I learned a lot. Not just about myself, but about running in general. The thing is, there is a certain amount of athleticism to run a marathon, or even a 50K. You train hard, you eat well and you don’t hit the dreaded wall. But when you are running for 12+ hours, you hit many walls and then you work your way back to many high points. You swing violently moment to moment, like an angry child that suddenly smiles. Every step of the way beyond the marathon mark was because I told myself I could do it. And I did. The thing is, anyone can run a 50-miler but the only thing that will stop them is truly knowing that they can do it. There were times I was barely moving at all, walking up hills when all I wanted was to sleep and there were moments of glory, where I was dropping sub-8 minute miles after already having 47 miles on my legs. Looking at your watch and seeing 28 miles and knowing that you have 22-ish to go is horrible and demoralizing and wonderful all at the same time. I’ve never been so tired in my life, but at the same time, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more present.
The real lesson I learned from this race was my tendency to always look to the future. Mile 39 started a massive hill, climbing 3000 feet before making the 12 mile descent to the finish line. I would constantly find myself looking up, seeing little progress and immediately becoming discouraged. My pacer, Dan, would remind me to look down and just keep moving, that it would be over soon. And when I focused on the task at hand, I felt great, but when I looked to the height of the mountain, to the future, the work still to be done was daunting. Everything about running that far is daunting, but it can be done. Running 50 miles is nothing but a lesson in remaining present to the moment you are in and in the consequences of swaying away from the present moment.
There were high points where I passed other racers, feeling strong and ready to take on every mile. Despite the pain in my feet from massive blisters, I managed to finish the final 4 miles in under 32 minutes, averaging just under 8 minutes per mile. I was flying into the finish, passing everyone in my path and sneaking under 13 hours. As the final miles ticked by I knew I could run forever. The finish line could have been in Nevada, and I would have found it. It’s that kind of mental strength that can pull you out of any low in any situation. It’s in that place that I will need to go to finish the Javelina Jundred in October.
Running an ultra has far more to do with what is within you than what your body is capable of. I’d heard many times that the first 26 miles were physical and the rest were mental and that couldn’t have been more true. But the thing is, everything is temporary. Happiness, sadness, pain, elation, excitement and disappointment all happen but becoming attached to those feelings is what will do us in. Running 50 miles forced me to let go and run my race and my mile.
I was made for this.
And so were you.
If you are someone who has ever thought about running 50 miles and haven’t because you think you are too slow or that you can’t go that far, believe me, you can do it. One foot in front of the other is all that is needed to finish. No speed, no secrets, just determination.
In the next day or so, I’ll post a video recapping the race and getting into some of the specifics. Thanks for supporting me in my crazy ideas, there are more to come.
On November 20, I ran the Route 66 Marathon and to say that it was a disaster is an understatement. I made a lot of mistakes, both in my control and out of my control, that lead to a bad race. Here, I am going to tell you how NOT to run a marathon. It’ll serve as my race recap, and by the end, you’ll have a pretty good feel for what happened during my race. If you want to run a really good race, don’t do these six things.
Step 1: Run a 50K four weeks before your goal marathon
Exactly 4 weeks before Route 66, I ran my first ultramarathon. It was a pretty amazing experience, but it was not one that set me up for a good marathon in the weeks to come. Although I did bounce back rather quickly, the “fast” was zapped right out of my legs. I didn’t feel sore or injured, but I just couldn’t get myself moving at the paces I could before the race. I continued to push and gave myself only a two week taper heading into Route 66 after weeks of 45 and 50 miles per week (following the ultra). I remained positive and figured this wouldn’t hurt me too bad.
Step 2: Get super depressed that Donald Trump was elected president and just stop running
I had a lot of stressors heading into the race. There was a flood in my apartment, which booted Frank and I (and Elly and Sydney) out of our apartment for about a week. I didn’t have access to my stuff and felt generally unsettled. THEN TRUMP WAS ELECTED. I was depressed and couldn’t find the will to run. In fact, given what the world was coming to, I didn’t feel like running was all that important. So, I just stopped. I ran a total of 8 miles heading into the last two weeks before the race. This caused me to lose a lot of fitness and be in the wrong headspace for Route 66.
