Are Ultrarunners Narcissistic and Self-Centered?

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My friend Jason recently posted a heartfelt and honest article about his journey with ultrarunning. Jason has just started working for UPS, a physically demanding job that has left him embarrassed about the self-centered aspects of his running.

His post brought to light several points that I have tried to make on my own blog over the past few months, so I thought it was worth a reply.

Read Jason’s post about The Narcissism of Running.

Here are my five thoughts on the subject:

1. You can tell who the narcissists are.

People come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions. Yes, there are people who run with a “Look at me!” attitude. But there are others who do it humbly, graciously, and with a giving spirit. It’s easy to pick out the narcissists:

  • A narcissist will tout his own accomplishments. A humble runner will call out the accomplishments of others.
  • A narcissist is all about bragging on social media, and will hijack the posts of others to report their own (irrelevant) mileage. A humble runner will use social media to inspire and encourage others toward their goals.
  • A narcissist will speed by his competitors whenever possible. A humble runner will encourage the people he passes, and motivate them to follow.
  • A narcissist will be eager to offer you advice you didn’t ask for, and assume you are much less accomplished than they are. A humble runner will relate to you on your level.
  • A narcissist will make excuses for their failures. They will blame the course, the volunteers, the RD, or just say they weren’t trying very hard. A humble runner learns from his mistakes.
  • A narcissist says “Look what I did!” A humble runner says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

A few examples:

a) At Ridgecrest 50K this year, my friend Shawna was having a low point when Raul passed her. Raul kept waving her along, gesturing her to follow him, and that’s how they got to the finish line together. Shawna PR’d her 50K that day.

b) Ed Ettinghausen runs countless 100s and is always on hand to wait for and cheer the last runner on the course. Those who have run 100s know how gross and tired you feel after you cross the finish line. All you want to do is change your clothes, take a shower, and pass out. You’re suddenly cold and miserable. Everything hurts. Now imagine sitting around for hours after that, in your own filth and fatigue, waiting for the very last runner to come in. Imagine cheering for them loudly and genuinely, a person you don’t even know. That’s Ed.

c) At the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year, the winner of the race, Jamil Coury, was trotting along when he came across an elderly couple on the side of the road with a flat tire. He stopped running to make sure they were OK, and ended up taking several minutes to change their tire in the middle of the course. The couple was later shocked to learn that he was racing, since he took his time to make sure they were cared for and never complained about the delay.

d) Jesse Haynes was in first place (and went on to win) the San Juan 50K this year when he passed Shelly and me. We were lost and obviously in the wrong place ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks to help us and offer directions, not hesitating to break his stride for a couple of clueless runners.

e) At last year’s Ridgecrest 50K, I was crashing in the final miles. I was walking and feeling sorry for myself when Catra Corbett powered past me and yelled, “Let’s go, girl! We got this!” I ran after her. I crossed the finish line right behind her with a new PR, a sub-6 finish. And I got an award for first in my age group.

2. Ultrarunning is a community.

As cheesy as it sounds, we are a family. That’s why for Shacky and I, it’s important to attend races even when we’re not running. This is where volunteering, trail work, and cheering/crewing/pacing play an important role. There’s always work to be done at an ultra, and there are always runners who could use some motivation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your race. It’s somebody’s race. So you show up for them. You show up for the race directors who have too much to do. You show up for the volunteers who are tired, cold, and sleep-deprived. You show up for your friends who are running. For the runner whose pacer didn’t show. For the newbie without a crew. You just show up.

Although Shacky and I love to joke about sitting around drinking beer at ultras (and there’s a lot of that too), it’s equally important to me that we jump when there’s work to be done. I was proud at one race when Shacky had to drop out at an aid station, and ended up hanging out there to volunteer, pack up the aid station, and lift all the heavy objects because he noticed the volunteers were older than he was.

When I think about this sport, I imagine the passing of a baton. So many of these older guys have put in their time. They have forged the trails for us (sometimes literally). They have put in the hours of trail work, the volunteer time, and have set a humble example for us. Now we are the ones who are young, able, and on fresh legs. It’s time to get off our asses and make these events happen.

3. It’s not really about the running.

I totally agree with Jason that the running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.

The physical act of covering random mileage is indeed senseless. But knowing for a fact that your body and mind are capable of far more than you thought—that is life changing.

4. You’re not as awesome as you think you are.

The runners with the most experience tend to be the most humble. That’s because they know that no matter what, there’s always someone who is faster. Someone who has run further, or who is injured less.

With ultrarunning, you never know who you’re talking to, so never brag about yourself. For all you know, the person you’re talking to runs your weekly mileage in one day. Or they’re a world record-holder. You can never tell by looking at them. So avoid looking like an idiot, and shut your mouth.

5. “I chose this.”

At Javelina Jundred, I came up with the mantra “I chose this,” to express a lot of what Jason is talking about. So many people in this world suffer to support their families. To put food on the table. Just to survive.

Some people suffer aches and pains to give their children a good life. If I suffer aches and pains, it’s because I’m running in the mountains. If I’m sore, it’s because I spent all day doing something I love. I am fortunate beyond belief, and appreciating that is so important. I chose this.

3 RDs to Give Back To

If you want to give back but don’t know where to start, here are three Race Directors who have embraced the humble spirit of ultrarunning, and could use a few extra hands.

1. Steve Harvey: California

Steve is a well-loved and important part of the ultra community in Southern California. He directs Chimera 100, Old Goat 50, and Nanny Goat 100/24Hr/12Hr. If you want to hang out with the best runners and the best volunteers, these are the races to hit up. Don’t worry if you’re a new volunteer. You will learn far more than what you can possibly contribute, and the experience will be rewarding.

Here is my race report from this year’s Chimera 100.

Race website:

2. Matt Gunn: Utah

Matt is the Race Director for Zion 100 and Bryce 100. He is a talented runner, down to earth, and eager to share his love for Utah’s spectacular trails. For jaw-dropping beauty, it’s hard to beat the trails that Matt plays on.

Last year was the inaugural Zion 100 run for Matt, and this year (April 2013) the course is even better. Shacky and I are both registered.

Newer races are always in need of help, so there are countless ways to volunteer for these. One thing Zion 100 was short on last year was pacers. Because so many people were coming from out of town, there was a huge need.

Pacing is single-handedly the most rewarding way to “volunteer”. Truthfully, you get far more out of the experience than you can give back. Zion 100 allows pacers as early as 30 miles, and I’d strongly recommend the pacing experience.

Here is a great article on how to be a good pacer: Part I, Part II

Race websites:

3. Jeremy Dougherty: Arizona

This year, Jeremy launched the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. We had the privilege of helping out at the race and saw first-hand Jeremy’s passion and work ethic. Jeremy is a younger race director, eager to give of himself to put on an unforgettable event.

Like many new RDs, Jeremy took a financial loss to put on this event. It was a true labor of love. He describes the logistics of Mogollon here—a recommended read.

The Mogollon is a beautiful but brutal course in need of some helping hands. It’s worth getting involved with this one.

Race website:

So What’s the Verdict?

Are we really all just a bunch of attention whores?

Perhaps some of us are.

But in this sport, there is just as much opportunity to be giving, humble, and truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100

Why You Should Stop Rationalizing Running

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Chimera 100 Race Report

The Chimera of Greek mythology is a ferocious, fire-breathing beast made up of part lion, part serpent, and part goat. She is a terror, but also swift-footed and strong. She sprints the mountain trails of this course, devouring runners and claiming her victims one DNF at a time. On this race of incessant climbs and quad-shredding descents, you have only two choices:

Fall prey to the Beast. Or run at her side.

When I first signed up for Chimera, I knew this race was out of my league. But I knew that if I trained hard, I had a chance of finishing. And if I didn’t, at least I challenged myself and hopefully learned something.

For a few weeks, I approached Chimera with a “race that I will try” mentality. But the Beast smells fear from miles away, so I knew I had to change my mindset. I adopted a new approach:

  • Do or do not. There is no try.
  • You don’t have to be fast, but you better be fearless.
  • Are you a Mexi-CAN or a Mexi-CAN’T??!

I would finish this race no matter how bloodied or broken. Quitting was not an option. This is the story of how I survived.

****

When I ran Javelina 100 at the end of October, I overheard a runner encourage another by saying, “It’s only one 50K in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night, and then a short 10-mile loop.” That made sense to me, so for Chimera I broke down the race into three parts:

  • The first 50K I would run as the Serpent.
  • For the next 50K I would be the Goat.
  • And in the final push I would be Lion.

