt great until the last mile, when I died from the heat. At least heat won't be a problem up there.

So overall, I am excited first, then curious, then scared, and that about covers it. In just a little over 24 hours from now, it'll be on! Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Up In The Air

...about whether I should do this 50-mile race in Flagstaff or not.

It's not that I don't know whether I'm in shape to do it. There's a simple answer to that question -- I'm not in shape to do it. No way. Not even close. I've been lazy ever since Pikes, and have gained a couple pounds, and am not eating right, and am barely running at all. But I'm not all that worried about that. I am pretty sure I'm fit enough to make it through the 50 miles even if I have to walk/jog the whole way. And I love Flag, and I love walk/jogging. So I want to do it, for all of those reasons.

I'm actually worried about money.

Here's the deal: I applied for a job at ASDB, and if I get it, it comes with a whopping pay cut -- at least 1/3 less than what I'm making now. Why would I do such a thing? Isn't it stupid to not make the most money possible, and get ahead as far as possible in life? Well, no. I have thought about this for a long time, and the conclusion I've come to is that I value time much more than I value money. If I work at ASDB, as a teacher I will get huge chunks of time off. A week in October for no reason, a few days at Thanksgiving, a whopping 2 weeks at Christmas/New Year's, and then there is the Holy Grail of summers off. Not that I will be able to afford to do much. It's not like I'll be traveling the world on my vacations. But the things I like to do the most, and have the least time to do properly right now, are the following:

1) write -- I really am supposed to be a published author by now, and I'm not
2) train my dogs
3) work out

I could fill a day with those things so easily. It would be so much nicer than cramming them in at the end of the day, when I'm tired and don't feel like doing anything except reading. And most of those things have minimal cost associated with them. I already have computers. Dog training takes treats, those are cheap. New running shoes occasionally, gas to get to trailheads, what else do I need?

Not that that's the only reason I want to switch jobs. It's not even the main one. The main reason is that I want to do something different. When I switched from training guide dogs to teaching cane skills, I gained a bigger, better understanding of my field. For the first time I understood that blind rehabilitation was more than just guide dogs. I got to understand the foundational skills people have to acquire in order to be able to use guide dogs safely. If I switch to kids I feel like that will give me a better understanding of how people form concepts that are essentially visual in nature (cardinal directions, the layout of a city block, etc) when they've never had vision. Plus, I love working with kids. Don't get me wrong, I love working with veterans too. But I sometimes (usually) feel like I have too much energy for the V.A. The pace there is leisurely. Most of my clients have the same eye condition and don't have much real need for mobility training. With kids there is a much greater variety. There is also a lot more challenge associated with working in a school environment, simply because I don't know the first thing about how it is structured or anything like that. It would be a whole new world to master. I do love the V.A. And I have no complaints about it, or about the way it's run. Everyone there does a great job. I like management, I like my coworkers (95% of them, anyway), and I love my clients. But I just can't see myself spending another 20 years there just so I can have a great retirement.

I look at it this way: when the economy tanked, a bunch of people lost big chunks of their savings. Some people lost $50k, maybe even more. You can work at a job that isn't challenging for your whole career and then what? You retire and look back and think about how you could have been challenging yourself with new things this whole time and weren't? THAT'S what I find hard to live with. I swear when I retire I will be happy with a tiny studio apartment in a blue-collar part of some city. I don't need a giant house, a cleaning service, and trips around the world. In my whole life I've never cared much about material things, so I don't think that would change when I retire.

This post got away from the subject. So, the race. I'm paranoid. If I get this job, I want to cut all unnecessary expenses until I see exactly what the difference in paychecks is. Travel to Flagstaff is definitely an unnecessary expense. And by the time I pay $50 for the dog sitter, probably close to $100 for gas round trip, at least $50 for a motel, that's $200 right there. Wouldn't it be better to save that for, say, the phone bill? I think maybe so.

Of course, the big question is whether I will get this job or not. I interviewed on Wednesday. The interview went great. It was a panel interview, seven people, 20 questions. I believe I answered all of them well. The people liked me. I liked them. I'm quite sure my enthusiasm for the job was evident. BUT I don't have any experience teaching kids in a school environment. So if anyone else interviewed who did have that kind of experience, they might very well get the job over me. On the other hand, I'm pretty well-qualified AND I know I nailed the interview. Also, this position was open last month, and then closed, and then reopened. So that leads me to believe they had trouble filling it the first time and didn't have a suitable candidate in mind. Also, since the school year has already started, I think (hope) that most O&M'ers who work with kids probably already have jobs. I put my chances at getting this job maybe a little above 50/50. I just wish they would let me know one way or the other. If I get it, great; if not, I will just look at it as, oh well, now I get to earn the bigger salary for a while longer. It's not like I hate my current job, not at all. I like it. I just want a bigger challenge.

I guess I will go ahead and make the travel arrangements on the assumption that I won't get the job, and then if I end up getting it I will just cancel them. Surely I will hear next week, right?