What's Next?

What's Next?

I’ve spent the last couple of months doing a lot of the things I’d been missing during training. Reading books and sitting at the pool. A yoga class or two. Seeing friends and sleeping in on a Saturday. All the small things we willingly sacrifice in the relentless pursuit of a goal. I thought that I would look forward to having a little bit of flexibility back into my life as this training cycle pushed my personal tolerance level of busyness. Now that I have had that time and space I find myself in a different type of discomfort.

I’ve been telling myself and others that I don’t need to decide what’s next just yet. That maybe I’ll do a half later in the fall, maybe a 5k here and there to test my fitness. Honestly, it was more about what I thought I should be saying rather than what I actually believed. The idea of another all-consuming ultra training cycle sounded exhausting, but I couldn’t get excited about training for anything shorter either. The summer weather conditions here in NC are a daily reminder of why I chose to train through the winter and spring, and are keeping me inside with the AC when I should be running. But the weather is just a convenient excuse.

It was clear after a self-pitying rant on my Instagram story that things were coming to a head. Kind words from several friends and a frank chat with Nora helped me realize what was going on. Post-race blues, sure. But that wasn’t all. I can't keep life at arm's length anymore. 

I keep telling myself that I will feel differently when Fall finally arrives. Come September I found myself anxiously anticipating Fall, which is quite the 180 from this time last year. What I’ve come to realize as the month flew by is the truth behind why I want to embrace fall with open arms. It isn’t to fall back in love with the things that used to make this time of year so magical for me. It is so that I can throw myself headlong into training again, without as much of the summer suffering, so that I can stop feeling again. Stop thinking about anything extraneous to training and basic existence.

Mark’s transition day is coming and I can already feel grief building up in the depths of me. I want to be deep into a training cycle come November 15 so that I can exhaust myself in some other less painful way. I haven’t found meaning and purpose in my life outside of training. I just haven’t. I struggle with why I am still here. Work is unfulfilling and that is the other big demand on my time besides running. One of those two things need to mean something to me or I will just slowly slip away.  

I realize that this epiphany of sorts comes with questions. Additional signs. It asks if I need to get back to therapy. If I need to learn how to experience my grief without being overwhelmed by it. It points out that any day my body could break down and I won’t be able to run and THEN WHAT. I am not running much right now, but by choice. What would happen to me if I woke up tomorrow and couldn’t? I don’t want to think about it but maybe I should. For someone who so meticulously executes a training plan, I am incredibly half assed about everything else, including my mental health. My most precious resource. At some point, that comes at a cost.

I don’t know what happens next. I’m not committing to taking steps towards anything, racing or otherwise. I’m not ready to do more than write these words. I guess I just didn’t want to curl up with this anymore. I don’t want to start grinding away again and have people think something other than the truth. I’m tired of hiding something broken behind the miles.

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Finger Lakes 50k 2018

Finger Lakes 50k 2018

I started writing this post on the plane ride home from New York, 48 hours after the race and yet here we are in September, still unfinished. I'm in the midst of what is commonly called the post-race blues and I think finishing this report as well as writing a few other posts will help me to move forward in training and in my life. Some days it still doesn't seem real that I finished. 33 miles. But I did and here is how it went down. 

 waiting at the start. why didn't someone tell me my pack was crooked?!

waiting at the start. why didn't someone tell me my pack was crooked?!

