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!
Last weekend, I crewed and paced my bestest trail buddy to his first 100 mile finish.
I LOVE crewing and pacing. It is completely different from the grind of racing, yet so important to the success of a runner, especially over the course of 100 miles. Because crew and pacer can make or break the race for a runner, it comes with A LOT of pressure. And contrary to what many people believe, pacing is NOT about keeping your runner company.
I was so fortunate to have a good friend and fellow Ninja teammate, Kelley Mims, to come along for the fun. Kelley grew up in Louisiana and loves any excuse to go for a visit. Plus, she loves trail running as much as me and is always willing to help someone out. We were also camped next to some Dallas Dirt Runner gals and helped out with them when we could. We ended up having some hilarious adventures with Ang while all our runners were out on the loop. I honestly can’t wait until I see her again!!
The race was held at Chicot State Park somewhere in the middle of Louisiana and started at 7AM. The race was to be 5 loops of 20 miles, with me jumping in at mile 60 to bring him home to the finish. The weather was cool and overcast, with some misting throughout the day. Kelley and I would soon learn, as Tommy came in off the first loop, that the trails were muddy with standing water in some areas of the course from rains that had moved through during the week. Kelley and I worked to get Tommy everything he needed so that we could get him back out as quickly as possible. I taped a hot spot, slathered as much Trail Toes as I could get on his feet and sent him on his way. Tommy was moving well, but I was REALLY concerned about the feet. It was clear to me that feet were going to be the battle of the day.
Between second and third loop, Tommy was still moving well and looking good. Kelley had taken one for the team and warmed up his macaroni & cheese with tuna (I COULD NOT warm up tuna. GAG) I taped a hot spot on his other foot, slathered more Trail Toes on, then on with dry socks. He also opted to change shoes. I should have stopped this – I should have made him wait until the start of the 4th loop. He didn’t have another dry pair with him and I didn’t override my gut on that one. I’m not sure if it made a huge difference or not, but everytime I reflect on it, I regret letting that happen so early.
Tommy would update us at mile 8 and mile 16 aid stations each loop. I could tell during loop 3 that it was becoming difficult for him. He came in at the end of loop 3, 60 miles behind him, looking tired and a little defeated. But I know from firsthand experience that knowing you get your pacer can pick up the mood, so I was hoping that would help to put a little pep in his step. We changed his socks (again), and this time there were blisters to attend to. I did everything I could to make his feet more comfortable, but all day trapsing through mud and water in wet shoes was beginning to take its toll. Kelley and I were trying to get calories in him as well, but he wasn’t having much of that.
Off we went on loop 4. The course was fun. I didn’t think the first 4 miles were nearly as bad as everyone had said, but then again, I was fresh as a daisy and hadn’t been battling the course all day. Tommy was moving slow. I had a good idea what battles he was fighting in his mind. I had to be careful at this point. I knew we were in that delicate time during a 100 miler when your body is telling you to eff off, you’re off your goal pace and you can’t see any hope in the situation. I had to keep him in it, but without pushing him to a point that he went over the edge mentally. I never feel that I handle this part well. I can troubleshoot your GI issues, take care of your feet and manage all the other moving parts, but I feel like I always fall short in managing the mental state. In any case, I was concerned. I knew he was in a bad place, but somehow I managed to keep him eating and drinking and moving. Now if we can make the feet last 30 more miles….
We came in from loop 4 and I went to work on Tommy’s feet. Kelley had gone out to pace a runner from Dallas Dirt Runners who didn’t have a pacer lined up, so I was on my own! LOL. God bless Tommy. His feet were a mess. I drained so many blisters…again. I drained one with blood – I know, I know – but I had to do what I had to do. I joked that I could do this without issue but warming up mac & cheese with tuna crossed the line. Tommy wasn’t about to eat anything. I know how the stomach feels at mile 80, so I didn’t push it too much. Tommy asked about dry shoes, but we had none. Oh how I wish he could have worn my shoes, but they were just a tad too small. We sat for a minute to let him reset, then we were off for the victory lap.
Tommy got cold while we were in camp and wanted to take it slow for a bit to get warmed up. After the first mile, I was beginning to worried. We HAD to pick up the pace or we wouldn’t make cutoff. But suddenly, he started running. I asked about it and he said that he realized he felt better running than walking. I’ve been there and know how that feels. That was all the confirmation I needed to know that I could start pushing him more. I knew that the key to keeping him moving was to keep him from submerging his feet again. If I was successful at that and could keep, at least, a slow flow calories in him then I could get him to the finish! We started making a wide berth around the muddy areas and when I couldn’t find a way around, I would find a way through. We used logs already laying in place, or I found logs to drag a path across. I would then wade in so Tommy could grab my shoulder for stability. I was willing to carry him across on my back, if it had come to that. With each mile, I could see him becoming stronger physically and mentally. Come hell or high water, I wanted to get him in under 28 hours. And he made it 🙂
Tommy ended up crossing the finish in 27:26:42. I was so proud that my eyes actually got watery. I was more proud than I would have been if he had hit his original goal of sub – 24. He experienced the misery that 100 miles had to offer and WON the battle!
