Since the onset of the panemic, I have often joked about ultra runners being more prepared than the normal American. The funny thing about jokes is that there is always a morsel of truth hidden in them. Now seems like a good time to elaborate.
Ultra runners have been holding dress rehearsal for social distancing and lockdowns our entire ultra careers. Most of us prefer to run alone, as far away from people as we can get. Those of us that enjoy running with others are still OK going solo. You’ll find us on a trail as deep into nature as we can get. Some of us have complained about not having races to run. Most of us have found other ways to stay active and motivated in the mean time. All of us are sad that we can’t race, because races are the ONE place we enjoy being around other people!
In order to be successful in ultra marathons, we must become comfortable being uncomfortable. A good part of a successful ultra marathoner’s training is spent on developing mental toughness – training our minds to will ourselves to continue when we otherwise feel that we can’t. We have experienced the highs and lows of the ultra marathon and understand that pain now doesn’t mean pain forever. The flip side of that coin is that we know that things can be going great and go South VERY quickly. The mental training we have done and our experience in racing ultras has prepared us to deal with the discomfort that a pandemic causes with it’s complete disruption of our lives.
Ultra marathoners understand that anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Ultra marathons DO NOT fit in with our society of instant gratification. We don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll run a 100 miler this weekend.” We train for months – many of us working toward longer distances for years – knowing that spending time and effort in preparation will get us to the finish line. We understand that this pandemic is like a 100 miler. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to hurt like hell. We will ride a roller coaster of highs and lows, but with every low there will be another high. We won’t give up. We can’t give up. We will keep working toward the goal of things being back to “normal” again.
We accept things as they are, not as we want them to be – the ultra marathon gives you no other choice. When you find yourself at mile 80 on top of a mountain with shredded quads – NO ONE IS COMING TO RESCUE YOU. We know that we have to get ourselves down the mountain on our own two feet, and no amount of whining and throwing tantrums will change that fact. Personally, I accepted in March that this would be at least an 18 month – 2 year ordeal (HOPEFULLY!!). Accepting that reality has helped me deal with ongoing anxiety about what may or may not happen. We just have to hang in there, put our heads down and grind this out….like a long mountain climb.
(Edited after original post) Thanks to Edie for pointing this one out: Ultra runners are masters at pivoting when things aren’t going to plan. Nothing goes as planned in an ultra….ever. If you can’t adjust on the fly without total emotional upheaval, then you won’t finish. Even worse, you could be setting yourself up for serious trouble.
Alright ultra runners – how else are we better prepared for a pandemic?? Let me know what I failed to include!!
“Surround yourself with people who have dreams, desire and ambition; they’ll help you push for and realize your own.”
Friday evening just before 7PM, I left New Boston hoping to finish the 130ish mile trek to Farmersville sooner, rather than later. Greg was in to crew the duration. Kelley was crewing through Saturday afternoon and Bryan McKenney accepted my invitation to pace Friday night. I felt I needed a someone with me during the night hours – safety in numbers.
I experienced A LOT of anxiety and doubt the 10 days going into this event. I mean, I basically decided to do this a month out and that didn’t provide an optimal time frame for proper training build up. I felt under trained. I knew the trail was gnarly in spots and I wasn’t sure if I could persevere. I didn’t sleep well the entire week before. I worried about starting at 7PM and having to run through two nights. I genuinely doubted my ability to pull it off. I didn’t start this adventure in the right mindset at all.
The first miles were deceptively easy trail, yet they still wore me down quickly. Running on flat land is just HARD. I wasn’t prepared for the difficulty of navigating the obstacles of the meat of this course. The conditions alternated between lakes covering the trail, mud bogs or sections of THICK thigh-high grass/thorny plants/poison ivy and, just for fun, sprinkled in here and there were completely downed or sketch bridges (I CRAWLED over two of them). Every once in a while, the NeTT would give us a peace offering of some runnable terrain.
