Furona Challenge My Story

“Hard is OK.”

This feels like the second part of my previous blogpost, so if you didn’t catch my last marathon recap, maybe read this first:

After Mississippi, life was a whirlwind of new work schedules, travel, and holidays. I took a break from training and had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t believe in myself anymore. The joy and passion for the sport had been rekindled, but I lost faith that I could accomplish my goals, and I had been denying it for months.

How do I get my belief back? How did I lose it? I was becoming more and more discouraged and one day Kyle looks at me and asks me if I’m okay. I told him “No, I’m not – this is hard, and I’m tired.” And then he simply responds with “Hard is okay.” I stopped putting my laundry away and stared at the wall as a bunch of memories flooded in. They were memories of me doing physically hard things and having a blast. I loved doing hard things. Hard things are fun. Hard things are good.

When training resumed, I remembered that “hard is ok.” I took that with me into my workouts. That caused me to grasp more the the mindset training I had been working on, too. I had several light bulb moments. I had to start going into training sessions believing that the speed was already there, and training was just to help unveil it. I already have it. In a sense, I’ve already accomplished my goals. Instead of building to make something, I’m digging to uncover. This led to another mindset realization.

I have had the attitude that even though I didn’t do track or cross-country, even though my parents weren’t runners, even though I have wide hips, even though I’ve already done x amount of marathons,….I can still progress so much – the attitude of despite. I needed to change that. I needed to believe that I was perfectly set up to accomplish my goals. I started running at the perfect age. I have the perfect genes for this. Not only was I born to do this, I was BRED for it. I was done wishing and hoping, and ready to start being and doing.

I had four weeks of scheduled training before the Sun Marathon. I felt good about the time that I had to resume training before another race. I was seeing paces in my workouts I hadn’t seen in two years. The mind and the heart were back together again!

On race morning I was calm, yet still excited. From alarm to race start everything went smooth. There was a slight concern when the bus dropped us off and we realized the first 2-3 miles were going to be on snow and ice, but I dismissed the worry and knew I’d just have to be cautious the first few miles.

After getting out of the snow, I really started grooving. I wasn’t looking at my splits, I was just going hard and having fun. I was properly fueled and hydrated, my legs felt great, and the weather was pretty much perfect. The course was an overall net downhill with rollers all throughout. At about mile 10 I felt some strain in my right calf and right hamstring. I figured it was because of the road slanting. The course was open to traffic so we had to stay on the very edge, too. A few miles later and the twinges seemed to work themselves out, so I didn’t worry.

Mile 18 came and this time the hamstring pain was back and it wasn’t going away. I slowed a little and decided to re-assess at mile 20. It had gotten a little worse then, so I considered dropping out and the logistics. I figured the amount of time to find someone with a cellphone to call Kyle and then have him drive to pick me up would be about the same as finishing slowly, so I stopped to walk for a few minutes to see if that would help. It didn’t make it better, but it didn’t make it worse, so I kept going and started running again. I walked a little more and tried to dig into my hamstring. The second walk break seemed to make it worse, so at mile 23 I decided not to bother with walk breaks. Whatever damage I’d done was done, and 3 more miles wouldn’t make it that much worse. The pain did get a little more intense, but I made it to the finish. For the first time I looked at my watch and saw 3:07. I was surprised because I thought with what happened it would be closer to three twenty-something.

The race as a whole was encouraging and a confidence-booster. Finishing with more left in the tank was frustrating, especially when everything was going so well, but there will be more opportunities. I’ll address what needs to be addressed with the tissue damage and be at it again soon.