1. Serpent

“I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from its sunshine, for its skies may turn to grey.” – I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

The serpent is one of the oldest symbols in mythology. One of the first things I ever learned was the Biblical story of Adam and Eve falling prey to the crafty serpent. The serpent is shrewd and cunning. And that’s what I need to be early in this race.

I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in my childhood from Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Strategy in a 100-miler is everything. The key is to hold back as much as possible and preserve your body. I did this by keeping my body loose, slowing down, and not bombing any downhills. I made sure I never felt like I was exerting myself or breathing heavily. In fact, the first time I actually pushed myself to run was at mile 70+, when the sun came out on Sunday morning.

I love downhill running on single track, so I really had to make an effort to slow down and not fly these sections. I knew that I would need my quads later on. Tons of people passed me early in the race as well, and on every out and back I noticed that there were less and less people behind me. I was in the back of the pack.

2. Goat

“To some it’s the strength to be apart. To some it’s a feeling in the heart. And when you’re out there on your own, it’s the way back home.” – Katie Melua

Before I left for Chimera, I posted on my Facebook status: How can a goat be afraid of the mountain? It is his home.

That’s how I felt going into this race. I had no jitters–just excitement. This would be my first mountain 100, and although I had never run this far in the mountains, I knew I belonged in the clouds.

As Sarah Duffy points out on the Chimera Facebook page: “The course description includes 16 different terms for UP.” Some include:

  • Steep Up
  • VERY Up
  • Decomposed Granite Up
  • Truck Trail Up
  • Uphill Danger
  • Rolling Up
  • Generally Good Footing Uphill

There are also 15 different terms for DOWN:

  • Steep Technical Down
  • DANGER Down
  • Rolling Down
  • Very Rocky Downhill
  • Short Rocky Down
  • Slight Down Rocky

Sarah continues: “It was a purely physical challenge. I finished a climb and there was another one. I got to the bottom and I had to turn around and go back up. I rounded the bend and the hill continued on. I am still overwhelmed by the sheer physical demand of all that climbing, but I’ll recover happily knowing the monstrous fire-breathing creature didn’t eat me alive.”

Fabrice Hardel won Chimera this year with a mind-blowing time of 16:52:06. He broke the course record from last year (which was also his). After Cuyamaca 100K, Fabrice gave me the following advice for Chimera: Find the steepest hill you can and run up and down, over and over again.

He was dead on.

Climbing

I channeled my inner goat and embraced these climbs. Rather than seeing them as something outside of me that I must conquer, I imagined myself playing in my own living room. The hills were not strange, nor foreign. They were a part of who I was. They were hard, relentless, and beautiful. Just like me. I tried to remember that I wanted to be here. Even if there were no race, no buckle, no accolades. I would still want to run.

Positivity was crucial. This I learned at Javelina, and made sure my mind was clear and positive the entire distance. To me this means not allowing myself to get caught up in the stress of the race. I don’t allow myself to think of the cutoffs. I don’t wear a watch so I can’t stress over my pace, and I eat consistently. When I’m having a dip, I stop and mentally address it.

Something like this:

  • I’m feeling grouchy right now because I haven’t eaten enough. I will stop and eat at the next aid station.
  • I’m feeling worried right now because I don’t think I will make the cutoff. I have plenty of time.

Stress can lead to physical pain if I don’t put a stop to it. It’s a wave of desperation and exhaustion that hits all at once and makes everything suck. With every race I do, I’m learning to control it more and more.

Sidenote: My inexperience as a 100-mile runner showed when I realized at the end of the race that I pretty much missed all the hot food. I heard there were burgers, quesadillas, and pizza, none of which I saw. I was told I was supposed to ask for it. Oops.

I had also mistakenly assumed that most of the course would be single track. When I realized it was a lot more fire road (where cars could drive), I switched into my Hokas the first chance I got at mile 50, and they truly saved my feet out there.

Coming from a background of minimalist running, this was my first time racing in Hokas and by far my longest run in anything this supportive. What I found with the Hokas was that I could run more of the course with minimal pounding on my feet. My form didn’t change–I was still running light and my feet still felt strong from the minimalist training. But they gave me a break as far as watching all my footfalls late into the night. I also had to do less jitterbugging with my legs (especially downhill) in an effort to maneuver around any rocks that might trash my feet.

Although I love my minimalist shoes, I can’t deny that I owe much of this race to my Hokas. My feet after the race were immaculate. There was no blistering. No broken skin. No swelling. I almost feel that my minimalist training combined with using Hokas to bring it home created a perfect storm. I had all the benefits of minimalism, combined with the benefits of protection.

The biggest criticism I hear about Hokas from the minimalist viewpoint is that there is little flexibility at the ankle. So if you step on a rock, your ankle is more likely to roll. This wasn’t an issue at Chimera since the rocks were not the trickiest I’ve maneuvered. It was more straightforward terrain than what I have been training on, so by keeping my form light, I avoided any ankle issues.

The more I run, the more I realize that success has very little to do with what brand of shoes you wear, and so much more to do with specific terrain, combined with personal preference. Hokas might have felt terrible on another course. On this course, my minimalist shoes felt terrible, although I’ve had great success with them at other races.

In the meantime, my good friend Patrick Sweeney ran the entire thing in Luna sandals. He signed up the day before, with zero training, and came in 8th place. To me, that goes back to show how irrelevant footwear can be. All that matters is what feels good to YOU.

I also feel that 100-milers are an exception. When you’re talking shoes with someone, they’re probably not planning to run 100 miles in the pair they rave about. Distance can really change your perspective on things like this. The Hokas worked for me, and I always vote for whatever works in the moment. Right now I’m seeing some value in training minimalist and running the later miles of a 100 in Hokas. But I’ll keep experimenting.

I also brought my iPod to help me out in case I needed a push through the night or in the later miles. That helped me at Cuyamaca 100K, as well as Javelina. I even had a backup iPod in case my battery died. While the iPods worked, my headphones busted early on, so my music was useless. I’m sort of glad that happened because I still really enjoyed myself and now I know that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t have an iPod or an audio book with me.

I learned that I really enjoy the solitude and silence of being out on the trail. I’m very comfortable with the passing of the hours, with no distractions and only the shuffling of my own feet to accompany me.

3. Lion

“If you fall, pick yourself up off the floor. And when your bones can’t take no more, just remember what you’re here for.” – Gym Class Heroes

Having “preserved my body” for the first 60 miles, it was now time for beast mode. I pulled into an aid station about 30 minutes before sunrise, and was informed of a new danger:

“Do you have a pacer?” a volunteer asked.

“No.”

“We recommend that people run with pacers, because there is a mountain lion from here to the next aid station.”

“Oh. Ok….”

I still didn’t have a pacer.

I remembered my mountain lion encounter at the Grand Canyon and decided it would be best to avoid this new obstacle. I tried shining my light into the bushes where the lion might be hiding, but that was useless. My light was only strong enough to illuminate my next few steps, so I wouldn’t see any mountain lions until they were on top of me.

Instead, I decided to sing loudly to the lion. Surely my terrible singing voice would terrify him and send him fleeing into the mountains. It must have worked because the sun came up and I never saw any other lion besides myself.

As soon as the sun rose, I started running. I ran into the Indian Truck Trail aid station, and was greeted warmly by what looked like all my friends!

I was thrilled to see Trasie, Elizabeth, Julius, and Trisha, among others. They were so eager to help and I got star treatment. I also had a cup of the most delicious homemade butternut squash (vegan) soup with avocado. It was my first time seeing any hot food vegan options, and I was immediately energized. Refueled, I ran the seven miles down Indian Truck Trail to meet my pacer Holly.

Running into Mile 80

At the bottom of ITT, I changed my socks, got into some dry clothes, re-taped my foot (preventative), and grabbed some gaiters. It was such a relief to see Shacky again. The last time I had seen him was at mile 20, after the first single track loop. The day before.

Even Ginger and Momma Cat came out to say hello. Ginger licked all the salt off my face while Kitty demanded to know why she had not been recently petted. I gave her a quick pet, but I couldn’t stay long–we still had a lot of climbing left, and I started hiking back up the hill with Holly.