I had a few mantras going into the race that I had also used over the course of my training. I've used mantras in the past and with great success, so I recommend trying it if you haven't before. Mantras are pretty personal, but what worked for me were short phrases I could easily call to mind and felt natural to say internally and out loud. The first was Show Up. Much has been made of Desi Linden's words of wisdom and all of it is warranted. I've been using this one for several months and it has paid dividends. You truly never know what will happen on race day and so much of it is out of your control, so dammit just show up. Another comes from ultra runner Devon Yanko, Work The Problem. This one is useful when things aren't going to plan. It forces me to move past the feeling I'm experiencing and think practically about what can be done to resolve the particular situation. Do I need to eat? Do I need fluids? Do I need to walk? It dials down the emotion and ups the feeling of control I have over the experience. If you tend to get stuck in your head when things head south, try that one out. Lastly, and probably my favorite, Fit Strong Brave. This one is my of my own making and something that came to me as I was reflecting on a challenging week of training. I thought about what I wanted to feel like and believe about myself. What others have told me they see in me that I want to cultivate. When I got tired or started to doubt myself, I pulled this out. 

The other part of my mental race plan involved thinking about two ultra runners that I find motivating, Hillary Allen and Kaci Licteig. If you are familiar with ultras, you know these ladies well. If you don’t, here’s a quick explanation (I highly encourage you to read their blogs, and any recent articles about Hillary's recovery from a near fatal fall while mountain running). Quite simply, Hillary runs with so much joy. I’ve never seen anyone else with a more genuine love of this sport. She always has a huge smile on her face and approaches all of her running adventures with a sense of wonder. Kaci is a tiny powerhouse. She is also the most humble runner I’ve seen, and runs with gratitude in all circumstances. She sees ultra running as a gift, not a given. I wanted to carry those qualities of these women with me on race day. I wanted to remember joy when it got difficult. I wanted to take in the natural beauty when I started to get bogged down with the clock. I wanted to remind myself how lucky I am that I can run, that I can run far, and that I didn’t get here alone.

So, race day. The Finger Lakes 50k is a two loop course of 16.5 miles. Mostly single track with small patches of bridle path and a tiny spit of road. I hoped for a steady effort through loop one, learning the course and conserving energy for what I expected would be the harder second loop. Where the WORK would really be done. Surprisingly, in many ways loop one was the hardest for me. It is where I realized what I’d gotten myself into. What the day would likely feel like. How long I'd be out there (spoiler alert: longer than I wanted to be). Where the anxiety and fear tried to creep in. I kept hearing myself saying “I don’t know how I’m going to finish this.” Nora and I never discussed time goals for the race, it was always about the finish itself, but I was hoping for something in the 7-8 hour range if everything came together just so. I knew by mile 7 that it was not possible. I started doing the math, thinking about the two cutoffs I had to meet. Knowing the second lap would absolutely take longer than the first. The main issue was the course itself. The race is notoriously muddy but I was not prepared for the extent of it. Deep, shoe sucking mud the width of the trail that forces you not just to slow down but to premeditate every step to prevent slipping, injury, falling, etc. Mile splits quickly dropped to 16, 17, 18 minutes. 

 all.the.mud. 

all.the.mud. 

Honestly, it was frustrating and a bit demoralizing. But it was also what the course was giving me that day and every runner had to deal with it. I kept reminding myself that everyone was suffering. Slow down, step carefully, push on the clearer spots, keep moving forward. I spent a lot of loop one wondering how I was going to finish loop two. When I came into the start/finish line for a pit stop, I was wondering it aloud to my parents. Wisely, I'd already told them that they were not allowed to let me stop unless I was bleeding profusely or bone was protruding from my skin, so quitting was never discussed. The pit stop was all business. Fresh socks. Fresh shirt. Eat this. Drink that. On you go. It wasn't that I didn't think I could do it, I truly just wondered what it would take. How it would shake out. What was the story I would have to tell. 

 loop one done. photo cred: mom!

loop one done. photo cred: mom!

This is also the biggest lesson I took away from both training and racing my first ultra. I don’t need to know how I’m going to do accomplish in order to actually do it. It was going to happen. I was going to finish. I had no idea how but somehow that became irrelevant. It takes as long as it takes. Don't wait to start something because you don't know how you will finish it. You will. Just start. On to loop two. 