Step 3: Get your period the day before the race
This was totally out of my control. Unfortunately, with my period, I also get some mild intestinal distress. This time, it wasn’t so mild. I couldn’t eat too well, I was having trouble with liquids (they would go right through me, TMI, I know). I probably spent the day pretty dehydrated, but there really wasn’t much I could do. Note: I did know this was going to happen, but it usually doesn’t affect me this much.
Step 4: Run hard even though you are not really feeling it
I knew at the starting line that things were not looking bright for a PR. I thought about maybe just trying to run even splits for a 4:00 marathon. I figured that would be within my reach, and I still think it was. This would allow me to feel good and not be defeated by the distance. Instead, I ran at the pace I had decided weeks before the race and go for a sub 3:50 marathon (even though I realistically knew that was not going to happen). So, for the first 18 miles, that was the pace I ran at.
Step 5: Don’t slow down when your body is saying “this is too much”
I saw Frank at mile 14, and he jumped out on the course and ran with me for about a half mile. He gave me some water and asked how I was feeling. I thought about it for a moment and said “Tired. I am too tired for mile 14 right now”. I knew it at this point that I was headed for a massive disaster. Instead of slowing down, I thought maybe I should try to catch up to the 3:50 pace group. I figured they could help me through some rough patches. Frank told me that they were just a little ahead of me, so I pushed harder. I tried to ignore the tired and the sick feeling in my stomach and push forward. I never did catch up with them.
Step 6: Stop at EVERY port-a-potty from mile 18 to the end of the race
At mile 18, everything caught up with me. I didn’t hit the usual glucose wall, I hit the poop wall. My stomach flipped out. I stopped visualizing the end of the race, but was instead just looking forward to bathrooms. I ended up at every single port-a-potty until the end of the race. When I ran, I was keeping about an 8:45-8:50 pace, but I was spending 5 minutes at a time in the bathroom, so my 8:50/mi pace slowed to 10/mi and then 11/mi and eventually to 13/mi. I felt like crap (pun intended).
So, if you are running a marathon, don’t do what I did. I think I learned a lot during the race, but it was an overall disappointing performance. My final time (with pooping episodes) was 4:06:37, almost 10 minutes slower than Colfax. I felt pretty bad about it, and took 2 full weeks off from anything running related. Even after returning back, I was having trouble. I wasn’t feeling the usual burn or push. Then, last night, after a short 3-mile run, I came home and was talking all about PRing my half and running Colfax again this year. For the first time since the race, I was feeling like myself again, loving running, the process and all of the ups and downs. In reality, not every race can be a Colfax. Sometimes, they are a poop/bonk fest. Those races are important too.
There are no photos of the race, because I was very sad and crying, so I guess Frank didn’t feel compelled to record that. So, instead here is a photo of Sydney (my cat) sitting on her favorite window sill.
Important Note: I did make it to the port-a-potty every time, so I did succeed in not pooping my pants in a race. Go me!
What’s your worst race? Have you ever had stomach problems on a race course?
If all goes well, by the end of this weekend I will be an ultramarathon runner, a title I’ve thought about for a long time. It’s been years since Western States hasn’t gone through my head nearly daily. I’ve done a lot to bring myself inches closer to that goal, but on Sunday, I will be getting 31.5 miles closer. On Sunday, I am taking the largest step forward I possibly can in making my goal my reality. Normally, I’d assume this would make me nervous… but it’s not. I don’t feel nervous at all. This feels like the natural progression of things, as if this is clearly what needs to happen.
For Colfax, I knew what my goals were, I knew how to play it and what I needed to do to have a great day. This time, things are a little less clear. I have no time goal. I feel like 6-hours is probably a pretty good estimate, but I won’t know much until I get to the trail. The race is made of three 10.5 mile loops, each of which has about 2000 feet of vertical gain. That is a lot more than I am used to covering here in Kansas and I don’t really know what will feel like a comfortable pace. This race is truly a wait and see. My only time goal is to go for a negative split, something I’ve never been able to do in a trail race.
