Thursday, June 11, 2015

Part 3: Confessions of an Uninjured, Injured, Broken, but Iron-Willed Runner


I never know where to start a blog for a 100 miler.  It's like trying to take 100 years of life and deciding just where to begin your story.  Plus, the first few miles of the race were dark and not very exciting.  Then some miles, just like years, are uneventful, some beautiful, and some just plain hard. 

To make this blog not 100 pages, I think I'll jump around a bit. Don't worry, it shouldn't be too hard to follow (though I did just have a wine, cherry juice, sparkling water combo). I'll add in some details of the course, but if you've read anything of mine before, you know I prefer to write what's going on in my mind.  Here we go!

Massanutten Mountain Trails 103.7- May 16-17, 2015

"I want to push myself to the limits, and if things don't work out, then I can give up.  But I can do everything I can until the bitter end.  That is how I live." - Haruki Murakumi 

(First thing I read after MMT, the opening quote for "Learning to Fly".)

My thoughts on Massanutten are still scrambled in my head.  It took me 33.5 hrs.  Even though I am not in the best physical condition, that's ALOT longer than it should have taken me.

Going in to the run, I knew it was going to be harder than I expected.  Yes, I know that sounds contradictory, but I knew I couldn't wrap my head around the rocks.  As soon as we go off the paved road and on to the trail, I knew I was right.

The Pre-Story: Aka, Everything Before 79

In the dark, with others behind me, I kept stumbling and falling.  By mile 5, I had tweaked my freshly pulled calf muscle (done on Tuesday) enough that for the next 50 miles, I'd have periods where I'd feel like the muscle was popping out of my leg.

For the most part, I could deal with the pain.  Still, after tripping and falling, by the time I passing the 20 mile mark with bloody knees, I knew I was going to be out there longer than originally expected.  Partially because I sucked at maneuvering around rocks, partly because my calf hurt, and partially because I had no extra spark in my legs.

I did my best to enjoy the climbs, the beautiful moments I was on the crest over-looking the forest, and the brief periods of nice, runnable downhill.

50kish- I think

At mile 53ish, it started to poor.  This was welcome from most folks as just previously we had been baking in the sun.  However, I was going up, up, up and my main worry is always getting cold.  I prayed it would stop as I started my hike up, chatting with another runner from Ohio near my age, about future plans (he was in a low period, but otherwise much smarter for having come out to some of the training runs and experiencing the terrain).  I had to laugh...he said after this, he'd love to train for speed again, having been anemic his senior year of XC.  I was anemic my junior year, before turning to ultras.  I only got a glimpse of my speed, with my coach predicting the possibility of running a sub-20 5k by the end of the season.  That goal quickly faded.  Now, with the current state of my hip, speed is only a dream for me.  I told him if I ever figured out my hip issues, I was training for a 5k!

Anyway, by the time I reached the crest, the clouds parted and I had a heavenly view of the Massanutten Mountains.  Briefly, I felt that luck was on my side.

Mile 79: The Story Begins

At mile 79, my body completely shut-down, as in "switched to off" and there was nothing I could do to turn in back on. For the next 25 miles, only my spirit remained strong.

It is disheartening to know my body could destruct like that.  After Black Hills 100, I thought I had been through the worst. My stomach may not have been quite so bad this time around, but really, Black Hills was just a glimpse of how bad it could get...and what I could survive.

Maybe I should have stopped at Mile 50, with my calf pushing out of my leg.  It would have been understandable. It probably would have been smart. But you never know what is going to happen after 50....

The question in my head was one of pride and values.

I could DNF, calling it a bad day.  DNF's happen.  Then my finishing place wouldn't matter.

Or, I could keep going, changing my goal to just finish, no matter my pain or place.

Luckily, I have reviewed my values enough that there wasn't much of a decision to be made.  I value endurance- continuing despite the challenges the lay ahead, the challenges that uncover what one is made of. 

I had to try.

(By no means am I saying I made the right decision, and especially not the right decision for everyone.  If I was an elite with other races ahead, dropping would have been an easy choice.  I also would like to think that I would have been able to stop if I really felt like something was wrong...I'm not so sure.)

Things were going okay up until mile 79.  It was dark and I was stumbling, but I could still run.  At the aid station, I met my angel/pacer (then a stranger) for the next 25 miles.  We left the friendly volunteers to begin our climb to the next aid station, only 3.5 miles or so. 

Suddenly, my heart was pounding and I was light headed.  I was yawning- tired and feeling like I couldn't get enough oxygen.  My muscles seemed to have lost all power.

I told my pacer I need to stop and I sat on a rock with my head between my knees.  This must have lasted at least 10 minutes, as other passed us.

