All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
On June 25th, 2011 I found out something really important about myself – that I can rise up from defeat and come back stronger and more determined to achieve a goal!! I am a fighter! Exactly one week before, I’d been at Big Horn 50. It was my first attempt at fifty miles and I had trained hard and felt ready for the challenge. But, though I felt able to conquer the beast, the difficult terrain, the steep climbs and the strict cut offs got the best of me. I did not quit. It never occurred to me, but I did miss the Dry Fork cut off at mile 32 by a few minutes and was pulled from the race. I went home from that experience unsure of what to feel. I hadn’t finished my race and I felt unsettled and restless. I wanted to know if I really could run 50 miles in the mountains or not. I had to find out!!
So, over the next few days, I started coming up with a plan. I decided to stage my own race, right here in the Boise foothills, with a similar amount of elevation gain and the same strict time cut off (15 hours overall for the distance.) Some of my friends and family members thought I’d lost my mind. Why would I run 50 miles when there was no finish line, no race photographer, no prize at the end? I told them that it was something I felt compelled to do. I needed to know if I had it in me to accomplish the task or not.
Amazingly, one friend not only thought my crazy idea was a good one, he offered to join me for the whole journey! My buddy, Ryan, ran that entire distance with me, supporting me, encouraging me and even nudging at me when I got exhausted and started flopping down on the ground for one minute rest breaks in the last few miles. He believed in me and together we finished my “race” faster than I’d even hoped in a time of 13:57! I was so elated! Though it wasn’t an official race, it will always and forever be one of the most important runs of my life! I didn’t accept my defeat at Big Horn and just go on — I fought back and won! That’s how it felt!
I made it my goal to run an official 50 miler and get my finish there as soon as possible after that. That race was Wild Idaho 50. I had a wonderful race until about mile 24 when my IT band seized up on me and I was only able to hobble for the next 29 miles. But, hobble I did and I earned that finish bat that Ben (the race director) awards each finisher! It was a proud day and another chance to prove that I have perseverance no matter what!
In December of 2011, I got the wild idea to run a solo 50 in the mountains without crew or a pacer – just to see if I could handle it, since I was preparing myself for my first 100 mile race and knew I’d need to be on the course alone for the first fifty miles. Despite rain, lots of mud and a crazy hail and lightening storm and winds that knocked me to my knees repeatedly in the last few miles, I finished that journey as well — running that distance in about 12:50, which was more than an hour faster than I’d done in June, so I set a PR! It was another testament that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to if you are willing to keep moving forward and believing in yourself.
I earned my belt buckle running 100 miles at the Buffalo Run at Antelope Island in March of 2012. It was an amazing experience that will forever stand out in my memories as one of the most rewarding days of my life! Interestingly, the first 50 miles of that race (which I did in about 12 hours) felt easy. It was amazing to see how strong the body can get when you keep training and pushing yourself over time. I won’t lie. The last 50 did not feel “easy!” But, I finished, hand-in-hand with my five children and husband. It was a tough journey, but one of the most important of my life. I learned so much about myself that day.
Now we come full circle to the Big Horn 50 mile race this year. Two weeks prior, I had made it 48 miles at the Pocatello 50 mile race (which is actually 53 miles and has 12,000 of elevation gain) before being pulled for not running fast enough. That was a tough blow to receive my second dnf and I took it hard. Big Horn was just two weeks after, but I hoped I could redeem myself for Pocatello and the previous year’s dnf at that race.
Unfortunately, that’s not how things went. I raced smart, stayed steady, ate well, drank well, my legs felt pretty good and I had no problems with my feet or head that stand out — but the course this year was the regular course instead of the snow course I had ran the year prior. So, I had to reach the Dry Fork cut off by 4 pm (over 34 miles into the race) at the same point that I had to be the year prior at 32 miles into the race. I ran faster than last year – nearly two minutes per mile faster in fact! I was doing better, but still was not quite fast enough. I missed the cut off at Dry Fork again though this time it was within just a couple of minutes. It was heart-breaking to say the least.
I have held off on writing my race report. It just felt too raw, too painful and emotional to discuss. But, here I am today since it’s the one year anniversary of my “I Ain’t No Quitter” 50 mile race. I had hoped to use this day to celebrate the fact that I’d come back to Big Horn and accomplished what I was unable to do last year, but that’s not how it went. In fairy tales, there’s always a happy ending. In the sport of ultra marathoning, if you compete enough, you will likely have a race one day that doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. DNF’s are common in these events. Big Horn’s DNF rate for the 50 miler is over 30%. At the Buffalo Run 100 miler in March, 59 runners started and only 34 made it across the finish line. It’s just the nature of the beast.
We choose to push our bodies and our minds to the limit, racing against cut offs, whatever weather we’re faced with, battling blisters, stomach problems, bonking and fatigue as well as our own inner demons as we pour everything we have on the trails. Sometimes the trails win. Sometimes the clock wins. But, thankfully, if you’ve trained well and prepared yourself, more often than not, you’ll also get to experience the overwhelming rush of joy of actually crossing the finish line at some of these things. That’s the Holy Grail. The sought-after-treasure that we ultra runners seek.
I wanted to come here today and say that life isn’t always going to be easy. Things don’t always go according to the most carefully laid plans. Even when you train really, really hard — sometimes you’re going to have a bad race (or two, or three!!) But, don’t let that defeat you. Do not let your failures define who you are. It just means you have to re-evaluate, get back up and keep working on it. The goals we reach that took the most effort really do mean so much more than those that came easily to us.
So, whatever it is you’re facing and finding a challenge, I want to encourage you to keep working on it! Believe in yourself! Do the work! Never, ever, ever QUIT! You can do it and so can I!!!!!!!