Loop two was easier in that I knew what to expect. I knew where the mud was and that it was likely worse for having had another round of feet stampede through it. I knew where the aid stations were. I knew what the climbs were like. My focus narrowed considerably, and without effort on my part. My brain knew what needed to get done and it shut out extraneous information. Hike. Stretch. Eat. Keep moving forward. Fuck the clock.

Some of the nutritional challenges that I had during training were managed early. At one point I was so tired that I just wanted to lie down on the course. I was falling asleep on my feet and texted my mom to tell her. She was less than thrilled with the idea of my taking a nap, as expected. So? Work the problem. I suspected that I was starting to bonk so consuming calories became priority one. Sure enough, about 30 minutes and various snacks/drinks later, I was much more alert. Miles 27-33 are hard to describe. As you may have noticed, those are the miles after 26.2. After what is already known and experienced. So far into the race and yet not feeling like I could say I was close to finishing. Reaching that final aid station with about 3 miles to go, having dug deeper than I thought possible, is where I also felt strangely calm. It was going to happen. I'm going to finish this. 

 one of the cow pastures scattered throughout the course

one of the cow pastures scattered throughout the course

I could hear the finish with about a half mile to go but wasn't sure at the time how close I was. I didn't want to push with what I had left only to find out I had at least a mile to go. Only when the grassy pond area fed into a familiar looking wooded trail did I really pick it up and RUN for that line. For the music and the voice calling your name as you approach the timing mat. For the family jumping from their chairs, racing to meet you, cowbells clanging in the air. For the opportunity to leap over the line and smash the bell hanging above you to commemorate the magic you just made. Ultra runner. 

In the hours and days since, one thing I realized that I risked and am proud of is how I went after this ultra 100%. The potential for failure was certainly there and because I’ve been pretty transparent with my training it would have been a public face plant. How scary is that? I’m glad that didn’t really occur to me until after the fact, honestly. If I had not finished, at least I could look back at the past six months and know it was not for lack of trying. Race day is unpredictable and a finish is never guaranteed. There are too many variables that will always be outside your control. You just need to be brave enough to give yourself over to the process. To what you can reasonably control. And own it when you have some gaps.

There is certainly room for improvement from this experience. I didn’t strength train as much as I should have, period. I was incredibly lucky not to have any injuries, but I also had niggles and issues that regular preventative work may have avoided. I also let my ego and how I value the clock decide my training run choices, and I paid for it on race day. I should have spent a lot more time on technical single track, since it made up the majority of the course but I was too self-conscious about how long the training runs would take and a bit scared of how hard it would be to do them week after week. I focused on the quantity of the miles, rather than the quality. I knew prior to race day that it would be a weakness but I felt too far into the training cycle to be brave enough to do anything about it.

I learned more than I thought possible about long run nutrition and feel a lot more confident about applying that knowledge to my next race. Most importantly on this matter, be flexible. Do not get stuck in a "just this gel, just this drink, just this chew" cycle. Your body will change its mind without notice (even during training) and trying as many different things as possible will teach you what your body can tolerate come race day. For whatever reason, on race day, all my body wanted was Pringles and watermelon. I tried a few other things at aid stations and was gagging and spitting things out on the trail. Except for Pringles and watermelon, neither of which I had trained with but both of which tasted amazing and caused zero GI issues. Who knew?! The gut wants what it wants and I chose not to fight it. 

Race day reveals all, the good and the bad. It strips you bare and leaves you with there with your naked self for hours at a time with no choice but to look. To stare and judge. To break apart and put back together. To wonder and admire. To accept and persevere. I accepted nothing less than relentless forward progress and received a finish line in return. I'm sure there will come a time when giving everything won't be enough but that was not the case this day. Humbled. Grateful. Onward. 

