This is a question that I’m asked quite frequently when people learn about the amount of miles I cover in a training cycle and during an ultrarunning event. I want to take a moment to address this question. My hope is that readers can gain insight on injury mitigation from my experience as an athlete.
Throughout my ultrarunning endeavors I have been fortunate to never experience any traumatic or majorly debilitating injury. For this, I consider myself VERY lucky. I have also been extremely fortunate to have some incredible injury mitigating resources at my disposal.
One of the best things I have done as an amateur athlete has been investing in professional care. I think of my body as a “human machine”, of sorts. In order for my body to keep conquering challenges and running at it’s optimal efficiency – I learned quickly that I had to tend to it with love, care, and intention. Fueling appropriately – very important! Resting appropriately- also very important! Receiving EXCELLENT professional “tune-up’s” – tremendously important. More on that later.
As an amateur ultrarunner – some of what I have done has been a sort-of, “trial and error” process. Every runner and endurance athlete is different – so I find it helpful to encourage my fellow endurance junkies to take the same approach. However, it’s also useful to take advice from other runners who have experienced the trials and errors and determined a successful approach to them.
2019 was by far my craziest adventure year yet! I completed 5 ultramarathon distances in a calendar year. I ran four 50 mile trail races and one 100 mile trail event! It was certainly an adventure and a year filled with memories. However, as I am sure you can imagine, my body took a significant amount of trauma during the never-ending training and race cycle that elapsed in those 12 months. Again, my saving grace was investing in top notch care – to keep my body fine tuned – like an expensive European automobile 😉!
I had the incredible fortune of meeting Dr. Kari Chappel, a local and EXPERT Physical therapist. Dr. Kari works for T-Zero Physio in Broomfield, Colorado. It was within one visit that I knew our fortuitous meeting was not by chance but by design. She was EXACTLY what I needed to keep chasing my wild running dreams. At my first appointment I learned that T-Zero is a specialized clinic that utilizes modern techniques to keep athletes and active people ACTIVE. In my past experiences with PT’s I was often given the advice to “rest” or “take time off”. If you know my personality – you know that “resting” is a whole other type of challenge that I don’t generally take on unless absolutely necessary. Within two visits Dr. Kari and Dr. Kevin (T-Zero owner) determined the exact hip miss-alignment that was causing my mild right ankle discomfort. Now, I knew at the time that my ankle was troubling me. Not enough to take me out of a race, or stop me from training. But, I feared that if I let the discomfort persist that I could experience a much more catastrophic injury – over time.
On a side note, another weapon or tool that is useful when combating injury is body awareness. It’s easy to tune out minor aches and pains. In fact, as an UltraRunner, you basically train yourself to do just that. However, it is important also channel your physiological awareness to understand what sensations could potentially turn into something worse.
Dr. Kevin is also an endurance athlete. Key factor here being – HE UNDERSTANDS! It was so helpful and refreshing to find two therapists that acted with understanding, empathy, and provided an amazing treatment plan that gave me amazing results. Part of my treatment included a full running analysis. This gave all three of us insight into the minor imbalances that (over many thousands of miles) could equate to major problems. The running analysis was a GAME CHANGER. Not only could I see (in slow motion) the imbalances in my striking and gate – I was also given a roadmap to make my stride more efficient.
Is a running analysis right for you and who is qualified to give one? These are great questions. I would say that if your goals for life and fitness include ANY running at all – you should ABSOLUTELY invest in a running analysis. If your goal is to go the distance and avoid injury – it will help you immensely . If your goal is to crush a PR or get faster – it will give you priceless intel on working toward a more efficient stride. If your goal is to stay healthy and fit in the safest way possible – it is crucial to your success. Nowadays, some running stores offer a type of “running analysis” – however, from experience – I would recommend investing in an analysis from a professional physical therapist with a thorough understanding of running mechanics and physiology. A running store can suggest a type of shoe for you to purchase – not methods and practices to reach your goals! Best of all, my amazing Doctors at T-Zero give running analyses to ALL CLIENTS OF ALL SKILL AND FITNESS LEVELS! They can even do this remotely and prescribe a treatment plan that will help you reach your goals. For more details – follow the link below:
The results from my initial treatment at T-Zero were SO incredible that, even though my ankle pain is GONE (after 5 visits) I continue seeing Dr. Kari for semi-regular sessions to keep me a well-oiled running machine. Dr. Kari employs trigger-point dry needling techniques which yield an INCREDIBLE return on investment. This is a technique that works – if you have the RIGHT therapist to perform it. It is NOT a gimmick and I honestly don’t know where I would be without Kari’s expert administration of needles. It has provided instant relief for many muscle discomforts and minor ailments. I have also hear miraculous stories of it’s positive effects on more serious injuries.
If you have something that is troubling you – or you just want to become the strongest, most efficient version of yourself – I urge you to do as I did and invest in an amazing PT. After, again, some trial and error I finally found a clinic and doctor that aligned with needs and goals and DELIVERED. To be honest, this can be sort-of a needle in a haystack. I hate to say it but, all PT’s are not created equal. If you aren’t sure where to start please reach out to me OR the amazing Doctors at T-Zero Physio. They provide Telehealth, too!
Cheers to continuing to chase your wildest dreams, and running toward the best version of yourself you can be. As always, don’t settle for anything short of greatness!
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
John F. Kennedy
Here we are… months into the Global COVID-19 pandemic – I cannot help but think, ‘what an insanely wild time to be alive’. For many people, in every walk of life – everything has been turned upside down. All non-essential businesses have been closed and many will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Millions of people are without jobs. Our healthcare system continues to feel the pressure of the pandemic. Hospitals and care facilities in the areas most ravaged by the virus have experienced a strain on resources and employees. Stories from these healthcare workers have expressed a dire need for better personal protective equipment (PPE). The thought of these circumstances brings me a sense of deep sadness, appreciation, and gratitude. I cannot even begin to imagine the strength and courage it takes to put on scrubs or a uniform each day and go face-to-face with the deadly virus – while, knowingly assuming the potentially hazardous outcomes with less than effective PPE. Why and how can these people continue to work 14 or even 24 hour shifts? The answer is simple: they do it to save lives. They do it because they are HEROES.
Tremendous change has happened in all of our lives in light of this global health crisis. My personal experience is as follows; I was furloughed from my full-time job in March after having to lay off our entire staff on the heels of a government mandated closure. I had never imagined myself navigating something of this magnitude in my lifetime – and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. My plans (as well as the rest of the worlds) were quickly cancelled, postponed, or put on hold until further notice. In the blink of an eye everything changed.
I’m not sure about you, but change is something that creates a great stir for me. Over many years I have discovered ways to cope with and process change. I no longer consider myself ‘change-averse’ – but, the bottom line is, regardless of how ‘change-adept’ you are – change is STILL hard! I’ve noticed it being difficult for all of us – as though it is hard-wired into our nature to feel challenged by upheaval. After weeks of introspection – I learned something incredible. Our capacity to accept and adapt to change is directly affected by the perspective (or lens) through which we view the change. Long story short – change is inevitable. The biggest favor I have found for myself is in openly accepting the change and staying positive. Followed by the thought experiment of, ‘how can I make the most of this situation?’
