This first sentence was preceded by quite a long pause over they keyboard. Now that I am done my event it all seems like a complete little package that went the way it was meant to go (or at least how I hoped it would go). This blog will likely end up really long so don’t feel like you have to read it/stick with it if it’s not a topic that interests you 😉 I know that a bunch of you have asked a lot about the experience so this is the easiest way for me to convey my thoughts. I hope it doesn’t come off as a pile of ego, but rather an honest from the heart expression of a piece of my life that many of you may be able to relate to or learn from.
One of the reasons that I decided to run an ultramarathon this year (aside from the usual compete in many random things approach that Jesse and I like) is because when I first met Jesse and he said he had run an ultra the first thing out of my mouth was “oh my god, I could NEVER run for that long”. I was only basing that on… nothing. That’s the point. A big part of my coaching role is convincing people that they can do (or at least try) things that they think they can’t do. Humans have a weird characteristic of putting up barriers against things, and having preconceived ideas, that are self limiting. Absolutely one of my favourite aspects of coaching is seeing people succeed with tasks that they don’t think they can do. Most of the time these are short moments and small, but important, achievements. But they create a positively disproportionate amount of fulfillment. Thinking about this made me realize that I too might be been operating well within my comfort zone.
I think that part of the change in my mentality over time has been the experience of watching you guys work really hard for gains in your fitness or confidence. Coaching gives a really great overview of attitude and it’s relationship to success. The other component of my evolving mindset is recognizing that my comment about not being able to run that long was almost 6 years ago and before CrossFit was a part of my world .
At the beginning of this year when I set out to run an event of this duration my goal was to see if CrossFit training with an endurance bias could really prepare me to run an ultramarathon. Once the Powerlifting meet in April was over I fully switched gears.
I don’t really want to get into the actual training and physical stuff too much since the long and short of it is that it did work. Jesse built me a great program that accommodated my prior injuries, my busy work schedule and my crazy busy life. We adapted when needed based on injury status, energy levels and work scheduling. Once we knew that I would be running a course with aggressive terrain in hot conditions the programming became even more specific to that. We were extremely careful about adjusting things when it seemed like certain movements in CrossFit might be aggravating my aches and pains. Like I mentioned in my last post, I managed to go into the race 99% injury free and I can honestly say that how my body felt during the race was the least of my concerns. I didn’t feel my 10 year old foot injury (from running) at all and my IT band insertion was at about a 3/10 (it reached almost an 8.5/10 in a couple of training runs). I didn’t get a single blister, I didn’t chafe anywhere and I am generally sore all over but mostly in my hamstring insertions (yay pose running). Now two days post race I actually feel better than yesterday and feel like in the next couple of days I won’t be sore at all any more. I think I can only thank CrossFit and diligent body maintenance for that. I passed people who were cramping badly in the their legs and that wasn’t a concern for me at any point in the day, even when I finally stopped moving.
THE MENTAL PREP:
I certainly wasn’t convinced that I could do this event even as I hit the register and pay button online. I knew that in THEORY I could do it, but my fear of being defeated by a goal was pretty strong. What if I wasn’t tough enough to endure whatever it was that I might feel after running for that long? What if my body seized up and I physically couldn’t move any more even though my mind wanted to? I’ve run enough to know that if you don’t keep moving you don’t get there. And if your mind quits, it’s all over.
Early on in my longer training runs I learned to turn my brain off and go numb. I had to listen to what my body was telling me but not obsess over every little feeling. I learned to remove attention from areas of pain when they weren’t important. I never listened to music and I always ran alone. I needed to learn to be comfortable and uncomfortable in my own head and body with no distractions. I had to talk to myself a lot (sometimes out loud, sometimes not). I had to tell myself to suck it up a lot. Somehow my own voice almost became as convincing as someone else telling me. I learned not to get sucked into the honeymoon phases of the run (that’s what I started to call them… they happen at about an hour and half in on slight downhills), and to know that the lows don’t last forever (unless you are really unlucky or make poor decisions). I had to tell myself that quitting is NEVER ever an option. Over time I learned that I HAD to complete my goal, NOT because other people were paying attention, not because I had invested so much time and money into it and not because of what other people think, but because it is so important to me to see something through. I needed to prove to myself that I wouldn’t quit no matter how bad I felt. I spent so much time thinking about this that my mind was ready before my body was. 6 weeks out I was ready to race but I still had my longest training days ahead. That was a weird disconnect, but it really motivated me to focus on my training. 4 weeks out I KNEW I was going to be able to do it. I absolutely did not let a single thought of doubt creep into my mind from that point on. I have no idea how but I managed to stay excited and calm from that time until about 45 minutes before the start of the race.