Bryan hopped in between New Boston and DeKalb and off we went. The trail basically parallelled the road through this stretch. Pretty straightforward. After we left Avery, the trail veered off from the road, so it finally felt like we were on an actual trail. Be careful what you wish for. We navigated mud and water covering the trail, which, of course, took more time than we wanted to give. We fell behind schedule then missed a turn to workaround a downed bridge East of Annona, causing us to backtrack. I was already secretly contemplating dropping. My stomach was off, fatigue was already wearing on me and I wasn’t in a good head space. But we marched on. Between Annona and Clarksville, we trudged through the thickest overgrowth one could imagine. We tried to run but it was futile, so we ended up hiking. I had not put on my pants yet and after this section, my legs were trashed from endless cuts from thorny plants. Bryan and I rolled into Clarksville just after the sun came up. He got me through the night and headed home for some much needed rest. I could tell how miserable he felt and I wondered if he would ever speak to me again for getting him into this mess!
I ran solo from Clarksville to Bagwell. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this section but I’m sure it alternated between tall grass and mud and trail lakes. Greg hopped in to pace from Bagwell to Detroit. Kelly Whitley left a nice, firey treat for me in that stretch and it was a welcomed pick-me-up. I was on my own again from Detroit to Blossom, but the Whitley’s were waiting to cheer me on as I left Detroit. When people take time out of their day to cheer you on, it means SO MUCH. Even with the treats and the visits, the trail was wearing me down and I could overcome the urge to throw in the towel. I admitted to Greg and Kelley in Blossom that I didn’t think I could make it, but they weren’t having ANY talk like that. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t quit, but I longed for the ability to sit as long as I wanted and SLEEP. So far, the Mother Nature had been kind to me, but the rain had moved in and was getting stronger. Greg paced me from Blossom to Reno but since it was time for Kelley to leave, he sent me on my way and put his crew hat back on.
I was starting to come around. Running was decent, the stomach was OK, I had a long, easy section of trail, and, most importantly, I was beginning to take back control of my mind. The urge to quit was replaced with the urge to finish. I was running for my crew and pacers now more than I was for myself. I couldn’t let them down. Bryan had already given up a night of his life for this, Greg and Kelley had given up a night and half of a day and I had Brent on deck to pace the second night. I could not let their sacrifices go to waste.
Bobby was waiting for me with Greg when I got to Paris and I was so happy to see him! It was quite literally a monsoon at this point and I needed to see him at that point. The immediate goal now was to make it to Roxton so that I could pick Brent up for the night hours.
I can’t remember why I had to hop off the trail and take roads out of Paris to get back on the trail, but that’s what Greg said and he always knows. On the way out of Paris, a trail angel named Alice was waiting on me, IN THE POURING RAIN, to cheer me on and take pics and video. Heart of gold. Her visit was a pick me up, for sure!!
Bobby and Greg were waiting on me just outside of Paris to guide me to where I would get back on the trail. We turned down a county road to head to the trail but there had been so much rain that a low-lying bridge flooding. Bobby wanted me to hop on his truck to get across, but I couldn’t do that! I did hold on to the tailgate just in case I lost footing. I was a bit apprehensive about the upcoming trail conditions and hoped that I wouldn’t have any serious water crossings. This was quite literally a flash flood situation.
The trail was definitely WET but luckily had bridges over all the creeks that needed to be crossed. The trail crossed over county roads about every mile through this part and Bobby was waiting there each time to see me onto the other side. I made it to Ambia, which was halfway between Paris and Roxton. Fi, Cathy and Chris were waiting cheer me on and they and brought soup and coffee. It was raining harder than ever now and again the warm kindness of my friends was keeping me in this fight. I was over half-way there and I would be picking up Brent at the next stop in Roxton. I started believing that I might actually pull this thing off!
I made it to Roxton and another kind stranger was waiting to cheer me on, Dan Lake. After my little aid station stop, Brent and I took off for Ben Franklin. This section had a workaround so there was quite a bit on road. Then between Ben Franklin and Pecan Gap, we took the Sulphur River Bridge workaround because we both felt conditions were not favorable to cross. On the workaround, we added a runner to our group….a dog that was so excited to discover people running by his house at 2AM. He got on the trail and ran with us all the way to Pecan Gap. Greg occupied the dog with food while Brent and I took off for Ladonia. I really hope he made it home OK!