Ginger was waiting a really long time for me to come down the trail…

Climbing again…

Holly and I made it to the top of ITT, Mile 90

It has been said of Chimera that “even the downhills feel like uphills,” and that is certainly true in the last 10 miles especially. As soon as you hit a downhill stretch, you realize that you have no quads left. Thankfully, I had worked so hard to preserve mine, that I had some leeway to run or at least walk comfortably downhill.

I was in such high spirits chatting with Holly. The mountains were beautiful, we were moving through the clouds, and Shacky had packed me a large ziplock bag full of watermelon, apples, avocado, and grapes. We also picked up some clementines at Trasie’s aid station. I almost ate the entire fruit bag.

It’s impossible for me to be sad on the mountain. I’ve been in San Diego for a year now, but I still feel like a tourist when I run at these spectacular elevations. It never gets old.

The downhill stretches were tricky because they were so steep that it was harder to walk them than to run. But running this late in the race is hard to do as well. There were no comfortable options.

I had to remember that the Lion doesn’t represent comfort. It represents strength and power. And with the blessing of the Chimera She-Beast, I ran it in. As sick as it sounds, I was almost sad to see it end. I was having such a great time with Holly and I knew that stopping would be more uncomfortable than running at this point.

I finished in 31:52:31. I didn’t realize it at the time, but finishers who complete the course under 30 hours get a silver buckle. I’ll be back another year to claim my silver buckle and play in the mountains with my old friend Chimera.

Yes, she is as vicious as they say.  She haunts these mountains because she can be herself here: crafty, fearless, and strong. She does share her trails, but only with other beasts.

Me crossing the finish

With RD Steve Harvey at the finish

The Aftermath

My recovery is going great. I’m stiff when I sit for too long, but once I’m walking I feel pretty good. I also feel good when I sleep. Ha. I’ve been craving so many fresh fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to look at aid station food for a very long time.

My weight feels about the same, but I have no scale to confirm. I haven’t tried running again–I believe recovery is a crucial part of training. I want to take a really easy week, and hopefully be running again by next weekend. We’re headed to Zion to preview some of the Zion 100 course over Thanksgiving.

I told Holly as we neared the finish that this is the buckle that I will treasure the most, for many reasons. First of all, it’s my first mountain 100. Second of all, it’s the only 100 that I actually trained for. And finally, it was the only race that I seriously believed at the time of registering that I couldn’t finish.

The swag

The Course

Elevation profile

Shout Outs

Shacky

Besides crewing me, Shacky was a huge part of my training. He has been taking me across state lines to the steepest, rockiest mountains to train on. He has given me tons of time and space for long runs, and then longer runs. He has supported me in signing up for races as “training runs”, and has crewed me for those events as well. I could never have done this without him.

Here are some of Shacky’s highlights:

  • Hanging out and having a beer with Karl Meltzer the night before the race
  • Seeing Fabrice smash the course record
  • Seeing Pat Sweeney ape Vanessa by signing up for a hundred at the last minute and bringing home a buckle (8th overall)
  • Seeing Wes Edell run his first hundred and finish it in 7th overall
  • Being weirded out by the strange church near the aid station I hung out at all night

Holly

My pacer made the last 20 miles of this race downright fun. I never once felt sad or sorry for myself. We shared some great conversation, she kept me eating way after I had forgotten, and she wouldn’t let anyone pass us. She even made sure my shirt was on straight (I left the aid station with a backwards shirt). I’m so grateful to her.

Jason

Jason Robillard took me under his wing as my coach after I signed up for Chimera months ago. He kept me on track as far as mileage, speed work, and general training. He gave me great advice and I was able to learn quickly. Jason is now organizing a boot camp in San Diego for ultra runners. I would strongly recommend his training style. You can learn more about it here.

Congrats to all the beasts who conquered this epic race!

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

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Javelina 100 Race Report

Javelina Jundred Race Report

Javelina Jundred was the 100-miler that wasn’t supposed to happen. Over the past few weeks, I have been training for Chimera 100 at the end of November, and Javelina was too close to Chimera. Instead, I signed up for a pacing gig at Javelina. I was going to pace Desi to her first 100 mile finish, and Shacky would be pacing Jeff.

We were driving to Javelina from South Dakota, and had already been on the road for several days, exploring different states and trails. I hadn’t run any significant mileage, so I was about 90 miles short of my monthly mileage goal for October (200 mile goal). I didn’t push myself to get in the long runs while on the road, so I moved my 200-mile goal to November, and posted on Facebook that I had failed to meet my goal.

Someone commented that October wasn’t over yet and there was still time. This led me to joke with Shacky about how I would need to register for Javelina in order to meet my goal—wouldn’t that be crazy?? Around the same time, our friend Jeff also posted on his own Facebook pace (jokingly, I think!) that same-day race day registration for Javelina was still open (haha, wouldn’t it be crazy to register this late??) But then Shacky mentioned that it probably wouldn’t be bad training for Chimera, and that got me thinking.

The closer we got to Arizona, the more I realized I really did want to run it. But that was crazy, right?? Besides, I already had a pacing gig. We got to the race bib pickup where we would meet Desi to drop off a tent for her. I mentioned to her that I was thinking about registering, but I was still committed to pacing her, or even running the second half with her if she needed it. I didn’t care about time, I just wanted some miles on my feet. I thought I could run my own 100K, and then pick up Desi to finish it out with her. Desi encouraged me to register.

With Desi’s approval I felt better, but still wasn’t sure whether it would be a reckless decision. We saw the Millers (Mike and Kimberly) helping out with the race kits, and I told them I was thinking of registering despite Chimera coming up. They didn’t think it was a bad idea. Mike agreed that it would be great training, and worst case I could always drop down to 100K and still get a buckle. So now the decision was mine.

I wanted to race, but I didn’t want to hurt my chances at Chimera. To ensure this, I would have to take it slow, easy, and not push myself as much as I was planning to at Chimera. The two races are completely different—Chimera is a mountain race, and Javelina is a relatively “flat and easy” 100.

The test at Javelina would be more about mental determination and endurance. I would get more practice with sleep deprivation, and I was more or less in shape to run since I had already been training for Chimera. In fact, I was more prepared for this last-minute 100 than I was for my very first 100, where I trained very little and only had 50Ks under my belt.

So I registered with RD Jamil Coury.

All the last minute registrations

In some ways, it was an advantage for me to sign up so late in the game. It completely eliminated all the nervousness and jitters that play with our doubts before a race. If I had known I would be running this, I wouldn’t have enjoyed our adventures on the road as much. And I wouldn’t have climbed the highest mountain in Arizona two days before the race. But I did, and I’m glad.

Part of me really liked the craziness of signing up on a whim as well. I’m very passionate about encouraging others to run ultras, and finishing 100 miles in particular is truly life-changing. The 100 is my favourite distance because literally anything can happen, and so much of it is mental. What better way to make ultras seem achievable than signing up for a last-minute 100, and finishing?

Since I hadn’t done any specific training for Javelina, my only goal was to take it slow, not injure myself, and finish at least 100K. I also wanted to practice my mental focus and positive thinking.

Race Day Arrives

When the alarm clock went off on race day morning, I rolled to my side and wondered why the hell I registered. I had slept great, but I would have been happy to stay in the warm RV until the sun came up. Instead, I got dressed, emptied my bladder, and filled up my water bottles. By the time I made it to the Start line, I was so glad I had registered. I mentioned to Shacky how cool it was that at any moment, we had everything in the RV we needed to run 100 miles.

Waiting for the race to start

Waiting at the Start line, I nibbled on some breakfast and asked my fellow runners about the course. I learned the aid stations were quite frequent, so I decided at the last second to go with only one water bottle. It was a bit of a risk, but then again so was registering for the whole darn race. I figured what the hell, if it doesn’t work out I can pick up another handheld in 15 miles when I loop back to the Start line.

I had been following a vegan diet for the past several weeks, and I felt great at the Start line. I also saw that Pat Sweeney had made it out, so I was super excited to get to hang out with him later. The loop began, and I started slow. I wore my Merrell Mix Masters (they were great at Cuyamaca 100K), and planned to switch out to my Montrails later in the race.

I wore my INKnBURN denim capris, which were so comfortable and prevented any type of chafing on my thighs. I also started with a jacket since it was cool, but wished within three miles that I had left it behind since it warmed up fast. It was slightly dark and while some people brought headlamps, I didn’t want the extra weight and figured the trail would be congested enough that I wouldn’t have a hard time finding my way. I was right.

And we’re off!