The race setup was super casual (kind of why I picked that event). Of the 150 registered racers only 84 showed up (???). 30 people started early at 5:30 am (for those who thought they couldn’t make the 10pm/15hr cutoff). There were only 21 women. The field spread out pretty fast (a 10km hill climb will do that) and I quickly realized that I was going to be running alone for a lot of it. I moved well up the first 10kms to the first aid station. The next 5kms visually blew my mind. The terrain looked like Japan, and I couldn’t believe that such a lush little pocket of mountains existed in southern California. The next loose steep 4 mile descent down to the 15mile aid station, where Jesse was waiting, was a little scarey but I arrived at mile 15 ahead of anticipated schedule feeling really good (how was I really to know how I would move in that terrain?). Then I started my first steep 4500ft climb. It was starting to get hot and the honeymoon phase was definitely over. It was so steep that after leaving the aid station I think I hiked for over an hour and half before it was flat enough to run again (which lasted maybe 400m and then I had to hike again). It felt good to hit the Santiago peak for the first of two times (22.5miles) and start to descend. I didn’t actually see any other runners for the next two hours and I started to feel less happy. By the time I got back down to the aid station at 30 miles to see Jesse I was not happy. Mostly hot and pretty uncomfortable and not looking forward to the next part. I was 45 minutes under the aid station cutoff time which was fine but scarey given that I had another huge climb ahead on an exposed loose steep slope.
The next 12 miles (5.5ish hours) were the longest and most miserable of my day (and perhaps physically in my life… I’m pretty sure it beat my worst day treeplanting ever). I started to come up on a few spread out people on the trail (maybe once every half an hour) who were demoralized and quitting. One guy told me we weren’t going to make the Santiago Peak cutoff at 7pm. That was the first racer I had seen in 2.5 hours. Encouraging hey? All I could think was “speak for yourself” and what I said was “I think we will” and I kept going past him. Some people in the race had picked up an allowed “pacer” at the 30 mile aid station so they had some company. One woman was practically holding up an older guy who looked pretty rough. She was being so calm and supportive and he was so grateful. I had a fleeting moment of feeling good about humanity, and then went back to feeling sorry for myself. I was so hot that I couldn’t eat anymore and knew that wasn’t good. My hair follicles on my head were all prickly which didn’t seem like a good thing. Right before we left for LA Julie sent me an email that said “one foot in front of the other”. Thank you Julie, those words played on repeat in my head. The only way I was going to make cutoff was if I didn’t stop at all and picked up the pace whenever possible. I made it to the Upper Horsethief Aid Station filled up my camelback and kept moving. A strange high followed that low. The previous couple of hours had been truly miserable. I would blame 70% of that on the 4pm 30 degree heat with no wind on the south-west facing relentlessly steep slope. My heart rate was way higher than I would have liked it and I was hungry but couldn’t eat. The next couple of miles undulated and then I began the final 4 mile ascent back up to Santiago Peak. I managed to catch up to a few people and we moved in a quiet slow and steady clump as the sun went down. I hiked the last 2 miles to the top completely nauseous with a guy and his pacer. We missed sunset by a few minutes but were 25 minutes ahead of the 7pm cutoff and the view of the surrounding mountains and the pacific ocean was incredible!! It was about 10 degrees at the peak (how is that for temperature change?!) so I bundled up and put on my headlamp and headed down.