Welcome to the 100 mile club, Tommy. You EARNED it!!
Cactus Rose 100 caught me, hook, line and sinker last fall. I was training for Brazos and the idea of this race shook me to my core. I was unable to get it out of my mind: running the rugged Hill Country trails at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera; unsupported, no less. This race was a representation of the type of ultra runner that I hoped I could become. The timing wasn’t right, so I had to be patient. (You can all stop laughing now.) Through a series of events that no one really wants to read about, I registered for Cactus Rose 100 roughly eight weeks ago, as a part of my prep for Ouray 50, 2019. My sole focus from now until July 2019 is preparing myself to go back and finish that beast. This race was to be the first pit stop toward that goal. I committed to myself not to think about my performance. I committed to myself not to cloud my mind with where I might place. I refrained from discussing the race on social media and only discussed with a handful of my closest running buddies. I needed to be able to just show up and run, unencumbered with all the mental baggage that I typically tend to pack for these types of events.
A couple of weeks before the race, the Texas Hill Country was slammed with flooding. So much so, that the race couldn’t be held at the normal location and was moved to Camp Eagle, about two hours West. I was oddly excited about the change, because I knew that it meant a more difficult race. A more difficult race meant more growth opportunity. Again, I reminded myself that my goal was not to have my best race ever or place high in the field. My goal was to get stronger for Ouray.
I was fully prepared to run this race solo, without a crew or pacer. I knew it would be even more difficult without people there to help me. What it means when I say this race was unsupported is there would be no volunteers and the “aid stations” were merely water containers, coolers of ice and a spiral notebook on which to log the time you passed through. BUT, my Possum’s Revenge buddy, Tommy, VOLUNTEERED to crew and pace. I’m not sure what I did to be the recipient of such generosity, but I was grateful before the race even began.
Loop 1 – Easy, but not too easy.
Race morning, the minutes ticked off the clock and before I could blink, we were off! I started at the back to avoid my usual mistake of starting out too fast. I lingered at the end of the conga line until I felt sufficiently warmed up, became bored and decided to pass enough people that I could run my comfortable pace.
The race was 4 loops of 25 miles, but each loop was divided into basically 3 sections. A “Yellow” section at the beginning, then “Loop A” and “Loop B”. The end of Yellow section and beginning/end of A/B loop shared an aid station appropriately named “Crossroads”. Tommy was planning to meet me there between A/B loops, then I would see him again at start/finish. The loops shared another aid station, “Windmill”, but it was more difficult to get to, so I would be on my own until I could make it back around each loop.
Loop 1 mantra was “easy but not too easy”. I was running comfortably, but didn’t feel 100%. Sometimes it just takes me a while to get completely warmed up and the humidity didn’t help. However, I was incredibly grateful for the cloud cover and hoped that the inevitable clearing would happen later, rather than sooner.
This course was difficult, don’t get me wrong. But in the midst of it and even looking back, it really doesn’t seem that bad. Something changed when I was in Ouray that I didn’t even realize until this race. I may have only gone halfway on that course, but my brain doesn’t process things now the way it did before. I tackled this course one climb, one descent, one section, one loop at a time. I don’t look at a climbs in the same way I did before. To quote Scott Jurek, “sometimes you just do things!” Whatever was ahead, I just had to work through. The rocks were my biggest enemy. As if rocks in the Hill Country weren’t bad enough, the floods had washed many more out onto the trail. And just when I found myself in a less rocky, more runnable section, the trail would be over taken by mud, which presented its own challenges in this race.
Tommy poured so much effort into creating a pace chart, and I felt bad that I hadn’t done much more than skim it…my brain couldn’t handle it at the time. Yeah…looked great, but I went in with the intention to run on feel. By some miracle, I came in pretty much on target for the first loop. However, the skies had long since cleared and the heat was rising.
Loop 2 – Keeping the inner vamp at bay
I joke, often, that I am a vampire. I self-destruct in the sun and running at night is my favorite. What additional proof does one need??
The heat quickly got to me on the second loop. However, I was still right on target with my fueling and I continued to take in food on my schedule. I made it through the yellow section and was relieved to see Tommy there. I shared with him that I was hot and trying to manage my effort. I kept on pushing, but the next section through mile 38 would be mostly exposed. The saving grace that got me through the hot, afternoon sun was a cool, sporadic, breeze. I finally made it back to Crossroads and Tommy was ready and waiting to address the heat issues. I felt completely reset when I left the aid station at mile 38, plus I had a nice, smooth, albeit muddy, run under tree cover. The relief was short-lived as I found myself under the beating sun once again. When I got to the Windmill aid station, Loop B side, I began to realize that I was slightly behind on hydration. I wasn’t about to let my race derail over hydration, so I became hyper focused on taking in water more regularly. Luckily, I was able to turn that situation around. Not long after, I noticed the sun was beginning to drop in the sky and I knew that relief would soon come in the form of darkness. When I finally made it back to the start/finish area, I was running strong and feeling like a million bucks. Running the remainder of that loop in the dark felt just amazing. I remember Tommy telling me that I fell a bit behind pace overall, but I can’t recall how much, or if he even said. The best thing about being done with loop 2 wasn’t that I was halfway done. It meant that I could pick up my pacer!
