Over the past year, I attempted to write numerous posts regarding the mental side of running. I see so many people struggling in the same way that I did and have a strong feeling that I need to share my story so that others know there is hope. This time last year, I was in the throes of a depression that would only get worse before it got better. I think there is a lot of truth to the old saying that you have to hit bottom before you can make your way back to the top. I wanted to share what I was going through even then, but it was so difficult that I couldn’t find words to put onto a page. After I navigated my way out, finding words to describe my journey was still too difficult.
In the midst of it all, I was a MESS. I had zero self confidence. I compared myself to others and, in my mind, always fell short. I believed that I had no talent and no chance of ever being able to compete in this sport, regardless of how hard I worked. Receiving compliments from other runners made me feel like a big fraud. I stopped posting as much about running on social media because I couldn’t handle compliments and felt as if somehow I was misrepresenting myself. I mean, if people had known the truth, they certainly wouldn’t be calling me a “badass”. All this negativity started bleeding into my day-to-day life and I contemplated quitting running altogether However, there was still a tiny spark within me that loved running and being a runner and wouldn’t give up on the possibility of what I “could” be.
At the end of May, I ran one of my biggest mental disaster races to date, but it was the catalyst that I needed to start making a change. I picked up a copy of “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche. In the book, they describe what a happy runner looks like and with sadness, I recognized a former version of myself. I wondered how I allowed myself to get to this point. I was so far off base that it seemed like I was completely out of the park. But….there was hope. I had been a happy runner once and I could be a happy runner again. The book challenged readers to answer questions including: Three affirmations, Why do I run at all?, Why do I run each day?, Why am I racing at all?, Why do I have long-term goals?, and to come up with some short-term and long-term crazy, seemingly out-of-reach goals.
I couldn’t answer the questions. I definitely couldn’t come up with affirmations or big, crazy goals. But I wrote the questions down and continued reading the book. I re-read chapters in hopes that keeping those questions in the forefront of my mind would help me find those elusive answers that I was seeking. In order to do something, I decided to focus on being consistent and talking nicely to myself. To me, consistency meant completing every scheduled workout that I could manage. I also aimed for consistency within each workout, which gave birth to a new mantra “don’t kill it; be consistent”. I needed to complete workouts without the pressure of performance. Training shouldn’t be about performance, anyway. Training is about getting the body primed to perform. I had lost sight of that fact. As far as talking nicely to myself, that took a little bit of work that required self-awareness. Slowly, I became aware of my negative thoughts. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts was the precursor to stopping them which was, in turn, the precursor to replacing them with affirmations. Simply focusing on consistency and self-talk began to empower me and resulted in finding joy again in the simple act of running.
As my attitude improved, so did my hopefulness about running. I still wasn’t in a place to dream big, but I had finally made it to the starting block. I went back to the book to refocus my brain in hopes of finally finding answers to some of the questions. By the time I left for Ouray 50 at the end of July, I had answers to all of the questions, except the big, crazy dream.
Ouray went really well. I didn’t finish but that was OK. I made huge improvements in my mountain running and made it farther than I had the year before. I still didn’t see myself as competitive in the trail and ultra scene, but I was becoming OK with just being the best I could be, whatever that looked like.
I had a great warm-up for Pinhoti at Sky Island 50k in September and my best race to date at Pinhoti 100. I didn’t just finish Pinhoti, I raced it. The race was a huge turning point for me as one of my biggest goals was to race a 100, not just finish. My finishing time and place didn’t matter to me that much all because I had accomplished that goal!
Pinhoti dealt me a setback, though, in the form of tendonitis in both ankles. The left ankle was ANGRY. It took a good 6-8 weeks to work it all out. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t mentally tested during this time, but I managed to keep myself in a good place. Having a coach as amazing as Greg helped a ton. He is so creative and used this block of time to focus on building strength for GDR, so I was able to continue my workouts but with less running volume to give the ankle some time to settle down.
A week into the second phase of GDR training had me at the start line of Ouachita Swichbacks 50k. I loved the course, but the rocks gave me all kinds of hell. This race exposed weakness in my right ankle. I did not handle the stress of the race well at all and was in a negative space much of the last half. I had reverted to my old habits of focusing on performance rather than the joy of running and I suffered for it. After the race, I struggled mentally. My brain wanted to stay in that place telling me that I wouldn’t be strong enough by the time GDR rolled around and I questioned my ability to even finish my next race at Cross Timbers.
Despite all the negativity I was fighting within, I continued to chip away at my training, keeping the same focus from last summer: consistency and talking nicely to myself. I started adding another layer of mental muscle when I began reading “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad. I had learned of him in late December and pre-ordered his book which was released in early February. His approach was the perfect continuation in my mental conditioning and the timing was perfect.
The ankle was improving, but I knew Cross Timbers 50k would be real test. Well, last Saturday, my ankle was put to the test AND IT PASSED! In addition, I paced myself just right, calories and hydration were on point, and my mental approach was spot on. I have never been more satisfied with a race result. I just happened to come in 1st Female, but my satisfaction has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way I ran the actual race. I used a strategy that Moawad suggested, which was not saying any negative thought out loud, and I truly believe it helped.
Through this process since Pinhoti, I have achieved yet another goal: “Be a STRONG, CONSISTENT, HAPPY and GRATEFUL runner.”
“Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” ~Steve Prefontaine
This time last year, I was 2 months out from Brazos Bend 100. I was training for Boston Marathon. Yet all I could think about was getting out to El Paso to run Lone Star 100 in the Franklin Mountains. At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream, one that would never come to fruition. I didn’t think I could EVER pull it off because it is firmly in the middle of club volleyball season. I didn’t feel that I would ever become strong enough to even consider running a race as difficult as Lone Star. Heck, at the time, I thought Cactus Rose 100 would forever be out of my reach.