I’ve gotten my gear together, my drop bags, food, and everything that I will need to cover the distance. All that’s left is a few slow miles and two nights of sleep before I toe the line in Omaha. Am I scared? Yeah, a little. But I am not nervous. I know I can do this and every time I think I can’t, I’ll remind myself of why I am here. This is the beginning of my journey to Squaw Valley. However Sunday goes, this is just the first step. I’ve always found that the hardest part of a run is simply getting out the door. Well, here I am, getting out that door.
I ran the Rocky Mountain 5K as part of the Elk Challenge, which was to race both the 5K on Friday night and the half marathon on Saturday morning. This is the recap for the 5K, and I’ll post the half marathon recap soon!
I was in wave 1 for both races and lined up at the front for the 5K with the intention of taking things slow and saving my energy for the half the next morning. The race announcer came on speaker to say that if you wanted to be in contention for an overall award, it will be based on your gun time, not your chip time. I looked around to see who was there and to size up my competition (at this point I had no intention of going for an overall award). The women around me looked no faster than I was, so I got arrogant, took a chance, and went to the very front of the starting line. All intentions of taking things slow were going out the window.
I could see that the first mile began with a giant hill. It looked daunting and hard and I figured that if I took things too fast, I’d be very sorry later.
Well, the race started and I took things too fast. I got to the top of the hill at around the half-mile mark and noticed that I was running a sub-7 mile pace. I backed off (a lot) and just cruised on the flats. At this point I was the first place female, but I was running scared. It is not easy to run in the lead and it was really making me feel a little stressed out. I wasn’t sure how far back the 2nd place girl was, but I was inwardly hoping that she would pass me to take the pressure off.
And then just after the 1-mile mark, the 2nd place woman passed me and I felt like the pressure was off. I pulled back a bit and reminded myself that I had a half marathon the next day, which was a target race for me and a potential PR. I kept the 1st place girl in my sights, but really had no intention of going after her. I was already feeling a little tired and was desperately trying not to push myself too hard. Miles 2 and 3 were mentally tough, but I was doing a good job passing some of the men and kept my women’s overall place.
Just before the finish line, there was a female elk chilling out. I was pretty excited, since how often is it that you see an elk during a road race. Just as I was coming into the finish chute, I heard the announcer say my name, hometown, and place. It was pretty exciting coming in to a rather big crowd and party.
My final time was 23:55, not bad for a hilly course at 7,500 feet!
After I grabbed some food and water, I was shuffled over to where the awards ceremony would be. After about 20 minutes of waiting, they called the winners up to the podium and gave us our medals and National Parks Passes (yes, a won a National Park pass… pretty much the best thing ever). I’d never stood on a podium at a race before, so this was pretty freaking exciting.
Frank and I walked around a bit, trying to shake off some of the lactic acid. I was over the moon with my 2nd place, but I knew I had to get to bed soon to be fresh and ready for the half the next morning.
A few months ago, on a whim, I decided to sign up to pace my local half marathon, the Bill Snyder Highway Half. I had heard that it was a good race with an interesting route, but since it was the weekend after Colfax, I decided that it was best if I paced it. After talking to the pacing coordinator, he decided to put me with the 2:25 group, which would keep a pace of about 11:00/mi. Come race day, I was pretty happy to have a nice easy pace since I was still a little sore from the marathon the weekend before.
I woke up around 5:00 am, had some coffee and made it to the parking lot by 5:45 am. Since this was a point-to-point course, they had buses that took you out to the start line way out of town on the Bill Snyder Highway. The buses were very easy and I even found another pacer to chat with on the way out!
Before the race started, I talked to a few friends, hit up the bathrooms and made it to the start line about 15 minutes before the gun. I met my co-pacer, Megan, and we decided that I would lead to bring people in just under out 2:25 goal pace, and she would follow to bring people in a minute or two later. By the time the race started, we had a group of about 20 people following us, chatting and having fun. Several people were running their first half and a few others were looking for a PR. We kept the mood light and it seemed like everyone was having fun. I intended to stay with Megan for a few miles before stepping it up to bring people in just under 2:25.
Unfortunately, at mile 2, I had to make a bathroom stop, and promised to catch back up to the group. I had about 5 people who followed and we figured we’d make up some serious time during the downhill sections later in the race. We ended up back on the course just as the 2:30 group was passing us. We upped the pace, but it took about 2.5 miles for us to catch back up to Megan. We managed to make up time without loosing anyone.
