Pinhoti 100

Way back in the Spring, I registered for Pinhoti 100.  Honestly, I picked this race because a couple of my Team Ninja sisters were running it and I wanted to play in the woods with friends.  Being a point-to-point also made this an attractive race as well as the runnable course, though it had 15,000′ of elevation gain.  One of our group had to drop the race due to injury, so it was down to me and my favorite-est partner in trail-crime, Kelley.  In addition to experiencing this race with Kelley, some of my favorite people in the world were coming along for the ride.  Bobby came to help crew.  He went to Ouray, but that ended sooner than we had hoped so this would be a real test for him to see how he liked the gig.  Baha came to pace me and Greg and Fiona came to crew and pace Kelley.  History was made because it was the first time the Team Dirt & Vert trio have all been together at a big race.img_3738

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I experienced pre-race jitters for a solid two weeks before the race.  I think it was a combination of getting my mental game back on track and not wanting to let Baha down.  Pacing and crewing is a special gift, because it requires taking time away from work and family.  I appreciated Baha being there to pace me and I didn’t take the sacrifice lightly, at all.

When one registers for these events, they seem so far in the future that it is difficult to get your mind wrapped around the reality that you will actually be running ONE HUNDRED MILES.  My mind was still in denial, even after waking up and making the final preparations on Saturday morning.

We stayed near Talladega, which was slightly closer to the finish than the start.  We left in plenty of time to have a bathroom stop and get to the start line with about 30 minutes to spare.  While the weather was clear, it was SO COLD and hanging out, freezing, wasn’t something any of us wanted to do.  We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way, which was the same McDonald’s that the race busses had stopped at not long before us. As Bobby was buying coffee, the cashier mentioned that we had just missed the busses full of “5k runners”.  When Bobby told her that they weren’t running 5k but 100 miles, her jaw nearly hit the floor.  I laughed about that for a good 15 minutes and it was a nice break from the pre-race nerves.

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The whole crew just before the start.

We arrived at the Start at just the right time, only having to stand around for 10 minutes or so.  I was so ready to get going at that point just because I wanted to get warm!  Because everything I read about the race mentioned the “conga line” in the first miles of the race, I didn’t want to start near the back.  I didn’t want to start near the front, either, because I planned to use the conga line to pace myself in the early stages of the race.  Running always feels “easy” when you’re fresh and I knew that I would have even more difficulty holding back because the weather was forecast to be SPECTACULAR.  I endured the line for an hour before starting my move to the front of the pack.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I most likely ran the next several miles too fast, but the legs and lungs felt so strong and I honestly felt like I was running an easy, all-day pace.  Those first 20 miles were nothing but fun, except mile 13 when I rolled my ankle.  I tweaked it pretty hard, but it worked out easily enough and only bothered me going forward when I stepped wrong.  I did a pretty good job of staying on top of nutrition and hydration through these early miles, too.

Having crew is really a game-changer.  I had never run a race in which I had crew rushing from aid station to aid station, but it makes a huge difference in the amount of time spent at aid as well the mental aspect of the race.  I was able to see everyone at miles 6.7, 13.27, and 18.27 before a LONG stretch to mile 42 without them.  I kept thinking how weird it was that they all seemed giddy about how well I was running.  Like, guys….I’m taking it fairly easy out here!

I began to feel a little tired around the 50k mark, but I also think that the long stretch without seeing crew played a role in that as well.  I managed the climb up to Bald Rock just fine, although I hiked most of it.  I was relieved to make the descent down Blue Hell in the daylight, as I had heard many runners discussing that as key to doing well in the race.  After Blue Hell, I found myself at Cheaha Lake, mile 42, but…..my crew hadn’t arrived!  I called Bobby but signal was so terrible that I couldn’t tell if he had understood what I was trying to say.  I joked to myself that I was like Devon Yanko in Billy Yang’s film, “Life in a Day”.  All I really needed was my jacket, as the sun would be setting soon, so I resolved to keep moving fast enough to keep myself warm in my sweaty, long sleeve shirt.  I knew I could make do with the food I had on hand, took a couple extra minutes to eat at the aid station then decided to get on my way.  As luck would have it, I would be on the road for a couple of miles and I ended up passing them as they pulled into the aid station.  Fiona said to me, “You’re 20 minutes ahead!”  I laughed about that for a long time – as if I had one clue whether I was ahead or behind.  The important thing is that I was able to grab my jacket, restock nutrition and keep moving!