Weeks 24-26: TAPER

Weeks 24-26: TAPER

Tapering has been a welcome time. I am honestly ready to be done training. I'm tired. I miss having free time and flexibility in my schedule. I think that is a pretty common feeling to have when training for anything over a long period of time. My anxiety has still been eating at me, and I know having this race over with (great mindset, right?) will chill it out a bit. It did not help that I had a last minute work trip to Boise, Idaho for 4 days. As much as I can get bored with my routine, I really value the structure and disruptions like that ramp up my anxiety a bit more. 

I tend to worry about the flights (delays, lost luggage, plummeting to my death), how I tend to eat like shit when I travel, the stress of making sure I don't miss any training, and of course leaving my little furkids. Never mind that this is a cool work opportunity, I get to explore a new place on my runs, and the cats are always fine with their sitter (who they probably like more than me). The human brain is a fascinating and occasionally infuriating mystery.

I posted a lot of Idaho pictures in my IG feed, but the short story is that I loved running there. It was hot but not humid (OMG BLISS), the scenery was beautiful, and there were so many options within a mile of my hotel. Paved riverwalk, sand trails, you name it. I would definitely like to go back to Boise on my own time to explore more. As much as the trip was a disruption for me, it was also a shot of enthusiasm back into my training. I enjoyed my runs and looked forward to what I'd see that day. Much needed. 

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Week 24 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 32
Miles ran: 32
Time on my feet:  6:21:34

EFFING TREADMILL. That is really how I'd sum up week 25. The weather was unforgiving, both in heat and humidity, so I opted to do two of my runs (each 6 miles) on the treadmill. As much as I struggle on the treadmill, I know I'd suffer more outside. Case in point, I did 5 miles outside on Thursday evening and had to stop at a stranger's house midway through for ice and water. I was desperate. My usual routes don't have a lot of shade and I felt myself cooking from the inside out. It was highly unpleasant and I am super grateful for the woman who helped me out. She actually thanked me for asking her, which I found funny. I must have looked pretty rough. 

I did start to pay attention to the weather forecast for next weekend, and I'm not happy. After what seems like endless temps in the 70s, the race site will be experiencing a heat wave with temps in the mid to high 90s. Starting on race day. I mean, really? REALLY? It is hard not to worry when I see that, knowing how I have fared on my long runs here in NC with that weather. Being used to it and being acclimated to it are two different things. I would not say that I have acclimated to those conditions yet. Race day will be what it will be. I can't control the weather but I'll use the forecast to inform how I approach the race that morning, as well as dialing in my fueling strategy. Nora has told me that the outcome is already determined, so I just need to show up and see what happens. One week to go. 

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Week 25 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 30
Miles ran: 30
Time on my feet:  6:12:59

Race week! No race recap details here, that comes soon. Pretty low non-race mileage. One last massage to get the kinks out. I flew to NY bright and early Thursday morning and had most of the day to just relax. My sister surprised me and drove up (with my BIL and nephew!) to support me. They won't be coming up to the race itself (1.5 hrs away plus trying to occupy a 5 year old boy for however many hours it would take me to run) but wanted to be with me in person as much as they could. I was so surprised and so happy. I've been really nervous, wondering if and how I will finish, but being surrounded with people who know how hard I worked and believe that I will finish helps to convince me of what is possible. 

I had a great shakeout run Friday morning with my Dad and sister before we packed up and headed to the hotel and packet pickup. Going up the afternoon before the race helped to see where the start/finish line would be, as well as get a peek at portions of the course. I saw what the trail markings looked like and could scout out a place for my parents to set up basecamp. It definitely started feeling real once the bib was in my hands. All that was left was to grab an early dinner and head back to the hotel to prep, followed by what would be a fitful night of sleep and a very early wake up call. Finger Lakes 50k, here I come!

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Week 26 summary: 
Miles scheduled:  45ish
Miles ran: 46.72
Time on my feet:  2:41:44 (non-race) 10:03:36 (race time) 12:45:20 total

Prequel

Prequel

This should be fairly brief, if for no other reason than because I am typing this on my phone during Legs Up The Wall at the hotel. Welcome to race eve. 