Loop 3 – Chasing rabbits, I mean Tommy
After restocking, taking in a bit of solid food and making sure we both had all the gear we needed for a night loop, Tommy and I were off. Have I mentioned how excited I was to have someone with me?!? I was running pretty well at that point, even though the bottoms of my feet had started to bother me. (I would later realize that it was due to the friction from my feet kicking rocks and doing somersaults in my shoe running over all the dang rocks.) I figured that I just had some debris in my shoe, so we stopped at Crossroads and I changed socks. Welllllll…..I had effectively knocked one toe nail loose. Another was on its way and my big toe was just beat up. We won’t even discuss the bottoms of my feet. I taped the toe that had the wonky nail, changed socks, put my shoes back on and we were on our way to Loop A. The rocky sections (read: basically the entire course) were increasingly painful and more difficult for me to navigate. Honestly, I felt like knives were being stabbed into the bottom of my foot with each step. But I had to keep up with Tommy, so I kept trudging along and tried not to whimper too often. The toughest part of the course, as far as I was concerned, was this creek bed that we had to run on – for a really, long ass time. Getting across the initial body of water required stepping on stones carefully placed in a line. I promptly slipped into the creek….with both feet. The water was NOT good for the feet AT ALL. The remainder of the creek bed was basically one big pile of rocks to traverse (meaning, murder for my feet) and was littered with false exits that we had to take to circumvent something impassable. I felt trapped and as if I would never get out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And I could tell Tommy loved it, the way he was LITERALLY skipping up ahead. The fact that he liked it completely pissed me off! Funny, how you’re basically reduced to acting like a toddler during these events.
Loop 4 – Last loop – YEEHAW!
We finally made our way back around to the start/finish area and checked off mile 75….Tommy wouldn’t tell me how much behind schedule we were, but I could tell it was A LOT. I think it really stressed him out. I couldn’t figure out why he was so obsessed with keeping to my 30 hour goal. I have to pause to admit one of my shortcomings: before the race I had hoped that I could get close to 30 hours. But I never really believed that I could go sub-30 and when the course was changed, my mind kind of tossed that goal out the window, as I knew the course would be more difficult. Tommy was clearly focused on us making up time, but my brain was just in grind-it-out mode. I did feel badly about putting us behind schedule. Here Tommy was, pouring everything he had into getting us to the finish line and I was making us late.
Schedule aside, the real issue at hand was what we could do extend the life of my feet. I wasn’t going to be making up any time if my foot condition didn’t improve. My shoes and socks were soaked from my slip into the creek. I planned to change my socks, but if I put them back into my wet Speedgoats, how would that help? I brought my Torrents, but had worn them a total of 15 miles. In the end, Tommy and I both felt that a dry shoe was more important and I changed into the Torrents. Sometimes you have to gamble a little with these matters.
My feet did indeed feel much better!! But at some point during the yellow loop, I was overcome with fatigue – exhaustion, really. I tried to run, but didn’t run as much as I wanted and Tommy would end up far ahead having to wait on me. I kept wondering what was taking so long to finish this little loop?? Once, when we slowed for me to take in some fuel, I asked Tommy if I should take a NoDoz. He thought best for us to make it to the aid so I could have some Coke. He changed his mind when I saw him walk into an aid station that wasn’t there. LOL!!! The NoDoz didn’t work as well as I had hoped, but the sunrise breathed new life into me. As soon as Tommy realized this, we went to work. He started running and I was simply trying to keep up with him. Apparently we ran some ridiculous paces downhill and with some pretty decent clips up lower grade hills, even at mile 85 and after. My legs felt great with just a hint of fatigue. My damn feet, though….. The pain was returning as my feet got wetter with sweat. I had to focus on being grateful that I got 10+ good miles in before things went South again, and I truly was grateful for that.
The sun was now rising higher in the sky with every passing moment and Sunday’s weather didn’t give the benefit of early cloud cover. Heat would increasingly be an issue, but we kept trudging forward. We worked our way to Windmill (Loop B, I believe). Tommy put ice in my bladder and into a baggie that we stuffed in the front pocket of my vest. We headed out again for the last segment of the race. I was SO READY to be DONE. The foot pain increased with each and every step. The heat was draining my energy and I began to feel extreme fatigue. It seemed as if I was always kicking a rocks and the sad thing was that I never even saw them. I felt more defeated each time I kicked a rock or tripped. I ran when I could but I know it was super slow. Eventually, around mile 95, I tripped and fell down. The fall wasn’t bad at all, but I was so tired. I told Tommy that I was done. I was just so tired that all I could think about was closing my eyes and taking a nap right there in the middle of the trail. Tommy didn’t accept that and made me get up. I didn’t intend to stay there – I just wanted to stay there. Once I was on my feet again, I slowly began getting another wind and we started running again as much as I could handle. At that point, I seriously thought that I had given everything that I had. Yet somehow, I mustered the strength to run a bit more…and the thing is that I wanted to run. That is the exact thing that I have been trying to achieve since I started running ultras. Coming in dead last wouldn’t have mattered – this breakthrough was THE THING!