My themes throughout this race were: Minimalism and Prevention. I carried as little as I could possibly get away with, and I took preventative action against issues like chafing and bonking. Both worked better than I could have imagined.

Although I started near the middle of the pack, a lot of runners passed me the first loop. I was surprised at how fast people were going. I was walking some slight inclines and jogging close to 12-minute miles, and I still worried that was too fast. For shorter races, the question is: Who can run the fastest? For 100 milers, the question becomes: Who can go the furthest without breaking?

I had estimated about a three-hour finish for my fist 15-mile loop. I tried to make note of the other runners around me to help me gauge my speed, since I wasn’t wearing a watch. But at the same time I didn’t push myself to follow anyone’s pace. I wanted to run my own race.

I had some lovely chats with a few new friends, but eventually they all passed me as I kept plodding along slowly. I finished the first loop in under three hours, and decided I should slow down even more for the second loop. My goal was to run as conservatively as possible while it was daylight, and then pick it up overnight when it was cooler.

Finishing 50K

My single handheld was working great, and I wasn’t carrying an extra ounce that I didn’t need. At every aid station, I would fill my bottle, grab some food, and walk while I ate it. When I was finished, I would start jogging again.

I wasn’t committed to staying vegan throughout the whole race, but in the end it did work out that way (I thought I had blown it when I ate an Oreo, but Pat later informed me that most Oreos were indeed vegan). The vegan foods looked good to me, and I stayed away from the candy and chocolate. This race had a great spread, and there was plenty for me to eat. I mostly went for the watermelon, oranges, PB&J, avocado, and potatoes.

Despite the large number of runners (for a 100-miler), we did get spread out fairly quickly. I found myself running alone for long lengths of time, and I was happy to get lost in my own thoughts.

I am currently reading two books about introversion (one Kindle, one audio book), where the authors argue about the power of quiet, and the high value of introverted personalities. I consider myself an introvert, and these books argue that introversion is NOT the same thing as anti-social or shy, which was an eye-opener for me. I have been accused of being both anti-social and shy, but I just don’t see myself like that. I love talking to people, but I also love being alone.

One author defines an introvert as someone who recharges in solitude, and that rings true for me. An extrovert, on the other hand, feels recharged when they are surrounded by others. I don’t know what the 100-mile experience is like for an extrovert, but for me it’s very calming and positive. I crave the long stretches of solitude where all my thoughts fall into place, and solutions easily present themselves. I feel happiness and gratitude.

I was feeling great, but I knew the final loops would get harder. I started thinking about suffering and ultra running. It would seem that a main goal in our society is to avoid suffering, but some suffering during a 100-miler is inevitable. And yet the suffering is part of what we crave. Part of what makes our victory that much sweeter.

When I feel better at the end of an ultra than I did at my last race, I don’t think it’s because I’ve become significantly faster or stronger. The main difference is that I’m more familiar with the discomfort. Instead of bothering me, it has become something I enjoy and even crave. I seek that suffering.

Growing up in the church, one common question that was asked of us was, “If God is love, why does he allow suffering?” But is suffering in itself really the enemy? It is because of suffering that people do amazing things. I would imagine a life of complete comfort would make us sick, bored, and miserable.

I decided that I would be grateful for my 100-mile suffering later in the race. I am lucky because this is a suffering that I choose. It is not suffering at the hands of others. It is not a result of an environment that I cannot control. It is something I picked and even paid for. It was my choice, and for that reason far easier to bear. I need obstacles in life. Something to strive for. But I want to suffer on my own terms.

I’m not stranger to suffering in life, but this is the first time I have been in completely control of how much I suffer. I can pull the plug at any time, or I can challenge myself physically and push my body to new levels. That is so rare, and I should be grateful for it. I choose my poison. I can drink it gladly.

My mantra for the rest of the race became, “I chose this.” It reminded me to bear my suffering gladly. And for the third and fourth laps, joy was what I found. I decided early on to not let any negative thought take hold of my head. Instead, I flipped every negative into a positive. I wanted to see how far positive thinking could go.

Motivational kisses to keep me going

Normally, I struggle with night running and dread the overnight portions of a 100-mile race. This time, I convinced myself that it would give me an advantage. The weather would cool down, and I would no longer be able to see the full length of the trail. I could focus on only the next few steps, and if I remained steady, I could speed up when the rest of the field was slowing down. I looked forward to the night portion.

I also looked forward to the terrain in front of me. Instead of being harder, the inclines were a relief on my legs. Instead of being boring, the long and flat stretches were easy mileage. I imagined that everything was working in my favor, and I smiled at myself in solitude.

All of a sudden, my happy thoughts were shattered by a sharp pain in the top of my hip, right beside my groin. I looked down to find a massive ball of thorns stuck to my clothes, right where the leg bends into the pubes.

I had brushed against a cholla cactus, and the ball of thorns had attached itself to me. I reached down to try to carefully grab it, and shot my hand back when I realized these thorns were razor-sharp, and would draw blood. I thought it was just attached to my shirt, so I tried to lift my t-shirt and shake it off. That’s when I realized the thorns had dug deep into my skin, firmly embedded. It didn’t hurt if I was standing still, but when I moved, it would pierce me like a thousand needles.

The aid station was only a few feet away, and a couple of volunteers came over to give me a hand. They were very knowledgeable about the plant, and said the best way to deal with it was to grab two rocks, crush it, and then yank it out really hard. WTF??

I begged them to let me try to remove it myself instead, and they waited patiently while I tried to slowly pry it off. As I pulled, my skin would just stretch with the cactus, and I felt as thought it would rip the skin right off my body. Finally, I let them try it their way.

I was close to hysterical because I’m a actually a big wuss (little known fact). Another runner stopped to offer to let me squeeze his arm while the volunteers did the deed. I clutched his arm, buried my face, and they pulled while I screamed. It took a couple of good pulls, and it was out. I was bleeding, but only slightly. And the volunteer had pricked his hand deeply and was now in need of aid himself.

I walked to the aid station in a daze, and when I handed over my water bottle for refilling, I noticed there were more thorns stuck to the drinking nozzle of my bottle. Thank God I noticed before thrusting it up to my lips.

The aid station didn’t have any tweezers, so it took them a minute to remove the thorns from my bottle and then refill it. The volunteer that helped me was trying to nurse the thorns out of his own hand, and I don’t think I thanked him profusely enough for helping me.

The aid station workers looked for some saline to help clean my wound and alleviate the stinging, but there was nothing. I figured I would run to the Start and see if they had anything for me in the medical tent. It was only two miles away.

I jogged away, but I was still shaken. For the first time, I wondered if I should just drop. Desi had already dropped due to blistering, and Shacky was waiting to pace Jeff.

Despite my cactus attack, the first three laps were the best I’ve ever run. I jogged consistently nearly the entire time, keeping the same stride when I power hiked any uphill. My loops seemed to be getting faster, and I ran my fastest 100K time. I was feeling good.

Shacky and Pat were waiting for me at the Start, and I told them what happened with the cactus. Pat ran to the medical tent to see if they had some kind of salve for me while I filled my bottle and refuelled. Shacky and Pat came back with a wet paper towel and told me I should rub it over my wound. I did and immediately felt relief.

I later discovered that the medical tent had nothing to give me, so Shacky and Pat had conspired to put regular water on a paper towel, and tell me it was medicine. Bastards.

Pat and Shacky were quite the pair, as I later discovered via the photo evidence. They were naughty most of the time, and some of the pictures that were taken that weekend could not be posted on Facebook. Shacky’s highlight was meeting his crush Jen Shelton, and I’m so happy they had fun. One of my worries when Shacky crews me is that he will be bored while I run. Thanks to Pat and their shenanigans, they slept very little and goofed around a lot.

After I healed my wound with Pat’s invisible salve, I told Shacky and Pat that I was wondering if I should drop. Shacky was OK with it either way. He was tired and ready for bed. There was nothing really wrong with me, but I was peeved about the damn cactus and not really excited about going out for another loop.

But Pat insisted that I not drop. He said it might be a long time before I ever felt this good, this late into a 100-miler. He said my pace was good enough to sub-24 if I kept it up. I scoffed. Sub-24?? Pfft. But when I broke down the numbers, he was right.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to push myself to a sub-24, but I did decide it would be a shame to drop when I was feeling good. And besides, I didn’t want the cactus incident to be the last thing that happened to me out here. Pat said he would pace me on the next loop, so we set off together.