The first thing I did when I found myself without a job, was ride the waves of loss and uncertainty. To be honest, this is still something I do on a daily and weekly basis. As the weeks started to tick by, I finally recognized that I was in a unique position. For the first and probably only time in my adult life – I had been granted a great deal of “extra” time. Time that I normally did not find while working 50hr weeks. At first, this left me reeling and questioning, ‘what is my purpose?’. In the beginning, there were days where I cried, worried, and felt utterly hopeless. But then, I realized that I had reached a crossroads. Although the situation at hand is beyond my control, my actions within the situation are very much in my control. I shifted my focus from, ‘look at what is missing’ to – ‘look at the opportunities I have been given’. One of the opportunities that I identified is a freedom to use my time, energy, and passion for giving.
If you follow my blog, you know that I lost my Mom and Dad in 2018. Both of my parents lived their life with extremely generous hearts. They spent a great deal of time volunteering and giving back to the community. I feel so fortunate to have had such incredible people to follow and model. In the weeks leading up to Colorado’s stay at home order, I found myself being extremely humbled and grateful for opportunities to volunteer and give back. Not only did these actions help me feel as though my newfound additional time was being put to good use – these actions also made me feel close to my Mom and Dad. If you have ever lost someone you love – you understand the value of finding things that bring honor to their memory.
As the severity of the pandemic progressed I was brought to another crossroads. The 100-mile ultramarathon that I had been training for since December was postponed from early June to September. As an ultrarunner, I also admittedly get a great sense of purpose from the training and execution of these endurance events. Yet again, I felt the sting of change and the sudden sense of losing my purpose. Yet, having reconciled my, ‘loss of purpose’ through my experience of job loss – I knew deep down that my purpose was not LOST – it was just in need of re-discovery and re-invention!
The culmination of this story comes to a decision I made a few weeks ago. I decided that the greatest thing I could do with my extra time is create a means to channel my passion for ultrarunning, to use the hours and hours of training I had put in, and to give back to people that leave me awe-stricken by their selflessness. One of the things I have always loved deeply about ultrarunning is the process through which the physical and mental feats can be achieved. Each event is a test of physical and mental fortitude that consists of thousands of miles and experiences gained while training. Thank you for following along on the journey that brought me to organizing my Run for Health Heroes.
While pondering my idea to spread gratitude for health heroes, I was given the tremendous honor of meeting Justin Kruger, founder of Denver, Co. non-profit Project Helping. Justin shared with me the mission and values of the organization and within moments – I knew I had found my answer. Project Helping provides community volunteer opportunities through many channels for communities. The premise of their efforts centers upon the belief that philanthropy can serve as a positive and effective mental health treatment. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I was absolutely blown away by their efforts and quickly determined that partnering with them would be an absolute honor. Do good – feel good is one of their founding phrases, and I could not align more!
Project Helping had already created an incredible initiative for the month of May, where their efforts would be focused on funding and creating KyndKits for Healthcare workers. I felt an urge to pinch myself, because I could not have created such an impactful campaign without their expertise and synergy. They were already 1,000 steps ahead and provided me an incredible channel to focus my efforts. Partnering with Project Helping to raise awareness for Healthcare Gratitude and Mental Health was truly a blessing. My initial goal was to put together my 100 mile run and share it with my community of friends and family. I set a lofty (or so I thought) goal of raising $5,000.00 – which would fund 500 care packages to our frontline workers. I was so excited and honored to participate in this adventure.
Word spread quickly about my intentions. I was soon completely blown-away by the support and love that poured out from all over the country. As I planned and strategized on how I was going to complete the 24hr 100 mile trek, I was also humbled and filled with gratitude by the number of close friends who offered to accompany me for different parts of the journey – more on that to follow…
So, if you are still with me – you are starting to understand the “why” behind my crazy endeavor. Now, I will share with you the details, emotions, and raw experiences I had during my Run for Health Heroes. Brace yourself – not all parts of ultrarunning are sunshine, puppies, and rainbows! There is some gross, gruesome, and grit that comes with the territory. Though, the resounding take-away was hope, love, and gratitude.
Friday May 8th 5:30am. My alarm goes off. IT IS GO TIME! I hop out of bed after a semi-restful night’s sleep. It seems every eve of an ultrarunning event I have some crazy dreams about oversleeping and missing the start of the run. Naturally, I was grateful to be up and at em’ right on time. First things first – I wash my face, brush my teeth, pull my hair back in a ponytail and lather my body in anti-chafe balm. As I am sure you can imagine, after several hours – everything rubs and major chafing could make for major discomfort. I put on my favorite running attire for good luck. I make my way downstairs for a champions breakfast. I select a fruit and greens smoothie and oats with honey and blueberry. Eating familiar foods is also important when trying to avoid or at least postpone GI distress. I finish packing up my car with all the things I might need or want along the way. I feel a sense of excitement and jitters. I am confident in my ability to cover the 100 mile distance – but, I have never done so in less than 30 hours! I reassure myself that I am capable, trained, and look forward to riding the tailwinds of doing it for such a great cause.
When I arrive at the parking lot of the trail I will be running on I feel massive butterflies starting to stir in my stomach. I’ve also never spent any real time documenting an ultra-running adventure. Luckily, my amazing boyfriend, Logan was there to keep me calm and reassure me. He always knows how to make me feel invincible when I need it. Feeling a strong sense of excitement and purpose – I filmed my first live video to commemorate the start of the adventure. The air was cool and the sky was cloudy. It was the perfect temperature for a brisk, wake-up jog to start the day. I was met at the beginning of the run by some amazing people from Project Helping to stop by to wish me well. Liv, the marketing director for the charity was there to cheer me on and capture some photos as I made my way off on my first 10-mile segment. I started the morning solo – which gave me some time to settle into my consertvative pace and find my stride. My goal, especially in the beginning of a 100-mile trek is to be steady, calculated, and conservative. I know that saving my energy as much as possible will be crucial in me getting through the night!
I run a nice, long flat section of trail for 5 miles before turning around. I am right on track with my pace and feeling relaxed and grateful. There is a sense of gratitude that comes from getting to do what I love most – especially in this case – doing it for good! I make my way back to the “aid station” where I got to meet my first pacer of the day. My dear friend Lauren greets me with a smile. I refill my handheld water bottle and we set out on our 6.5 mile loop. Running with Lauren was amazing! It was so nice to have company on the trail and get to share some of my favorite running surroundings with someone I love. There is a segment of the trail that I affectionately call, “Prairie Dog Utopia”. I joked with Lauren about how I knew all the prairie dogs by name. We smiled, laughed, and enjoyed our trot around the loop.
On our way up the longest climb of the loop I was telling Lauren how uncanny it is for me when I am out running and I see two beautiful hawks circling overhead. I was telling her that it seems like nearly every time I am out in nature, running or walking – I look to the sky and see these two birds directly overhead. I told her that they make me feel a sense of peace and safety and that I feel like it’s my Mom and Dad’s way of letting me know they are there – watching over me. At that very second we both looked up to see two hawks circling overhead. Now, I’m sure that the prairie dogs could have everything to do with this – but, at that moment I felt my parent’s watchful presence. If you have felt grief you know that glimmers of your loved one’s spirit are worth holding on to. So, that is exactly what I did. I held on to the belief that they would be with me the whole way – watching and cheering me on!