We made our way through the last section of trail, which seemed to pass much more quickly than any loop prior. We were so close I could taste it. All I could think about was the finish, my chair and a beer.
We decided to carry our aid station bags down from Crossroads, because neither of us had the energy to walk back up there to retrieve them after the race. Tommy told me to go ahead and he would be right behind me after he set our stuff down. Honestly, I wish I would have waited. What does one minute matter over 30 hours? But instead, I ran on ahead and crossed the finish line threshold without the guy that got me there.
When I finished, Chris McWatters walked up with my buckle and something else in his hand. It was one of the Rose trophies for the podium finishers. I looked at him, puzzled. I was told that I placed 2nd female. I was in complete shock and DID NOT believe it! Then I turned to Tommy and said – DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS?? He simply nodded his head and grinned. I had not considered, even for a second, that I would be in a position to place. During the race, I squashed immediately any questions regarding my place within the field. I couldn’t allow myself to entertain any of those thoughts.
I’ve spent this entire week trying to process this whole experience.
This is the first time I have ever walked away from a race feeling like I truly “raced” it.
This is the first time I walked away being able to say that I left everything out on the course.
This is the first time I walked away being able to say that I hit my breaking point AND I found a way to dig deeper to continue.
I hope that I can unlock that awesomeness going forward. I’m not sure I can do it on my own, just yet. But now I know it’s in there and that completely changes everything.
But for now, I’m satisfied. I’m getting closer to the runner that I want to be.
Now, for the sappy stuff
I can’t close without thanking a few people.
First, to my husband, Bobby: I couldn’t do this crazy endurance thing without your support. Thank you for only giving me only the crazy looks and not saying what I know you’re thinking in your head when I tell you the next thing I want to do.
To my coach, Greg: Thank you for taking me on as on of your athletes. In six short months, you have completely changed my running for the better. You’ve made me stronger, in more ways than one. And thank you for the calm reassurance and tolerance during my mini-freak out moments that inevitably come each and every training cycle.
To the bestest buddy ever, Tommy: I could go on for days, but I won’t. I don’t even know how to say thank you. But, thank you. Thank you for believing in me enough to push me to the edge and not giving me an inch once I got there. You can never know how much that means to me.
I’ve spent the better part of 2018 struggling. I haven’t been able to muster lasting motivation. My energy level has been low, at best. The Spring was a mixed bag of training, between breaking an arm and running Boston with a long run of 15 miles under my belt. When I regained consistency in training, I didn’t feel that my fitness was improving AT ALL. In fact, I have often felt that I was loosing ground with my fitness. Even thinking about the simplest tasks caused me great mental fatigue. The hope that I felt from my initial workouts after Ouray recovery quickly faded. And over the last few weeks, I have felt increasingly weak, mentally and physically. So much so, that I have seriously questioned whether I should continue endurance training and racing. Seriously.
I haven’t blogged all year. I did manage to throw a post about Ouray together, but that was the first post since Brazos Bend 100 in December. I have had intentions of writing many posts, but when I finally found the time, the task of writing was simply overwhelming.
It’s hard admitting there is a problem. I try not to engage in negative self talk. Plus, I don’t EVER want to sound like a whiner. That’s the double-edged sword of social media, right?? It really isn’t that I am trying to hide the negatives in my life. I just don’t want to be a complainer. And, at the time, I couldn’t mentally handle the discussion. that would ensue. (At one point, I became so overwhelmed with responding to notifications from simple posts that I considered shutting down all social media.)
Sometimes the journey to enlightenment takes a few detours
A new day is dawning since I received some much needed information yesterday. But first, I’ll discuss the road I’ve been travelling this year.
I made excuses for living (yes, LIVING) on the Struggle Bus. Initially, I was coming off of Brazos Bend 100 and I was understandably fatigued. Training for and running my first 100 miler in December took its toll. Instead of taking 2 full weeks off, as originally planned, I convinced my coach to let me get back to running just over a week after the race. So, in January, when I was still feeling tired and unmotivated, I chalked it up to returning to training too quickly and assumed that I would work myself out of my funk.
Except the funk just kept getting funkier. By the end of January, I had accepted that it was due not only to the fatigue caused by the 100 miler, but also to post-race blues. And I’m sure that I did have some post race blues. How could I not? I had a STELLAR 2017, which started with qualifying for Boston, then running my first 50k and progressing to 100 miles. I mean, you have to come off the mountain top sometime, right? I felt like what I was feeling was totally normal, so I allowed myself to embrace the funk, knowing that I needed to work through emotions in order to move forward.