Since I was the lead pacer, I decided to crank down the pace a little and take a group that was ready to go out ahead. By mile 6, we were about a minute behind pace, which we made up during the second half of the course.
By mile 8, the course went from out on the highway leading into Manhattan right into the downtown area (we actually passed my house). The crowds were getting a bit thicker and a lot of the people around me were getting to see their families. I could tell that people we starting to feel the miles, so I talked to them about my cats, Frank, and just anything that seemed light and happy. I reminded people to smile at volunteers since that would help keep the endorphins high.
One of the girls that had been running with me since the beginning, Gabby, was going through a bit of a rough patch. She was starting to slow and I could see that she was hitting a bit of a wall. I reminded her to walk through water stations, drink lots, and try to take in the race atmosphere. I told her that rough patches come and go, and she would soon break through (she did).
Mile 10 clicked on my watch and I told everyone around me that we had just a 5K to run. People were starting to get excited, and a few girls who were feeling good took off to get a faster time. By this point in the race, I was noticing that a lot of people were walking and I tried to convince them to come run with me. A few people looked pretty frustrated to see my pace pass them, but most tried to run with me for at least a little while.
At mile 11, the course got very hilly with a lot of uphill sections left. People were starting to fade and a few of the girls who had taken off at the 5K mark were falling back to my pace because of the hills. I met a girl, Tina, who was on course to PR, but was definitely struggling. We talked a bit about how the race was going and I told her that this was my first time pacing, but that it was a really fun experience. Off in the distance, I saw Frank on his bike. As we passed him, Tina told him that I was “an awesome pacer” and that I was helping her a lot. I gotta say, it was definitely really fun to hear that.
As we got closer to the finish line, I could see the crowds and started to convince more people to run it in with me. The course was definitely hard and people seemed like they needed a cheerleader to help up their spirits. A few girls saw me coming and tried to up the pace to go out ahead of me. I caught up to a few more of the girls who had left at the 10-mile mark and they picked up the pace to stay with me.
We rounded the last corner and made it into the final stretch. I had a group of about 8 people with me and we ran it in together with smiles on our faces. I think everyone was happy to see the finish line and get their medals. I ended up coming in at 2:24:31, less than 30 seconds under my assigned pace. A few of the girls hugged and thanked me for helping them get a new PR (YAY!).
I gotta say, pacing was a hugely rewarding experience. I loved being on the other side, as I have used pacers several times and had used one during Colfax. The energy was fantastic and, for the most part, people are so happy to have you cheer them on and bring them in to the finish line. Pacing is definitely something that I want to do again!
Have you ever paced a half marathon? Did you find it to be a fun experience?
This weekend Frank and I did a little bit of everything! I paced a half marathon, we met up with the Kansas Speleological Society and went scouting for some caves on the Kansas Oklahoma boarder and went on a hike out at the Tallgrass Prairie. Basically, we had a great time.
Friday afternoon, Frank and I went straight down to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve for a 6-mile hike. The preserve is managed by the National Park Service and is probably some of the best hiking in Kansas. It has approximately 40 miles of marked trail where you can get rather far out into the Prairie. After Friday’s hike, we have officially covered all of the trails in the park!
We got home in time to go on a bike ride with some friends and tried to hit the hay early. I had an early wake up the next morning for the Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon!
Saturday morning, I was up and ready to pace some people to their half marathon goals! I’ll write up a recap of the experience, but it was tons of fun!
After the race, Frank and I loaded up into the car for the Kansas Speleological Society (KSS) meeting in southern Kansas. We have done a lot of caving in the past, and really the only way to get access to new caves is to join one of these groups. Kansas isn’t known for good caving, but it has some stuff here or there. Luckily for me, I enjoy going into very small and tight caves, which is probably all that Kansas has. We spent Saturday afternoon out on a pasture, digging up sinkholes in hopes of finding new and unexplored caves. We found one with potential, but we still don’t know if it goes anywhere.
