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!

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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!