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Bald Rock

The Silent Trail section from miles 45-52 was much slower than I wanted.  The sun was beginning to set, the trail was littered with just enough large rocks to keep me from getting in any kind of running rhythm, and there were a ridiculously high number of water crossings.  This section started wearing on me mentally but I was able to make it to the 52 mile aid station still moving pretty well.  The next section was only 3 miles, and at the end of that 3 miles I would see my crew and pick up Baha.  Despite having those carrots dangling in front of me, I struggled to move well through through here. I barely managed to not completely suck, so I guess that I should be happy it wasn’t worse.

The race shifts when you get to pick up your pacer.  You aren’t alone anymore and you’re still feeling halfway decent which makes you care about running strong, whether you feel strong or not.  And having someone who is fresh and chatty helps divert your mind from the fact that you’re only halfway there.  The next miles clicked away about as fast as they could at that point in the race.  For some reason, I didn’t think I would see Bobby again until mile 85, but he was at mile 68!  That was an unexpected boost, for sure.  From Porter’s Gap at mile 68, we had to make the climb up Pinnacle.  I had asked a runner about that climb early in the race and his assessment was spot on.  He said that the number of switchbacks was what made it hard, that it was more mental than physical, and that most likely people felt it was the most difficult of the race because it was past the 100k mark.  I agreed with all of that.  We managed to make the climb then were able to see crew again at Pinnacle.  Bobby and Greg were both there…wait…Greg wasn’t supposed to be there..he was supposed to be with Kelley.  Bobby told me that Kelley had missed cutoff and was forced to drop from the race.  My heart sank.  I was so sad for her.

There was even more climbing after Pinnacle, WHY DID IT HAVE TO KEEP GOING UP??? The section from Wormy’s Pulpit to Bull’s Gap would quite literally run me into the ground. Those miles from 79-85 were the most difficult of the race, by far.  We were out there in the middle of the night, temps were freezing, the wind was howling, and I was at the point in the race that the pain and fatigue were winning and I COULD NOT stop thinking about Kelley.  It is also likely that I hallucinated here.  I could have sworn that Baha said he was going to the bathroom, so I leaned up against a tree and closed my eyes.  I opened them when I felt Baha staring at me, asked him if he was ready and off we went.  He later denied that he stopped for the bathroom.  <shrugs>  This section really beat me up.  I felt with each step my movement was getting worse.  I was so cold that my legs didn’t want to move.  I was SO TIRED and the pain was starting to get more and more intense. I ended up taking Advil to help with the pain.  Advil is always a last resort and part of me feels like it is cheating, but I needed to take the edge off in order to start moving again. I don’t think I’ve ever been as relieved to arrive at an aid station as I was at mile 85 aid.  Bobby had me sit down in a chair and we were working on taking in calories. Oh! Maybe one reason that last section SUCKED was because I DID NOT EAT ANYTHING.  I know so much, but execute so poorly at times.  I noticed Greg talking to Baha and figured that Baha was telling him how shitty I was running.  (I learned later that Baha was concerned he had pushed me so far that I might DNF, but that was NEVER a possibility in my mind.)  For a moment, I became angry with myself for allowing that last section to be SO BAD.  I quickly stopped the negative talk.  Negative talk certainly wouldn’t get me out of this mess, so might as well STOP.  (HUGE win for me!!)  After talking to Baha, Greg came over and asked me if we passed some females in that last section – um, what?  I DID NOT PASS ANYONE IN THAT LAST, SUCKY SECTION!!! Then I wondered, “WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME THIS STUPID QUESTION?”

