Do you ever feel the need for reassurance that you’re good enough? It’s certainly an area that I struggle with! They say that running is 90% mental and only 10% physical. So, no matter how many repeats you do, how many uber miles you rack up on your long runs, how often you hit the trails or the roads — ultimately, it’s what’s going on inside your mind that will determine your success or failure!
This past weekend, I was faced with a couple of questions I had about myself. #1 – Could I run fifty miles without a pacer (since both times I’ve done fifty miles this year, my good friend, Ryan was by my side to get me across the finish line.) And, #2 – Did I have it in me to run a fifty faster than 11 hours (the time that the Western States 100 Miler requires to qualify for an entry into their lottery.) Now, the first one was important to me since I’m training for my first 100 mile race that’s coming up in about 12 weeks. At this point, I have not asked anyone to help pace me and even if I’m lucky enough to sweet talk someone into that role, I’d still need to run the first 50 miles solo, so this question was a valid one. The second one was just something I was curious about. I have no plans to try and enter the Western States Lottery next year even if I was running a 100 mile race that was considered a qualifier (the Buffalo Run 100 miler is NOT one.) But, since this elusive sub 11 hour time limit is sort of the equivalent of earning a Boston Qualifying time in a marathon — it intrigued me and I wanted to know how close I could get to it.
So, being the sort of determined, do-or-die girl I am, I up and decided that I was going to run 50 miles solo on the trails on December 30th to answer both of those questions about myself. Could I do it? I figured the 50 solo had a high probability of success since my training has been going well and I had finished two 50 mile distances earlier in the year. The second goal I knew was a long-shot since the weather forecast predicted rain and possible high winds (and I knew the trails were already muddy from the rains earlier in the week) and I wouldn’t have any other runners or the push of a time cut off to make me really run a race-pace effort on my own. Still, I figured, it would be kind of fun to see how close I could get.
So, with these two goals in mind, I headed out from my home at 5:20 am on Friday, December 30th to the nearby Pole Cat trail – a nice little 6 miler in the hills with about 782 feet of elevation gain per loop (for a total of 6,253 feet of gain for the entire 50 miles.) My plan was to run it 8 x, then do 2 more miles in the parking lot for a total of 50 miles. I’d loaded up my car with everything I would need to self-support my effort. I had a full Nathan pack with 60 oz of water, a few peanut butter sandwiches, Cheetos, Ruffles, trail mix, a ham, turkey and cheddar and swiss Lunchable, peanut butter-filled pretzels, a Sour Apple Power Aid, several Mint Chocolate GUs, some bananas and some Cherry Coke and Mountain Dew as well as a few S Caps and Ibuprofin. I had also packed a duffle bag with several clothing options after studying the weather that was expected for the day. I had a windbreaker, two long sleeved shirts, a short sleeved shirt, two pairs of gloves, an extra pair of tights and underwear (you can never be too prepared), a knit hat, a ball cap, and an extra pair of shoes and socks. I also had Body Glide, sports tape and my Mp3 player and a head lamp and a Nathan Quickdraw 22 oz handheld water bottle. I was ready!
On my hand, I had written “Do or not do. There is no try.” – a Yoda quote my pal, Dennis shared with me last year that I felt would keep me in a good mental place if I got discouraged out there. I gave that message one last long look and then was ready to get going.
I drove to the trail head in the dark, enjoying the solitude of the early morning hour under the stars and the velvety black sky. I climbed out of my car, put on the Nathan pack, the headlamp, started the Garmin and headed out for my first loop! It was lightly raining, a bit windy and sort of chilly out. The city lights twinkled and glowed against the pitch-black darkness below me as I ran in the dark. Though, my legs had felt rested and ready before I started, once I began my epic journey, I started to feel rather fatigued. Very quickly, I realized it was due to the fact I had not trained with such a full Nathan vest in several weeks. I’d gotten in the habit of using my handheld bottle and my back and shoulders were no longer used to packing so much weight.
I kept a sharp eye on my heart rate the first loop, feeling confident that reining it in on the first loop would benefit me later on since I’d have been conserving my energy for the long journey ahead. I walked quite a lot of this loop, especially on the uphills to keep my heart rate under the 168 max I’d determined (my heart rate often hits over 200 on the climbs even when I’m just power hiking them if I do so forcefully.) Though, it was a new experience to be totally alone in the dark on this particular trail, I did not feel any fear whatsoever. I felt at peace, purposeful and excited!