Add to the mix having a player on a national-level volleyball team and all the practices, extra practices and weekend tournaments that come along with that, plus trying to work full time — I had some great excuses as to why I felt like crap. Winter seemed cold and rainy (to me, at least), which didn’t improve my mood at all. I missed the sun. It was always cloudy. I was SURE that when the time changed, I would be able to improve my mood because of the increasing daylight.
So all this time, I was supposed to be training for Boston but my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t completing my workouts as with the consistency that I once did. I tried not to skip completely, but sometimes, with volleyball, it happened. And sometimes, I cut workouts short. I tried to tell myself that I was just upset that I wasn’t training for trails. I tried to force myself to embrace the training cycle because running Boston is such an honor, but all to no avail.
During Spring Break, I decided some trail running was in order to help with the mood. My trail brother and I went to explore a new trail and I fell and broke my arm. It actually worked to increase my motivation in the short term, because being so close to not being able to run caused me to be thankful for the runs that I was able to get. (Thankfully, my orthopaedic gave me a soft cast and the green light to continue running.)
Boston came and went and I survived. The rain and cold didn’t affect me (Luckily!) and I am so glad that I was able to embrace the experience, because it was absolutely wonderful. Just a month later, I ran a 50 miler and managed to finish it. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it, enjoyed it, and was kind-of OK with the result given the amount of training I had under me.
Finally, I found myself on summer vacation. Volleyball was still in full swing getting ready for Nationals, but at least I had time to get my workouts in and take a nap in the afternoon. Still, I felt that my fitness wasn’t coming along at all. Running was harder than it should have been and seemed to get harder with every workout. But, I was in the build phase of training and it was supposed to be hard. Ouray 50 was next on my schedule at the end of July. I knew that I couldn’t build the type of fitness needed to finish with the amount of time I had to train, so getting halfway before being pulled for time cut off was a win in my book.
I came back after Ouray recovery feeling reasonably good – the short break was needed. But I slowly started questioning my fitness again with each consecutive workout. I had long been wondering if I had developed Exercise Induced Asthma. I sometimes felt like I was wheezing during workouts, but that was usually related to a high allergy day and the wheezing wasn’t consistent by any means. Believe it or not, I am pretty in-tune with my body, even though I don’t always listen right away. I knew, in my core (subconsciously, anyway), that I was having problems oxygenating my blood (the asthma theory kind-of fit). I couldn’t complete even my short workouts without feeling out of breath and completely exhausted. I was seriously contemplating giving up ultra running. I felt like I wasn’t cut out for it and I knew that it shouldn’t be that hard. Racing added even more stress. Well intentioned people would wish me luck, telling me how great I would do. But deep down, I knew I knew I knew my performance in workouts and, as a result, knew I couldn’t do that “well”. I knew my struggles and those well wishes only served to cause more internal turmoil.
Light bulb moments
About 3 weeks ago, I saw an article tweeted that discussed low iron levels in endurance athletes. Immediately, I knew without a doubt that this applied to me. I had considered Inside Tracker blood tests many times, but never felt that I could justify spending the money on it. Well, this time, I spent the money and it was well worth every penny.
Knowledge is power
I received my results yesterday and, <drum roll>, I am low in Ferritin, which is related to Iron and how well my body can oxygenate my blood. I am SO LOW that if I was one point lower, I would be critically low. One nice perk about Inside Tracker is that there are food and supplement suggestions for you to use to normalize your markers. Having those resources at my fingertips gives me a great amount of comfort and confidence in the process ahead.
I cannot begin to explain the wave of feelings I experienced when I read my results. Obviously, I am concerned about my Ferritin levels being so low, but this knowledge is a HUGE weight lifted. I still feel physically exhausted. It will take me a hot minute to build these levels back up. But I finally feel hopeful and hopeful is not a word that I would have used to describe my mood of late.
Silencing that voice that has been telling me that I’m not good enough and not cut out for this sport is one of the best things that I’ve been able to do with this new information. Yes, I run trails and ultras because I love trails and ultras. But when you come off a year like I had last year, crushing goal after goal to the next year, barely managing to jump hurdle after hurdle…that takes a huge mental toll and causes you to question yourself.
I can finally, honestly say that I am SO looking forward to the rest of 2018 and beyond. I think I’ll celebrate by registering for Ouray 50, 2019!
It’s been a long hiatus, but I’m going to throw my hat back into the blogging ring with a report of my attempt at the 50 mile run at Ouray 100 and 50 Mile Endurance Runs.
I went into this race as strong as was possible. I chose this race while my hands were tied with broken arm/Boston training, plus I already had a 50 miler planned one month after Boston. I know I give my coach a really big headache with the way I schedule races. Being prepared for a 50 miler a month after marathon training seemed really doable when I registered for it. Preparing for the most ridiculously hard mountain race (my first mountain race, mind you), which was a mere TWO MONTHS after running a 50 miler in Texas also seemed very doable at the time. Apparently I have some sort of dissociation complex, in which I can’t process the negatives associated with the way I pick races. Once the 50 miler in Texas was done, I started training for climbing. Reality set in and I quickly realized that I had gotten myself in wayyyyyy over my head.