Bib obtained, dinner eaten, gear prepped. Nothing left to do but wait. Thank goodness I am a patient person. So patient. Heh. 

The one thing I keep coming back to is how grateful I am. To have a body that got me this far. To have the means to travel to a race. To have a family that moves heaven and earth to support my crazy dream. To have friends who sacrificed their schedule to mine so I didn’t have to train alone.

Becky, I don’t think I could have made it to the start line without you. So many miles over these past six months. Early mornings and weekday evenings. You kept showing up for me without a second thought and I am so grateful. You weathered all my anxieties and fears and kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I am indebted to you and thank you will never be enough.

Rose, you kept me from careening over the edge whenever I crept close. Negative pep talks, Office memes, and lots of punching. I never had to filter what I was going through and a friend like is a rare gift. I cannot wait to dick around with you soon.

Lauren, you are the best cheerleader ever. From a state away you kept me believing and smiling. You go above and beyond for your friends and I don’t know how I could ever deserve it. The texts, IG posts, snail mail and and more. I love you to pieces and hope I can begin to repay you for the love you’ve given me. 

Ray, you’re an IDIOT.  You’re also incredibly caring and supportive and I have written proof that you like me so suck it. Thank you for knowing just what to say and when to say it. Those messages meant so much. And I’m saving them. Forever. Deal with it.

I would not have started going after this big scary goal if I didn’t have a badass bitch with a plan ready to show me the way. Nora, you’re a fierce and dedicated coach. You don’t sugar coat anything but you don’t skimp on praise either. No nonsense, no frills, no problem. You believed well before I did and you haven’t stopped. You contained my crazy and directed that energy into productive work. Thank you for enduring all the panicked texts and whiny run reports. I hope I make you proud.  

So many people supported me this far, from work to friends to family. I can’t help but be humbled and overwhelmed by the support. It’s just running, in the end. But you make it feel like an exercise in love. Tomorrow I plan to run with joy. To think of those here and gone who have loved me. I know it will be hard but it will also be worth it. Tomorrow I celebrate. I fight. I push. I crawl. I fly. I finish. Fit, strong, brave.  

 

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Week 23: Peaking

Week 23: Peaking

Thank you so much for the incredible comments I got on Instagram immediately after that ill-fated 20 miler and for all the kind words I received after the Meltdown post. I took another shot at 20 miles during week 23 and I got it. It was not what I would call a redemptive run. It was gritty and humid and hot and slow and painful and stubborn as fuck. I didn't exactly set myself up for success the night before, as I had concert tickets that had been purchased months ago, but that was the decision I made and I'd live with any consequences. I slept decently for the 5 or so hours I did get and didn't have an issue getting up when the 5:30 am alarm went off.

I was not anxious about this run the way I was the week before. If anything, I was almost detached. I knew it was going to get done, that I would get it done no matter what, so I didn't let my mind start going down the what-if road to hell. A couple things that may have contributed to that: the route and my fueling strategy. I decided that my usual haunt might be playing into my anxiety and it wasn't worth the risk so I decided to try a new spot. I'd done a few smaller sections of it in the past, mostly at dusk, so it was unfamiliar enough to be distracting. It allowed me to do 7 miles out and back, hitting my car at 14 where more fuel and company would be waiting for me. I'd then go out and back the other direction for the final 6. 

At Nora's urging, I set a 45 minute alarm on my watch for fueling. Every 45 minutes, down the hatch with fuel. I was, and still am, trying out different foods and looking for something that I can get down and has enough calories. The rice cakes are great, albeit labor intensive and since I am traveling not something I can easily recreate for race day. At the advice of another ultra runner I tried using Uncrustables (strawberry, because it is the only jam that matters). They are super portable, thaw on your person (esp. in recent weather here in NC), and check all the requisite nutrition boxes (calories, carbs, protein, etc.). The only problem I encountered was reaching the center of said treat and the gob of remaining PB triggering my gag reflex. Not cool. It washed down easily and sat well otherwise, so I am hopeful that I can make them work come race day. 