In my training I never thought too much about the night running. I don’t love the dark but I tried not to over think it and I also assumed that I would be around other people and we could run together for that part. Nope. My little clump had spread out. The guy and his pacer were gone before I could put my pack back on and the other girls weren’t ready yet so I went alone. It wasn’t as bad as I thought but I wouldn’t say it was the safest 16kms of running I have ever done. I got down the top steep section without disaster (picture a desert version of Upper Powersmart) and made it to the final aid station at 46 miles. Back on the fireroad I decided that with 10kms of smoothish downhill to go it was time to make up some ground. Because I could. Hypoglycemic thinking. I decided to pin it just for fun. My legs were so tired and numb but for some reason I could still hold it together enough to pick up the pace. I started to do some re-calculations and suddenly realized that I might actually complete the course in 14 hours (before it had looked more like 14:30-14:45 if I was lucky). I mentally re-grouped and ran as fast as I could (Jesse does a funny imitation of what he thinks this must have looked like). This was sort of dangerous I guess but so fun and I knew that the faster I went the sooner it was over. Thank you CrossFit, again. More than anything I think it just felt good to move quickly in cooler air after being beaten down by the terrain ALL day. I actually passed a guy who was walking with 2 miles to go. He sprinted behind me for about 100feet and then walked again. I found that funny. Then with 1 mile to go I came out into a clearing and little trails branched off the main road but it all blended together in the dirt. I suddenly couldn’t tell where the road went and it was so dark and there were no reference points. I stopped and tried to see where the road went but couldn’t at all. There were no lights in any directions and no sounds to follow. I had about a 30 second panic attack (hypoglycemic moment again I’m sure) that I was going to head out the wrong road and end up in a different canyon. I had the most horrible feeling that I was about to blow it after all my effort. If I came out on the wrong road now I would have to back track and re-enter the course where I left it (impossible in the dark and would put me over time). I walked along super slowly and probably looked totally freaked out and kind of creepy. I can completely appreciate the stories now that I have heard about endurance athletes getting lost in places that are impossible to get lost in. THANK GOD I went the way I did because 500m later I turned a corner in the road and could hear the sound of the generator and could see a couple of headlamps at the finish line. I crossed the line in 14 hours and 16 minutes. There were only 6 people on the course behind me. I didn’t care.
That night after the race I had a slight 5am, um, panic about needing an IV at a hospital but I’ll leave that Jesse to tell since his level of concern (or lack thereof) will make the story better. That passed with a little food and water and the next morning Jesse and I headed down to CrossFit Newport Beach to see Carl (Endurance guy) and do a little recovery wod, then over to CrossFit Balboa (remember John from CrossFit Football who did the intro for us at sectionals last year??) and then to hang out at Venice Beach for the afternoon. I felt stiff but overall pretty good.
Because of a glitch in the event results page it wasn’t until 6am Tuesday morning that we saw that of the 84 people who started: 14 DNF’d, 16 dropped down to the 50km option and only 10 of the 21 women completed the full 52.5 mile course. I came 3rd for women and 28th overall. My perception of how I was doing was totally messed up by the 30 people who started an hour and half ahead of us so really a good chunk of the people around me were actually and hour and half behind me on the clock. Such a strange feature of the event. Not that I was gaming the race at all, but it certainly made me feel like I was losing when really I was doing fine (if you call having a 45 minute window to make a 15 hour time cutoff fine 🙂 ). And the 4th place girl was only 4 minutes behind me (on the clock) so it was a good thing I dangerously pinned it down that road. I guess just keeping moving pays off in the end… how many times have I said that in the gym?!?
I’m not crazy tired, though last night was the first night that I have slept well since the event. It’s probably from the adrenaline. My body aches generally all over but I’m not particularly sore in any one spot (except maybe my hamstrings).
Will I do it again? I don’t know. I think Jesse asked me right after and I said no, and now I say maybe. I don’t like the cost on my body in terms of lost strength. But the nature of the event is pretty magical underneath all of the suffering. I’m reading Lance Armstrong’s first book right now and I know that I don’t share his enjoyment of suffering, but I do know that the highs that come after the lows can make the misery worth it. Maybe I’ll just spread them out enough so that I can barely remember the hard parts when I hit the register button. The adventure in it all is pretty hard to resist.
Thank you Jesse for programming and crewing for me and listening to the constant chatter/updates/feelings that went along with this whole process. I can’t imagine that managing your wife in something like this is the most fun thing ever.
And thank you to all my health care people who treated me like a real athlete with a big goal (sometimes I felt like I was pretending), and to the rest of you who asked me how things were going, wished me luck and gave me big hugs on the way out. I remembered all of your words of support at some point while I was out there.
One of my thoughts during the race was “this is what living is all about”.
Think about your goals. Make them big. This is a story about fitness, but I know it translates to life. Regular people can do big things. Expand your perception of what you can do. I promise you the feeling of fulfillment that follows truly hard work is worth it.