Here I am, one year later, getting ready to hop on a plane at the end of the week and tackle this beast. I’m not in the most optimal shape. Training hasn’t been perfect. Did I do everything I could to be prepared for this race? Nope. But did I do everything I could to be prepared for this race, while still retaining a shred of sanity? Yes.
I have a hard time juggling training and life when we aren’t in club volleyball season, so training for and running a big race during club is quite an undertaking. Even though the season is still early, the demands on my time have been substantial. Add to the mix the fact that I took on additional duties at work in January and it’s a small miracle that I even survived.
I am going into this race with a lot of doubt. Training breeds confidence and I felt like I started taper the second week in January, because, volleyball tournaments. However, with some reflection I have started redirecting my doubt to three main truths:
This race is training for Ouray. Period. I knew when I registered that making cutoff would be difficult. At the time, I acknowledged that every mile and every foot of vertical gain that I am able to get will be good training in the bank. There is no other place in Texas that I can get this kind of training. So, even if I don’t finish; even if I don’t make cutoff, I will still have been successful.
I’ve come so far in just a year. Really, in less than a year, because I didn’t get into any “real” trail training until after Boston last April. I am hard on myself and focus a lot on my weaknesses and how far I have to go. In recent days, reflecting on how far I’ve come has been rewarding and also confidence-boosting.
I find joy on the trails, whether it is in training or racing. Regardless of the outcome, I will be out there getting some of that coveted dirt and vert. I’m looking most forward to seeing a couple of sunrises and a sunset out there in the mountains.
I can’t close without giving thanks to a few people. Without a support system in place, I couldn’t consider any type of success in this sport. My husband, Bobby, has been a great support in this training cycle. Alli is always understanding of my need to get out on the trails on our off weekends. And my good volleyball mom friend, Marcy, for being a surrogate mother to Alli this weekend while I’m off playing in the mountains. Love you all!!
I’m ready. Franklin Mountains, give me all you’ve got!!
2017 was a stellar year for me. I qualified for Boston in January; ran my first ultra in February; ran my first trail ultra in May and then I worked my way up the ultra distances, culminating with my first 100 mile finish in December. I was pretty much on a high the entire year and didn’t give myself time to recover between races or process all the emotions that accompany such epic accomplishments.
So, when I found myself feeling a little funk-ish in mid-January, I didn’t think much of it. I realized that I had asked a lot of my body and my mind in 2017, and it seemed quite normal that I was experiencing a bit of a low.
But the low continued.
I believe in the “fake it ’til you make it” mentality. I still had Boston on the horizon. I had to stay in the game. I continued to train, but couldn’t maintain my usual intense focus. I felt like I was drifting, without a goal. Qualifying for Boston was the biggie. Running Boston was like dessert. I didn’t expect to run at my BQ pace because I had wanted to check off my first 100 miler more than I wanted to maintain my absolute speed for the road.
I continued to limp through training. I was still consistent, but not as consistent as usual and I couldn’t manage to find enjoyment in the process like I usually did.
Spring Break came and I needed some trail therapy, BADLY. I hadn’t been on a real trail since my 50 miler in October, 2017. I talked my friend, Radkey, into coming with me to explore Cross Timbers on Lake Texoma. It was amazing and difficult and more than I could have hoped. I was on Cloud 9. And on our way back, I tripped, fell and broke my arm.
The break obviously set me back, but my ortho gave me a soft cast and clearance to continue training. I suddenly felt a renewed focus. It was almost like I needed the added difficulty to give me a purpose.
Boston came. The weather was horrible (by other’s standards – it didn’t bother me at all) and I was under trained but I crossed the start line with the intention of enjoying every step of that race. I did just that.
After Boston, I made the decision to change coaches. I loved my coach, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time for a change. The decision was a difficult one that I agonized over. In the end, I trusted my gut instinct and made a leap of faith. I knew that in order to conquer the mountains, I needed someone who knew how to build a mountain runner.
With Boston behind me, it was time to turn my focus back to trails!! I had Possum’s Revenge 50 miler just 3-4 weeks after Boston and went in undertrainined…again (broken record – story of 2018 so far!). I ended up struggling toward the end, but there is always some beauty to be found in the misery. I shared those last miles with someone who was also struggling and we ended up becoming the best trail buds!!
With Possum’s behind me, I could now focus on my <foolish> goal of running Ouray 50 miler. I had an entire 2 months to train for this beast and literally had NO CLUE what I was up against. But I had a bit of a renewed sense of excitement for training, which was a nice feeling.
I showed up for Ouray knowing that I had slim to none chance for a finish, but I was just there for the challenge whatever the result. I got halfway before missing the cut, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything…and I was now IN LOVE with the mountains!
Coming back after Ouray, I had to go right into training for Cactus Rose 100 at the end of October. However, workouts weren’t going well. I was fatigued ALL THE TIME and all I wanted to do was sleep. When I ran I felt wheezy and out of breath. I couldn’t see any improvement in my fitness despite all the heat training I was doing. I was becoming seriously concerned that I was suffering from depression. I had also contemplated whether I was actually cut out for endurance. It was a dark time filled with a lot of doubt and apprehension.
I had considered Inside Tracker blood testing several times, but had never pulled the trigger. I decided that the time had come and finally ordered my blood test. I received the results just days before my next race: Alamo City 50k. The test revealed that I was severely deficient in Ferritin. I was overwhelmed with this knowledge, but it was also very freeing. I FINALLY had a reason for the way I had been feeling!