In the evening, we camped out at a recreation and fishing area. Although Kansas is not overwhelmed in public land, it does have plenty of state recreation areas where there is free camping. We definitely take advantage of this Kansas perk.
The next morning, a few of the members of the KSS offered to take us to a cave on the Kansas-Oklahoma boarder. They were not too sure how far back it went and warned us that it was a wet and miserable crawl. We usually are not too picky about caves, so we took them up on the offer. This cave was a little deceiving. It had a big beautiful entrance, which lead to a tiny hole with flowing water. Frank and I loaded up with flashlights and kneepads and dove right in. I gotta say, this was probably the most miserable cave I’ve ever been in. I was face down and crawling in mud and water up to my elbows. Every time I thought “well, this can’t get any worse”, it actually would. There was even a section where we had to swim through cold and murky cave water. I always prefer dry caves, but I absolutely HATE swimming in a cave. The hole went about 1000 feet back and after an hour of army crawling through the miserable cave mud, we turned back. It’s always a joyful experience to see the literal light at the end of the tunnel when you’re in a wet cave.
When we got back to the car, we dried off and headed home. Overall, a successful weekend! Plus, after living in Kansas for a year, I finally made it back into a cave!!
How was your weekend? Any fun adventures?
By the way, I am going to be adding some more posts to my Weekend Adventures series including some “How tos” on backpacking, climbing, and caving.
There is a such thing as race magic, where you go out there and everything is just right. You just know from the moment the race starts that you can conquer the whole world and do exactly what you set out to do. Usually that’s because of a combination of preparation, race conditions, and timing. The Colfax Marathon had that magic, but it was largely because of the people.
The weather was predicted to be a crisp 40 F with a bit of cloud cover and a high of 60 F… perfect marathon conditions. The race started at 6:00 am, so I woke up at 3:15 am to make sure that I got a parking spot and didn’t get lost heading to the start. I was feeling nervous and my stomach was giving me a bit of trouble. I was in and out of the bathroom constantly pretty much until the gun went off. Food was not working out, so instead I opted for water and coffee and hoped for my stomach to calm before I toed the starting line. Around 5:50, I gave Frank my extra clothes, got into my corral and put my game face on. The 4:00:00 pacer was up ahead a bit and I planned to use the first mile to catch up to him. The race began, but I mostly just stood there waiting for the few hundred people ahead of me to go. By 6:05 am I made it over the starting mat and was running my first marathon.
I took about a half mile to find the 4:00:00 pacer and decided to just hang on to him for a while. His name was Corky and he was funny, outgoing, and pretty much everything you could hope for in a pacer. I told him that I would stay with him until mile 16 and he was happy with that plan. He told us that he wanted to start off slow and get faster during some of the downhill sections of the course. We had a group of about 5 people and for the first 8 miles, we were chatting, laughing and getting to know each other. Troy was hoping for a sub-3:50 marathon and wanted to hold on to us through the half way point. Matt was hoping to shave a few minutes off his PR and Dan and I were just hoping to finish our first marathon in one piece (and hopefully with a 3 as the first number).
Mile 9 took us to a park with a lake. It was very flat and Corky started to up the pace a bit. I could definitely feel that we were going quicker, but I still felt comfortable. So far, the miles were breezing by. There were tons of people cheering us on. This was the point in the course that I realized that I was running terrible tangents and dodging too much. I was already over .1 of a mile off from the mile markers. There were a lot of slower runners around because of the relay, and I was finding myself dodging them often. In total, there were 4 races going on; a marathon relay, a half marathon, a 10-miler, and a marathon. Run Colfax staggered the start so that all of the races would end at the same time. In total, there were about 20,000 people on the course, but less than 2,000 were running the full marathon.
We reached the half-way point of the race and another pacer, Lauren, joined us. My shoulders were starting to tighten up on me, but everything else felt great. The race went through the Colorado Institute of Design, weaving between statues and sculptures. We had taken a bit of an uphill since the lake and I was starting to feel it in my quads. Lauren reminded me that at 16 we would have a big downhill and I just had to get there. The group hadn’t changed much besides occasional people that would run with us for a few miles and then go ahead or fall behind.
