Old Pueblo 50

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

En Route to Old Pueblo

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

Turning Pain into Strength.

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.