Alamo City 50k ended up being my worst 50k to date, but I fought through the fatigue, finished and had hope for what was to come. I just had to hang in there and give my body a chance to recover from this setback.
I started supplements very soon after learning about my Ferritin deficiency and the results were almost immediate. My mood improved, I no longer felt the need to sleep all the time and the BEST thing: I could feel the fitness improving each and every workout!
Cactus Rose was quickly approaching and the dread I had initially felt was replaced with an excitement about getting out there to race. Plus, my best trail bud had volunteered to come crew and pace! Tommy knew of my struggle to get back to being myself and deemed that Cactus Rose would be my reset race.
He was so right!! Cactus Rose 100 ended up being my best race ever! Thanks to Tommy, the great training provided by my coach and my body getting back to normal, I felt like I finally “raced” a race. I came out of that event with a renewed confidence in myself.
I closed out 2018 by pacing my friend, Brent, to his first 100 mile finish at Brazos Bend 100. The next weekend, I was able to return the favor to Tommy and crew and pace him at his first 100 mile finish at Loup Garou 100. Being there, helping him get to that finish line is one of my most rewarding experiences to date!
A recreation of a pic Tommy took during Cactus Rose
Buckle pics are THE BEST!
Cactus Rose was more than a restart for me in my racing world – it was a reset for me mentally as well. Since then, I have started to feel like I am myself again. Mentally, I am focused and more confident and I am excited about tackling some big challenges in 2019.
For the biggest part of the year, I had negative feelings when I thought about 2018. But as my health and mental state have improved, I am seeing the year in a positive light.
I started and ended the year pacing and crewing. Focusing on others and helping them achieve their goals is a good way to stay grounded and provides a different and meaningful way to stay connected to the ultra running community. I wasn’t able to volunteer as much as I wanted in 2018, but the time that I was able to volunteer was extremely rewarding as well.
I ran the BOSTON MARATHON. It was a truly amazing experience that I’ll treasure for years to come.
Changing coaches ended up being one of the biggest blessings of the year! Greg’s training has made me stronger than I ever imagined that I could be and we have just started. A special bonus is the Team Ninja family that I inherited as a result. I have grown to love these people as if they were a part of my family. The camaraderie has enriched my life more than words can describe!
My oldest daughter got married and we had a fabulous time celebrating with friends and family.
I met my best trail buddy. We are so much alike it is a little freakish and have wondered if we are twins that were separated at birth. His friendship has definitely enriched my life!
Continuing on through the adversities of the year definitely built some mental callouses that will come in handy in tough times to come.
Here’s to 2019: testing limits and having adventures!
This past weekend, I ran my first 100-mile race (and NOT my last : ) I apologize for the lengthy post, but 100 miles is a really long way! 😉
My chosen word of 2017 was Conquer, and my intentions in choosing that word were to conquer myself, not so much other things. I wanted to conquer self-doubt, fear of failure, lack of confidence in myself, etc. I knew that in order to do this, I had to be OK with failure and I had to put myself into situations where success wasn’t guaranteed. I needed to embrace the possibility of failure and be able to accept it and move on if it happened. This was a SLOW process. All the races I did through mid-year – my first 50k at Cowtown, my first Ironman 70.3 at Galveston, my first 50k trail race at Wildflower (Trail Racing Over Texas race) and Afton Trail Run 50k; I fretted over how I would perform. Every time, I did just fine, but still, I doubted myself.
Sometime in early Fall, I came across a Gordy Ainsleigh quote one day that completely changed my way of thinking; “When you’re afraid of failure, you’re more likely to do it.” My fear of failure was actually making failure more likely. I had to work on that.
Before my first 50 miler in October, I fretted and fretted over how I would perform. I nearly made myself sick. I had a feeling that I could come in under 12 hours, but the cutoff was tight so I also had a good chance at a DNF. Except I didn’t DNF. I actually ran a really good race and came in just under 12 hours, PLUS I ran this race without really tapering and I felt that my legs had another 10-15 miles in them when I finished. This, combined with the mental work I had been doing was a turning point for me.
But training nearly killed me
The mileage in training really started picking up in August. By mid-October, I was counting the weeks to taper. I wasn’t sure that I could meet all the demands of my training schedule, a full-time job, mom/chauffeur AND wash all the clothes (I had to let getting the clothes folded go).
Some weeks I didn’t get all my miles in, but I rarely just skipped runs. My training was consistent and I was dedicated. I spent a good amount of time working on my mental strength because I knew that the mental test in those late miles would be harder than the physical one.
My last big weekend came and I had 70 miles on the schedule. I was to run 15 on Friday, 25 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday. I was so tired at work that Friday that I was on the verge of tears all day long. I’ve never felt so exhausted in my life. I ended up not running the 15 at all and instead I decompressed at home. I ran the majority of the other miles that weekend, and I forced myself to not feel guilty about it. I had given everything I had to training and that handful of miles wasn’t going to make or break anything. Guilt couldn’t change the fact that I hadn’t run every single mile on the schedule.
I was off the next week (which was the week of Thanksgiving) and I did NOTHING. I was so exhausted that I wondered if I would ever have any energy again, much less by race day. I had a million things to do that had fallen by the wayside during training, but I still did nothing. I needed the rest. And slowly, day-by-day, I started feeling that spunk again.
No taper crazies?
Generally speaking, I either lose my mind during taper or I do something really, really stupid. I did none of that this time.
I didn’t fret. I didn’t go crazy on Ultrasignup. I didn’t break any toes. I DID NOT FRET!! I was so calm the entire time. (That is, until I suddenly got nauseous about an hour before the race!)