I contacted the RD of Ouray well before Boston to see if he would accept my finish at Brazos Bend 100 as my qualifier for this race – he basically said that if I was brave enough to register, that I was welcome! I still waited for quite some time to register because the family couldn’t come with and I was anxious about driving alone. In the end that was wasted energy because Kolbe volunteered to come with me! We had a great time travelling (I did, at least) and I appreciated her coming along for the ride.
I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof during the drive up to Ouray. I told Kolbe that I felt I was driving myself to my own execution. I had a pretty good understanding of what I would be facing and also understood that there was no way to replicate those climbs in my area of Texas. I realized that a finish was likely out of my reach – I just wanted to race in the San Juans and see what I could accomplish.
We arrived in Ouray on Thursday afternoon and went immediately to pick up my bib. Suddenly, a wave of calm rushed over me (even though I had been given “lucky” bib #13). It’s hard to feel nervous when you stand in that valley and see the majesty of those mountains ALL around you.
Friday, Kolbe and I “attempted” a hike on the Ouray Perimeter Trail, but we ended up on a closed section where I had to literally use my hands not to slide down the side of the mountain. I finally admitted that we had somehow gone off the maintained trail, we backtracked and found the location where we missed the turn to stay on the actual trail. I chose to see this as my one wrong turn while in Ouray, rather than to see it as a foreboding of difficulties ahead. We had planned this hike around Ouray to include visiting Box Canyon, but after taking the wrong trail, decided to drive there instead.
Our breath was taken away by the visit to Box Canyon, where we witnessed a waterfall within the mountain. I was also able to walk through the tunnel and down the stairs that would take me out of Ouray on the first section of the 50 miler. We were planning to rent a Jeep and explore some of the Jeep roads that would take me to the trails during the race, but it rained all afternoon and neither of us felt like driving around in the rain. I used this time to re-organize all my gear and get things race ready. The rains finally moved out for good (for Friday, anyway) and after dinner we soaked in the Hot Springs. My legs enjoyed that and it set me up for a really good sleep.
Saturday morning, I was up early as usual even though the race didn’t start until noon. I was surprisingly calm – I was just ready to get out there and experience all the race had to throw at me. We went for breakfast at a coffee shop we had found the day before and enjoyed coffee and bagels and more coffee. When we got back to the hotel, the antsy started setting in. I couldn’t stay busy enough. It was impossible to sit still, but I really didn’t have anything to do. We decided to head to Fellin Park around 10 and just hung around, chatting with others, until it was time for the race to begin. North Texas had a good showing – there were 3 guys from Dallas Dirt Runners there, as well as myself. We had set up our own little Facebook group to compare training and share info. I registered for this race thinking that I would be going alone, but it was so nice to be able to share with others from my area. I also met a guy at my motel from Ft Worth that ran the 100 and we met yet another Texan while waiting on the race to start. While we were waiting for those final moments to tick away, Mother Nature reminded us who was boss with a quick rain and hail storm. I had <seriously> joked that I would not be happy unless I was hailed upon during the race, so check that box off the list. I was also able to use the little stash of duct tape that I had in my pack to secure my SPOT tracker, so I was pretty pumped about that as well. It clearly doesn’t take much to make me happy.
Before we knew it, RD was counting down and off we went. We hit the Perimeter Trail, up the stairs, through the tunnel, then onto the Jeep roads that would eventually take us to the Weehawken aid station. That first little section was mostly on Jeep roads, but still clocked 1300′ in ascent and Mother Nature unloaded on us with pouring rain. The next section up Weehawken Pack Trail to the Alpine Mine Overlook was up the side of a mountain on beautiful single track. Mother Nature still had quite a bit in store for us and we were rained and hailed on again. I laughed like a 5 year old – I had so much fun!!! And while the hail stung a bit, it was so small that it didn’t cause an issue. I didn’t even bother getting my jacket out. I did attempt to record with my phone, but my hands were wet so I aborted that attempt quickly. The DDR boys were a bit ahead of me, but I was still happy with my climbing at this point. I reached the overlook just as they were about to head back down. Bryan was kind enough to snap a couple of photos of me and we all began the descent together. The sun was shining now and it was actually a little warm (I secretly wished for another downpour – I would later get my wish). We didn’t want to blow our quads on the first descent, so we made our way down quickly, but didn’t bomb down the mountain. The trails were also wet and slippery in places and I actually slid off the trail once. We made it back to Weehawken AS, quickly refilled water, ate and moved onto the next section. One of the volunteers told us the next section was a “burly” climb. I appreciated the honesty. We had clocked about 2360′ of vertical ascent in this section and were up to a rough total of 3,680.
