Three months ago, during my favorite nine mile run up Hamms Gulch on Windy Hill, I decided to run an ultramarathon. I kept hearing a voice deep within me telling telling me that I should do it. At that moment, I knew that I was supposed to listen to that inner voice, and so after my run that day, I signed up for the Crystal Springs 50k.
It seems strange, having never run a marathon and having only been running for seven months, to tackle an ultra, but I just knew it was something that I was supposed to do. It’s difficult to quantify moments of clarity, or to explain to people why I make choices, when my only response is “because I know I’m supposed to… “
And so, on January 5th, I set out, along with 300 other runners, on an adventure that I will never forget.
I woke up that morning feeling well rested. I ate my usual pre-run breakfast (eggs and toast), got dressed, and loaded up my friend’s car with all the necessary post race recovery items from food options to a change of clothes.
It was a frigid 40 degrees as we pulled into Huddart park. It was supposed to warm up, but I knew that we would be running under a canopy during the majority of the race, so it would remain rather cold. I walked around the parking lot with my friend to warm up my muscles and took that opportunity for a final trip to the bathroom.
I double checked to make sure that I had everything. I had eight hours to complete the course. I had my water pack, several packs of Gu, honey stingers, Cliff Shock blocks, gloves, beanie, phone.
I was ready.
At the start, we all gathered and headed down towards the single track trail. The first mile was downhill; a bit deceiving, though an easy way to start the race.
But then the climb began: four miles up.
I ran these trails frequently, and I knew the course. This was nothing new, but running with so many people was.
This first ascent was hideous. I couldn’t find my zone. I kept questioning myself:
Maybe I tapered too much or incorrectly.
Maybe I took the carbohydrate loading too far
Maybe my cardio wasn’t where it should be
I wouldn’t make it.
Five miles of questions, frustration, anger, disappointment. I struggled to get out of my head. While I was at first stressed about running surrounded by people, I became appreciative of having others around me to motivate me. I knew that if I could get to that first aid station everything would be ok.
But I was wrong.
At mile four, my hip flexor started to hurt…with every step up I took, I felt a pain in my hip.
But I knew that I had to forge ahead.
I grabbed something to drink at the aid station and pressed on. This was normally my favorite part of the course, but I still struggled to find my stride.
Six miles in, and thoughts of doubt were still spinning around my head.
People kept passing me, and I kept having to slow down. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. Nothing seemed to be going my way.
And then I let go.
I felt my feet on the trail… touched the trees as I went by… focused on my breathing… felt my power deep within my core…and just like that… I found my zone, my stride.
Everything in the world seem to dissipate, and for ten miles I was unstoppable… feeling… breathing…running.
When I felt the pain in my hip, I felt it and breathed through it… I didn’t allow it to impede my stride…
I felt like I was flying.
At mile 15, after a long descent, my legs started to feel tired, and I lost my focus. I knew that there was one more long climb…up.
I was plagued by cramping legs and a strained hip flexor; the climb out of Wunderlich was arduous. Yet again, I started to question my ability, my legs, my training. With about 14 miles to go, I wondered how I would make it; every step representing a painful challenge.
I knew that I had to slow down and I had to stop questioning myself:
mind over matter.
I knew I trained sufficiently.
I knew my legs would get me there.
I knew I could finish.
I had run this trail so many times before, this was just one more training run with a few more people thrown in for good measure.
And so I started saying to myself, “I am not afraid, I am running.”
Before I knew it, I was at the aid station, where I got a sodium tablet for my cramping legs.
I was out of Wunderlich, which meant that I had just over ten miles left, and all of the difficult inclines were over.
20 miles down, 10 to go.
Despite my tired cramping legs, I started to push the pace constantly saying to myself, “I am not afraid, I am running.”
At times, the roots on the trail got the better of me, and I fell with a thud. While not a technically challenging course, after 23 miles of running, my legs were finding it difficult to elevate over the roots. And while I landed in the dirt, I said to myself again, “I am not afraid, I am running” and got up, and continued on my way, extending my stride even further.
The miles flew by…
I could hear the birds… the blue birds, the crows, cheering me on.
I felt the power of the ferns, the trees and even the rocks…
reminding me of why I love to run the trails.
And before I knew it I was at the last aid station. I took another sodium tablet, drank several cups of water, and asked them how much further…
“4.6 miles down.”
It was cold, and I could no longer feel my legs.
As I got to the Chinquapin trail head, I sped up once again. I knew I could open up my stride even more. I just wanted to finish.
Each step …closer to the finish, closer to home.
Following the pink ribbons… across the wooden bridges… I listened to the water from the creek… enjoying the silence… but pushing on… pushing forward…
And then, the trail changed, and started uphill again. I started to panic. My legs had nothing left, and my hip flexor was no longer able to maintain a jog.
And so I walked… and even started to wonder
Where are the pink ribbons?
Am I off course?
I thought it was all downhill…
Before I knew it, a pink ribbon appeared, and the brief half mile uphill was over; I knew I had about a mile left.
a paved road…
I could feel the jarring of every step…
and went faster…
until I saw the finish line…
As I crossed the finish, I started to cry. All of the focus, all the pain, all of the emotion, all of the preparation seemed to release in that moment. I had nothing left, and it manifested itself in tears.
Sometimes the choices we make, aren’t quantifiable. While I can’t explain or rationalize why I ran this race, I do know that I learned an inordinate amount about myself. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I was. While I have many fears, this race was in many ways a release of some of those fears… each hill… each climb… each breath….
moving forward … one foot in front of the other.