06/25/12

One Year Ago Today

 

 

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.
Walt Disney

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!!!!!!!

Happy Running!!!!!

06/3/12

Pocatello 50 – DNF

The Pocatello 50 mile race was truly one of the most challenging, difficult and beautiful races I’ve ever ran. It was tougher than me yesterday. With temperatures topping around 86 and the extreme climbs, I battled nausea for most of the day which kept me at a really slow hike/walk after the first 17 miles. I made it (according to my Garmins) – about 48+ miles into the race and was pulled there, so the final 5 miles are still a mystery.

The race was divided into 3 legs. The toughest part of the course was leg 1!!! Climbing straight UP the side of this huge mountain (cross country!) Mile 12 had 1377 of climb!! THAT was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done! It wiped me out for the rest of the race I’d say. Mile 23 had 1,022 of climb as well and was also fairly hard in leg 2 which was steep enough, I was clawing at the dirt with my hands and grabbing bushes on each side to keep from sliding backwards down the hill. The rest of that section was honestly gorgeous, wooden footbridges, lots of lush trees and a stream running alongside. I should have ran well through here as it was the nicest section of trail, but I was so beat up and nauseous from the first leg, I just couldn’t get it done. Leg 3 was supposed to be the hardest, but I found it the easiest section and since I was the last 50 miler to make the cut off at 33 miles, I had the company of 3 “sweeper” guys who stayed with me until the end. They were great guys and made that part of the journey much better since it was nice to have some good conversation for the duration. Mile 45 had 1,041 feet of gain, but was on a road that gradually switchbacked up (which I handle so much better than straight UP!) So pretty! Climbed Scout Mountain (reaching nearly 9,000 in elevation) for a spectacular view. Got to watch the sunset with the 3 guys “sweeping” the race and got a laugh out of some goofy guy who’d driven his big pickup way up there and high-centered it in a big snowbank! Oops! SO impressed with those who can run so well in races like this!!! I’m in awe of my pals who are strong and fast enough no matter what the conditions and terrain!!!! I seem to struggle when there is heat or difficult climbs.

According to my Garmin stats the elevation gain I got was 10,913. Maybe there was still some good climbing those last 5 miles I missed out on?

I also found out after talking to my friends at the finish line later that the last section of the course had an angry mountain lion who had stared down a runner, which would have been waiting for ME had they allowed me to continue. I’m glad I didn’t have to experience that!!

I’m proud of myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t quit. I’m SUPER thrilled I made the first two cut offs (the first one by over an hour, the second one by 6 minutes.) There were not supposed to be any cut offs after that time, and I had to wait at an aid station at around mile 38 for more than fifteen minutes while they radioed the race directors to see if I’d be allowed to go on from that point (with 15 miles to go.) They said, “If you choose to keep going, and have the night equipment to keep you safe (headlamp and a coat – I had both thanks to two nice volunteers who shared with me since mine were located at the next aid station) there are no cut offs. If you want to go on, you can.”

It broke my heart nine miles later, when I’d plugged on towards my goal slow but steadily, with the three male sweeper fellas keeping a good eye on me when the race director showed up on the trail at mile 48 (after I’d been racing for about 17 hours) and told me, “We need to have a talk. How are you doing?” I said, “Awesome!” and gave him a thumbs up.” He said, “I’m sorry to tell you this but, you’re done.” I thought I was hearing him wrong. It made no sense since I was almost done with just 5 miles to go and had zero doubts in my ability to finish.  Nausea was my only problem and I was at an aid station where I could refuel and finish strong since eating always helps with that for me.

I said, “But, I can finish and you told me there are no cut offs!” He said, “Not this time. It’s over.” That was a really tough part emotionally. I’d finally let myself believe I was really going to accomplish this and then I was not allowed to do so. I really wish they’d said that earlier or given me a specific time just so I was aware. The race directors had their reasons (he’d already taken down the finish line and sent the timing guys home, though from looking at past race results from their race, does seem like it was a move done earlier this year than in the past and not something that was ever mentioned when they said I could finish just a few hours earlier.)

In fact, in the pre-race meeting the night before someone had asked, “Is there really no time cut off after the 3:30 pm one?” He said, “Nope! I expect to be up until midnight waiting on the last runner.” If that were the case, then I should have been allowed to run another hour and try to make that deadline, but I was firmly told, “No.”  Their decision is what it is, but it was disheartening, kind of like having the rug pulled out from under you. My three sweeper guys had just been collectively telling me they couldn’t wait to see me finish and they were certain I would so they were as surprised as I was when this happened.

I had already been imagining the finish line moment when my five kids,. husband and friends saw me crossing the line, even after a tough day. I was really looking forward to it but instead, out of the blue, my race ended. I climbed into the car and it was such a surreal feeling to go from one instant where you are about to hit the final leg of your long journey, where you realize that you really are going to make it after a grueling battle with the trails on that day and then suddenly I was in the family car, riding towards the finish line where I would not get a finisher medal and had to explain to all my friends who had so patiently waited there for me to finish that I did not quit – I was pulled in a race without even a warning.

My friends immediately surrounded me with hugs and words of encouragement as I cried and I felt so embraced by their kindness and love for me when I told them what had happened. That part of the night was truly a precious gift and meant more to me than the medal would have. They seemed most relieved to know that I was safe and sound. Just seeing my five beautiful children, my husband and my friends Dennis, Kirstin, Lynette, Michelle, Ryan, Sam and Paul boosted my spirits immensely and it was very clear what really matters to me most in life.  A race is just a run, really. At the end of the day, having people you love who care about you weather you came in first, last or DNF’d means way more than anything else. I am very grateful for the wonderful support I have!

Definitely needing to process this. Need to decide if I’m going to Big Horn 50 in two weeks or not now. I’ve paid, but not sure I could handle another bad outcome on the off chance it goes that way so soon after this one.