I was in a really good place, mentally. I felt confident, but not cocky. I trusted in my training. I trusted myself. Something really amazing happened, though. I was willing to take a big risk and face a DNF in order to see where my breaking point was. I wanted to take a risk and abandon the safe route. It was freeing.
My race plan was aggressive. Too aggressive. I knew this going in. People say “start really slow”, but slow is relative to each individual runner. I didn’t know what my “slow” for a 100 mile race was. I didn’t know how long my legs would hold out, regardless of the pace. The farthest they had ever gone was 50 miles…..once. This entire year had been about doing the not-sure thing and I was finally in a mindset that embraced it.
I’m going to add another running miracle here. And guys – you can skip over this paragraph. I was supposed to start my period on Dec 9. DECEMBER 9. RACE DAY. I was fully prepared to deal with it. I mean – like Scott Jurek said, “Sometimes you just do things!” But it’s OBVIOUSLY an inconvenience and one doesn’t always feel their best during that time. In any case, I started NINE days early. I felt like the gods of running were smiling down upon me. One less thing to worry about on race day.
I was literally foaming at the mouth the week before Brazos. I was ready to get out there and tear up the course, or let the course tear me up.
The start temps were in the low 30s, but the sky was clear and the weather during the day was to be clear and warming to around 60.
The plan was to run 20-hour pace (I know, I know!!) for the first 50 then just see how long my legs could keep up. Brent and Tim were coming along for the ride as long as it worked for all of us. We started off and tried to settle into pace. The miles went by quickly as we talked and laughed and cut up. One little hiccup in the first loop was that we followed the lead pack. There were signs where the course usually had a turn-around, but sometimes runners can’t follow directions well and we all turned and went down another path. I found out later that we had made a wrong turn! This trek was in a SWAMP and I was already entertaining thoughts of dread for the coming loops. Thankfully, the next time I came around, it was clear that I should turn around (happy dance!) and I didn’t have to navigate the swamp again.
I came in just a bit ahead of Brent & Tim at the end of loop 1, took care of business quickly and decided to head out again on my own. Loop 1 was right at 3 1/2 hours, which was a little behind where I wanted to be, but the extra mile put us a little over. Sherpa Carmen and her sidekick, Brad, were right there, waiting to get me whatever I needed. I went with PB&J on this loop but told her next time I wanted oatmeal. I’m not sure what it is about oatmeal, but I LOVE it on long runs! I was saving the Coke/caffeine until after mile 70, so I didn’t have any of that.
Loop 2 was uneventful except that I KNOW I ran it too fast. I wanted to make up some of that time (stupid…ego) and ended up with 3:21 on that lap and that was including the 5 min or so that I spent in camp before heading out! Carmen had the oatmeal waiting, but boy, was it hot!! I tried to shove it in as quickly as I could, but it took a few minutes. I think I ended up spending around 10 minutes in camp that time. Time really bleeds away from you in these events, if you aren’t careful.
Loop 3 was more of the same. I was in a rhythm but toward the end started feeling a little tightness in my right IT. WEIRD. That never happens. I started trouble shooting and wondered if it was the Hokas. Plus, I started to feel a hot spot on the inside of my ankle, which is a place that I’ve never gotten a blister. I knew I was developing one blister in a spot that I sometimes get them, so I decided to stop and change socks and shoes at the end of the loop. Loop 3 took me around 3:50, which was a little slower but I was pretty happy with it. This put me at 50 miles at 10:50 total time.
When I came in off Loop 3, Kolbe was there!!! Kolbe came down just to pace me on my last loop. I was so glad to see her! She jumped right in to help Carmen and Brad. Kolbe started taking my shoes and socks off (GOD BLESS HER) while Carmen got my kit for me. I drained those blisters, grossed Kolbe out but she still tried to put my socks on for me. I wear Injinji’s though and she would have had to been a Houdini to get them on! After trying to shovel more hot oatmeal in my mouth, I put on a long sleeve shirt, my beanie and my headlamp and left after about 20 min in camp. It was longer than I wanted to spend, but the blisters needed to be drained.
In no time, I had hit my stride again. The sun had set and the air was growing cooler with each passing moment. I knew that I was slowing a little but I still felt really, really good. I know a lot of people get mental in the dark alone, but I actually enjoyed it. I don’t have any problem at all being by myself and that was definitely a strength of mine. I spent a lot of time on this loop just cruising. I felt so good but I knew that the time was coming that I wouldn’t feel good Maybe I should have slowed down? Not slowing down was probably stupid, but still part of the learning process and in my mind this race was one long experiment. I made it through the mind f*** part of the course – have I mentioned that part of the course?? Arggggggggggg it got me mentally every time. Toward the end of each loop, there was an aid station, a one mile stretch of road. The road FINALLY turned left, except you were left with another TWO MILE stretch of road until the next aid station, But that aid station was a dead-end. So you had to turn around, run TWO miles back to the turn then ANOTHER mile back to the other aid station. Mental suicide. But the wonderful thing is that once you got back to that aid station, it was a 2 mile cruise to the start/finish. I was starting to get tired by the time that I got to this part of the course. The temps were also dropping, making my quads stiffen up (I was still wearing only shorts). I debated on stopping to put on my gear, but decided it would be faster at camp where I had people who could actually move their limbs well to help me out. LOL That loop came in at 4:07, but that included the 20 minutes spent on my feet in between loops. All in all, very encouraging, considering I was at mile 67 and my legs had never gone past 50 miles.