After the first loop, I traded the Nathan for my handheld and dropped off my jacket, gloves and headlamp and picked up my mp3 player. I had quite a selection of songs on there. A whole range of genres from country bluegrass, to rock and roll and pop! Lady Gaga, The Beach Boys, Taylor Swift, Queen, Alabama and Shania Twain got me through many miles and kept me feeling positive and relaxed for the journey.
For some of the run, I did turn off the music and just tuned into the sounds of nature all around me. I loved the twitter of little birds, the soft pitter patter of the raindrops as they gently fell from the sky, the whoosh of the wind as it blew past my face, and the smacking sound of the sticky mud as it sucked on my shoes as the trails got muddier and muddier throughout the day.
When my friend, Frank, showed up about mile 32 or so, right in the middle of our conversation as we ran along, we spotted several deer on the ridge not more than 30 feet from us! They moved, gracefully, quietly away from us and we both just grinned at the perfect trail moment! That’s one of the things I never stop falling in love with! Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, running freely, makes every run that much sweeter!
It was fun when my friend, April, also showed up to run just a bit with us. The conversation was great and I could hardly believe I’d gone over 42 miles by the time they’d both said goodbye and headed on their ways. Having my husband and five kids waiting in the parking lot after that loop also meant a lot to me! Having the encouragement and support of your family when you’re on a personal mission really does make you feel pretty loved and looked after! The yummy chicken noodle soup they gave to me made it even better!
In the final solo loop, I encountered a storm unlike any other I’ve experienced in the last 3 1/2 years as a runner! As I was making my way up the mountain, I stared in awe at the beautiful pink and gray skies as night was falling. I noticed some thick, dark clouds in the distance and as I made my way along the ridgeline, was mesmerized by the lightening flashes I started to see in the distance. It was breathtaking! Then, just moments later, the storm was right on top of me! Winds at least 50 mph knocking me to the ground as I tried to keep moving forward, a fierce, relentless hailstorm, pounding at my face and body, covering me in an instant in white, lightening all around. It was so harsh, I was forced to get down by a bush and cover my hands over my face to keep it from being beat up by the sharp, icy hail, that cut into my skin like a thousand tiny knives. I stayed in that protective position for several minutes, knowing the worst of the storm wouldn’t last very long. As soon as I was able to, I got up from the ground and started pushing forward, through the winds, the torrential rain and repeating to myself over and over, “Keep moving forward! Get OFF this mountain!” Knowing my five young children and husband were down below, likely worried sick, helped me dig deeper than I’ve ever dug before and find strength and speed that I didn’t even realize I had as I splashed through the trail that had suddenly become a moving river and just splosh sploshed my way back towards the final miles that would reunite me with my loved ones. Every footfall was like stepping into an icy, river and the water went up to my ankles, but I pressed on! I was shivering and cold but determined and never wavered! When I got to the last mile, I picked up the pace and when at last, I could make out the parking lot in the dark, I started to sprint straight towards my husband’s dark figure, waiting there to hold me and comfort me.
The worst of the storm had passed by the time I reached my family. My children surrounded me with hugs and praises, then joined me as I made the final loops around the parking lot to reach my fifty mile destination! It couldn’t have been any more perfect than to have those who love me the most in this life join me for this special moment! When the Garmin showed it was nearly time to finish, we all sprinted together until the Garmin beeped the good news that the final mile had been completed! Whew! It was such a sweet relief to hit that stop button and feel the pride wash over me for accomplishing another huge goal in my training! I couldn’t stop smiling and my husband said, “Looks like someone is ready to run her first 100 mile race to me!” I couldn’t agree more! I’m READY!