There is more to this story in how I lost my self-belief, but it gets a little deeper and is probably best in a separate post. That can be found here:

Furona Challenge My Story

Hail Mary

After finding a groove in training again and building back some confidence, I felt I was ready to race a marathon. My options were very limited so I opted for a semi-local half marathon and a trail 50k the week after. Four days before the half, the race cancelled. A few days later, the 50k cancelled. My goal was going to be the Houston marathon in January but that cancelled. Then it was Rock ‘N’ Roll Arizona Marathon, the Rock ‘N’ Roll San Antonio Marathon, and the Tuscon Marathon. One after the other, cancelled cancelled cancelled. I desperately searched the Running in the USA website for marathons still happening. Mississippi or Louisiana? Do I risk registering and losing the money? Refund policies seemed reasonable, but Mississippi turned out to be cheaper altogether so I went for it. But this was it, this was the last one I was going to register for amidst covid. If it cancelled, I was just going to have to keep training and wait like any reasonable person would.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon looked flat and fast at sea-level. The only concern I had was the humidity, but I was too excited to race to let that deter me from going for a new PR. I felt fit, training had been going really well, I was healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I made it a quick trip and flew in Saturday afternoon to race Sunday morning and fly back. No snags with getting there and getting to the expo before it closed to get my bib.

Race morning I was antsy. Between the last two nights I had slept an intermittent total of about six hours, but I didn’t care. I was ready to get it done and go home. The bus ride was about 40 minutes to the start line. Once dropped off, I had plenty of time to poop and get my warm up in.

Instead of a mass start, we were to line up three at a time, every 5 seconds (it actually went really smoothly). Looking at past results, this race was typically pretty small and not that competitive. With covid, I figured there would be more runners like me, desperate to find a real race. I was in row four, so just twenty-ish seconds behind gun time.

I settled pretty quickly into what felt like the right effort. I wasn’t going to look at my watch until about the halfway point and then see where I was at. The first five miles seemed to go by really slowly. I thought that was odd because usually the first half seems to go by quickly for me. Mile 7…mile 8…hm. I felt my body fatigue way too early. I was passing and getting passed, and a few times I was able to run along with a small group, but I wanted to find my own grind. This wasn’t about racing for the podium, this was about getting a personal best on a USATF-certified course.

At mile 13, I finally looked at my split and saw 7:08. Oh…that’s why the miles were going by so slowly. Perhaps the humidity really was having that big of an effect (it was 90%). I gave myself a few miles to think and process. I was running a live race. I was looking at the ocean. I was happy to be there. Even if I didn’t get my goal time, I still had the desire to finish. I was having a bummer race, but that desire is what I had been looking for, what I had lost. After realizing I had it, the sun came out and it got kinda hot. I knew it was probably only seventy degrees, but with the humidity that high and me having been training in the twenties it felt hot. I continued to slow and started getting some unilateral muscle cramps. I told myself at mile 18 I could stop and walk to work anything out.

I walked for almost half a mile and during that time a guy passed me and encouraged me to keep going. I smiled and assured him I’d be fine. Shortly after I started running again I saw him walking ahead. “Come on!” I told him has I passed. He picked up the pace and we ran together a minute before he left me behind again. A few minutes later, I saw him up ahead walking again. “What gives?!” I smiled and started passing him again. As soon as I saw his face I stopped. He was deep into the pain cave. At that point I realized it didn’t matter if my time would be 3:05 or 3:35, so I decided to make sure he finished. I told him to come along and we started jogging together. His goal was under three hours, and his PR was 3:11. I had a quick flashback to when I struggled to qualify for Boston and a wave of empathy came over me. “Maybe I can still PR,” he said. “Do you think I can?” “Yes, if we get going, now let’s go!” He kept saying his legs hurt so bad and I kept trying to distract him. I was not doing a very good job and finally I asked, “Do they though? Do they really?? It’s all in your head. Come on let’s go.” He stopped to walk again, and said he needed an aid station. There was one pretty close so I ran ahead, grabbed a cup of water and powerade and ran back to him. “You’re making me run farther than I have to!” I laughed. The fluid helped him get going again, but we stopped to walk several more times. He kept saying he felt bad over and over again because he felt like he was ruining my race. I assured him he wasn’t, but it didn’t register. I started to wonder if he was losing his mind. “Man, convincing you to run is harder than finishing this thing,” I said. “We just have a measly 5k left. You’re gonna make me miss my check out time.” Back to running. He told me he felt cold and asked if that was okay. “Uh…yeah you’re fine,” I lied. I tried to get him to focus on moving forward.