Carmen and Kolbe helped me get my cool weather gear on while Brad got me some food. Or maybe this is the loop Kolbe got me ramen noodles and mashed potatoes? I can’t remember. I DO remember sitting there, ready to go back out and saying, “I want a nap.” Carmen, without hesitation, told me to get my ass up out of that chair and get back out there. So I stood up and got my ass back out there. I’m a rule follower and I take directions very well.
Loop 5 was tough. TOUGH. I was starting to hurt. I was very tired. I didn’t want to run. It hurt to run. This is the loop that the battle started. NEVER did I think about quitting. I had decided before the race that quitting wasn’t an option. If you convince yourself of things before the race, you will stick to them during the race. I had joked, but not really, that Rob would have to drag my cold, dead carcass off the trail before I would DNF. I seriously had no intentions of dropping. I am thankful that I didn’t encounter any situations that were serious enough to cause me to consider that option, because I fully realize that things happen out there that are completely out of our control.
Loop 5 was basically a back and forth between my mind and my will. My mind wanted the pain to stop and running was causing pain. My will wanted me to finish. I had a constant dialog – the longer you walk, the colder you will get and the longer you are going to be out here. The more you run, the warmer you will be and the sooner you will get there. RUN, DAMNIT!! Then I would run and it would hurt and my mind would convince me to walk. I also knew that Carmen and Kolbe would be worried and I hated that it was taking me so long. This is when I thought about all the people who were supporting me and started naming each person that I could remember. That distracted me from the pain of running long enough to get a little bit of running done. OH!!! I haven’t mentioned that I had to stop to pee basically every 20-30 minutes on this loop. I have never had to pee so often and so much in my entire life!! There’s no telling how much time I spent squatting in the woods. I finally rolled into camp with a whopping 5:10.
I don’t think we took much time between loop 5 and 6. Pretty sure I ate oatmeal, or maybe not?? Heck if I know. I am 99.9% sure that I did drink Coke. My body ached all over and the LAST thing I wanted to do was go back out on that loop. But THANK GOD I had Kolbe coming with me. I was so glad to have her, but….have I said that I didn’t want to run?? We started out walking and probably walked a mile. I knew we were wasting time. It bothered me that we were wasting time. I may have said – we need to start running in a bit. Kolbe was talking and telling me about her day. Listening to her definitely took my mind off all the troubles at hand. After we tried running and I would wimp out and want to walk, Kolbe knew it was time to take charge. She told me that we were going to start running . We would run 1/2 mile then walk a couple of minutes. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that. It was such a simple solution to this problem. We did this for a while and I finally got into a rhythm and actually didn’t feel half bad. We came across the first aid station and I drank some coffee. After the coffee kicked in, I was starting to feel REALLY good (relatively speaking). Kolbe told me that since I was handling this run/walk so well, we would increase our run distance. I was in a groove and ready so I told her to run a mile. We did, and we finished the rest of the loop in this way.
It’s hard to explain how hard it was to run on loop 5 yet I found the strength to run on loop 6. I think the fact that Kolbe was telling me what to do was the key. My mind had no control over Kolbe, so my mind couldn’t tell her to stop. I had no choice but to run because the choice of whether or not to run had been taken away from me. All I did was watch her feet and run. Yes, it still hurt, but my mind processed all this in a different way. It’s very difficult to put into words. Of course, I still had to pee every 5 steps on this loop as well. At one point, Kolbe actually told me that I needed to pee in my pants next time…..and my bladder may have gotten the message because I think that was the last time that I had to go!
I made it through Mind F***, I mean Sawmill, one more time (with Kolbe’s help) and I knew I was home free. I could TASTE the finish line. I was so ready to be DONE. Kolbe knows me so well. We would come upon some runners and she would whisper to me, “you’re about to take these people down!” It was just enough to keep me going and I was surprised and happy that I still had that competitive spirit that wanted to overtake them. When there were no people to pass, she told me that even though loop 5 may have won – I was CONQUERing loop 6 and finishing strong. I can’t even remember everything she said, but every word struck a chord with me and gave me the strength to take another step.
Kolbe radioed Carmen to tell her we were about a mile out from the finish and I got tears in my eyes. I knew I would finish. Such a surreal feeling. I had dreamed of this and worked for this for so long that it seemed it might never come to fruition. But here I was, about to become a 100-mile finisher! It’s a strange paradox – feeling so amazing that about what you’re about to accomplish while trying to hold back tears because everything hurts so badly. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!
I wanted Kolbe to lead me right up to the finish. She had quite literally drug me through this last loop. I wasn’t sure that I could run that finish line chute alone. I didn’t want her to be out of my sight for a second. She told me that this was my moment and that she would see me after I crossed….and she was right there. I started crying – crying by my standards, at least. I was handed my buckle and received hugs from Carmen, Kolbe, Ashley and Brad. Others may have been there, but everything was such a blur that I can’t even remember. Kolbe drug me through that loop in 4:54, which was 15 minutes faster than the previous loop. At the end of a 100 miler, I’ll gladly take a negative split loop! My total time was 24:51. Not the time I wanted, but my intentions were to see what I could do and I definitely didn’t play it safe in those early miles. A nice bonus was an 8th overall female finish – I was hoping to finish in top 10, so I was able to check that off my list 🙂
My good friend, Tim Radkey described it best when he said that the feeling you have at the finish is like you are completely and totally emptied, yet completely and totally full at the same time. There was definitely a feeling of having been cleansed by this experience.
I gave Kolbe a goodbye hug – she had to travel back to her parent’s house to grab her pets – then Carmen got me set up in a chair with a sleeping bag and a nice warm heater beside me. She and Brad started breaking down camp and I quickly fell asleep for a much-needed nap.