I purposefully took Lauren in the direction where we could finish on a downhill. As we made our way back to the aid station aka my car I had my first encounter with the signs made by Project Helping. They were so thoughtful to create signs for me when I would run by that brought me encouragement and joy! 16.5 miles down and many more to go. I decided at this point to change my shoes. Blisters have been a major problem for me in previous 100-mile races. I was starting to feel a “hot spot” on my right toe and knew it was WAY too early in the day for that nonsense. One benefit to having my vehicle in close proximity at all times was the ability to access anything I needed and change my shoes frequently!
I was honored to run the next 10-mile segment with my good friend Dr. Kevin. He is an amazing physical therapist who owns the practice T-Zero Physio that I go to for all my PT needs. He is an ultrarunner himself, and specializes in the treatment of endurance athletes. It was an honor to share part of the journey with him as well. The sun was shining, but the temperature remained cool. I honestly could not have asked for more perfect weather! Again, I attribute the great fortune of the day to my guardian angels above.
Dr. Kevin and I made it back to the car, where I decided to take a short reprieve – one marathon down – three more to go! I was greeted again by a handful of loved ones, friends, and the amazing team of Project Helping. They offered encouragement and smiles. I was feeling terrific as I stopped for a quick snack! My next pacer would be joining in about an hour. So, I opted to spend some time running laps around the track while I digested my lunch. It was another awesome logistical tool to have the track at my disposal for killing some time between pacers and keeping my mileage ticking. One thing that people don’t realize with a 100-mile event for time – is that the clock doesn’t stop when you do. So, for every moment I spent stopped, eating, or stretching I was adding seconds to my average pace. I knew this to be the case from experience, so, I did my best to keep moving!
At 3:00pm my dear friend and AMAZING physical therapist Dr. Kari Chappel joined me for another 6.5 mile loop! I have never gotten to run with Dr. Kari before – though, she is the sole reason I am able to keep running. Completing 5 ultramarathons in 12 months during 2019 was made possible by her amazing care. She is a phenomenal PT and it was such an honor to run with her during the journey. She was also in high spirits which kept me smiling and laughing the whole way. Dr. Kari and Dr. Kevin had never run in the area before, either – so, it was also a treat to show them where I do a lot of my training. They were in awe of the beauty! It was a tremendous reminder of how fortunate I am to have such a well-maintained trail system practically in my backyard.
As Dr. Kari and I made our way back to the car I was again excited to see the smiling faces, cheering me on! I count myself extremely lucky to have had such amazing supporters for this wild goal of mine. Every turn gave me something else to look forward to and lift me high. Dr. Kari gave me a quick stretch on the grass, which my hamstrings and calves thanked her for. Onward and upward I went.
The next couple of hours were spent with my friends on the sidelines of the track and my best friend in the entire world and 9 month-old goddaughter. Ashley and Braelynn came to join me for more miles of smiles. We trekked along, talked about old memories and laughed. This was the hottest part of the day. I was certainly starting to feel the strain of running for nearly 10 hours. I think I slowed down a bit here, which was probably a great choice, given the sensation of the sun and fatigue starting to set in. Before long I had hit the 50-mile mark! Halfway there. It was an awesome feeling and gave me a boost going into the evening. At this time I also got to see several other lifelong friends who stopped by to share their love and support (from a safe distance). My best friend’s parents also came and gave their love. I am so grateful to Ashley’s parents Jill and Dana for acting as parents to me whenever I am in need.
The next part of the run was among my favorites. Many years ago I got the honor of getting to know my best friend Ashley’s, Dad – Dana Roueche. Dana is a lifelong ultrarunner. During his prime he frequently competed in the Hardrock 100 and Leadville 100 – both extremely rigorous courses well above 10,000ft elevation, and of course, only a month apart in the Colorado summer. Dana is my ultrarunning idol. When I first began entertaining the thought of completing my first ever ultramarathon – he was there to guide me. He has helped me in SO many ways over the years. He is an encyclopedia of ultrarunning and a great role model. He has coached me through some challenging times in running and life. I look at him as a second father and I am SO grateful for his presence in my life. It has been years since I have run with Dana. But, he made a special point to join me on Friday for a loop. Coincidentally, this trail system is Dana’s favorite. He runs it nearly everyday. He is quickly approaching 100,000 miles – a lifetime goal and something I admire greatly. I was looking forward to my loop with Dana all day long – and it did not disappoint. I was so happy to spend those moments with my running idol on the trail. The sun was setting on the day and I was feeling strong, empowered and ready to conquer the night. Dana and I talked about any and everything. It was a 6.5 mile section I will never forget. I am eternally grateful to him for his continued support of my running endeavors.
Night running is when a 100-mile adventure starts to test your grit and determination. Fortunately, I had a few more pacers to come – giving me more smiles and laughs to look forward to. I set off on a solo loop around 7:00pm. I was actually glad to spend some time in my thoughts – revelling in the amazingness of the day, so far. I listened to some of my favorite running songs and called my sister and Logan’s mom Jo to check in. It was amazing to hear their voices and encouragement. I spent the whole loop all smiles. As I arrived back at the car it was time for some soup and some additional gear. As the sun set, the temperature dropped. I put on some warm layers and grabbed my headlamp. The next 10-mile segment was spent with our friend, Marketa on her bike. She got to test her balance while biking VERY slowly next to me as I trotted along. My favorite part of our adventure was watching the clouds break and the near full-moon rise in the sky. I hadn’t realized it leading up to the run – but the light of the near full moon was AWESOME for lighting the trail. I still needed my headlamp – but, it was much more lit than it would have been without that beautiful moon. It wasn’t planned – which made me feel even more LUCKY to be there.
The weather stayed PERFECT through the night. I did get a bit cold and shivery along the way. After being on the move for 14+ hours my body has a hard time regulating its temperature. Shivering is something I have come accustomed to in my previous 100-mile adventures. As Marketa and I drew close to the car again I knew it was about time for my favorite pacer of ALL! Just in time for one of the most mentally challenging parts of the adventure. My boyfriend and best friend, Logan joined me around 12am for an 11-mile night trek. It was really nice to have his company. We spent our miles looking at the moon and talking about how awesome the day had gone. He told me how proud of me he was and kept me smiling the whole way. At this time, the goal becomes to keep moving forward. “Forward, relentless motion” is an all star Dana Rouche quote that I still keep in my mental toolbox for these times. At night you are battling your body’s physiology and strong desire to rest. Your bio-clock is going, “what the heck?” and you can feel the fatigue in every bone of your body. BUT, I know this too shall pass. I know that comes sunlight, as the last miles fall under my feet – I will get a brand new lease on life. So, I push forward. Logan and I spend some time walking and jogging when I can. It was also at this point that I started to feel a bit of nausea. However, it’s never stopped me in the past and it certainly won’t in this moment. I spent some time on this section thinking about and admiring the fortitude of our frontline workers. Many of which work 24-hr shifts in hospitals caring for the sick and dying. Now, THAT is incredible. I know that every step I am taking to raise money to show them gratitude is well worth it.