To get to the next section, we had to go back down the Jeep road that had brought us to Weehawken (DOWN!!!), then we would take a right onto another Jeep road that was somehow more steep than the one we were on. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to the trail head. It was raining….again and hailing…again. Honestly, the weather didn’t bother me. I kind of liked it. It kept me cool (still hadn’t put a jacket on). This section was…..tough. We left Weehawken 25 min ahead off the cutoff, which meant I had about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get out to Crystal Lake and back to Fellin Park. Only 7.1 miles. As soon as I started climbing, I knew I would be cutting it close. The trail was roughly 2.2 miles to Hayden Pass with 3600′ gain. Which sounds totally doable, right? I was moving so slow. The climb was relentless – there was never really a break in going UP. Even the switch backs – take a turn and you’re still going UP. I am sure altitude played a role in my energy level, but the main contributor was that I just wasn’t fueling. I had my poles out and it was a real hassle to get the gel out, get the baggie for trash out and manage the poles while I was doing all this. Plus, so much of this was on the side of the mountain. I waited (foolishly) to fuel until I made it to a section that wasn’t as exposed. By this time I was behind on fueling yet I continued to take only one gel at a time. I kept thinking that I had to be nearing Hayden Pass. One of the 100 mile runners came down and I asked her if I was getting close. I love truthful people. She said, “No. Sorry. You’re going to keep going up. Then down just a bit. Then up some more.” I felt like I would never get to the pass! When I did, I knew I was falling behind on time, but part of this journey was about the experience. I took a minute to soak in the beauty of the view and snap a pic. Then I was on my way again. After the pass, there was a relatively flat section that cut across the mountain – my best guess is that it was about a mile long. It was above the tree line so the views were amazing. I knew that I just needed to get across to start my descent into Crystal Lake, but at this point I was getting dangerously close to the cutoffs. I finally made it across and started the descent. I was moving as quickly as possible, but also cautiously because the trails were still a bit wet. I passed several runners making their way back up and they all felt I had time to make the cutoff. I wasn’t convinced, but I had to give it my all. I met the DDR boys and Bryan told me to “run like the Devil was chasing me.” I continued as quickly as possible, but was slowed due to a more technical section. DAMN. I made it to the bottom, but the aid station was near the parking area for Crystal Lake – I ran as fast as my legs would take me, but I knew I had missed the cutoff…by FIVE MINUTES. When I came into the AS, the volunteers asked what I needed. I said, “I missed the cutoff.” They told me the cutoffs were “soft” and that I looked really good, so they would let me continue. I got tears in my eyes and nearly started crying. I DID NOT want my race to end at Crystal Lake. I knew that, realistically, getting back to Fellin before the cutoff would take everything I had – and then some – but for some reason, my mind felt that getting halfway before a drop would make it more palette-able. Bryan’s wife, Shellene, was a God-send. She had waited there for me and refilled my bladder while I was digging out a long sleeve shirt, stuffing more gels in my pockets and eating. I was in and out of that aid station in less than 5 minutes. I couldn’t have done it without Shellene!!
Now I had the pleasure of climbing BACK up to Hayden Pass. As I made my way past the trail head, Mother Nature opened up the skies again and dumped more pouring rain and hail down on me. I went just a little way before I decided to get out my jacket. I had just put on this dry long sleeve shirt and I knew that the mile across the top of the mountain would be cold. It was windy up there and the sun was starting to set – wet clothes wouldn’t make that any easier. Onward and upward I went, maybe just a tad faster than my ascent from the other side of the mountain, but not much. Luckily, the way back was a shorter ascent with only 2,600′ gain. I made it to the top, crept across the mountain and was elated to finally be back at the pass and ready to go DOWN. The elation was short-lived, though, as I soon discovered that the trail was now a muddy slip-n-slide after the day of rain – in many places the trail served as the avenue for the rain water runoff. I’m not the best at sliding down slopes (without skis, anyway), so this section was painfully slow. The glimmer of hope that I had of making it to Fellin before the cutoff was quickly snuffed out. My lack of fueling was also beginning to catch up to me in a bad way. I knew that I needed to eat, but, but, but…..
This last section was the darkest part of the race, for me. I felt pretty defeated. I was exhausted. I could tell that mentally I was starting to drift. I just wanted to get back to Fellin Park. The great thing about mountain races is that no one is coming to save you. You can’t take any shortcuts down. I had to see it through. I reminded myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. As slow as it was, I just had to keep moving. I also had to pee ALL THE TIME, like I did during the night at Brazos. Still haven’t figured out if this is how my body reacts to the cold, or if I was low on sodium. I stopped to take an Oral IV, but had to pee AGAIN not long after. At one point, I thought I was off course. The trail looked different in the dark and I think the runoff made it look different as well. I was able to use the Gaia app that I had downloaded and could see that I was still on course. (I continued on and found a flag just steps later.) It was at this point that I also realized that I was still a very long way from Fellin. I decided to try to text Kolbe – weird thing is that I had better service on the side of the mountain than in Ouray! It was around 10pm and I told Kolbe I hoped to be there by 11, but clearly would miss the 10:10 cutoff.