My time telling skills were way off by this point, but it didn’t seem like we spent much time at mile 85.  It seemed like we were off again in no time.  We would be running mostly on Jeep roads to the next aid station, 10 miles away.  Baha stopped just as we left the aid station and asked me for 10 good miles, which I promised I would deliver.  I would have killed myself to give him 10 good miles, especially after that last, sucky stretch.  Luckily, the Advil had taken enough of the edge off that I began moving fairly well again.  Being on gravel roads helped a lot, too.  We had managed 5 pretty awesome miles when I suddenly felt a terrible pain go up the side of my left calf.  I still don’t know what happened, but it scared me to death.  I screamed, and I didn’t even scream when I broke my arm.  Honestly, the pain of that broken bone was nothing in comparison.  I know Baha had to have been worried, but he was so calm.  I tried to walk, but I couldn’t toe-off on that foot.  Initially, I was in panic mode, but that was quickly replaced with “I refuse to walk this thing in BECAUSE IT WILL TAKE FOREVER.”  Luckily, I had kept my poles and it only took a matter of minutes for me to work out a method of running.  We were off again!

We made it to the final aid station at mile 95 and had a “mere” 7.5 miles to go.  I was able to get some more calories in (you guessed it, didn’t eat anything to speak of in that 10 mile stretch) and Fiona rubbed some Runner’s High Herbals on my calf.  And that’s when Greg spilled the beans…..he said something about me being 6th female and 7th place was only 9 minutes back.  Me: “You mean age group?” Greg, “No, overall.” Me: “YOU ARE LYING!!!!”, then “HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??” Soooooo glad I didn’t know that earlier because that would have been A THING for me to get mental about.  At least this way, I only had to fret for 7.5 miles about whether or not she would catch me.  I’LL BE DAMNED IF I LET HER CATCH ME AT THIS POINT.  And off Baha and I went again.

I fell at mile 98 after getting my pole stuck between my legs.  Don’t ask me how because my brain was too far gone to analyze what happened.  I took a moment to whine and whimper.  I really wanted to cry but I think I was too tired.  First my ankle, then my calf, NOW THIS.  I was so freaking tired and just wanted to be done AND THERE WAS SOME CHICK TRYING TO CATCH ME.  Jason told me to take my time….and I am thinking…he was being wayyyy too nice.  Why was he being so nice??? Am I THAT pathetic now?? Ok, enough of the pity party.  Get your ass up and GET MOVING.

Even though the remainder of the race hopped on and off trails, they were smooth and easy and mostly DOWNHILL.  We finally got dumped out onto a road where we came across a sign proclaiming, “Pinhoti runners – 2 miles to go!”  I asked Baha if that could be right and while he laughed, I was totally serious.  I wanted to be DONE!  Those 2 road miles seemed like the longest of the race! We finally turned off that road and I saw the back of the stadium and knew that we were home free!

I have such a great feeling of accomplishment tied to this race.  I felt that way about my other two 100 mile races, but this one is even more special.  I ran strong for the majority of the race.  I spent less time and distance walking/hiking even though this race was more difficult that my last two 100s. Point to point races are pretty awesome.  Oh, and Baha paced me to finish as 6th place female – more than I could ever have hoped for!

My crew and pacer made this all possible.  There is NO WAY I would have done this well on my own.  Thank you doesn’t do justice to my feelings of gratitude.  And I am soooo happy that Bobby was able to go and that he actually had a good time!  The experience is definitely more special since I was able to share it with him.

Until the next adventure!

 

 

 

When the Mountain Wins

“Success is not final.  Failure is not fatal.  It is the will to continue that counts.” ~Churchill

I’ve tried to come up with words for this race and I just don’t have them.  Maybe they will come later; maybe they won’t come at all.  Everything I try to say just sounds like one big excuse.  Everything I try to say sounds really negative and that isn’t the way I usually approach things.  However, I’m going to keep on writing here, negativity and all, because I feel like being raw and honest is the only thing that will get me off this ledge that I’ve been perched on the last couple of days.

