Exactly two years ago this month, I lined up with my best friend, Bertha and about twelve others on a freezing cold January morning, under a velvety black, early morning sky for Leon’s Fast Ass Recover From the Holidays 50k. It was my first ultra. I’d done exactly one marathon about three months prior to that and had only been on a couple of trail runs. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and felt very unprepared!
I found myself at that starting line because I’m a good friend — a very good friend! Bertha had heard about the race just a month prior to it and had begged me to join her in doing it. Being the conservative, schedule-following, “no-surprises-for-me-thankyouverymuch” runner that I am, I quickly told her, “No way! That would be insanity to jump into a race of this distance without a proper buildup!” (We’d both taken our training down several notches after our October marathon and I was certain it was impossible to do something so difficult on so little training!) I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept hearing her, happy, excited little voice in my head saying to me, “What if it’s FUN?! Won’t you pleaaaasse do it with me?!” So, early the next day, I called her up and said simply, “Ok.” when she answered the phone. “What?” she said. “Ok! I’ll do it with you! I don’t think it’s very smart, but I can’t say no to you when you really want something, so I’m in!” Her delighted squeal told me I’d made the right decision – at least as far as the friendship was concerned.
So, we got in a couple of training runs on our local trails, attempted to learn about eating while running (which was so much different than our marathon training) and began taking potty breaks in the bushes on our runs when we quickly realized that there were no actual bathrooms available during trail runs apparently! I should have practiced that last one a little bit more!
When Leon (the race director of this free, no-frills, no awards, no timing or race bibs or t-shirts or aid stations race) said, “GO!” we all took off. Bertha and I quickly noticed we were way out of our league. Most of the other runners looked fit and fast! We kept our own pace and brought up the rear, with the race director by our side, since he was certain we’d get lost on our own if he didn’t help us out (the course was not marked at all!)
It was cold! The climbs were brutal and Bertha and I broke the one rule of the Fat Ass race, “No whining!” We whined our heads off to each other, swearing we’d never, ever, ever do anything like this again! I will admit, that when the sun rose and we were high up on a mountain, looking down at the city of Boise below, we were swept up in the moment and did enjoy the pleasure of being out in nature. But, overall, it was a very challenging day for both of us!
Something very bad started to happen to my stomach around mile 18 or so. My pal, Emily had given me this amazing recipe for trail bars that she swore were THE secret food of ultra marathoners! I remember mixing a cup of honey, coconut, cashews, chocolate chips and other various delicious items together the night before the event. I made a huge pan of these “miracle” treats and wrapped up a few to take with me at the race. The only problem? Eating something so heavy and sweet, when I wasn’t used to digesting things like that on a run, caused a really unpleasant side effect. As my stomach whirled and swirled, I realized that I needed a proper bathroom ASAP! But, there were no bathrooms to be found. In fact, where we were running, there weren’t even any trees or big bushes! Just sagebrush. You could see for miles around, it seemed and all I could think about was how humiliated I’d be if another runner caught me with my pants down doing my business!! I’m a rather modest girl as it is, and the thought of someone seeing me like that just mortified me! So, I held it. And held it. And got sicker and sicker and sicker. And slower! I was doing everything in my power not to poop my pants! I was doing a sort of shuffle walk, eyes wide, fear on my face as the race director, Bertha and I slowly got through the miles.
Finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore! I told Leon that I needed a bathroom – that I needed to quit the race and go home! The funny thing about quitting a trail race is that there are often no easy ways to get OFF the trails — so I had to struggle through a few more miles – all the way to 23.33 miles, in fact overall, before I was at a spot my husband and five kids could come rescue me and take me home. When I climbed in the car, I said to my husband, “My legs are fine. My head is fine, but my stomach is a mess!!!” and then I started to cry. I never quit things I start! It’s not really my nature. I’m a devoted, intense, focused girl when I start something and this was one time, I just didn’t know how to handle the situation and still finish.
Not finishing this “unofficial” race got to me. I became determined to prove to myself that I, could, in fact, finish an ultra marathon. I signed up for my first official one in April of 2010 and did, in fact make it to the finish line there — tears coming down my cheeks while I crossed the line, as I repeated to myself, “I did it! I really did it!”
The following January, I showed up again to do Leon’s Fat Ass 50k – more determined than ever to finish what I’d started the year before. Believe it or not, there would be no finish that day either! Bertha and I quickly got lost from the group and ended up adding a bonus 5 miles by the halfway point. So, we were 20 miles into the race, it was super cold, my husband and five kids had set up an aid station at the halfway point and had been waiting for hours to see me. They were worried sick and they were tired and wanted to go home. My husband would not allow me to head back onto the snow and ice-covered trail to complete the last 11 miles. He wanted me safe and sound back at home. So, with a heavy heart, I got into the car and again, cried on the ride home for not getting to finish what I started.
The next morning, I went for a run and did 11 miles – my own symbolic way of “turning in late homework” to the teacher. But, it still bugged me that I hadn’t finished the race again.
Just this last week, I lined up again at Leon’s race for the third straight year in a row. Many of the faces from that first year are now faces of good friends and instead of feeling fear at the start, I had confidence in myself. I’m a much stronger trail runner now than I was two years ago. I’ve ran 3 marathons, 2 official 50ks, 3 50 milers, and many 20+ mile training runs on trails and am in training for my first 100 mile ultra. I have more experience under my belt. I have learned how to eat, drink and use nature’s bathroom when I need to without giving it much thought! I am also more familiar with the trails. I knew from the beginning this time that my final result would be a good one!
I chatted with friends through the first 10 miles, then relaxed as the group spaced way out and I had some time to think – to reflect on how far I’d come since that first run two years ago. I smiled as the sun rose and warmed my face. The icy January winds whipped my long, dark hair all around my face, my nose dripped like a broken faucet. The views of the Boise Foothills — the naked, tan, undulating curves — spread out in all directions as far as the eye could see – a lovely desert picture-postcard of beauty.
I finished the race this year! I picked up the pace and sprinted towards my husband, who waited in his car at the finish area. A smile as wide as the sea spread over my lips as I hit “stop” on my Garmin. I’d done it! I knew I could!
Hard-won achievements are sweeter than those we get with little effort or struggle. Trust me when I tell you that if there’s a goal you’ve been trying to reach, a goal that has eluded you time and time again — don’t give up! Remember what your mama used to say: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! You will get it if you keep making the effort and giving your best!