As luck would have it, I was much closer to the trail head than I realized. I was so excited to be back on the Jeep roads. I ran as quickly as I could, but those little roads seemed to go on forever! After what seemed like an eternity, I was back on Camp Bird Road, which would take me to the Ouray Perimeter Trail and then back to the streets of Ouray to Fellin Park. That last stretch of road to Fellin Park seemed never ending. Then I missed the turn to go over the bridge to get back to Fellin. Luckily, some people were out walking and asked where I was going. They told me I had overshot the turn by about 1/4 mile. (GREAT) One of the ladies in the party ran me back to the turn (God bless her!). She told me that she had attempted the 100 for the 4th year in a row and DNF’d for the 4th year in a row.
Getting back to Fellin was a mixed bag of emotions. I knew I was too late to continue but I was glad that the suffering was finally ending. If I had been given the opportunity to go back out, I’m quite certain I would have declined. That bothered me initially, but some time and perspective has allowed me to decide to use that as fuel for next time. In the end, I climbed around 9,900′ – not nearly as much as I had hoped but much more than my legs have ever handled at one time!
In the end, I’m pretty happy with it. I was able to get halfway through this beast with 2 months of dedicated training (not bad for a flatlander from Texas!), so clearly the training that I did paid off. I was so worried about my quads, but they felt so strong even though they dealt with more descent ever before. My mental game was decent. The only thing that really got to me was the climbs. I felt defeated and was angry that those climbs were so slow. I realize now that some of this was altitude but a very large part was TERRIBLE fueling. Terrible fueling isn’t new for me – it has been an ongoing problem for me in races and training.
Special shout out to my coach, Greg, for encouraging me to take on this challenge and getting me as ready as humanly possible!!!
There will be a next time – I’m already planning to go back!! But for 2019, I’m going to train more than 2 months and see how far I can go!
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!
Here I am, FINALLY just 4 days away from my first 100 mile attempt and so much is going through my mind. The strangest thing is what isn’t going through my mind.
Generally speaking, I LOSE MY MIND every time I taper. It is a common affliction and many in my sport like to call it the “Taper Crazies”. I am usually consumed with anxiety, restless energy, doubts and fears. More times than not, I do something really, really stupid. Like going for my first open water swim, slipping on the boat ramp and breaking my toe. Or I go crazy on Ultra Sign Up and register for races that are harder than the one I’m about to run.
But this taper…. The taper before the BIGGEST race of my life to date, and I have yet to experience any anxiety, doubt, restless energy, or fear. I keep trying to assess why I am so calm, because there HAS to be something wrong, right? Or maybe not.
I am confident. I worked my ass off in training. No, I didn’t run every mile that was scheduled, but I was consistent. And during all that training, I never went out and “just” ran. Knowing I gave it my all has helped me trust my training.
I am mentally tough. I fought many mental battles during training and spent countless hours outside of training getting my mind right. I read everything I could get my hands on and listened to countless podcasts to gain insight into tackling this distance.
I am prepared. I have packed everything (times 3 – no kidding) that I can think of that I might remotely need. (Well, I’ve decided not to take the kitchen sink.)
I know that nothing is guaranteed. NOTHING IS GUARANTEED. I may not finish and I am OK with that. My goal this year was to push myself and get to that place that I had to fight with every fiber of my being to continue. If I get to that place and I am unable to finish, I will still have accomplished what I set out to do.
Pain isn’t optional – it’s guaranteed. Whether or not I suffer is completely and totally up to me.
This distance is ridiculously far. I understand the challenges that I’ll be facing, but I’ll also be in the same boat as veterans toeing the start line. No one can predict what hardships will be visited upon them during the course of 100 miles. Part of the challenge; part of the lure of this distance is that uncertanty.
My race plan is aggressive. Probably too aggressive for my first 100, but, honestly, how does one really know what “too aggressive” is on their first attempt?? Many have suggested that I should just “race just to finish”, but I’m not a race just to finish kind of gal. In most of my races this year, I had a feeling going in what I would run. And every race, I was within minutes of my guess. After this happened a couple times, I began to trust my instincts more and more. I feel in all my being that this is the right race plan for me. I know that it won’t go completely according to plan. Hell, it may not go AT ALL according to plan! But if/when it all falls apart, I’ll use my strengths, which is assessing my situation and coming up with possible solutions.
This race is going to be epic. It will be an epic success or an epic failure. But if I fail to finish, I will be FAR from a failure. If I fail to finish, I will have hopefully found that place, that line that I’ve not been able to find, let alone cross. If that line is revealed to me, I suspect I’ll have learned much more about myself than I would have coasting easily and cautiously to the finish line, if I had just raced to finish. Either way, I believe that I will prove to myself something that I’ve known (but not acknowledged) for a very long time – 100 miles is going to prove to be my favorite distance.