As Logan and I make our way back to the car I know my body needs fuel. I eat some snacks and head to the track where I will cover a few more miles before my final pacer will arrive to help me “bring it home”. Sometimes the nutrition part of these events can be a challenge. This was one of those times. My body needed solid foods to keep energized, but when nausea lurks it is hard to force foods that don’t sound great. Fortunately, I was prepared with many options. I ate what I could and drank some gatorade and juice. I kept running in circles in the dead of the night, passing the 75-mile mark! I knew at this time that my goal of a 24 hour finish would likely be just out of my reach. But, that didn’t stop me. 100 miles for health heroes was my goal and 100 miles WOULD be my result.
4:00am my awesome friend Casey joins me. I am 78-miles in and 22 to go! I can hardly believe it. Although my mood was not as upbeat as the earlier parts of the day. Luckily, Casey has been training to be a pacer for me for months. She knew and expected me to be exhausted and less-talkative. We ran a few laps around the track to pass some more ‘dead of night’ time. Then I decided – it was time to MOVE! I needed a change of scenery, in hopes of lifting my spirits. I often try at this point in the run to focus on the “few miles left” rather than the hours and miles that have elapsed. I know that the physical pain of lactic acid build up in my legs will fade in a matter of days. I just have to keep on trucking.
Casey and I set out on a 10-mile segment that we will connect with another part of the trail. I determine that I need to complete the 20-some-odd miles with her away from the car. My fear is that everytime I come back to the car it will be increasingly more difficult to press on. We walk, jog, run, walk, jog, run as much as I possibly can. Minutes turn to hours. Steps turn to miles. The sun comes up and a new day is upon me. I know I am closing in on the final hours of the event! I am humbled, grateful, and newly energized. I have Logan meet me (literally, the best human that ever lived) with some warm buttered tortillas and a banana. I know the mild food will help me keep plugging while not upsetting my stomach too much. 8:00am comes – I am 24 hours into the run and 91 miles down. Just short of my goal. I set a NEW goal to finish the last 9 miles in less than 2 hours. I get a 45th wind of energy that keeps me going. I have honestly never pushed quite so hard in the later part of the run. It was an invigorating feeling. Just as I had predicted, the tailwinds of doing this for a worthy cause kept me energized! I was so grateful for Casey’s companionship. She kept me moving and that was exactly what I needed to succeed.
Something interesting comes to mind when I think of all the amazing runners, friends, family, donors, and supporters that showed up for me during this – WE NEED EACH OTHER. Lord knows I needed every single person and every single smile I recieved. It was an absolute honor to experience every moment I had out there during my 100-mile adventure. Casey and I were approaching mile 99. We decided to run down the hill and finish our last mile with victory laps around the track. I informed the crew of supporters that were there to see me finish. The handful of loved ones and strangers gathered around the track. It was as we ran down that final hill that the uncontrollable tears came. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude, and bliss. The feeling of completing 100-miles is inexplicable. But, the feeling of completing 100 miles and raising over $7,000 to show gratitude to our healthcare heroes was earth-shatteringly AMAZING! As I ran my final laps around the track – I was met by the Niwot High School cross country team who was there training that Saturday morning. They ran the final laps with me and cheered me on. It was a tremendous honor to run with them and I was grateful for their final surge of energy. My watch clocked me a 8 minute mile pace there during those final laps. I could not believe that my body was able to run like that after 25 hours and 40 minutes! Once again, proving that our bodies are capable of incredible things. And just like that – I finished my 100-mile journey. 25 hours and 43 minutes later. I was THRILLED with my time. Prior to this run I had never completed 100-miles in less than 30 hours.
I love ultrarunning because it is the ultimate test of will, fortitude, determination, and most of all HEART. In the process my heart was filled beyond measure with love and grattitude for all the people who gave their support and encouragement of my endeavor. It was an unforgettable experience – and best of all – the MOST AMAZING part has only just begun. With the funds raised through the event Project Helping will be able to provide hundreds of healthcare grattitude packages! I am so excited to see the rest of this journey play out.
In closing, if you were anyone who donated, suported, encouraged, or loved during my journey – THANK YOU. From the bottom of my ultrarunning heart.
To nominate a healthcare facility to recieve some of these KyndKit gratitude packages follow the link below:
If you don’t want the nitty gritty on an amazingly, breathtakingly, AWESOME journey – you should probably close your browser now. I am excited to write about the whacky and wild adventure that was the StageCoach Line 100 miler.
If you follow my blog, you know I have been training and working towards this culminating race for the past calendar year. Not going to lie, I experienced some serious burnout on the horizon of this event. After 10 months of intense – high mileage training – my body and mind were ready for a break. However, the break would not be awarded until my successful completion of the 100 miler!
Well, great news fam – I completed that sucker with an hour to spare. I finished in 30:06 – its was one hell of a journey. It was also 1:21 minutes faster than my previous 100 mile time. Not too shabby. As for the low down, I have a lot to share about the whirlwind of a trek.
For starters, wow! Northern Arizona is stunning. If you have never been – I highly recommend you sign up for a race and go experience it for yourself. The race started near Humphrey’s peak – the highest mountain in Arizona. The first quarter of the race was spent climbing up into some dense and beautiful aspen and pine forests. The trail was wooded, shady, and beautiful in every direction. Being late fall, the temperatures were pretty perfect for me (well, for the most part – more on that later). The colors had also started to change and the leaves were breathtaking as they shimmered in the sunlight.
I cannot say enough positive things about the race itself and the participants. Arizona is home to some incredible trail runners. Every race I have experienced on the Arizona trail has blown me away. Not just for the scenery, but for the community of people. If you aren’t familiar with ultrarunning, it might surprise you to find out that it’s much less of a competition than it is a journey. The folks you meet on the trail are typically willing to lend a hand, a glove, or even the shirt of of their back – if it means it could help you finish your journey. You meet people out there from all walks of life – everyone just out experiencing what nature has to offer while testing their limits and chasing their dreams. It’s actually one of my favorite parts about the sport. You might end up spending hours going about the same pace as someone. The time is best spent getting to know this random stranger that you are venturing on the edge of discomfort next to.
This race was no exception. After completing the Triple 50 this year, there were some familiar faces at the Stagecoach start line. It was exciting to see some of my Triple 50 pals again. Little did I know, that they would save my LIFE later in the race. Unbelievable. Just wait until you hear about it.
So, first 34 miles of the race were super smooth. I was trucking along at a solid pace. On target for a 25 hour finish. Somewhere in the next 7 miles I started to get some pretty angry blisters. I had preemptively put moleskin on some former, “trouble spots”. However, these efforts were futile. Approaching mile 50 I knew my feet were F@$!ed. But, such is life. As a relatively seasoned ultrarunner, I accepted it as it was, welcomed the discomfort, and forged on.
Approaching the mile 54.5 aid station, I looked forward to seeing my crew, getting my warm clothes, and wrapping my crying pinky toes in tape. Thankfully, I had grabbed my headlamp from the crew at the previous aid station – so I was prepared for the instant pitch black that surrounded me as soon as the sun set. I was, however, unprepared for the frigid dessert cold that came with that sunset.
