A few years ago I was running a lot. I had a coach and a full racing schedule for 2016: two 50 mile races and a 100 miler to end the year. It was ambitious, and I was in it for all the wrong reasons. With the exception of an unplanned 50k personal best in May of that year, I DNF’d all three of my goal races that year. My personal life was in turmoil, and I wasn’t eating well, yet I put on the facade every day that I was a strong healthy woman ready for big challenges.
One of the hardest pills to swallow then was the fact that I had been pulled from my first big race that year for heat exhaustion. It was the American River 50, the first week of April 2016. I had never had a heat illness prior to that day, so I had no idea how sick I was. I came into the mile 38 aid station not really remembering much about the previous 3-4 miles. I had been vomiting for a few hours by then, and was shivering and asking for a blanket in record high temperatures that day. A gentleman volunteering at the aid station kept watch over me as I obligingly ate some saltines and drank some electrolytes. I had almost 2 hours before the time cutoff for that aid station, so I wasn’t worried. At first.
After sitting there for almost an hour, I tried to use my RN license as sort of a get out of jail free card. I told the man who was assisting me (his name was John) that I was an RN, and that I felt fine to go on and I would be careful. He countered my RN brag with “Oh really? Well I’m an MD”. I thought for a moment that maybe he was a dermatologist who didn’t know squat about heat stroke, so I asked him, “Hey John, what kind of doctor are you”? And my heart sunk when he responded “I’m an ER physician”. He probably knew what he was talking about. More time passed, and I ate more saltines and drank more electrolytes, and I watched as other runners arrived and departed the aid station. I could see my race dying with each passing minute. I was so overwhelmed with emotions: anger, sadness, frustration, guilt, embarrassment.
The time cutoff came and went, and the aid station volunteers had to witness my sobbing. There was no cell service at this aid station, so my one and only friend who came with me as my crew had no idea why I hadn’t yet shown up at the next aid station. I was alone, and I felt like a rotten piece of shit. Eventually, my friend made it to where I was at, and helped me retrieve my drop bags from the finish line area. We went back to the hotel, and flew back to New Mexico the next morning. I was quick to pick myself up and continue training for the next endeavor. I had worked so hard for that race, and it blew up in my face. About six weeks later I ran a difficult mountain 50k here in NM and finished strong, but the rest of the year just spiraled the drain until my emotional well ran dry and I left my unhealthy relationship for good. It seemed like I was also going to leave ultra running behind, as well.
Fast forward to December 2018. I had been home from my Appalachian Trail adventure for a few months, and was contemplating what my next adventure would be. As much as I wanted to do another long hike in 2019, I couldn’t afford it. I thought about doing a road marathon at first. I hadn’t run 26.2 on pavement since the 2017 Chicago Marathon, and I would love to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon at some point. But that didn’t seem like enough of a challenge, really. Don’t get me wrong, running a marathon is really hard. It takes a lot of strength and grit and determination to run for that long. I wanted to tackle something new, and a road marathon wasn’t going to be it.
I can’t recall exactly when I thought of signing up for the 2019 American River 50, but I do remember that from the moment I thought about it until the moment I registered only took a couple hours. I remember feeling like it was something that I wanted to do for my soul. And I only wanted to finish the race in the time allotted. I wasn’t training with a coach this time around, and I knew the onus was on me to prepare myself for fourteen hours on my feet covering miles as efficiently as I could.
I’d be bald-face lying if I said I trained hard for this race. With two months before race day, my weekly mileage was kind of a joke. My longest run up until then was 10 miles. I wasn’t as excited about the race as I thought I should be, and had confided in only a few people that I was even registered for it. I didn’t like to run with my friends because I didn’t want to start discussing upcoming races. I was worried that I had made a mistake in signing up for it in the first place. Was my heart in it or not?
And then one day in early February, I was texting with my trail buddy Good Wood and he mentioned that he was doing a 44 mile one day hike from Delaware Water Gap, PA to High Point, NJ as a fundraiser. I mentioned that I was signed up for the 50 miler in California, but that lately I had no motivation. His response was perfectly simple, and it became an important mantra: “Get some motivation! No excuses 2019!”.
So I started putting in long hours on my treadmill with the heat turned up in my tiny apartment. I’d boil water on the stove to mimic the higher humidity I might face on race day. I focused on hiking fast and running slow. I’d put my treadmill on a steep incline and use my big ‘ole hiker booty to climb imaginary hills in my living room while I watched Netflix and HBO. And I ate everything I wanted. During the last six weeks of “training”, I completed a few really great long run/hikes, and grew more and more excited for the road trip that would accompany my race. I got serious about making a plan for my race, and I promised myself I would stick to it. I would start out slow and taper off from there. LOL! But seriously, I knew that I had to work on slowing down and keeping myself in first gear if I was going to be successful. I also worked on repeating mantras while I hiked/ran on the treadmill, and in addition to Good Wood’s “No Excuses 2019!”, I adopted a few others that I could pull out in times of need: “You are OK at being uncomfortable”, “With a positive attitude you can do this”, and my favorite “It’s gonna be great!” (heard in my sweet trail friend Toasty’s voice).
And on Saturday, April 6, 2019, I completed the 40th running of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run in a time of 13 hours 52 minutes. I slayed the dragon with persistence, a game plan, and a positive attitude. I had an absolute blast! It was gorgeous weather (rain forecasted, but not a drop fell on me), and I was even running until the very end (in between bouts of fast hiking). I stopped to take pictures, and had an amazing day outside with other nutty ultra runners. I knew around mile 35 that I would finish the race, but it was not without some excitement around a 5:10pm cutoff at the Rattlesnake Bar Aid Station. I even won a free entry into next year’s American River 50! I didn’t train like a beast, but knew what I was capable of and just kept telling myself that it was going to be great! And it was! Having patience and sticking to the game plan was key, and I’m so glad to have unlocked another tool in my endurance tool belt that I can utilize for future adventures!
What dragons have you slayed? Or what dragons are you preparing to slay? That one had been eating at me for three years, and I knew that someday the time would be right to tackle that distance again. For now, I’m looking forward to not spending so much time “training”. I have recently cleaned up my road bike and have been riding it more, and I’m getting back to a more regular yoga routine. Spring is here and it’s looking like it’s going to be a fun season outdoors in Albuquerque!