By the time we got to Ladonia, the sun was coming up. That’s always a boost because you made it through the night. The rains were long gone and the skies were clear. I had the best 5 minute nap of my life in the car and we were on our way to Wolfe City. The only real issue in this stretch was a not-normal skunk that wouldn’t get out of our way and a sketch bridge or two. Bobby and Alli met us in Wolfe City and brought pancakes! It totally hit the spot. And we only had 21 miles to go!!
Wolfe City to Celeste was a bit hairy. The sun was out and the grass was drying, which made some slithery friends want to come out and get some sun on the trail. We saw at least 5 cottonmouths in a VERY short stretch. I don’t usually get spooked about snakes, but even I was getting a little anxious. A couple of bridges were also pretty sketch in this section, so we didn’t move as quickly as we wanted. (I’m sure you’ve noticed a recurring theme: we NEVER moved as quickly as we wanted.)
In Celeste, Greg announced that we had 13 miles to go and I HAD NO IDEA I WAS THAT CLOSE! I was seriously in THE BEST MOOD. Ran a couple solid miles then we hit the stupid black land mud bogs. That mud literally SUCKED OUT MY SOUL. I didn’t even think I would be able to make it to Merit, much less the final leg to Farmersville. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from being on top of the world to feeling like I couldn’t walk another step. Brent wasn’t doing much better than me. But we finally made it to Merit and SIX MILES were all that stood between me and that finish. Bryan and Shellene had come to see the finish and were waiting in Merit….and he was actually speaking to me! When we left for Farmersville, they even ran with us a bit. I looked up, and there was Pam! She had run from Farmersville to Merit and was going to accompany me to the finish. Brent decided to stay behind since Pam had showed up and off we went.
SIX MILES. It seemed like such a short distance yet at the same time it seemed impossible. Pam’s bubbly personality and willingness to talk about anything kept my mind occupied for the first few miles. But the closer we got, the more I wanted to be DONE and I couldn’t keep my mind distracted from that. Bryan and Shellene met us at points where roads intersected the trail and he was letting me know how much farther. The great thing about this section is that it was completely maintained with pea gravel and concrete closer to Farmersville. NO MORE MUD. NO MORE GRASS. NO MORE TRAIL LAKES. That six miles felt like forever but it also went by very quickly.
As I approached the finish, there was a crowd of my friends cheering me on. I can’t even describe how touching it was for all of them to come out and support me in this way. I feel incredibly blessed to have such amazing people in my life.
The FKT was certified and so it is OFFICIAL! My time was 46:51, much slower than I had hoped, but the trail was much more rugged and brutal than I anticipated. This was by far the most difficult thing that I have ever done and I could not have finished it without the help of my friends and family. Thank you doesn’t even scratch the surface, but to all of you who had ANY part in this journey – I appreciate you more than you know!
Over the past year, I attempted to write numerous posts regarding the mental side of running. I see so many people struggling in the same way that I did and have a strong feeling that I need to share my story so that others know there is hope. This time last year, I was in the throes of a depression that would only get worse before it got better. I think there is a lot of truth to the old saying that you have to hit bottom before you can make your way back to the top. I wanted to share what I was going through even then, but it was so difficult that I couldn’t find words to put onto a page. After I navigated my way out, finding words to describe my journey was still too difficult.
In the midst of it all, I was a MESS. I had zero self confidence. I compared myself to others and, in my mind, always fell short. I believed that I had no talent and no chance of ever being able to compete in this sport, regardless of how hard I worked. Receiving compliments from other runners made me feel like a big fraud. I stopped posting as much about running on social media because I couldn’t handle compliments and felt as if somehow I was misrepresenting myself. I mean, if people had known the truth, they certainly wouldn’t be calling me a “badass”. All this negativity started bleeding into my day-to-day life and I contemplated quitting running altogether However, there was still a tiny spark within me that loved running and being a runner and wouldn’t give up on the possibility of what I “could” be.
At the end of May, I ran one of my biggest mental disaster races to date, but it was the catalyst that I needed to start making a change. I picked up a copy of “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche. In the book, they describe what a happy runner looks like and with sadness, I recognized a former version of myself. I wondered how I allowed myself to get to this point. I was so far off base that it seemed like I was completely out of the park. But….there was hope. I had been a happy runner once and I could be a happy runner again. The book challenged readers to answer questions including: Three affirmations, Why do I run at all?, Why do I run each day?, Why am I racing at all?, Why do I have long-term goals?, and to come up with some short-term and long-term crazy, seemingly out-of-reach goals.