The combination of 45 minute fueling intervals and no single stretches of route longer than 7 miles helped keep my brain occupied but I was struggling when Becky met me on her bike between miles 12 and 13. The weather was taking its toll. I was glad that I would only have 6 left when I got to my car and yet had no idea how those 6 would get done. Becky dropped her bike at the car and laced up to keep me company for a few of those 6 (BLESS HER). I was walking more often at this point and had fallen behind on my fueling (my fault). At her suggestion I made a last minute change to do the final 6 out to end at her house rather than 3 out and 3 back to my car. I'd be running past one more water fountain with this plan and she'd drive me back to my car. Not retracing my steps sounded like a good idea at the time and I knew the trail well enough to get to her house on my own. 

She could only stay with me for a couple miles before heading home to her kiddo, so I slogged out the last 4 on my own. I ran, walked, and lurched my way through the greenways of Cary. I don't remember what I was telling myself in those remaining miles. I knew I was doing math, as I always do. Take the most recent mile split and then start guessing what my finish time might be if I got slower, stayed the same, sped up, etc. I do not recommend this and wish it was not a habit. The math, no matter how I did it, was unsatisfactory but there was nothing I could do about it. It was going to take as long as it would take. So will race day. Am I still moving forward? Yes? Then I'm doing it right. Maybe that's a pretty low bar for you. Maybe you bite me. 

There was no jubilant finish at 20. There were constant glances at my watch until it FINALLY clicked over, a ceasing of forward movement, and a tired sigh. It was done. It was over with. At this point I didn't actually know if I had one more long run to go next week or if this was it, so I didn't want to celebrate prematurely. It also just didn't feel like that big an accomplishment. Perhaps because I was wondering how those legs of mine would get another 12 miles done the next to round out the week. I mostly just wanted to go home and lie down. Hopefully the enthusiasm for new levels of exhaustion will appear on race day, along with more temperate conditions. Week 23, you're excused.  

Week 23 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 48
Miles ran: 48
Time on my feet: 10:07:26

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Weeks 19-21: What The Fuel?

I find it hard to believe that 20+ weeks of my life have come and gone, especially through the lens of a long training cycle. I didn't know what to expect since I hadn't done anything like this before, but dedicating a large chunk of your time and your physical and emotional energy is intense. As in previous posts, this one has a theme. I don't make them up, they just develop over the course of a week or two and I notice them as I look over my training log. In case the title of the post isn't clear, this one is focused on fuel. 

For a while I was able to do what always worked for marathon and half marathon training. Gels, sports drink, water. Lather, rinse, repeat. Until it suddenly stopped working. What I mean by stopped is that with little notice my body (mainly my mouth) no longer wanted gels. I could get the first one down on a long run but successive ones were a challenge. It didn't seem to matter the brand, it was just too much sugar. I had a strong feeling that I wanted nothing to do with sugar. I was craving anything savory. Bring on the salt. What the hell?

 cannot handle the heat and humidity

cannot handle the heat and humidity

I've never been one to enjoy gummy candy so chews were out (also, hey more sugar). Waffles too dry and I was not comfortable chewing on the run. Gels had just been so easy, why did it have to change? Aid stations in ultras are generally a wonderland of food and I was looking forward to that, but it didn't occur to me that I might need to start incorporating previously unconventional fueling into my own training. I didn't even know where to start. I tried Fig Newtons but they were too dry, so I didn't get enough fuel in on my long run, and BONK. I tried Picky Bars but they were still too sweet. Tried Skratch Labs chews (I know, I said I don't like chews) and they were ok but nowhere near the amount of calories I need to be taking in per hour (200-300). 