I went in knowing a lot of things – knowing that I didn’t have time to sufficiently train, knowing that I wanted to use whatever I got out there as training for Ouray – but when the DNF actually came, none of those things actually mattered.  Our emotions rarely consult with our intellect.

This isn’t my first DNF, but it stings the most.

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My favorite from the race, with my favorites at the race.  PC: Meg Reed

I’ve struggled in the past few days.  As ultra runners, we talk a lot about attempting things that are out of our comfort zone and embracing the prospect of failure, but our actions don’t always match our words.  Mine did.  But now that the “failure” happened, I’m stuck in a negative mental loop.

  • Did I over-reach?
  • Will I ever be strong enough?
  • Am I foolishly chasing something that I can never achieve?

These questions have haunted me and are still haunting me.  I keep trying to redirect my brain to the positives:

  • My climbing is stronger.
  • My downhill is WAY BETTER than at Cactus Rose
  • My footwork and agility have come a long way.
  • I HAVE IMPROVED.
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PC: Trail Racing Over Texas/AJ Stasulli

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PC: Trail Racing Over Texas/AJ Stasulli
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The rewards of a long climb.

I enjoyed most of my time out there, even during the suffering.  Climbing anything, but especially mountains, puts a sparkle in my eye and a spring in my step.  Running in the middle of the night is, hands down, my favorite thing in ultra running.  I think the thing that is most difficult for me right now is that I keep questioning my decision to attempt Ouray again.  Is it really within my reach?  Will I ever be strong enough to gut out a finish on that course?

I need to get my mind right again.  I’m not exactly sure how to do that.  But, for now, I’m going to allow myself to feel defeated.  I’m going to allow myself to feel upset.  I’ll lick my wounds and visualize rising strong like a phoenix from its fire.  Hopefully, when my pity party is over, I’ll be ready to unleash hell on the trails again.

In the mean time, I’ll be focusing on this.  Even though Lone Star was far from Barkley Marathons, this quote from Laz gets me in the feels:

“you all know about the comfort zone.
that’s where most ultras take place.
running ultras is all about staying in the comfort zone.
all our strategies revolve around staying in the comfort zone.
all our advice is about staying in the comfort zone.

“start slow”

“walk every uphill”

“dont take any chances”

for all the talk about exploring human potential, and seeking our limits, ultrarunners tend to play it safe.
they line up “challenges” they know they can finish.
and run them carefully
well within their “limits”.
we believe that success is never failing.

at the barkley success is about over-reaching our abilities,
and living to tell about it.
sometimes success is getting your ass out alive.”
~Lazarus Lake

 

 

Lone Star 100, Here I Come!

“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.

2015 Franklin Mountain Trail Run - Pre Race
PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

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.
    2015 Franklin Mountain Trail Run - Pre Race
    PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

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    PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

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!!

 

2018 Recap – Finding the Positives

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.

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Radkey & I enjoying the view before “the break”

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.

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Enjoying Boston with my besties!
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Running on Boylston Street was an honor!

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!!

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We had no idea what great buddies we would soon become

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!

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I can’t wait to go back and finish what I started.

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.

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Tommy pushed me farther than I have ever been able to push myself.  The experience was a highlight of 2018.

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!

Counting Blessings

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.
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    Just some of my Team Ninja family ❤

Here’s to 2019: testing limits and having adventures!

Racing from the flip side: reflections of a pacer

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

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!!

Pushing Boundaries: Cactus Rose 100

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.

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Pre-race.  Not really nervous.  OK maybe just a little.

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.

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🙂 pc: Tracy Almazan
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Just some of the rocks.  pc: Tracy Almazan

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.

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The EVIL creek! pc: Tracy Almazan

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.

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We make a pretty good team. 🙂

Counting blessings

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Exiting the Stuggle Bus

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!