I rolled into the aid station. I looked everywhere for my family. Luckily, the aid station had a cell phone booster (for emergencies). I was able to make a call to my awesome crew. Bad news, however – the road was SO SO bad that there was absolutely no way for their car to make it. And if they would have tried to drive the last 8 miles to the aid station – it would have easily taken them another 45 minutes. At this point in the race, I knew stopping for too long could be catastrophic both mentally and physically. I knew I needed to keep going – with or without the gear. WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENED THEN. One of my old pals from the Triple 50 just happened to be there crewing another Triple 50 compadre. These two fellas went out of their way to help me. They gave me layers to put on, gloves to keep my hands warm, and even spare batteries for my headland (just in case). It was so humbling to be given aid from random fellow ultrarunners. When I say, every competitor wants to see you succeed – this is a perfect example of how amazing the ultrarunning community is. Words cannot express how grateful I am to my Arizonan friends. I would have truly struggled to keep moving if it weren’t for their kindness and willingness to help. Of course my poor family was devastated that they weren’t able to make it. But, it was absolutely not their fault. Side note to anyone considering participating in the Stagecoach 100 – the Boundary aid station is insanely difficult to get to. Crew should allow at least an hour to get there for their runner!
Speaking of crew, HOLY HECK! I am probably the luckiest ultrarunner in the entire world. I had the best, most amazing, selfless, dedicated crew. My boyfriend, his mom, my sister, my nephew, my cousin, his daughter, and our fur baby – were AMAZING. My sister and boyfriend’s mom stayed up ALL night driving from aid station to aid station – bringing all of my supplies, helping me lance blisters, feeding me, helping me change clothes, lifting my spirits, and doing anything and everything I needed to be comfortable. So freaking selfless. My boyfriend was a true hero as well. Not only did he spend the whole day coming to aid stations, he stayed up all night so he could come out on the trail with me at mile 67.5. By this time it was COLD AF, DARK AF, and I was getting TIRED AF. Well, again, luck af for me, I had him there as a pacer. And wouldn’t you know, he didn’t stop at mile 88 like we had planned. I was hurting pretty damn bad – so he stayed with me and saw me through to the finish line. If that isn’t love – I don’t know what is. The entire time he kept encouraging me and telling me how proud of me he was. He also made jokes, stayed positive, and hustled me to keep moving when I needed it. He is and always will be MY HERO.
Another really crazy thing about ultrarunning that you might not know if you aren’t familiar is that it’s really not ONLY the runner who is doing amazing things. Sure, saying you ran 100 miles is cool BUT none of these race’s finishers would be fueled, hydrated, or successful without the awesome volunteers at the aid stations and the incredible unsung heroes that devote their time and energy to making sure their runner is safe, comfortable, happy, and in good spirits. They hurry up and wait for upwards of 30 freaking hours – Y’all are the real MVP’s! Love you to bits!
On another note. Let me tell you about miles 67.5 – 80. The most concise way to sum it up would be, “UGHHHHHHH”!!!!! It was super duper dark. Like the scary dark that feels like it’s about to swallow you whole (the only benefit to this remote desert darkness was the view of the stars – top notch for sure). Needless to say, trekking up and down mountains in the DARRRRRK ass dark slows you down quite a bit. At this point, it becomes more of a power hike than a trail run. Well, between 2am and 6am my boo and I covered a, “13 mile” segment of the trail. I say that skeptically because it seriously felt like 35 miles, folks. THE LONGEST STRETCH I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED (mentally at least). By the time we finally arrived at the mile 80 aid station – I briefly considered throwing in the towel. It had been an extremely long and extremely cold night. All I could think about was a warm breakfast and a warm bed. However, who was I kidding? I’ve never not finished an ultra and I wasn’t about to break that streak on mile 80 of 100 miler. Ha! I’m way too stubborn for that. I was also super fortunate (again) to have my honey bunny with me. He assured me that I could crush the next section and pushed me to keep on cruising. Seriously, thank god for that amazing man.
Onward and upward. The sun had come up and a new day was upon us. It was time for some caffeine and MUSIC. We tried to get the party started – although it was somewhat of a sputter, at that point. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I knew from previous experience that at this point it comes down to mind over matter. Will and determination trump failure and weakness – EVERY darn TIME. I kept telling myself, “mind over matter”. I kept moving forward knowing each step was chipping away at the remaining distance. I even thought about one of my favorite ultrarunners who has helped coach me over the years. He always uses the phrase, “relentless forward motion” – and that eloquently summarizes the mentality required to run ultras. It’s beautiful, really. I often call upon that mantra when the miles get tough.
Running 100 miles can be likened to riding waves. Some miles will be thrilling, intoxicating, and FUN. Other miles will be terrifying, defeating, and even AWFUL. What matters isn’t how you experience each wave, or in this case, mile. It’s what you chose to do with that experience. Dominate it by overcoming it with positivity and fortitude? Or let it dominate you by drowning in negative thought and insecurity. The choice is yours alone.
I chose pretty wisely on this journey. Even though I had some REALLY tough waves. I didn’t let them drown me. I chose to refocus on positives and keep moving forward. Another beautiful analogy that can be applied to so much more than just trail running.
Approaching the last 12 miles was a great feeling. Although, it also felt like some of the longest miles I have ever “ran”. I use that term lightly here because even my fastest effort by this point in the journey was no more than a slog. The sun had started to beat us down. Low on water, we trudged toward the last aid station. What felt like 97 years finally got ya to mile 97. Although, we did question if we would EVER make it to that freaking aid station. The heat and dehydration also made us start seeing funny things in the distance. Is that a tent up ahead? Oh, no it’s just some pink elephants. HA!
Long story not so short – we were just miles away from the finish. Strangely enough, my body was able to run again. This is proof that your body is so much more capable than your mind thinks it is. We ran it in for a downhill finish – and a 30 hour, 100 miles journey was over – just like that. I was greeted at the finish with a champagne shower and sparkly signs as my family and crew cheered loudly and of course captured the ending on film.
I am humbled by the love and support I was showered with over the weekend. It was an amazing adventure and I am so grateful to be able to continue chasing down dreams and pushing limits. Full send. Thanks for reading.
I am absolutely honored to sit here in this lovely airport and write about one of the most incredible races of my ultra running life! I have been looking so forward to the opportunity to share all the gritty details about the Old Pueblo 50 miler I *FINISHED* on Saturday, March 2nd… so here it goes:
If you read my post on Friday about the week leading up to the race, you already know that I was feeling CRAPPY all last week. Of course, the final 50 mile event for the Southern Arizona Triple 50 award – and I wind up with body aches and a sore throat. Well, shout out to @luckysmarket for having all the illness fighting remedies I could stomach (approximately $50 worth) in the days leading up to Saturday – THEY WORKED~!
On Friday night, pre-race jitters had really taken hold. All the logistics, drop bags, gear, and nutrition was in place for success. Yet, I couldn’t help but worry that my energy level would be lacking and my mental fortitude would be compromised by the end of winter sickness – a circumstance that was (RED ALERT) out of my control. Things that I can’t control, are of course, a tizzy inducing panic button trigger for me – so sleep was not on my mind’s agenda Friday night.
By the grace of God, and my incredible guardian angels (love you Mom and Dad!) – *3:50 AM* I woke up (again) feeling absolutely FINE. The only remnant of the previous days ominous illness was a very mild sniffle. “A SNIFFLE”, I thought in my mind – is the absolute least of my worries. I GOT THIS ONE IN THE BAG.