Nutrition and hydration were on point. I had no stomach issues whatsoever. I know the cool weather helped with this, but I’m really proud of how I managed my nutrition.
Yes, my starting pace was too fast but I don’t think I was THAT far off.
My legs held up much better and much longer than I expected.
Having a good crew makes ALL the difference. Carmen anticipated what I would need and had things ready for me before I ever asked.
The right pacer can save your race. Kolbe was PERFECT.
I need to make better friends with pain. Now that I know the pain doesn’t get any worse, I will be more prepared to push through it next time.
I need to become more efficient during my stops between loops.
I really wanted that sub-22 buckle, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain that pace. Seeing the sun rise, then set, then rise again is an experience that I’ll cherish and I am really thankful that this race gave that to me.
All in all, I’m VERY happy with this race. I did what I set out to do. I found my limits, I conquered the course and, most importantly, I conquered many of my inner demons.
Kolbe wrote about her experience as a pacer. If you want to read about it, click here!
One more thing…..I HIGHLY recommend Brazos Bend to any runner! The race distances range from 13.1-100 miles, so there is something for nearly everyone. This race is the Trail Party of the year and doesn’t disappoint!
Welp, folks, I am 29 DAYS away from my first 100 mile attempt. I’ve been feeling a bit sentimental lately and thought that this milestone provided a great opportunity to recap my training journey thus far.
My word of focus for 2017 was CONQUER. And I do feel like I have CONQUERED this year. My transition into trail and ultra running has been the most fulfilling and rewarding running experience to date and I think I am finally conquering some of those mental demons.
When I signed up for Brazos Bend 100, I was a completely different person than the one penning this post. As much confidence as I have gained over the past couple of years, I was still very insecure in many ways and felt as though I had a lot to prove to myself (and others, sadly). Committing to races and distances that scared me to death was actually the BEST thing I could have chosen to do.
Admittedly, I haven’t documented this journey very well at all. In fact, I suspect that some of the transformation is directly related to me not sharing every detail and every run. As the fatigue from my increasing mileage began to take over every muscle in my body, so did the weariness of posting on social media. Suddenly, sharing details of every training run seemed a little silly and a lot overwhelming to me. But I began to cherish my training more than ever before. I’ve given this a lot of thought – probably too much – and I think that not posting as much about my training has been the catalyst to my training becoming more authentic.
I have *literally* undergone a transformation. I am unsure if it is visible to the rest of the world, but I when I compare how I felt about myself in March versus how I feel about myself now – it is as if I went from caterpillar to butterfly. Here are some ways in which I have changed for the better:
Confidence. I can’t even begin to describe the confidence I’ve gained. I don’t think it is a cocky confidence, either. But one that stems from putting my body through A LOT more than I ever imagined it could do and yet my body responded amazingly well.
Enjoy the process. I have always enjoyed training. I’ve never been one of those people that train in order to race. I’m the opposite. I race in order to train. I wanted to attempt a 100 to push myself to the limits, but also because I just like running long. Running back-to-back runs AND being fortunate enough to be healthy the entire time has been a blessing that I’ll always treasure.
Consistency is key – not perfection. Anyone that knows me knows that I am a perfectionist – to a point. Being a wife, mother (volleyball mom!!!) and working a full time job required me to face my perfection demons. There were a couple of weeks that I ran 20 miles less than scheduled. Even though I didn’t get all my miles in, I️ was always consistent. And you know what?? I may have struggled mentally within that week, but I haven’t carried forward any guilt from missed miles.
Trust my instincts and follow my heart. If I had followed a traditional path, I would not have registered for Brazos Bend this year. I would have raced 50 milers and maybe started dabbling at the 100k distance, getting some experience under my belt before jumping to 100 miles. But I knew that I could do it. I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I took the safe route. I was more than willing to fall flat on my face for the chance to try. And, boy, am I glad I trusted my instincts!! More and more, I am making decisions based on feel rather than on intellect. While this may not work in every arena, it has certainly worked in my running world.
*Failure* is acceptable. Although I haven’t *failed* yet, I fully expected to DNF at Rawhide 50 miler. I was mentally prepared to accept DNF, if it came to that. My self-esteem isn’t no longer tied to a medal or finish time or place or buckle. Not finishing a race isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to me. And if I find myself facing a DNF, I’ll move on. The reason I do this is because I enjoy trails and ultras. I enjoy the community. I enjoy pushing myself and I do actually hope I find my limit one day and have to fight with every fiber of my being to continue.
Hopefully, I’ll be writing about my beautiful, shiny, buckle in 29 short days. But if I fall short of the finish, I know that I’ve already won. I won the day that I committed to this journey. The rewards of this transformation far outweigh the shininess of a single belt buckle.
Oh my, it’s been a long time since I blogged. I’ve actually run 3 races, which have gone undocumented, since I last hit the keyboard. Summer went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was back at work and busier than ever.