With two miles left, he started walking again and I decided to be upfront with him. “Alright, we need to keep moving or you’re not going to finish. You got this. We are almost there.” There was a slight incline towards the end and I tried to tell him it would make his legs feel better after running so long on the flat. And then, we got a little downhill into the finish. Much to my dismay, we started walking one last time before heading downhill. The finish line was so close, and I saw his energy lift up. I smiled. “You’re going to make it!”

We crossed the finish line and he promptly got off his feet. I left him outside the medical tent and informed the staff he may need help. I said goodbye and headed back to the hotel. I felt bummed and also hopeful. It wasn’t the race I wanted, but maybe it was the race I needed. After checking out, I tried to look up his name in the results by finish time. My watch said we finished at 3:29 something, but I couldn’t find myself in the results. Apparently by bib chip was damaged from the start, and it never registered at any timing mat. I had to laugh. I guess it really was the race I needed.

Furona Challenge My Story

Ground Zero

This past weekend I started a “real, live” marathon. All physical systems were on point, and even the weather cooperated. Once I got going, I felt heavy and lethargic. I ran a few more miles to see if I would shake it off. A photographer on course told me to smile, so I reluctantly looked at the camera and gave her one. Then she yelled, “Remember this is fun!” and that was all I needed to hear. (Had anyone been beside me, the click in my head might have been audible). This isn’t fun. It hasn’t been fun for a long time. It just wasn’t until now, that I began to understand why. So at the next aid station I walked off the course.

Furona Challenge My Story

Speedgoat 50k

“Nope. Absolutely not,” I told my mentoach as he was starting to suggest I find an ultra race to do. I had recently finished my second 30-miler in training and since the marathons and other road races I had on the schedule had been cancelled, he thought it presented a unique opportunity. “Now wait a minute and hear me out,” he said as he started listing and explaining some of the reasoning behind this idea. He had some good points, enough to make me stop and think about it for a second. “Nah,” I said. “The ultra world is something else entirely.” He ignored that comment and continued listing the ultra races nearby he had googled. I was rolling my eyes but then I heard it – “Speedgoat.”

Are you kidding me?? I thought to myself. I wasn’t even part of the ultra world, but just by being a local I knew the reputation it had. It was designed to be one of the hardest courses in North America. Taking place in the mountains, the LOWEST elevation was 7,500 feet above sea level, and included 11,500 feet of GAIN throughout the course. Even the ultra runners I knew shied away from this race. So of course, I at least had to look up the website…

After listening to my mentoach’s reasoning, and realizing that my road races were already cancelled anyway, one more tiny detail broke me down to register. In describing the course on the website, Karl Meltzer (famous ultra runner and this race director) said “If you think this should be your first ultra you’re probably wrong.” And with that, I was in. I had about 10 weeks until race day.

If you’re a runner you eventually notice different “cultures” within the running world. There are Track Princes/Princessess, Road Kings/Queens, and Ultra Kooks. Cross-country may be fun, but it’s more of the ugly step child of running – nobody focuses solely on cross-country. Many runners will transition through labels throughout their running career, but there’s usually a focus on one for a period of time. Each of us have our quirks, and if you haven’t already been offended they are quite funny. I am most definitely a Road Queen, and as a Road Queen I was completely out of my comfort zone in doing this race.

Most of my training didn’t change too much, with just some added trail and a little extra climbing. Part of the point was to go in somewhat blind. I knew the details on paper, but I needed this to be something really really hard and unknown. This was technically my first trail race, too but I had been used to doing one trail run (6-10 miles) a week so I wasn’t worried about the terrain…at the time.

Race morning Kyle drove me to the start and sat with me in the car until it was time for me to check in. It became real, and I was really going to do this. I was so terrified I broke down. Kyle asked, “Do you want to go home?” I said “No.” He asked, “Do you want a road race?” And I sobbed, “Yeeesss” and then we both laughed. I got my butt out of the car and headed to the start corral. It was wave starts, twenty people at a time. I already looked a little out of place (an Ultra Kook quirk is their garb). There was only one other woman in my wave start and as we made eye contact and nervously smiled at each other I wondered if we would end up racing against each other (that was the Road Queen coming out).