I couldn’t answer the questions. I definitely couldn’t come up with affirmations or big, crazy goals. But I wrote the questions down and continued reading the book. I re-read chapters in hopes that keeping those questions in the forefront of my mind would help me find those elusive answers that I was seeking. In order to do something, I decided to focus on being consistent and talking nicely to myself. To me, consistency meant completing every scheduled workout that I could manage. I also aimed for consistency within each workout, which gave birth to a new mantra “don’t kill it; be consistent”. I needed to complete workouts without the pressure of performance. Training shouldn’t be about performance, anyway. Training is about getting the body primed to perform. I had lost sight of that fact. As far as talking nicely to myself, that took a little bit of work that required self-awareness. Slowly, I became aware of my negative thoughts. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts was the precursor to stopping them which was, in turn, the precursor to replacing them with affirmations. Simply focusing on consistency and self-talk began to empower me and resulted in finding joy again in the simple act of running.
As my attitude improved, so did my hopefulness about running. I still wasn’t in a place to dream big, but I had finally made it to the starting block. I went back to the book to refocus my brain in hopes of finally finding answers to some of the questions. By the time I left for Ouray 50 at the end of July, I had answers to all of the questions, except the big, crazy dream.
Ouray went really well. I didn’t finish but that was OK. I made huge improvements in my mountain running and made it farther than I had the year before. I still didn’t see myself as competitive in the trail and ultra scene, but I was becoming OK with just being the best I could be, whatever that looked like.
I had a great warm-up for Pinhoti at Sky Island 50k in September and my best race to date at Pinhoti 100. I didn’t just finish Pinhoti, I raced it. The race was a huge turning point for me as one of my biggest goals was to race a 100, not just finish. My finishing time and place didn’t matter to me that much all because I had accomplished that goal!
Pinhoti dealt me a setback, though, in the form of tendonitis in both ankles. The left ankle was ANGRY. It took a good 6-8 weeks to work it all out. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t mentally tested during this time, but I managed to keep myself in a good place. Having a coach as amazing as Greg helped a ton. He is so creative and used this block of time to focus on building strength for GDR, so I was able to continue my workouts but with less running volume to give the ankle some time to settle down.
A week into the second phase of GDR training had me at the start line of Ouachita Swichbacks 50k. I loved the course, but the rocks gave me all kinds of hell. This race exposed weakness in my right ankle. I did not handle the stress of the race well at all and was in a negative space much of the last half. I had reverted to my old habits of focusing on performance rather than the joy of running and I suffered for it. After the race, I struggled mentally. My brain wanted to stay in that place telling me that I wouldn’t be strong enough by the time GDR rolled around and I questioned my ability to even finish my next race at Cross Timbers.
Despite all the negativity I was fighting within, I continued to chip away at my training, keeping the same focus from last summer: consistency and talking nicely to myself. I started adding another layer of mental muscle when I began reading “It Takes What It Takes” by Trevor Moawad. I had learned of him in late December and pre-ordered his book which was released in early February. His approach was the perfect continuation in my mental conditioning and the timing was perfect.
The ankle was improving, but I knew Cross Timbers 50k would be real test. Well, last Saturday, my ankle was put to the test AND IT PASSED! In addition, I paced myself just right, calories and hydration were on point, and my mental approach was spot on. I have never been more satisfied with a race result. I just happened to come in 1st Female, but my satisfaction has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way I ran the actual race. I used a strategy that Moawad suggested, which was not saying any negative thought out loud, and I truly believe it helped.
Through this process since Pinhoti, I have achieved yet another goal: “Be a STRONG, CONSISTENT, HAPPY and GRATEFUL runner.”
“Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” ~Steve Prefontaine
This time last year, I was 2 months out from Brazos Bend 100. I was training for Boston Marathon. Yet all I could think about was getting out to El Paso to run Lone Star 100 in the Franklin Mountains. At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream, one that would never come to fruition. I didn’t think I could EVER pull it off because it is firmly in the middle of club volleyball season. I didn’t feel that I would ever become strong enough to even consider running a race as difficult as Lone Star. Heck, at the time, I thought Cactus Rose 100 would forever be out of my reach.