Race recaps in a flash
In July, I stayed an extra day after USAV Junior National Championships to run Afton Trail Run 50K. It was to be a challenging, hilly course and I was excited to run a race that would cause me to struggle. Except I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would. The course was 2 loops of 25K and I did suffer some fatigue during the first loop. I didn’t start the race feeling my best and did the first loop at a pretty good pace, considering the hills I had to climb. Near the end of the first loop, I cursed myself – A LOT – for not overriding my ego and *just* doing the 25K. I DID NOT want to go back out on a second loop. I stopped at the aid station before heading back out and made a spur of the moment decision to throw out my fueling and nutrition strategy. I ate M&Ms, pretzels and drank Coke then headed out on the 2nd loop. I ran conservatively the first part of the loop but broke off with 10k to go and ran a really good pace. I wanted to finish under 6:30 and knew that I would really have to push to get to the finish in time. (At this point, I feel I should remind you how TERRIBLE I am at run math. I CAN NOT correctly do run math during a race.) I kept fueling on Coke, M&Ms & pretzels at the aid stations but got in and out as quickly as possible. I was also starting to feel the fatigue creep in, but the lure of sub 6:30 was enough to keep me going in spite of it. I ended up finishing in 6:23, which was just 14 minutes slower than Wildflower but there was also much more elevation. I was pretty happy with the way I pushed at the end and with the overall result.
In August, I traveled to 7iL Ranch in Cat Spring, Texas for Trail Racing Over Texas’ Habanero race weekend. My coach was attempting the 100 miler and I was going to be one of his pacers. Since I was already going to be there, I signed up for the 30K. The thing about Habanero is that the race starts at NOON. In Texas. In August. So it’s HOT. I, luckily, only had to do 3 loops of 6.2. When I finished, the heat index was 106 or something crazy like that. It was brutal. BIG kudos to all those who kept battling out there loop after loop. I don’t perform well in the heat and I was starting to decline fast there at the end. UltraSignUp has this ranking system. I should never go in and look at these rankings, but I do. I was ranked 3rd overall female going in – please know the field wasn’t large. Even with a small field, I honestly didn’t believe that I could get 3rd OA female. But….I finished 4th overall female and just 5 minutes behind 3rd place. I wasted more than 5 minutes in that race. This was the beginning of a wake up call for me. Still, I was really proud of myself for battling it out with the heat the way I did. It was a victory, for sure.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I went down to Mission Tejas State Park in East Texas to run another TROT race. I know they have worked hard to find places to host events that are outside the Houston area and wanted to support their efforts to host more races North. Plus, I had 36 miles scheduled that weekend and a 50K is a nice way to get miles in and break up the monotony of training. I was NOT prepared for the hills! Seriously, these hills reminded me of Afton Trail Race. This race made me realize just how unprepared I am for my upcoming 50 miler in the Hill Country. Again, I went in ranked 3rd overall female and, again, I thought there was no way that I could pull that off. I started out with the lead group but I was having a little calf issue and slowed down on the first big climb. It was dark. At the time, I didn’t know that I was the only female in that lead group, so I thought that I had fallen WAY out of contention for the podium and I just set out to check off the loops and get to the finish. As it turns out, I was in 2nd and 3rd most of the race. Of course, I didn’t have any crew there and I didn’t check the screen after each loop so I was completely in the dark. I struggled during the last 5k and it was during this time that I got chicked. I later learned that I was in 3rd place at the time and this woman knew I was 3rd place and she gave everything she had to pass me and try to stay ahead of me. Second race in a row that I missed the podium, coming in 4th OA female (my time was 6:27) and this time I lost by THREE MINUTES. I have to sharpen my skills and get myself to become more aggressive in these ultras. I am SO AFRAID of bonking. I MUST get out of my comfort zone in this area. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears… This one is totally mental and I think I may be subconsciously sabotaging myself due to a fear of success?? Or maybe I just think too much.
I may have conquered myself but training is conquering me
I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year: conquer. It’s amazing the effect of simply choosing a word has on your life. I do not think of my word on a daily basis. Sometimes not even on a weekly basis. But the simple act of choosing a word has a profound impact in shaping the year, or it has in my case. This is the 3rd year that I have focused on one word throughout the calendar year and each year, I am amazed at how things come together. I think this relates to goals, as well, and posting our goals where we can see them daily makes a huge difference in us meeting those goals.
When I originally chose this word, it was to conquer my inner demons. I was going into Houston Marathon trying to get a BQ. I had gained A LOT of confidence but I still didn’t trust myself the way I should. I still had a lot of self doubt and anxiety about my performances. I trust myself so much more than I did 10 months ago. I believe in myself so much more than I did 10 months ago. I feel like I’ve turned a corner, for now, in that department.
But I’m still being conquered. Training for a 100 miler is NO JOKE. I thought that my biggest challenge would be juggling my hectic schedule to get all these miles in – and it has been a big challenge. But a bigger challenge has been battling the fatigue that comes with 40-50 mile weekends. I. AM. EXHAUSTED. Like Walking Dead zombie exhausted. And I’m just getting into the real meat of training. I have 2 more months of the Walking Dead before taper. I know this is all designed to give me the best chance of success on race day, but that doesn’t keep me from whining like a big pansy. Still, I’m thankful for the ability to run and the opportunity to train for a 100 mile race.
Brazos Bend will be a blast, but first….Rawhide
Next weekend, I’ll be attempting my first 50 mile race. This race is held on Flat Rock Ranch, which is where Ragnar Trail Hill Country was held last year. I didn’t get to run all my legs at that race, so I felt like I needed redemption on that course. Now that the race is getting close, I wonder if redemption is overrated.
Seriously, though. Originally, the thought of this race took my breath away. It scared me to death. I thought that there was NO WAY that I could manage 50 miles, PERIOD, and especially on this course. I thought about my word of the year and how the only way I could conquer anything was to step out and attempt what my brain registered as impossible. So I signed up. I love the transformation that happens during the course of training. I am not sure at what point I realized that I could do it, but I began to believe, fully and completely, that I am capable of finishing this race. However, I definitely still have my doubts. I’ve been wrestling with them the past few days but doubts aren’t all bad. They keep you humble and grounded. I’ll need to stay humble and grounded to keep my ego from getting in my way on race day.