Overnight

Back at the 45-mile mark, I had changed my shoes and my bra and my t-shirt before it got dark. I usually start chaffing after 50 miles, and I thought that a good wipe-down (with wet wipes) and a change of clothes could prevent this. The one thing I didn’t have was extra panties.

I have learned via RV living that panties are the most worthless piece of clothing to own. So I stopped wearing them. I still have a couple that I use while running in pants or capris, but I didn’t have a clean pair since I wasn’t expecting to run this race. So I just ran without, and hoped for the best. I did do some very generous lubing on my butt cheeks just in case.

I ended up walking most of the night loop with Pat. He tried to talk me into running, but I was more interested in chatting. I was talking a lot, and running just made it harder to talk. Some of the things we talked about included:

  • Period protection
  • Peeing while standing up: girls vs boys
  • How to melt all our race medals into one giant and epic hula hoop
  • What I love and dislike about Mexicans
  • What I love and dislike about Salvadoreans
  • Why certain skateboarders don’t associate with other skateboarders
  • News from Luna sandals
  • Living off the grid in Utah

I think we covered all the important stuff. The loop went by so fast, even though it was one of my slowest. We saw Jeff and Shacky right at the end, and ran in with them. At the Start, I asked Pat to continue with Jeff since Shacky was tired, and Jeff was moving much faster than I was.

I hung out chatting with Holly Miller until Jeff had left. Then I grabbed my jacket, my iPod, and set out for another loop. I was still feeling good, but bored of running, which sounds terribly douchey to say but miraculously true.

My body was tired and sleepy of course, but there was nothing wrong with me to warrant a drop. I almost wished there were so I could just hang back with Shacky and Holly instead. But I figured I came this far, I might as well take the buckle home.

This was my last full lap, and I moved slower than I wanted to. I noticed myself starting to doze off, so I drank coffee at the next two aid stations and that perked me up. I never do caffeine in my daily life, so when I take it at races, it only takes a small amount to wake me up. On this loop, the sun started coming up again, and I couldn’t help but smile. I chose this.

I ran into the Start with less than 10 miles to go for my finish. Shacky was asleep, but Pat was waiting for me. I asked him to get Ginger so she could pace me on my last loop, and he did. I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, and ran out with my awesome dog.

Ginger was so excited and tried to get me to run the entire time, but I just couldn’t keep up with her. When Ginger realized I was moving slowly, she started trying to explore the environment and sniff around the cacti. This freaked me out because I didn’t want her running into the thorns I experienced, so I kept her on a tight leash. What stopped me from running was tender feet, and I wished I had Hokas.

Ginger and I finish strong

We moved along as quick as I could manage, and there was the finish line! I finished in 28:10, more than a one hour PR. But I was most proud of the way I felt. During my first 100, I cried the entire last three miles out of pain. When I finished, I didn’t even want my buckle. I just wanted to lay in the car and cry. This time I was running in the end, and went to a party afterwards. I had no blisters, no chaffing, no crashes, and no injuries.

I attribute this to eating at every single aid station, staying positive, and the support of Shacky, Pat, Ginger, and all the volunteers who helped out at this event. A special thanks to the Coury brothers for a well-run event, and joining us at the after party. A generous thanks to the Millers who hosted the after party, and were so hospitable with their great home.

Having fun at the Miller’s

Hanging out with my pacer

Visiting some reptiles

Resting with my best furry

The next day we visited with running legend Eric Clifton and his lovely wife in their awesome cat-friendly home. I am so grateful for these opportunities and the freedom of our nomadic life.

I am ready for Chimera. I chose this.

RELATED ARTICLES:

12 Reasons Handheld Bottles Are Better Than Hydration Packs

12 Things I Learned at My First 100K

Why You’re Not an Elite Runner (Yet)

 

SD 100: The Turning Point in my Running Career

“When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” – Edward Teller

At every race, I learn something new. But 100-milers have a way of magnifying those lessons into life-changing revelations that can change the course of your running career, or even your life.

Before this weekend, I thought I had to run a race to learn anything from it. But this year at SD 100 through pacing, crewing, and helping at aid stations, I learned more in 24 hours than I have at any other ultra race I have participated in.

I’ll save the smaller lessons and observations for a separate post, and write here about the two big-picture, eye-opening epiphanies that I can’t get out of my head.

These insights affected me so profoundly that they will change the course of my running career.

But first, some background:

My Duties at SD 100

My original plan was to cheer and support our friends and their crews. Perhaps take some pictures and video and be of help wherever we were needed. We figured if anyone’s pacer had bailed or dropped out, we could be ready to take his or her place at the last minute.

When I posted my plans on Facebook, Michael Miller referred me to Jay Danek from Arizona who had room for a pacer. I was reluctant to commit to pacing, but Shacky was extremely encouraging. Shacky had paced before and had such a great time and learned so much. He thought it would be a great experience for me.

I was scared to fail. When I’m running my own race, I’m ok with failing. But risking someone else’s race? That was completely different. What if I held them back? What if I messed up? This was their 100. I didn’t want to screw up.

I exchanged some emails with Jay and he seemed really laid back and experienced. I told him how slow I was and he wasn’t worried at all, assuring me that he wouldn’t be moving fast when I saw him (from mile 72 to 87, with a big climb at the end).

I agreed to pace him. Then I did some further research on his running page and realized that he ran his FIRST 100-miler in 19 hours. Holy shit.

I also learned that he was currently on a running streak (running every day). He had run for over 500 days and aiming for over 900. AND—his minimum distance each day was 4 miles. He was running 100s during this time, and training for them. So every day he would run between 4 and 100 miles.

A few weeks ago, I tried a 120-day running streak, and couldn’t keep it up after my first 100. The limit was 1 mile per day, and I thought THAT was a big deal.

I picked up Jay at the Sweetwater aid station, ran him through Sunrise 2, then on to Pioneer 2. The first leg was a gradual incline on a smooth terrain. The next leg was more technical and steeper. We finished both in the dark.

My Runner

Runners like Jay race with a different perspective. I don’t want to say “in a different league,” because that sounds too elitist. He’s not an elite, though to some he may appear to be. I do believe he shares more qualities with elite runners than he does with a runner like me, and this intrigued me.

Here are the two things I observed at SD100 that will change my running focus:

1. Love of Running vs Speed

Jay is a fast runner, but his passion for trails and for ultras is also unquestionable and contagious. This surprised me a little. I knew he enjoyed running, but I didn’t think that on those miles in the middle of the night he would be as excited about trails as he was. He was so positive that at times it wasn’t clear which one of us was the motivator.

This made me think.

As back- to mid-pack runners, we often use the excuse of having fun and enjoying the trails as an excuse for why we’re not fast. We use this as a crutch for why we aren’t pushing ourselves or training hard to explore our limits. And even worse—we sometimes judge faster runners by assuming they don’t love or appreciate trail running as much as we do.

That’s bullshit.

Although there may be some marathoners who perhaps don’t have the same passion for trails as some slower-paced ultra runners, you can’t make those judgments on a 100-mile race.

Anyone who runs 100 miles more than once does it because they love it. There’s simply no other incentive to do it. If someone can run 100 miles FAST, it’s because they took their time to train and get better at it so they could run more 100-mile races. They love the distance. They love the trails. And they ARE having fun.

If you have any doubt this is possible, watch this:

Summits of My Life – Trailer from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Just because someone runs fast does not mean they are suffering or hating life.

And again—the 100 is such an equalizer in the sense that EVERYONE suffers at some point.

My big AHA moment was:

It’s ok to train hard. It’s ok to run fast. It’s ok to get better at this. I don’t have to be slower or drop to a DNF to inspire others. I can improve myself. I can run stronger. And I can still love running.

Here is my second epiphany:

2. Women and the 100

The first woman to finish SD 100 ran an impressive race and competed head-to-head with the men. Then all the other women were so far behind her. This made me think about the role of women in 100-mile races.

There has been a dramatic increase in women who have tried ultra running in the past few years. Shorter races from 5Ks to marathons are nearly dominated by women, but the 100-miler has yet to see many strong women stand up to compete.

Although there are some strong female 100-mile runners, you can count those names on one hand. Even the elite female names you DO know may not have succeeded on the 100.

100 miles is no joke. The women who have run them well are viewed at a higher level, out of reach to the general running population. They seem super-human and their performances appear unattainable to us.

But they are human. And they did attain their goals. And there’s no reason why we—who love trails and love ultras—could not succeed either.