Trusting your training, nutrition, and pre-race preparation is a huge part of the pre-race mental journey that can either make or break you as an ultrarunner. I placed my faith in my hard work, my dedication, and my guardian angels and set out to CELEBRATE the journey that had brought me to this awesome finale. I hopped up, ate my oatmeal, banana, peanut butter fiesta bowl, geared up, and rolled out!
At this point, the jitters turn into utter flipping excitement (at least for this enthusiastic former cheerleader turned endurance athlete). Driving to the race feels like being on a cloud. Jamming out to, “High Hopes” by @panicatthedisco to keep that energy level up and those spirits high. (Side note, you will learn I am a SUCKER for mainstream pop music – uptempo jams are absolutely MY JAM).
Press fast forward – race begins promptly at 6:00 AM. At this point, it is still dark. The group of 25-mile, 50-mile, and 75-mile competitors set out onto the first 9-mile treck to the Melendrez Pass aid station. In my typical, conservative fashion, I fall towards the back of the pack – knowing that, even though I want to CHARGE up the first several miles of hills – I have a FULL day ahead and need to conserve as much energy as possible. This, however, gives me time to do one of my favorite things – link up with other runners at similar paces and get to know them. True friendships are forged under these conditions. We are all just people – out here on a unique journey – chasing what makes us feel alive (even though it also often makes us feel dead for at least a few days).
The most spectacular part of this, is that people participating in this sport come from ALL walks of life, range in ages from 18 – 70, and represent a richly diverse set of experiences, athletic abilities, and even body types. Yes, you heard that right – being an ultrarunner doesn’t mean you are automatically 6ft tall and 100lbs. Granted, some VERY talented ultrarunners ARE – there are also folks like me, short, stocky, full of muscle and even more full of DETERMINATION. There is quite a bit to be said about this, from my perspective – as it is a stigma I have struggled with, internalized, and opposed for most of my ultrarunning life. However, I will save that topic for a future post and get back to the deets on this AWESOME day.
As the sun begins to rise, the beauty of our surroundings literally comes to light. Roughly two hours of climbing brings me toward the high point of the 25-mile loop (which I get to run TWICE – wooot!) At this time I roll into the Melendrez Pass aid station, which is loaded with goodies and smiling volunteers. What an incredibly selfless group of locals who spent their Saturday out on the trail, supporting us on our journey! Huge shout out to these awesome folks is due – and the course was well equipped with them. Onward and upward, after a quick water fill up and an electrolyte chug.
The course continued to climb, revealing the absolutely stunning vistas of Mount Wrightson. As the highest peak in Southern AZ it’s prominence and snowy summit were quite a sight to behold. Oh, and good grief, how could I forget to mention the 947 (actually 52 but felt like 947) STREAM CROSSINGS! A precipitous course combined with high levels of pre-race winter precipitation made for quite the adventure. Knee deep, unavoidable water crossings were encountered again, and again, and again. I was somewhat prepared for this and had been sure to have dry shoes and socks at the ready in my drop bags. However, as I approached the halfway point of the course, I realized that efforts for dry feet would be futile. At this point, I had also actually convinced myself that the ice cold water was actually pretty darn awesome for my tired feet. Ice bath submersion for achy feet throughout the course? Doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me – and once I shifted my outlook on it as a positive opportunity for cooling down – I reveled in the water and smiled at the adventurous nature of it all.
The halfway point was a cause for celebration. I arrived at the 25-mile turn around with sparkly bells on after 6 hours and 15 mins. This was right on target with my goal – AND – best of all – I got to see my AMAZING crew. My sister, Willow and nephew, Blaze, had drove down to cheer me on. They were exceptionally emotionally supportive for the remainder of the day AND they helped me get all the things I needed from each of the aid stations they were at. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have such tremendous cheerleaders in my life – they make these adventures so much MORE special!
Leaving the Kentucky Camp aid station after 25 miles of fun felt like a great big BUZZ of energy that catapulted me forward. I was riding the high of making it half-way, seeing my fam, and fueling my body all the way to the next pit stop at the Gardner Canyon aid station at mile 29. Oddly enough, this is when the surge of energy starts to peak for me (on a good day, of course). In my mind, the framing goes like this, “20 miles to go – strong, steady, pace for a strong finish”. As someone who has been into ultrarunning for many years, 20 mile runs have become somewhat of a benchmark distance for me. If I have taken a hiatus from (lonnng distance) running for a period of time, or I am gearing up to train for another 50 miler – a 20 mile run is a common distance for me to experiment with and gauge my current fitness level. That being said, I have ran countless 20 mile training runs, sometimes even twice in one week, or even on back to back days. The benefit to this is, when you are 30 miles into a 50 miler – you can be CONFIDENT in your ability to stomp out the last 20 miles… it goes back to the, “I eat 20 miles for breakfast mentality” that has served me quite well for many races. It is looking adversity in the face and laughing because you aren’t afraid. It is taking on an impending challenge with unwavering determination and a sense of, “I was born to conquer this”, or a giddy, “this will be fun”. Unrelenting positivity is certainly my biggest strength as an UltraRunner (because lord knows it’s not my pace ha!).
The rest of the day, although very physically demanding, was such an occasion for gratitude. There were a few later miles where I had to practice some empowerment breathing techniques and focus on relaxing my tensely excited upper body (and digestive system). Mile 35 brought me to the Cave Creek aid station with more fabulous volunteers and my FAM BAM!! We exchanged hugs, I filled up on food and fluids, and I zoomed out of there with the finish line set in my sights. “Time to SEND IT”, I encouraged myself in my head.
The next few miles brought some steep climbs, incredible views, and heart pumping adrenaline. Closing in on 9 miles to go and approaching the Melendrez Pass aid station for the last time! I made sure to stock up on some calories for the road. Even though the finish line was getting closer – this would be the worst possible time for a bonk! Now, to be fair, after running for 10 hours with more hours ahead – eating sounds like the absolute worst thing in the world. But, it. does. not. matter. Just like I force myself to push through mentally challenging lonnnng training runs – in the latter part of a race I force myself to consume calories. It’s the only way to ensure a fierce finish – which are my absolute FAVE! Now, I will admit, every ultrarunner is different with their nutrition strategies and requirements – but I have ran races on minimal calories and I have ran races on optimal caloric fueling – I am here to tell you — it is ALWAYS better with more fuel. #trustme
Closing in on the last five miles and I am chasing the AZ sunset – literally! I know that I am close enough, and feeling strong enough to accelerate. Oh, and that downhill finish doesn’t hurt my cause one bit! Chances are, by now, I look like a 95 year old grandma post hip replacement trying to do some version of, “running” because you better believe I am sore. However, in my mind I am a gazelle. I float along the trail. You wanna talk about a, “runners high” – try bombing down the last three-mile hill during the FINALE race of the Southern Arizona Triple 50! Not many sensations can compare to the feeling of closing in on the final miles of an Ultramarathon… well, perhaps one. THE FEELING OF FINISHING IT!!!!