At mile 16ish, we got to the top of the hill and you could see Mile High Stadium out ahead. I was ready to do some cruising, but wasn’t feeling ready to let go of the pace group. Corky reminded me of my race plan, but I told him that I wasn’t feeling mentally strong enough to do 10 miles alone. I stuck with the pace group and just churned a few miles out. By this point, I was starting to feel a little weepy. I had already eaten 3 gels and at mile 17, decided to have another. I was scared of hitting the 20 mile mark, that I would suddenly hit some wall and be unable to move, so I stayed with the pace group. Frank was on his bike and found me around one of the water stations. I quickly hugged him, told him that I was going to do this, and ran off.
We got close to Mile High Stadium, and once again, Corky reminded me of my race plan. He told me that I looked strong, and that I should take off, but to watch out for the hills at mile 23 to the end. From there, I just went. It was past mile 20 and I felt like I could take on the world. I ran into Mile High with a giant smile on my face, because I just knew that I had this, and that today was my day.
The climb out of Mile High was tough and I entered into Downtown Denver. This was no doubt the roughest and least scenic part of the course. It was hilly, I was tired, and there was little to no crowd support. Everyone around me was either running the 10-miler or the relay, so they all looked fresh as daisies and I certainly was feeling the miles. This is where I made a really weird mistake. I had a water bottle in my hand that I needed to ditch and I wanted to be “environmentally friendly” and not litter, so I stepped up to a curb to throw it into a garbage can. Boy, should I have just dropped it. I stepped back down and my hamstring seized up. For a moment, I thought I had torn it. I half ran/half hobbled and looked down at my watch. I still had a 5K left and I was starting to get worried that I had just wrecked my race.
This was when I had to dig deep. Everything else felt fine. I wasn’t bonking, no real issues, just this hamstring cramp. As I was starting to feel sorry for myself, one of the guys, Dan, from the 4:00:00 pacing group came up from behind me. He tapped my shoulder and asked if I wanted to crush our sub-4 goal with him. I, of course, said yes and we were off. Dan kept repeating “we only have a few miles left, we got this” and “let’s go crush Sarah Palin’s time” (I had told the pace group how Sarah Palin had run a sub-4 marathon). We were hurting, but we were still smiling. We had another gel and we kept laughing about how awful we felt, but how good everyone else (all those freaking 10-mile runners) looked. My hamstring calmed down and I was feeling pretty good again.
In the last mile, we could see the finish line and all of the people. The crowd kept telling us we were almost there… although by this point, a mile felt like a freaking marathon. As much as it was hurting, Dan and I were smiling and thrilled. As we were heading into the finishing chute, I thanked him for catching me and pulling me along. He had found me as I was going into a dark place and he made everything better. As we crossed the finish line, we both threw up our arms and had big smiles on our faces. The final time was 3:57:19. We crushed that 4:00:00 goal. Dan and I hugged, congratulated each other and went to meet up with our families. As soon as I got out of the finish chute, I saw Frank and gave him a huge hug. I was happy to be done, but honestly, I was most happy to have had such a great time doing it. Maybe I am crazy, but running that marathon was a thrilling experience, and I seriously can’t wait to run another one.
I worked so hard to get to that finish line. Between injuring myself before Chicago and training for this race, this journey has been a long one. As I was running through mile high, all I could think about was how thankful I was for being able to do this and for finally not being injured. I ran a solid and smart race, definitely a negative split and my two fastest miles were in the last 6. I did not bonk, I never found my wall, and I had a ton of fun. I am so glad that I got to run with Corky, Dan, Matt, Lauren, and Troy. They really made the day perfect.
After the race, Frank and I chilled out for a bit and waited for my leg cramps to subside. Our friend, Mary, joined us at the finish line and helped me message out my hamstrings (she’s a message therapist). After a little food, Frank and I loaded up in the car, and drove home to Kansas. I gotta say, driving 7 hours after running a marathon is not advised.
I am still over the moon about this race, and to be completely honest, I can’t wait to run another marathon. Everything about Sunday was perfect and I couldn’t have asked for a better race.
Thanks, everyone, for your support! I loved receiving the texts messages from my friends after the race and knowing that all of you were tracking me and cared about my race really meant a lot.