The 100-mile distance needs more women competitors. Not just finishers. Competitors. We need women to face it head-on. To train hard for it. To master it. And to inspire other women to do the same.

We need more women finishing sub-24. Sub-20. In the top 5 finishers. In the top 3. Not just on looped courses—on trail 100-milers.

The 100 is still a virgin race as far as strong female performances. And humbly, I’d like to take this on as a personal challenge.

Based on my own running career, it’s extremely premature. But so was my first 100. And my hope is that it will encourage other women who are better runners than I to step up to the plate. Let’s get some competition going and give the boys a decent challenge. It can be done.

As of now, I have not yet completed a trail 100-miler, but I have two on my schedule this year. I know that it will be nothing like the timed or looped races I’ve started with.

I’ve had two 100-mile attempts, and finished only one (my first). The second one, I somehow expected would be easier since I had already completed the distance. It most certainly was not, and I dropped after 55 miles.

That’s what I love about the 100. It does not get easier. It always takes your entire force of will and physical stamina to complete. Right now, I’m not in ideal ultra running shape. Yes, I can finish an ultra. But I cannot compete in an ultra.

I want to change that.

I’ve done the run-slow-and-take-pictures-and-smell-the-flowers thing. I know now that’s not the only way to enjoy an ultra. I know now I can love trails as much as I do, and still run faster.

Although I have had respectable performances, I know in my heart that I have never really pushed myself. I don’t really train.

Watching the runners this weekend and pacing Jay (who finished in 22 hours), I felt that I was given permission to step up my training. I know now I can take it more “seriously,” but have just as much fun and run just as carefree.

My biggest fear in doing this is the elitist vibe that comes with getting faster. Our human tendency is to put fast runners on a pedestal and imagine that we cannot ever accomplish what they have. But that’s not true. I hope to prove that this is attainable for anyone who is willing to work hard.

My greatest hope is to inspire women to run 100s competitively. To build a female presence in 100-miler trail races. I hope that people will see my progress and think, “Well, if SHE can do it…” then rise up to kick my ass.

I hope that next year there are two women at SD 100 fighting for the finish, not just one female who blows all the others away. I hope it’s a nail-biting performance. I hope they are head-to-head. I hope the aid station volunteers track them and take bets. And I hope those two women are the best of friends. That’s what this sport needs.

I love the 100-mile distance. I want more women to love it. And I hope this can be my small humble contribution to enhancing a tiny niche in the great sport of ultra running.

 RELATED ARTICLES:

Thoughts Before My First 100

My 100 Mile Race Report

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Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“The first 50 miles are run with the legs, the second 50 miles with the mind.” – Unknown

Lap 4: Miles 45-60

It didn’t get hard until after mile 50. At mile 49, I was running steady and happily. I felt rejuvenated after eating a good meal. But at mile 50, my body decided to close up shop.

All at once, everything started to hurt. My legs. My body. I felt tired. Exhaustion set in. And it was getting dark. Calculating our times a few days later, we would learn that this was our longest and darkest loop.

My feet were starting to kill me. I looked down and my Lunas and frustration set it. What was I thinking trying to run this in minimalist shoes? This was an insane distance, and I felt I was demanding more of my feet than other runners. I felt disadvantaged, and that put me in a foul mood.

Shacky was having trouble of his own. He had developed chaffing under his kilt so bad that he could barely run. We walked in misery together, willing ourselves to move towards the start line so I could change my shoes and Shacky could treat his chaffing.

Shacky is a faster walker than me, so I was half-speed-walking and half-running to keep up. It was as fast as I could manage, but I didn’t want to go any slower. I wanted to get this loop over with.

We tried talking to make the time go by faster. We shared stories from our childhoods, talked about our most embarrassing moments (Shacky’s story is priceless), anything I could think of to get our minds off the pain. It worked for a while, and then we fell back into silence.

A few times now I had caught sight of Stacey pounding out her miles. She ran at one pace, and I never saw her walking. She first inspired me at Across the Years where she wore a shirt that said, “Don’t be a pussy” and reminded me of my friend Kate. She wore that shirt again at this race, and I thought of it as a mantra. I also thought of Kate’s blog post, STFU And Just Do It, which I loved.

Kate wrote a rant about people who say, “I can’t do it!” and I imagined her now “kicking my arse” to the finish line. She wrote:

When I hear people say, “I can’t…” I just want to turn around and shake sense into them. I want to shout at them and make them realize what sort of life they are missing when they use… the lamest excuse in the universe.

It just annoys me when I think of all that wasted potential… Don’t they realize that they may never be their best until they “Shut the Fuck Up and just do it!”?

I tried to pull it together. It wasn’t even that late in the evening yet. How could I be falling apart so soon?

The more tired I got, the more my anxiety grew. I struggled to shuffle/speed-walk alongside Shacky and when he got only a few feet in front of me, I’d feel a wave of desperation. I imaged him getting smaller and smaller in the distance and I didn’t want to be alone.

I heard what sounded like a loud rattling in the bushes, and I grabbed Shacky’s hand.

“Is that a giant rattlesnake??” I demanded.

“No.”

I looked closer into the bushes. “Are you sure??”

“Yes.”

I stared harder. I was pretty sure it was an enormous rattlesnake.

“It’s a sprinkler,” said Shacky. He was right.

Earlier in the day I had a chat with George and he said “Don’t let anyone fool you. This isn’t an easy course.” He told me the hills would catch up to me, and he was right. But he also told me I had plenty of time, to take it easy, and to run my own race. It was these wise words that I now relied on.

It was quiet out on the course. Every once in a while, I would hear runners coming up behind me and I’d turn around to find that nobody was there. This happened several times and it was creeping me out.

Every time I stepped off a curb to cross the street, it was pain. Cars waiting impatiently for me to hobble across each intersection. Along the course there were also sandbags on some of the hills. It now seemed that the entire course was covered in sandbags. I saw sandbags were there was nothing. I saw them leaping out to trip me, and I was tired of high-stepping over them.

“FUCK YOU!!!” I heard a car screech past on the street with teenaged hecklers hanging out the window. They sped by a couple more times yelling mostly obscenities and things like, “YOU’RE SO SLOWWW!!”

Snobby fucking rich kids speeding around in Daddy’s car. If you’re so tough, try driving like that OUTSIDE your posh little gated community. These are your Saturday night plans? Really?

Coming down the final stretch of this lap was pitch dark. I knew the turn to the start line wasn’t far, but I couldn’t see it. I wished so badly that there was some sort of sign or illuminating arrow to give me hope. I needed to see how close I was. I put my head down and wished that so hard. Then I looked up and yelled to Shacky, “Oh look! Are those scarecrows pointing the way?”

Shacky looked up but didn’t reply.

“The scarecrows right there! Can’t you see them?” How could he be so blind??

Then we passed right beside them. They were just posts.

Crossing the start line at mile 60, I walked straight to the food guy. I later learned his name was Adam, and he had been the angel to more than one runner. Besides serving food, he had popped blisters and provided invaluable moral support and encouragement.

As soon as he saw me, Adam pulled out a hot pizza box and I have never seen a more beautiful sight in my life. I grabbed two slices and headed back to the car to change my shoes.

As soon as I put that pizza into my mouth, I felt energized. I didn’t have many shoe options left, so I changed into my Altra Lone Peaks.

The temperature was dropping fast, so I put on my warm Animal jammie pants and two sweaters. I was moving slow enough that I didn’t think I would work up much of a sweat.

Shacky treated his chaffing, and we set out for the next lap in slightly higher spirits.

Lap 5: Miles 61-75

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – Unknown

It was dark now, so Shacky carried my headlamp and we shared it. He was still keeping a fast walking speed, and I trotted along beside him.

My Altra Lone Peaks had some significant tread on them, but they weren’t as pronounced as the VIVOs. Also, they were more supportive. Compared to the Lunas, they felt like pillows for my feet and I was so thankful to have them at this point in the race.

The next few miles were a blur. I kept my head down for the most part, since the headlamps of oncoming runners would shine on my face and bother me. Every once in a while I would hear a greeting or a “Good job!” but I had no strength to reply. I barely even looked up.

The curbs seemed to be growing taller as the night wore on, and I was now fully convinced that this course was far from “easy”. My friend Paul explained it perfectly in his race report:

I would rather run in the mountains on some “hard” terrain than endure hard pack dirt with pavement… Plus, add in the danger of crossing intersections with cars zipping by (and some people looking at you like you just pissed in their cheerios… because they had to wait for you to cross the street before they could proceed down the road).