I make my final descent where the course splits off on a grassy, dark, thorny surprise adventure. I can see the lights at Kentucky Camp in the distance. Nothing stopping me now. I am so close to a strong 13 hour finish that I charge forth without a second thought about the cacti encroaching on the trail. I can feel the energy of the finish line, I can taste the triple 50 award’s sweet victoriousness in the air. Heart pounding, tears streaming, hopping skipping, sprinting, jumping for joy – I BARREL ACROSS THAT FINISH LINE. 13:04. I FREAKING DID IT. I am elated. I am stronger than ever. I am the fiercest version of me I can be. My hands and heart go up to my parents above for looking out for me throughout the day and keeping my focus and my pace STRONG.
It was an incredible day with amazing runners and volunteers. I could not be more grateful for this experience. It is on the trail that I feel most connected to my Mom and Dad. It is also on the trail where I feel most connected to MYSELF. It’s a beautiful place to be. My heart is so full. I hug my sister, newphew, and friends I made along the course. We laugh about my bloody legs and fierce, unrelenting “go-mode” face. I shake the race directors hand and thank him for such a tremendous day. And so it goes. The Southern Arizona Triple 50 is in the books for 2019! #grateful #blessedbeyondmeasure #harderfasterstronger
Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding my journey, strategies, or process. I am by no means an expert. I am still growing and learning with each training cycle and race. Although, I wouldn’t have made it this far without some excellent ultrarunning mentors and friends. I am here to share triumphs, failures, strengths, weaknesses, and ALL.
Please share, like, comment, subscribe – your helping a girl on a mission reach for her full potential in that which she loves most. #peacelovetrail #ultrarunningblog #nittygritty
So here is the scoop, I am currently sitting on the plane headed toward to Tucson, AZ. This is IT! The third and final race of the Southern Arizona Triple 50. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with excitement and enthusiasm… and of course, those darn pre-race jitters. This will be my 9th ultra distance, but no matter how familiar I get with the process – the jitters never completely disappear.
Yet, there is something truly special to be said about the anxious buzz that ensues in the week leading up to a big race. It’s a combination of excitement, fear, nerves, and readiness. After training so hard for many weeks, my body certainly appreciates the rest leading up to race day. While, simultaneously my mind is about to spin out of control without a physical outlet to release my nerves. However, I know on race day it will be a few days of nerves we’ll spent. The hope is, that my legs feel brand new.
If you aren’t familiar with distance running, it is safe to say that most (if not all) distance runners utilize their hobby in an array of therapeutic capacities. For me, running IS therapy. It is a means to escape the people and situations that otherwise consume my day. It is a means to free my mind to wander and my eyes to fixate on stunning scenery. It is one of the few places where all the cares and stress of life simply starts to melt away. There is freedom out there. Especially on those desolate trails. The best part about it, is that the trails and the earth were made to carry us. All the weight of ourselves can be unloaded on the ground. I don’t mean the weight of our bodies. I mean the weight of our struggles. In times of intense anger, frustration, longing, or desperation – I often find the best “cure” for me to process my feelings is to let them all out on a run. As I ride the tide of a cresting wave of emotion, I find myself feeling rebalanced on the other side.
Running, to me, is so much more than running. As I embark on the 50 mile journey tomorrow at Old Pueblo I am reminded that it will be a day of great celebration. The hard work (the training) is over. Tomorrow will be about enjoyment and basking in the glow of the effort and discipline it takes to get to that start… and of course crushing 50 miles on my own two feet… but, who’s counting?
I’ve spent the last few days drowning myself in Vitamin C, Zinc, and Echinacea. On Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat and body aches. I was not so gently reminded that there are always forces at play that are beyond our control. But, regardless of the outcome tomorrow – I am so grateful to be part of such an incredible growth experience. With every training cycle and every race I grow in new ways and discover new parts of myself I never knew existed.
And don’t get me wrong. There is not a chance in hell that I won’t cross that finish line tomorrow. If I’m feeling good I will push for sub 12 hours! Can’t wait to share the photos and recap with you all after. #wishmeluck #herewego #oldpueblo50 #southernAZtriple50 #readytokillit
This is an entirely new experience for me. I have always loved to write, from the time I first learned how. As a young girl, I would spend my free time writing imaginative short stories about fictional situations. Throughout high school and college writing was always one of my favorite outlets. As I completed my master’s degree, I found myself thriving on the composition element of my program. Writing has always invigorated me.
Running, however is my greatest passion. I didn’t fall in love with running until I reached my early 20’s. It was at this time, I found myself in an unhealthy and controlling relationship. I lost sight of who I was. Running was a means for me to escape a negative situation. Running also gave me back a sense of self-influence that I had unknowingly given-up. In the following years, it was also running that gave me the empowerment and courage I needed to leave that situation and pursue my dreams. Running then became my method of reconnecting with myself. It helped me come back home to who I am.
Along the way, I have experienced many (literal) ups and downs with running (and life). All of which I fully intend to disclose in this blog. Running has been a life saving grace for me at many tumultuous periods of my young life. Running has also been my preferred mode of escapism, at times even becoming an obsession and an all-consuming practice. At this time, I am thrilled to report that my relationship with running and with nutrition is at an unprecedented healthy balance (although admittedly, it has not always been so). It has been a challenge to achieve this balance and I am left graciously thanking my parents Deb and Mike (rest in paradise), my best friend Ashley, my partner Logan, and my sister Willow, as well as the people closest to me for always encouraging me to conquer my daemons and maintain this balance.
In congruence with the human experience of life itself, my journey to run ultra marathon distances has been a series of incredibly high highs, and incredibly low lows. As life has dealt me many unpredictable (and often unwanted) hands, I have adapted a gritty and mean, “poker face”. What I have found over the years is that many of the elements surrounding ultra running (from training and preparation, to execution and strategy) parallel the human experience.
My greatest hope is that through the uncut, raw, often emotional contents of this blog, perhaps even the smallest part of my story might have a positive influence on someone else in need of hope, encouragement, or healing. At the end of the day, as cliche as it seems, even the rockiest, most challenging trails end with a beautiful view – and a smooth, flowing downhill. Just as in life, we are given tremendous challenges and expected to find beauty in our situation and manage to persevere. But how do we persevere when we just want to quit? That is the primary experience I wish to share and explore.
I am still learning. I am still growing. I have a great deal of self-healing that I wish to evoke through the writing and self-exploration shared here. I hope that this blog will also help me to uncover new means to promote my own development and emotional health. We are all a work in progress. Please subscribe if you want to learn more about everything from training and nutrition, to race prep and gear, and follow my journey as I explore all of life’s challenges and how to conquer whatever comes my way. #letsgrowandhealtogether #adventuresofanultrarunner
It is no big secret that a significant amount of pain is incurred during our time here on this vast blue planet. Pain, of course, comes in many forms – both easy to explain and often inexplicable. We can experience great pain in our physical bodies from strain, injury, or illness. We can also experience great pain in our hearts from loss, separation, or longing. The list of sources of pain goes on and on and on. Pain can also be described as a journey. Throughout a lifetime, we can encounter pain in many magnitudes, from many sources. Pain is inevitable.