We were off and running and around mile 2 I got a headache from the elevation level. It wasn’t bad, and I knew it wasn’t going to get much worse, but that also meant I had lost that gamble. I notice a difference in training when I go from 4500 to 6500, but I was wondering if I would feel it as much with this kind of slower-paced effort. I had previously noted that being up there, casually walking I didn’t feel it. We kept climbing and that woman and I started a very long leap frog dance. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the added challenge because by mile 6 I was pretty over the event. The climbing was one thing, the terrain was another. I did not expect to be hiking up boulders. I thought I would be able to run at least some of the course and even make up time on the downhill, but the grades were steeper than I imagined. It’s runnable with practice, but tearing and/or breaking a body part was not on the agenda. Once I understood that I wasn’t going to be able to run hardly at all, I let the misery sink in. I did not want to be doing this. Am I mad at Judd? Should I be? It was his idea. No, I’m the one that gave it a green light. I’m the one that had the final say. We got to the top of the first climb at 9 miles and I contemplated dropping out. Would it be worse for me mentally to quit or continue doing something I don’t like? I filled my camelback with ice and moved on. A bit of downhill now, with a view and lots of wildflowers. I can do this. I started descending and the headache began to disappear. Every time I went up it came back, and every time I went down it went away. I was getting close to halfway and there was about a 2-mile stretch that I could run. My spirits were lifted. The next aid station had popsicles and though I had packed my own nutrition and intended to only get water refills, I took up the offer. There wasn’t as much coverage from the sun that I thought there would be and it was starting to feel pretty hot. I’m pretty good at running while eating so I ran with the popsicle. If I choked or tripped and stabbed myself I figured death by popsicle was okay at this point. Soon it was time to go up, up, UP again. With every bend I comforted myself with “almost to the top” and then I would make the turn and see that was never the case – ever. Around mile 23 we crested and went through a short tunnel that had a concrete sidewalk floor. Home! I laughed to myself. Out the other side was the next aid station. I still had water so I decided not to stop. One of the volunteers tried to convince me I needed calories as she held up a slice of Domino’s supreme pizza. I wanted to barf at the thought. Hard. Pass. That is an Ultra Kook quirk that I cannot understand – the aid station fuel is absurd. I thanked her and said I had my own and she said, “Are you sure? You’re going down and then you’re going back up again.” I said “Yeah, I’m fine” and moved on, but I thought, down and up again? She’s lying. I’m at mile 23. She has to be lying. She wasn’t lying.

There were parts where I could only focus one flag at a time (course marker flag) because there was no path/trail – just flags. Some portions I had to grab onto shrubs otherwise I’d fall backwards (and yes, I did consider it). Poles seemed to be helping other people but I didn’t want to invest for this feat. A few steps at a time and I got to the final aid station. My camelback was dry so ice water and a few bites of watermelon. I had to keep moving. As slow as I was going, the idea of chilling out at an aid station was so foreign to me (another roadie thing). Back down the boulders and then onto some trail. There were a few more ups, but they were relatively short compared to what we already had done. I was getting awfully close to 31 miles and I knew we weren’t that close to the finish. Road Queen started to get grumpy. Roadies like their race distances to be exact. I pushed forward remembering that the woman I had been leapfrogging might be close behind. I just focused on lengthening the gap. At least my competitive spirit didn’t die. Mile 32…33…where’s the finish?!?! There, one more S curve and there it is – 34.42. I jogged it in and Karl handed me the coveted mug. I confessed to him that he was right – this should not be one’s first 50k.

I was really happy and proud that I finished. It was the hardest physical event I’ve done thus far. Afterwards, my feelings are “I regret nothing.” I thought if I could go back, maybe I would just do more of my training higher to avoid the headache and ease my breathing, but since I finished, can I really say that?

It is worth noting, that I did not get lost. Anyone who runs with me on short trail runs knows that that means the course was marked really well. I was impressed. The volunteers were amazing and the event as a whole ran smoother than a lot of road races I’ve done. In summary, it was really hard, I’m glad I did it, and I actually am glad it was my first ultra.

Final Stats

Time – 10:28:05

101st of 152 finishers

18th of 35 women