Here I am, one year later, getting ready to hop on a plane at the end of the week and tackle this beast. I’m not in the most optimal shape. Training hasn’t been perfect. Did I do everything I could to be prepared for this race? Nope. But did I do everything I could to be prepared for this race, while still retaining a shred of sanity? Yes.
I have a hard time juggling training and life when we aren’t in club volleyball season, so training for and running a big race during club is quite an undertaking. Even though the season is still early, the demands on my time have been substantial. Add to the mix the fact that I took on additional duties at work in January and it’s a small miracle that I even survived.
I am going into this race with a lot of doubt. Training breeds confidence and I felt like I started taper the second week in January, because, volleyball tournaments. However, with some reflection I have started redirecting my doubt to three main truths:
This race is training for Ouray. Period. I knew when I registered that making cutoff would be difficult. At the time, I acknowledged that every mile and every foot of vertical gain that I am able to get will be good training in the bank. There is no other place in Texas that I can get this kind of training. So, even if I don’t finish; even if I don’t make cutoff, I will still have been successful.
I’ve come so far in just a year. Really, in less than a year, because I didn’t get into any “real” trail training until after Boston last April. I am hard on myself and focus a lot on my weaknesses and how far I have to go. In recent days, reflecting on how far I’ve come has been rewarding and also confidence-boosting.
I find joy on the trails, whether it is in training or racing. Regardless of the outcome, I will be out there getting some of that coveted dirt and vert. I’m looking most forward to seeing a couple of sunrises and a sunset out there in the mountains.
I can’t close without giving thanks to a few people. Without a support system in place, I couldn’t consider any type of success in this sport. My husband, Bobby, has been a great support in this training cycle. Alli is always understanding of my need to get out on the trails on our off weekends. And my good volleyball mom friend, Marcy, for being a surrogate mother to Alli this weekend while I’m off playing in the mountains. Love you all!!
I’m ready. Franklin Mountains, give me all you’ve got!!
2017 was a stellar year for me. I qualified for Boston in January; ran my first ultra in February; ran my first trail ultra in May and then I worked my way up the ultra distances, culminating with my first 100 mile finish in December. I was pretty much on a high the entire year and didn’t give myself time to recover between races or process all the emotions that accompany such epic accomplishments.
So, when I found myself feeling a little funk-ish in mid-January, I didn’t think much of it. I realized that I had asked a lot of my body and my mind in 2017, and it seemed quite normal that I was experiencing a bit of a low.
But the low continued.
I believe in the “fake it ’til you make it” mentality. I still had Boston on the horizon. I had to stay in the game. I continued to train, but couldn’t maintain my usual intense focus. I felt like I was drifting, without a goal. Qualifying for Boston was the biggie. Running Boston was like dessert. I didn’t expect to run at my BQ pace because I had wanted to check off my first 100 miler more than I wanted to maintain my absolute speed for the road.
I continued to limp through training. I was still consistent, but not as consistent as usual and I couldn’t manage to find enjoyment in the process like I usually did.
Spring Break came and I needed some trail therapy, BADLY. I hadn’t been on a real trail since my 50 miler in October, 2017. I talked my friend, Radkey, into coming with me to explore Cross Timbers on Lake Texoma. It was amazing and difficult and more than I could have hoped. I was on Cloud 9. And on our way back, I tripped, fell and broke my arm.
The break obviously set me back, but my ortho gave me a soft cast and clearance to continue training. I suddenly felt a renewed focus. It was almost like I needed the added difficulty to give me a purpose.
Boston came. The weather was horrible (by other’s standards – it didn’t bother me at all) and I was under trained but I crossed the start line with the intention of enjoying every step of that race. I did just that.
After Boston, I made the decision to change coaches. I loved my coach, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time for a change. The decision was a difficult one that I agonized over. In the end, I trusted my gut instinct and made a leap of faith. I knew that in order to conquer the mountains, I needed someone who knew how to build a mountain runner.