As an Ultra Runner, pain can be both an old friend and a vicious opponent. Conditioning the body and mind to endure training for, and the execution of ultra-marathon distances requires one to become very familiar with pain. Throughout my journey as an Ultra Runner, I have become incredibly versed in pain management. After 20 miles on the trail everything starts to hurt. After 30 miles on the trail, everything starts to REALLY hurt. After 40 miles on the trail, the pain often becomes so familiar that it begins to fade away (trust me, the fading away part does not last too long). However, conditioning my mind to acknowledge, welcome, dismiss, or distract myself from the physical pain encountered while running great distances has been an ongoing, evolving, and magnificent experiment, yielding great personal growth. The underlying lesson was a discovery I made a few years ago on an insanely long training run, in preparation for my fist 100-miler. I was profoundly enlightened by my sudden use of the mantra, “pain is only a condition of the mind” implying that the physical pain I was enduring was merely a temporary mental interpretation of that moment in time. If so, can pain be “conquered”?
During my enlightening run, the mantra replayed in my mind, over and over again. If pain is a condition of the mind and I am in control of my mind, it stands to reason that I my mind (aka ME) conquer any pain. I held on to this notion. I still hold on to it. There have been many tough training runs, and even races where this mentality has helped me press through the toughest moments of perceived physical pain. But, my understanding of pain has recently changed.
In April of 2018 my father passed away. A few weeks later we learned that my mother had stage 4 Colon Cancer. She died, quite suddenly, on June 30th. The wind had been knocked clean out of me – twice. And just like that I was drowning in the worst pain I had ever known. At the time I was a 6-time Ultra-Marathon finisher. I had successfully ran 72 and 100 mile distances. But nothing about enduring such intense physical pain could have prepared me for this.
The experience of physical and emotional pain can never be compared as it would be like comparing walking on hot coals to walking on broken glass – both experiences are inherently different. Furthermore, such experiences will always be perceived intrinsically different for each individual. Yet, there is a striking beauty that arises in my field of view surrounding this incomprehensible comparison. One that is ultimately worth sharing… so, here goes.
After my mom passed I found some solace in a book, entitled, “Things I Wish I Knew Before my Mom Died” by Ty Alexander. She provides a raw, real account of her grief surrounding her mother’s death. The words in this book spoke to me with resounding strength and healing power. The most memorable takeaway from Ty’s book was her discussion about pain. Pain is inescapable. But pain and suffering are different. According to Ty, we do not hold the power to live a life unscathed by pain. However, suffering ultimately becomes our choice.
To explain this in an alternate way, imagine being stung by a bee. There is instant, and sometimes lasting physical pain where the bee’s stinger penetrated the skin. After being stung you might exclaim, “Ouch, that hurt”. This is an expression of pain. However, imagine being stung by a bee and holding onto intense feelings of fear, anger, and disdain for flying insects, or even paranoia surrounding the circumstances. Perhaps, your exclamation would change to, “I cannot believe I got stung by a bee, it’s as though every stinging insect in the world is against me”. This pattern of thought could even lead to future thinking, such as “If I am going to get stung in life, I must have done something to deserve this, I must not be worthy of a life unscathed by bees”.
Now, clearly there are fallacies in this example of thought. It seems somewhat absurd to even imagine someone turning the experience of a bee sting into something so all-consuming. BUT, the truth of this matter is that exact evolution of thinking depicts suffering. There is a point in which pain becomes suffering – at the instant when the experience of pain mutates into something so perversely invasive in our lives that we can almost not stand to carry it.
If I relate this all back to what I know best, ultra running, I am immediately struck by another important revelation. Pain is NOT a condition of the mind. Pain is, in fact PAIN. Inescapable, undeniable, and often incomprehensible. However, suffering IS a condition of the mind. It is often a mode of self-preservation. We might develop thought patterns of questioning people’s intentions (or in this case bee’s intentions) in order to save ourselves from future pain. YET, if pain is inevitable and inescapable, what would happen if we were to acknowledge and accept it? What if we welcomed it as an old friend?
The bottom line is, I see clearly now that I make a conscious decision while running 30, 40, 60, or even 100 miles NOT TO SUFFER. Sure, it hurts like hell. Sure, there are times I want to quit. Sure, there are a million reasons why I, “should” quit. But before I allow myself to entertain the notions that accompany suffering – I acknowledge my pain. I acknowledge that it is temporary (of course barring some actual legitimate injury). It is at this point that I press ON. Forward. Relentlessly. I chose NOT to suffer.
Hopefully, you’ve stayed with me through this woven rant of expressive emotions. If so, I want to conclude with this. I know how to avoid the pitfalls of suffering in my running. I’ve been doing it (unbeknownst to me) for years. What I propose now, to my readers, and to myself, is how can I apply such thinking to the experience of my grief? There are many ways that I continue to actively pursue this as I struggle to accept the, “new normal”. There are days when I am bombarded by memories of things we shared, places we went, songs we listened to, or foods we shared. But my continued progress will be dependent upon my ability to acknowledge, accept, and (someday) even find solace in those memories – ALL in the ABSENCE of suffering. This doesn’t mean the pain dissipates. This doesn’t mean that the pain never existed in the first place. This simply means that I feel the pain, but I chose not to suffer. That is my journey. Not simple, not clean, but I am here and I chose to keep moving forward. Relentlessly. I chose NOT to suffer as I attempt to turn my pain into strength.
Well, here I am. Sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight to Tucson. Tomorrow I will be running my 8th UltraMarathon distance – The Oracle Rumble 50 mile trail race. Tomorrow also ironically marks the 5 year anniversary from the very first 50 mile race I ever did. So much has changed in the course of five years. I am a completely different person than I was when I first began this unique, challenging, winding, and often rocky (literally and figuratively) road.
After reflecting on these deeply personal changes, there is a sense of aversion that arises at the notion of sharing any of it with complete strangers. But at the same time, I am humbled by the tremendous symbolic meaning, self-discovery, self-healing, and empowerment that comes from engaging in these mental, physical, and emotional challenges. The primary and most powerful discovery I have made is that no matter how difficult, rocky, challenging, slick, steep, smooth, clear, or surprising the terrain – if I focus my energy and attention on just moving forward, one step at a time – it is shocking the distances I can cover.
It took me several years and several unfortunate circumstances to realize that this mentality directly corresponds to the journey of my life. As humans we are built to endure. And there are so many culminating experiences that make us who we are. There is a depth to many of the things I have experienced that I believe make up the components of my “ultra runner mentality” – these are experiences I wish to visit in future postings on this blog. For the sake of brevity, I will say that I have survived several tremendous blows in the course of my young life. But for as painful as the negative relationships, self-medicating, disordered relationship with food, loss of two brothers, and untimely passing of both parents has been – I have began to rebuild and I continue to ENDURE.
This blog will be a collection of experiences, both character building and heart shattering, both wonderful and devastating. What remains underneath all of it is the undying and burning desire to keep moving forward – regardless of how painful or how difficult the road ahead may appear. This is where the symbolism of ultra running is yet again strikingly apparent and synonymous with my life. DISCLAIMER: Please do not subscribe or read on if you aren’t open to raw, emotional, uncensored material. My greatest hope is that through the exploration of these experiences and sharing of uncut thoughts, feelings, sensations, and circumstances among my path to healing that my own understanding and the understanding of my readers can grow and that we can all somehow heal together. #herewego
You can look at a scar and see hurt, or you can look at a scar and see healing. -Sheri Reynolds