My alarm is set for 4am but my mind is ready to head to the starting line at 1:30am. That’s pretty normal to sleep like crap the night before a race, to have the intense butterflies, lack of appetite, and poop many times the morning of. I took this time to listen to Tara Brach, set some intentions, watch the horizon glow, and journal before heading out the door into the unknown outcome of my first 50 miler.
The hour leading up to the race felt as if it moved so slow. The anticipation is the hardest part of any significant undertaking where there are lots of unknowns- one voice lists off every worst case scenario with another voice telling the other to shut the hell up! Even though my brain was running haywire and I was trying so hard to make small talk with a few friendly faces, I was nervously laughing thinking “what in the hell am I doing?!?!”…..
And then the race clock starts! Finally, I can move my body into the rhythm that feels natural and shake off the jitters as we make our way up towards Patterson Mountain. As the butterflies dissipate, I think of how lucky I am to undertake my first 50 miler (and my first 50k last year) in the town I live in. I’m familiar with these trails, smells, sounds, and the connection to the place I’ve called home for the past 4 years. The ebb and flow of what this place has given me cannot compare to any other place I’ve called home.
Once my mind had it’s focus back, I remind myself of the strategy I need to follow to make this work: redirecting the attention of the mind, nutrition intake per hour, water and electrolytes, how I’m going to stay cool in hot temps, how much I’m peeing/color, and saving that GUNPOWDER for when things get rough. I coast through the beautiful trails covered in balsam root and lupine and think of how much I love the vanilla-like smell of ponderosa trees when the air is warm. I have many fond memories to that specific smell and I feel very at home, as if I’m taking my first breath all over again.
I meet other wonderful runners in the race, Dennene and Kate, and we leapfrog each other for about 20+ miles and chat about where we come from. I really love these connections with others during a race because at one point in my life I was a very competitive runner (for much shorter distances) but that’s not why I run anymore. I’m also very new to the ultra running world (1 year!) and I still have so much to learn and experience with that. I love the journey, the people, the process, everything inside of it. I’m just so grateful my body can carry me the distances I ask it to and that I can make good decisions in order to do so.
My headphones go back and forth between listening to Ty Segall, A Tribe Called Quest, an audiobook by Thich Nhat Hahn, and having no headphones to take in the surroundings. We meander in and out of the trees for the first 31 miles passing streams so we can easily cool off. The gentle wind and clouds protect us for a few miles as we enter the most exposed section of the trail. I yell out how thankful I am to have some relief from the heat and to have ice in my buff around the back of my neck to keep me cooled off. I take a massive shit off the trail and think how stoked I was that it wasn’t such a sloppy mudpie.
The clouds soon dissipated and the heat was on. No shade for the next 15 miles through a recent burn. Any water source we passed I dunked my buff in, regardless of how much green muck or cow poop ran off into it, I didn’t care, I just need to keep my core temp down as best as I can. Temps were calling for a high of 85 however in the direct sun it was certainly hotter. I ran out of water pretty quick during this section since I was walking the majority of it as it was in the direct sun and the next water station was 7 miles (what seemed like a very long 7 miles) from the last water station. I felt myself getting worked by the sun but not nearly as much as others around me. It was quite frightening to see many people in such a awful state and it started to make me question about whether it was safe to press on.
I was so relieved to make it to the next aid station (38 miles at this point) but I knew I needed to get more fluids in me as I’d been feeling a bit woozy, nauseous, and hadn’t been able to eat without feeling like I was going to vomit. Many people were quitting from this point and were getting hauled out. It was so conflicting to be there because group morale was incredibly low for understandable reasons- many were in a really awful state (vomiting, a few collapsed on the trail behind me) and I desperately needed someone to help me think rationally in this place. I spent nearly 2 hours at this aid station trying to collect myself physically and emotionally. I just couldn’t pull myself up and I felt closer to quitting.
A few minutes later, another vehicle came up to drive more runners down who chose to DNF (did not finish). Nick, a recent friend I met, came out of the car and bluntly stated “I AM NOT HERE TO PICK YOU UP”. I couldn’t have been more thankful for someone to put me in my place of where I needed to be. He told the folks he came to pick up to wait a few minutes and we started talking about what was going on. By this point I had more fluids in me, still felt nauseous, but what I really needed was someone to jolt me with motivation since my mind was in the lowest low I had yet in this race. He reassured me that being nauseous by this point is very common and that it was likely I could make it to the next aid station 5.5 miles away but I’d have to do it in about an hour and 20 mins with a 1200′ climb in that. After that, I’d have another 7 miles to go to the finish of fairly flat terrain and barely any sun exposure since it was late in the day. I didn’t have any more time to think because it was either I take off now or I wouldn’t be able to finish with the aid station cutoff time. So I took off. I moved my body and shut off my brain. That’s just what we have to do when doubt wants to tell us otherwise.
I strode up Aspen Mountain as the sun fell closer to the horizon. I chowed down a caffeinated gu, some tums and gin gins, and it was go time now more than ever. I’d hit that low and really struggled to find my way out. Although it was my two legs pushing me forward, it’s so beneficial to have someone, even if it’s just one person, at the finish line rooting for me. That is someone who shows up. I crested the top of Aspen Mountain and with the time I had left, there was no time to mess around. I needed to haul ass down to that aid station despite feeling the tweaks and pangs. I had to give it everything I could, I wasn’t ready at all to quit, I was just getting started.
I sprinted as fast as I could, pummeling down the steep trail knowing the timing was gonna be so damn close. I repetitively yelled out loud to myself “COME ON GIRL, YOU GOT THIS” and flew past the cows in the pastures. No fucking around. This is where I’m meant to be. I sprinted down the last hill toward Elbow Coulee Rd. with 3 minutes to spare and I was fucking pumped! Gu, water refill, let’s go. I kept running and after I made that last aid station, I could coast from this point to the finish line. Tears uncontrollably rolled down my face because here I was, right where I wanted to be: humbled, ecstatic, proud, and in love with everything that was happening right there. “I can do this and I am going to finish this!” I cried out loud.
It was another 7 miles and I kept moving, but I wanted time to go slow at the same time because of how beautiful and raw it all felt. Knowing that moments like these are hard to come by where I felt so defeated and then something is unlocked inside to go further and dig deeper. I can’t find a metaphor to describe it, and it also feels so precious and sacred that I don’t know if words can really do justice to what it feels like. But that’s what I wanted out of this race, to really hit the bottom and find my way back up because I am capable. Establishing the connection with myself in those spaces is where noticeable growth and love for myself come from.
I approached the edge of Patterson Lake knowing this was it, the last mile to the finish, and that I didn’t want it to be over yet. I could hear the live music getting louder as I ran closer, I’d be in the arms of my friends, eating pizza, and sharing stories with other runners I’d met that day in a few moments. It all happened so fast. A full day running in the valley I call home. I held back tears until I stepped across the finish line and embraced my beautiful friends and then released my tears knowing this moment was so bittersweet. So much deep gratitude and struggle. I couldn’t think of anything else to genuinely say to everything in that moment other than “thank you”.
(Thanks for the photo Glenn! Tears are definitely rolling down my face in this one as I’d just overcome a huge low point!)