Earlier in the race, I had longed for rocks and climbs and single track and I wished for them now again. I think “easy” courses are hard for me, and “hard” courses are easier.

The endless, repetitive motions of flatter terrain take a hard toll on my body, and I’m much less mentally engaged. I need mountains to feel inspired and I seem to be at my best when I’m either climbing or descending. All I could do now was plod ahead.

I thought of Ginger. I imagined that she would want me to be running, since she also loves to run. I had seen many dogs out during the day and it made me miss her. I thought of Catra who had lost Rocky and was running this race in his memory. It’s amazing how deeply dogs can inspire us.

In my mind, I mentally ran through all the dogs I had seen that day. Most of them had been on the other side of the street under the care of considerate dog walkers, but I did have one sour memory:

Two desperate housewife-looking ladies who looked like they had just walked out of botox were speed walking together and chatting loudly, each with a large dog. They walked side by side, taking up most of the path. With their dogs running around beside them, they pretty much hogged the entire path.

It was late enough in the race that runners were either speed walking themselves, or running at a slow, shuffling pace. So these ladies were extremely hard to pass at the speed they were going. I got stuck walking behind them, and when I sped up to run past, instead of letting me go by, they passed me again. I passed them one more time. Then they passed me. Really bitches??

Thankfully they weren’t out long – they didn’t look like they were into sweating much.

A loud voice behind me brought me back to the present. It was Anastasia singing loudly to herself, dressed up like Supergirl. I smiled. Under normal circumstances, many people would call that “crazy” … but when you’re running 100 miles this is actually pretty normal. Anastasia wouldn’t be the only one singing herself through the night.

They say that the hours between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. are the absolute hardest part of 100 miles. For me, the entire night was a dark, heavy, disheartening experience. It hurt to run, and it hurt to walk.

Every so often, different parts of my body would start hurting that have never in my life felt pain before. A few minutes later, that pain would go away and move on to a new, unexpected part of my body. Hip. Shoulder. Elbow. They all randomly hurt at one point or another.

At the turnaround aid station, one of the volunteers read us a Bible verse:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

It was one of several that I had memorized as a teenager. Growing up, my dad was a minister and he was big on memorization. He once tried to get me to memorize the entire chapters of Matthew 5,6, and 7 (Sermon of the Mount) in Spanish, and I almost did. Besides that, I had hundreds of other passages committed to memory.

I haven’t read the Bible in a while, but sometimes during races relevant verses come to mind at my lowest points, like an emergency stash for my brain that I don’t even remember is there.

I repeated them in my head now like mantras, surprised at how accurately I could remember verses that had been stashed away for years when everything else in my brain was so foggy.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:30-31

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9,10

I remembered the name Jehova Jireh, which translates to “the Lord will provide.” It was the name that Abraham gave to the place where God provided a ram to replace the life of his only son for sacrifice in Genesis 22. I thought of the concept of having enough. Having faith that I already had what I needed to finish this race, at a time when I seemed to have nothing at all.

Jehova Jireh. My provider. His grace is sufficient for me.

Along the way we passed little Rachel, paced by Rachel Boyd. She was having trouble with her feet swelling up and they were stopping often due to pain. Rachel said she might drop out, but for now they were just focused on getting back to the start line.

I was glad that Rachel was not alone, and it was in these hours that I understood the true value of a pacer. I’ve always been a solitary runner, happy to get lost in my own thoughts and self-motivated. I felt pacers were more about keeping you on track for a certain speed, and I didn’t care about speed here. So I didn’t think I would need one.

But pacers in a 100-miler are so much more than that. They keep you awake. They distract you from the pain. They’re motivators, nurses, and voices of reason when your mind starts to play games with you. I simply don’t know if I would have made it through the night without Shacky by my side.

Shacky was in pain himself, but he went out of his way to look out for me. He kept me moving at a steady pace, and when I started falling behind he held my hand until he couldn’t stand the pain in his shoulder. And that’s how we made it back to the start line together.

Next: A DNF, separation anxiety, and a hot pursuit

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Rocky Road 100 Mile Race Report Part 2

Read Part 1

“The people that I have met are not foolish; they are aware of how tired and cold and hungry and frightened and hurting and discouraged and disoriented and how possibly injured they will become. They know they will face great physical, mental, emotional, and possibly spiritual challenges as they make their way to the finish. This is what they are racing against. This is their challenge. This is what I admire.” – Carolyn Erdman

Lap 2: Miles 16-30

I made a point not to spend too much time at the aid stations because that’s a weakness of mine. I tend to linger longer than I need to, and those minutes can add up significantly over 100 miles.

At the start line I quickly refilled my handheld, then set out again on my own. Shacky had already passed through, and I didn’t expect to see him again for a while.

I ran along happily, and grabbed more cookies at the first aid station. Then more cookies at the second one. A small voice of reason in the back of my head asked, “How many cookies can you eat??” But I tried not to think about it.

The great thing about an out-and-back is that you get to see all your friends. I made the time pass quickly over the next few loops by counting off the runners that I knew.

First there was Andy (Catra’s partner) – moving like a speed demon. I was excited to consistently see him as my first familiar face. He would go on to finish in 20 hours, 8th place overall.

Then I saw Ed, the Jester we all know and love. Before the race Shacky told me he was thinking of using Ed as a pacer overnight because of Ed’s steady, slow pace. But Ed was aiming for a sub-24 finish so that he could be done in time to race a half marathon the next day. He would go on to kill it at 22:54.

Then Catra, a lady that needs no introduction. I looked forward to seeing her at every loop. She would finish in 22:21.

Next came Carlos, who had finished this race before and was aiming for a significant PR. He was wearing his InknBurn tuxedo shirt and carried a single red rose in his hand. I only saw him with the rose on one loop. Then the next loop, I saw it in the hand of a pretty young girl. For the next three loops after that, I saw the pretty young girl’s boyfriend running pretty closely beside her.

Shacky was next, moving smoothly. I’m always awed at how effortless he looks when he runs. I was so proud of him.

Throughout the course, people somehow figured out Shacky and I were a couple and kept giving us random updates on each other’s progress.

“Your boyfriend’s up ahead of you,” I’d hear.

“Your girlfriend’s flying those hills,” Shacky was told.

Sometimes other runners would start chatting with me because Shacky had already introduced me a few miles ahead. Other times I’d come across blog readers that I didn’t recognize right away. They’d greet me warmly like old friends and it would take me a while to figure out who they were. So I learned to just greet everyone warmly on sight.

“Did you get any naked folding?” One guy yelled as he passed.

“What??”

“Naked folding! For Valentine’s!”

(What the hell?….)

Ten minutes later it hit me: He had read my Valentine post.

After Shacky I would see Rachel. She had attempted this race before, planned out each loop in advance, and was moving at a slow but steady pace. She was so cheery that she completely lifted the spirits of anyone who passed her.

Paul was a wild card. He was running the 50-miler, so his start time was later than ours. He ran at such a quick pace that he ended up finishing his race before we hit 50 miles, even though he started later. Seeing him at any point was a pleasant surprise – I had no idea where he’d show up.

The leaders were moving smoothly and insanely fast. Watching them, I remembered a comment that Frances left on this post before the race:

We need people (to run 100 miles), just like we need people walking on the moon, and people singing with voices that can be heard over an orchestra without a microphone.

It’s part of demonstrating that there is much more to us as people and that we can go beyond the way we’re using ourselves right now. That our bodies are truly amazing.

The leaders in this race moved like artwork. Gliding effortlessly, flying over the trail as if their feet weren’t even touching the ground. It’s one thing to run a fast marathon, but watching someone run a fast 100-miler is a deeper respect. And yet these are names and faces that many won’t recognize. We admire all the wrong people.

“How many 100-milers have you run?” I heard a voice behind me. A young Asian guy was passing by.

“This is my first one,” I smiled.

“Oh no!” he gasped, “You’re going much too fast!”

Huh? But this was a comfortable pace…

“What’s your best marathon time?” he quizzed.

“Well, I’ve only run three marathons….”

I reluctantly told him my best time was 4:20, then tried to explain one of those was my very first marathon, the second one I ran the day after my first ultra, and the third was the Disney marathon were we stopped to take a ton of pictures… but it was too late.