Brazos Bend will be the next up on the schedule and the big finale for 2017. Most days, I feel pretty confident about being able to finish. Some days, I panic and wonder what I was thinking to believe I could do this. So many people talk about getting “the buckle”, but that is the least of my concern. I am not doing this for a buckle. I am doing this because I wanted to push myself farther than I ever have. I am doing this because I wanted to put myself into a place so low and so dark that I have to fight with every cell in my body to keep going. I am in it for that life-changing moment. The buckle will just be a tangible reminder of what I was able to accomplish.
But first, I have to survive the training.
OH!!! Almost forgot….I got another tattoo 🙂
In July, Carmen went with me to get another tattoo. I’ve been waiting for the perfect inspiration for my running-specific tattoo and I didn’t waste any time when it finally came to me. I hadn’t used this artist before and chose him because of a couple landscapes that I saw, but when we got there he mentioned that landscapes weren’t even his thing! I settled on Kokopelli and the cool thing is that he grew up in Arizona and knew all about Southwest and Kokopelli culture. He ended up being the perfect artist for this tat, and I LOVE the completed piece!
I realized today that my toenail journey as not been documented as well as it could or should have been. I haven’t shared the daily developments of the slow and sad demise of my big toenail as it deserved. That toenail has been good to me and in its time of need, I simply turned blind eye. OK….for real…..I didn’t want to gross you out. If you’re reading this and you are a runner – I know that nothing can gross you out. But the general population is NOT equipped to handle this kind of stomach-churning info. So non-runners proceed with caution.
It all started at Wildflower
My last blog about six weeks ago recapped my epic race weekend at Wildflower 50k & 13.1. I mentioned briefly then that the trails BEAT my toes up. Actually, my toes were more likely beat up because my shoes were a bit too small. I’m still in the denial state of grieving regarding those trail shoes. I LOVE them and I keep trying to justify continuing to wear them. It’s time for acceptance, but that simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
After the race, my two big toenails were completely purple, terribly sore and the worst was how they felt when I walked. I honestly thought they might pop off at any moment. (Talk about being FREAKED OUT.) I had some other toes with issues, as well, but the big toes were the main concern.
The Stage of Denial
As with any trauma, regardless of whether it is a large or small trauma, the first stage of grief, loss or just dealing with the situation is denial. I kept thinking that my toes would be fine by the time I finally pulled into my driveway and got out of my car, but NOPE. Denial is a lovely place – I’ve lived there a lot during my times of injury – so I tried to keep the visit there fairly short. I went straight to…..
The Stage of Bargaining
I knew that the only way I had a chance of saving my toenails was to get holes in them and get the blood drained off. (OK…deep down I KNEW that I couldn’t save the nails, but damn, they hurt and I had to do something!) I had dealt with blood under my toe once before, YEARS ago, when I dropped a 16 oz can of tomatoes on my big toe. At the time, I had taken the tiniest drill bit and drilled a hole in my nail but it had taken me an entire afternoon to complete the task because I was so freaked out! In the end, I lost my toenail but not until the new one grew in underneath. I had hope that the same would happen here, but I wasn’t a runner then and I wasn’t pounding that foot on the ground several thousand times per week.
So when I got home from the race, I asked the hubs to get me the tiniest drill bit and I went right to work. I drained the right toe because it was the worst. (And it only took me 3 minutes this time!) It still hurt, but it felt soooo much better!! I drained the left toe the next morning. Don’t even ask me why I waited. I have no clue. Sometimes I don’t have the most sense.
The Stage of Anger
I immediately found myself in this stage when I was trying to walk the next morning. I wore my Altras, because…they soft and have a big toe box!! I could NOT let the pads of my toes touch the ground. That would cause pressure on my nail which would cause me to cringe and start hyperventilating and have a little panic attack. I moved really slowly the next couple of days. I may not have been *angry* but I was definitely experiencing high emotions regarding my toenails. The biggest question was WHY DID I LET THIS HAPPEN?!?!?
The Stage of Denial…..again
As my toes started getting better (by the end of the week), I found myself in the stage of denial again, except this time I moved in and made myself comfortable there. My big toenails looked pretty decent!! I was convinced that I had saved them. It was a miracle!!! I spent a few days in ignorant bliss before transitioning to the next stage….
The Stage of Depression
My feeling of victory was short-lived. A few days later, I trimmed my toenails then noticed that the right big toe was beginning to lift away from the nail bed. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I was crushed.
I knew saving the nails was a long shot, but all signs seemed to signal that my heroic efforts were going to pay off. I kept looking at it and thinking that maybe it wasn’t actually lifting. Some days I went back into Denial, believing that the nail had actually reattached. (I told you, I have a really nice house in Denial!!) But every day the nail seemed to lift a little more and I soon arrived at Acceptance.
The Stage of Acceptance
Currently, I am waffling between the Stage of Acceptance and the Stage of Anger. I have accepted that I am going to lose the nail. I am patiently waiting to see how long the 3 on my left foot hang in there. But I am at the point that I want this toenail to give up the ghost and go toward the light. I may have sung “Let It Go”, in hopes that the toenail would LET GO. I am sick of it being on there and me getting freaked out if I forget to cover with a bandaid and catch it on something. That FREAKS ME OUT.
Today, I soaked it in Epsom salt water. I tried to pry it loose. No luck there, so I cut it wayyyyy down. My current strategy is to treat it like a loose tooth and wiggle it every chance I get. I know. GROSS!!!
I’m stuck in this holding pattern until the stupid toenail decides to give up or Jenn decides to come to Texas to yank it out!