We considered going back, but mentally, I couldn't.  Going back was just not possible.  Figuratively, I couldn't event wrap my mind around what going back meant...I just knew the mental pain would be worse than the physical.

Ever so slowly, with stops so I wouldn't faint, we continued on.  We followed this pattern for the remainder of the race.

Those miles were excruciatingly slow.  I was confused and frustrated.  My legs wouldn't even let me speed walk.  Our pace must have been 2 mi/hr, at best.  The quads and hamstrings that I thought were strong, forbade me.  I nearly crawled on a long, smooth stretch of downhill, perfect for running. 

My legs just wouldn't work.

I continued to take stops so my head would stop spinning.

There were times when I thought about stopping.  When I really thought I must be toying with death.  Still, I didn't really think of all the reasons to quit, only reasons to keep going.

1) I really didn't want to have to come back & I really wanted to wear my MMT shirt.
2)  Sandi and I raised over $1.000 for GOTR- I owed it to my supporters and future GOTR girls to give it my best shot.
4) I always tell my girls "you don't have to be the best, you just have to try your best".  I had to walk my talk.
3) I simply had to try, to see what my soul was capable of.

I was trying, with all 1% I had left. 

Now that I look back, I think my body went into of form of self-preservation,  Who knows what damage I would have done otherwise?

The funny thing is those, that even in those long hours, I don't remember thinking about much else, as I usually do when running.  I remember being a bit annoyed, continually getting asked "Is this your first?" (meaning my first MMT).  It made me feel like a newbie.  Yes, MMT was hard, but I had been on other tough courses. I also thought of Sandi and Steve, knowing they were watching their computer screens and starting to worry about me. Other than that though, my sole focus was moving forward.  I would look up at the next hills, possibly whisper a "shit", and keep going. 

As the sun rose, more and more runners passed, especially in the last 3 miles of road.  I tried to run, but I couldn't.

I felt weak.  I felt strong.  Despite my broken body, somehow I had willed my way through the past 12 hours.  My spirit was powerful.

As I finished, I thanked my pacer, knowing it would never be enough.  If it wasn't for him, I knew it was likely that my body might still be curled up beside a rock.


A few hours later:

When I called Sandi at the top of a view point overlooking Luray (the Ouray of the East) as I began my journey to Washington DC, I started telling her about the race.  I began to tell her of my journey, but almost instantly I started crying. Actually, I wept.  All I could get out was "it was so hard" knowing she was one of the 2 people knowing I didn't mean the course.  I had been holding in my tears for so long, not really sure what they were from...disappointment, anger, pain, joy, relief. 

Steve of course was my second phone call, the only other person who knew what limits I had pushed.  Kindly, he paid for my hotel so I'd be a bit better refreshed for my tour of DC the next day, as my original plan was to camp.


The ego is a funny thing.  Not long after finishing, and even during part of the last 25 miles, I felt embarrassed.  I thought of other thoughts on me: What is wrong with her?  She's slow, I thought she was supposed to be good! 

Of course, I was reflecting the negative perception in my own head.  I knew I should be proud of myself for what I had achieved, but instead the thought "why am I not better?' kept entering my mind. 

I know I am good enough, or just plain "enough".  I just need to believe it.

"The world breaks everyone and afterward, we are stronger in the broken places" -Ernest Hemingway


Afterward:  New Adventures

After training hard, or rather, putting my body through torture since junior high, I am quite certain it starting to break down.  Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous at 27, but that's the signal it is giving me.  It's time to take a step back from ultras, hopefully figure out my hip, and let my body reset.

Of course, I do have one more adventure in mind.  Pacer and I are moving to Boulder, CO next week (just 10 minutes away from Sandi!) and I can't just past up the opportunity to explore summer in the mountains.  Hiking will take up most of the next few months, until it starts to get cold again and I can better resist the urge to explore.

We have particular route in mind...

Even since reading "Becoming Odyssa" I've wanted to do a through hike.  I also missed the clarity I had in my thoughts after climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I wanted to feel true beauty again, the kind you can only get after moving your body for hours on end, feeling its power, not shaving and never looking in the mirror. 

Then, a few months ago my friend told me she hiked the Colorado Trail with her dog. The seed was planted.  Pacer and I were going to hike the CT in August at a relatively easy pace of roughly 20 miles per day.

At 500 miles, it's challenging but not a huge time commitment.  Enough time to feel scared and hopefully overcome that fear, let my head clear from it's usual chatter, and just be one with nature and my dog.

Pacer and I training for our hike!

As I end this blog, I'm realizing the end is just as difficult to write as the beginning.  Maybe because it's not the end.  Actually, I think it is a new beginning.

Taking Flight,


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