With Boston behind me, it was time to turn my focus back to trails!! I had Possum’s Revenge 50 miler just 3-4 weeks after Boston and went in undertrainined…again (broken record – story of 2018 so far!). I ended up struggling toward the end, but there is always some beauty to be found in the misery. I shared those last miles with someone who was also struggling and we ended up becoming the best trail buds!!
With Possum’s behind me, I could now focus on my <foolish> goal of running Ouray 50 miler. I had an entire 2 months to train for this beast and literally had NO CLUE what I was up against. But I had a bit of a renewed sense of excitement for training, which was a nice feeling.
I showed up for Ouray knowing that I had slim to none chance for a finish, but I was just there for the challenge whatever the result. I got halfway before missing the cut, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything…and I was now IN LOVE with the mountains!
Coming back after Ouray, I had to go right into training for Cactus Rose 100 at the end of October. However, workouts weren’t going well. I was fatigued ALL THE TIME and all I wanted to do was sleep. When I ran I felt wheezy and out of breath. I couldn’t see any improvement in my fitness despite all the heat training I was doing. I was becoming seriously concerned that I was suffering from depression. I had also contemplated whether I was actually cut out for endurance. It was a dark time filled with a lot of doubt and apprehension.
I had considered Inside Tracker blood testing several times, but had never pulled the trigger. I decided that the time had come and finally ordered my blood test. I received the results just days before my next race: Alamo City 50k. The test revealed that I was severely deficient in Ferritin. I was overwhelmed with this knowledge, but it was also very freeing. I FINALLY had a reason for the way I had been feeling!
Alamo City 50k ended up being my worst 50k to date, but I fought through the fatigue, finished and had hope for what was to come. I just had to hang in there and give my body a chance to recover from this setback.
I started supplements very soon after learning about my Ferritin deficiency and the results were almost immediate. My mood improved, I no longer felt the need to sleep all the time and the BEST thing: I could feel the fitness improving each and every workout!
Cactus Rose was quickly approaching and the dread I had initially felt was replaced with an excitement about getting out there to race. Plus, my best trail bud had volunteered to come crew and pace! Tommy knew of my struggle to get back to being myself and deemed that Cactus Rose would be my reset race.
He was so right!! Cactus Rose 100 ended up being my best race ever! Thanks to Tommy, the great training provided by my coach and my body getting back to normal, I felt like I finally “raced” a race. I came out of that event with a renewed confidence in myself.
I closed out 2018 by pacing my friend, Brent, to his first 100 mile finish at Brazos Bend 100. The next weekend, I was able to return the favor to Tommy and crew and pace him at his first 100 mile finish at Loup Garou 100. Being there, helping him get to that finish line is one of my most rewarding experiences to date!
A recreation of a pic Tommy took during Cactus Rose
Buckle pics are THE BEST!
Cactus Rose was more than a restart for me in my racing world – it was a reset for me mentally as well. Since then, I have started to feel like I am myself again. Mentally, I am focused and more confident and I am excited about tackling some big challenges in 2019.
For the biggest part of the year, I had negative feelings when I thought about 2018. But as my health and mental state have improved, I am seeing the year in a positive light.
I started and ended the year pacing and crewing. Focusing on others and helping them achieve their goals is a good way to stay grounded and provides a different and meaningful way to stay connected to the ultra running community. I wasn’t able to volunteer as much as I wanted in 2018, but the time that I was able to volunteer was extremely rewarding as well.
I ran the BOSTON MARATHON. It was a truly amazing experience that I’ll treasure for years to come.
Changing coaches ended up being one of the biggest blessings of the year! Greg’s training has made me stronger than I ever imagined that I could be and we have just started. A special bonus is the Team Ninja family that I inherited as a result. I have grown to love these people as if they were a part of my family. The camaraderie has enriched my life more than words can describe!
My oldest daughter got married and we had a fabulous time celebrating with friends and family.
I met my best trail buddy. We are so much alike it is a little freakish and have wondered if we are twins that were separated at birth. His friendship has definitely enriched my life!
Continuing on through the adversities of the year definitely built some mental callouses that will come in handy in tough times to come.
Here’s to 2019: testing limits and having adventures!
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!
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.