“OH YES!” His eyes widened in horror for me, “Way, way too fast! The runners in front of you are amazing. There’s a girl who ran Badwater three times!”

I wasn’t yet convinced that I needed to change my pace.

“How many 100s have you run?” I asked him. Maybe he didn’t know what he was talking about?

“Ten,” he answered, and then went on to name his other stats.

Now I was starting to get nervous. He seemed eager to dispense advice, so I asked some questions and he had a ton to say. I tried to keep pace with him, but he was a very sporadic runner. His running was faster, but he’d stop to walk more often.

“Don’t walk for too long and don’t run for too long,” he said. “Change it up.”

But I knew from experience that wouldn’t work well for me. I need to run at a steady pace, until I’m forced to change it up. I’m more comfortable with consistency, even if I’m consistently slow.

He eyed me over and estimated the number of calories I would need to consume every hour for my weight and frame. Then he advised me on wearing more supportive shoes. The first place runner whizzed by us.

“That guy is in first place!” he exclaimed. “Don’t follow him! Don’t even look at him!”

I had to laugh. This was a very different approach to ultras. This runner had good intentions and was genuinely trying to help me, perhaps also deriving some satisfaction in being the “expert”. But his advice made me start to doubt myself.

I wasn’t counting calories. I wasn’t wearing supportive shoes. And I apparently thought I could hang with the Badwater finishers. I didn’t want doubts filling my head this early in the race, so I slowed down to let my mentor slip ahead.

But before he left, he said one thing that burned in my mind and would come back to haunt me hours later: “Remember, the race doesn’t start until mile 80!”

Shacky and I later analyzed our pace in the first three laps and wondered if a slower start would have helped us in the second half. We decided no. We weren’t exerting ourselves at the beginning, and the issues that slowed us down would have happened regardless.

I was also uncomfortable with the concept of comparing myself with “better” runners and holding back because I felt I should be behind them. After Noble Canyon, I stopped doing that. I wanted to run my own race.

Nearing the end of the second loop, I noticed that my feet were starting to hurt in the VIVOs. The grip on the Neo Trails had proved excessive on this untechnical, too-similar-to-road trail. That’s when I realized: I don’t own a road shoe. I felt a slight rush of panic. I knew that I had to get out of my VIVOs as soon as possible, but what was I supposed to wear for the rest of the race??

Next: Part 3 – Frustration at the aid stations, and I start to get really hungry.

Read Part 1

My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles

This weekend, I am running the Rocky Road 100-mile race. It will be my first 100-mile attempt.

I’m at a point now where all the training has subsided, and there’s nothing left to do other than try not to feel anxious and take each day as it comes.

At this point, I’m more excited than nervous. I feel this is a race that could really validate me as a runner and help put me on a level where I feel I belong.

I’ve been impatient with the progression of my races. I can’t shake the feeling of restlessness, knowing that I have more in me. One more push, one more mile, one more sprint that I never got the chance to leave on the trail. There’s a mild frustration, knowing I’m holding on to potential the world hasn’t seen yet. Faster. Longer. Stronger. I’m ready.

Across the Years had a strong effect on my psyche. I saw so many unlikely runners put up jaw-dropping distances, including my baby sister. It really made me realize that I have been holding myself back. Not because I’m injured or because my body can’t handle it, but because I know I’m not “supposed” to be running that well. Because I haven’t followed an acceptable slow, cautious progression.

I went from running in shoes to barefoot/minimalist almost overnight. I went from only street running to only trail running from one day to the next. I went from zero elevation in Toronto, to almost exclusively elevation runs in the mountains from Day 1 in San Diego. My first day on a mountain, I ran 20 miles. I had never been on a mountain in my life. I’ve broken all the rules.

These past few weeks I’ve been fueled by great company. I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with great runners such as the Robillards, Paul Hasset, and I’ll be driving up to the race with Rachel Spatz. I can’t imagine a better possy to fuel a belief in myself. These are all runners who “weren’t supposed to.”

Paul was more than 300 pounds when he found running. Jason’s “authority” as a runner was questioned when he started writing a book. Shelly just keeps knocking out ultras quietly in the background and don’t even get me started on the awesomeness of Rachel who is the youngest and most inspiring 100-mile finisher I know.

These are the Honey Badgers I need to be hanging with. The people who don’t know they’re not supposed to run with extra weight, not supposed to write a book, not supposed to try a barefoot 100-miler, not supposed to recover so fast. So they do.

And now I’ve registered for my first 100-miler. Less than 12 months ago, this was a distance that seemed like a dream. Shacky and I even discussed at one point: What would we do after we run 100 miles? What else is left?

We imagined that at that point, we’d be near-elite status. We’d be at the peak of our physical conditioning. We’d be strong beyond belief. What other challenge could possibly be harder?

But now I know better. I know that 100 miles is not a distance that belongs to the elite. One hundred miles is just ground and earth and mud and space. It is all the things that I already know, and it belongs to all of us. We can walk it, we can run it, and with enough time we can cover it. It’s public domain.

Earth and space and time will always be there. What’s after 100 miles? More miles. In different places and in different ways. Each mile better than the last.

Some have questioned the wisdom in attempting this 100, and I get that. The same questions were there when I ran my first marathon. When I ran my first ultra. When I ran a marathon the day after an ultra. My point is, those questions will ALWAYS be there. And I hope I’ll always be around to answer them with, “Yes, please.” Because we don’t say that enough. If we did, there would be more 100-mile finishers in this world.

Coming from a background where I frequently heard negativity about how unsuccessful my running career would be, these are actually the comments that light a fire under my ass. They’re the attitudes that drove me to run in the first place.

Back in Toronto, it was a constant fight to convince those closest to me that I could be a runner. I knocked out my long distances, often running 26 miles around the neighborhood on my own, fueled by the anger and doubt of others.

Since moving to San Diego, I’ve been smothered in support. I’ve blossomed in this environment as well—feeling encouraged and welcomed into a community that I didn’t know I could be a part of.

But anytime I cross a line or take on a new challenge, there are skeptics. And hearing skepticism again this week, I’ve felt that familiar old rush of motivation to “prove them wrong”—more powerful than any of the encouragement I’ve received. I’m ready to start running NOW.

I try to internalize that motivation because I don’t want to come across as cocky. I know that each race has a mind of its own. Anything can happen out there and there’s always a possibility, due to injury or other reasons that I MAY not finish. But like Paul says, “I’m not afraid to fail.” Trying is just easier that way.

And yes. I CAN do this. I believe I will. When I do, I’ll be that girl who didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to.

(Note: I went on to finish my first 100-miler in 29 hours. Read the report here.)

Running with a Purpose: Sojourner Center

It’s the last week of June and this is the end of our Running with a Purpose charity series. I wanted to end with a post by a strong lady. Emz from runemz.com blew me away earlier this May when she hopped on a treadmill and ran on it for… 24 hours! She covered over 100 miles, all to raise funds for her cause.

Here’s her story. I encourage you to click on her links and learn more.

THE CAUSE

“Since 1977, Sojourner Center has provided shelter and support services to thousands of individuals affected by domestic violence. Through empowerment families discover hope and have the opportunity to build a new future free from violence. As the nation’s largest domestic violence shelter, Sojourner Center is a tireless advocate for domestic violence victims and survivors. With the continued support of the community, Sojourner Center can help women and children overcome the impact of domestic violence, one life at a time.”

WHY?

While domestic violence has not effected me directly, it has effected some of my loved ones immensely. One night at dinner my husband and I decided …

it.

was.

time.

It was time to get more involved. While I was aware of the center and vaguely familiar with their mission, it wasn’t until I actually toured the facility in early 2009 that my heart ached to do more. A lot more. I will never forget the feeling when we walking into one particular room. It was the room that honored those who had lost their lives due to domestic violence. Heart wrenching stories were shared. Women who would call in every night for weeks looking for beds.

But there were no beds available.

In a better world, there would be no need for a place such as Sojourner Center. But every day, desperate women call the shelter looking for safety and peace.

For some women, the act of reaching out was hard enough. Only to be greeted with an “I’m sorry, we don’t have room”. Simply seems unacceptable.

So my goal was to raise $10, 000 and MUCH needed awareness on this issue.

On May 6th, 2011 at 6am I began my 24 hour treadmill run for the Sojourner Center.

HERE is the link to the last portion of my run.

I hit the “stop” button on my treadmill at 6:04am on May 7th.

100.16 miles later.

A top three moment. in. my. life.

Emz

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