For the Geek in me, who loves to play with the data I get from the Garmin after one of these types of runs, basically, here’s how it went:
Loop 1 (including a 5-7 min stop at the car for aid after the loop, plus two bathroom breaks) – 1:35
Loop 2 (including the 5-7 min aid station stop for mp3 and to drop off head lamp and jacket/gloves and fill up a hand bottle and one bathroom stop) – 1:27
Loop 3 (including aid station stop and one clothing change- and a change of the right sock since the wool one was rubbing funny on my right foot and starting a blister.) – 1:24
Loop 4 (including aid station stop that was also my lunch break so it was a bit longer.) – 1:28
Loop 5 (including aid station stop) – 1:17
Loop 6 (including aid station stop and finding my friend, Frank on the trail to run a half loop with. We also bumped into my friend, April along here, so I had two friends along. Forgot to eat/drink as much here and picked up the running pace with the chatter. Aid station stop was also longer since two friends had stopped by – one had left a little snack to perk me up (Thank you, Randy!) and my good friend, Ryan had left a note of encouragement on my car (Thank you, Ryan!) – 1:18
Loop 7 – Said goodbye to Frank who had to head back to work and ended up walking nearly the entire loop with my buddy, April as we talked. I don’t think either of us realized the conversation was so enthralling we forgot to run nearly the entire time! My husband and five kids were also here by the end of this loop, so we stopped to enjoy soup, snacks and hugs and take a couple photos. – 2:05
Loop 8 – (Starting to get dark, winds picking up, grabbed headlamp and windbreaker and headed back alone into the hills. Insane storm with blinding, sharp, hail, lightening, downpours of rain came as I was on this loop. So bad, I had to crouch down and cover my head for the worst of it since I could not see and the winds were knocking me back to my knees each time I’d try to stand up. Crouched for somewhere between 5-9 minutes, then ran like a crazy lady through the mud, puddles, dark and stormy night to get back to my family worrying and waiting in the parking lot.) 1:32
Last mile and a half (turned out each earlier loop had a little bit more than 6 miles, so it added up over the course of the 8 loops and left just 1 1/2 miles at the end.) – 30 min.
Finished the 50 miles with my three older kids (ages 12, 11 and 9) and my husband, as they walked loops with me in the freezing, cold, gravel parking lot, over and over. Sprinted to the final “finish!” — Total time: 12:50 (definitely not the 11 hours I had hoped, though the Garmin says my “moving time” was in fact 11:20, so, on less muddy trails, with less locking/unlocking my car and more help with aid and a bit of urgency of a race, I think it’s a possibility I could hit the elusive sub 11 hour 50 miler on the right course. 🙂 In my first 50 miler, my time was 13:57 with less than 5,000 of gain. In my second one, my IT band went to heck and I was forced to limp the last 36 miles with a total of 10,000 of gain and that was completed in 22:47, so this new time of 12:50 with an elevation gain of 6,256 feet was really a huge PR for me by over an hour on my best time!!! And, I did this one without a designated pacer! I didn’t even bump into my first pal until after 32 miles and when asked how I was doing I had replied, “I’m still in the happy zone!” And had felt really great!
I feel like I practiced my hydration, electrolyte intake and fueling and did pretty well on that (other than the two loops with my pals where I got distracted and had a slight loss of energy, which was easily remedied once I got some food/drink into me at the next aid stop.) I found that holding back the first mile was a smart strategy and I felt strong right up until the final mile (and said to my husband, “I feel like I could still run another 50 miles!”) I found that I ran my best when listening to my mp3 player and will use that in my 100 as a way to keep me moving forward with a positive mental attitude. The song that spoke to me most that day was Natasha Bedingfield’s song “Wild Horses” I felt like a wild, stallion, free and happy, as I ran in the mud and the rain, the whole trail to myself and my thoughts.
Back in June, when I ran my first 50 miler, my husband took a little video of my buddy (and pacer) Ryan and I, asking how we felt after doing 50. This was Ryan’s 3rd 50 in only a few short weeks and it was my first. Our answers are pretty amusing!
When I finished up the run, got the kids loaded back into the Suburban and started to drive us all home, I had one resounding thought in my head “Yes! I AM good enough!!” Sometimes I think we need to put ourselves to the test and see what we’re made of. The praise from friends and loved ones is meaningful and important – but what is paramount is how you see yourself! The only opinion of you that really matters at the end of the day is your own! So, be your biggest fan! Believe in yourself! Hold that head up high and get out there and give it all you’ve got in the quest for your big dreams! You can do it! I believe in you!!!!!
I will leave you with one of my all-time favorite quotes for those days when you start to wonder if you’re “good enough.”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who are we to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you… And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
(This was shared again with me by my very good friend, Ryan today when I expressed some of my self-doubts to him on our morning trail run and I really felt it was exactly what I needed to hear and thought it was worth sharing with all of you as well!) Thank you, Ryan for reminding me to hold my head up high, to dream big and to never doubt myself!