So, have I found anything that works? Sort of. Cheesy peanut butter crackers have sat well but I'm still not eating enough at one time to avoid bonking. Something more calorie dense and compact would be easier. Uncrustables peanut butter and strawberry jelly had a lot of potential, but getting to the center full of peanut butter would eventually make me gag and I wouldn't finish the whole thing. Dang it. After talking with my massage therapist (also a coach and endurance cyclist) I bought the Skratch Labs cookbook "Feed Zone Portables." I am not great about actually using cookbooks but this is a problem I need solved so I had to give it a shot. 

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So far, so good. I focused on trying the rice cakes in the book. Not dry crusty diet food rice cakes, but cooked sushi rice mixed with various ingredients. It has upped the amount of prep I need to do the night before a long run, but it is worth it. Having a rice cooker is clutch here, and this is definitely the most I've ever used it. I opted for a veggie version of the Denver cake the first week and then a fried rice-esque take of my own the following week. The saltiness is exactly what I seem to be craving on the run and they sit just fine in my stomach. Everything I have tried has sat well, to be honest. I think I just have a tolerant stomach, for which I am very grateful. 

This problem definitely isn't solved, far from it. I'm still struggling to eat enough of what I carry to ward off bonking symptoms or ending up dehydrated. The heat and humidity have been winning, much to my dismay, but I'm fighting back. I'm not eating early enough in the run, nor am I eaten often enough. It doesn't sound like a hard problem to fix, but for me it has been. I'm not hungry when it comes time to start eating, so I don't eat. Stupid. I can't chew real food and run at the same time, so this new fueling routine requires me to take more walk breaks. I'm also not allowing myself enough time to get what I need into my body before running again. The issue here is being too focused on the clock, honestly. My ego doesn't like seeing mile splits above a certain time, and I've been giving the watch priority over my body, which is a huge mistake. I've paid the price over and over and over again on my long runs. I'm working on it, but it hasn't been an easy fix. 

I know that come race day it will take as long as it takes. And I repeat that to myself on my long runs. It isn't like I'm going to stop my watch on race day every time I hit an aid station or eat something on the course, so why am I bothering to fret about it now? It's all ego, truly. Come race day my splits are going to be all over the map because the course will a big mix of elevation. This is what I signed up for. I keep trying to fit ultra trail racing into a road running box. It will never fit. Every week I am reminded of how different this is and how much I still have to learn. Checking my ego might be the hardest thing I do but it could be the key to getting me across the finish line. If I don't fuel well, I won't finish. Bottom line. Eat early, eat often. Now I just need to tell my brain to SHUT UP and do what needs to be done. 

 frosty hydration heaven

frosty hydration heaven

Week 19 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 32
Miles ran: 32
Time on my feet: 6:22:22

Week 20 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 44
Miles ran: 44
Time on my feet: 8:47:12

Week 21 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 42
Miles ran: 42
Time on my feet: 8:21:25

Week 22: Meltdown

Week 22: Meltdown

I know I'm writing this out of order, and I do have weeks 19-21 in draft, but this past week of training was intense. It is important to me that I get this down before I go out for my next attempt at 20 miles tomorrow morning. Yes, my next attempt. I don't mean to imply that I won't finish tomorrow, just that I didn't finish last time. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what happened. The other runs during Week 22 were unremarkable bordering on not great. It has been hot and humid here, and I do not run well in those conditions. I've been feeling banged up, physically and mentally. 22 weeks of training wears on a body, and that is to be expected. What I did not expect was the resurgence of my anxiety. It used to be crippling, many years ago, but with medication and a lot of personal hard work I have it well under control. 

In recent weeks, I've been getting anxious ahead of my longer runs. The weekday runs are manageable, I worry a little about how I'll feel but I attribute it to being injured for so long and being able to finish a run of any length was not a guarantee. The more I think about it as I write this, the more I wonder if anxiety crept in through the crack in that door. Eased himself in so casually that I didn't even know he was there. Until he shat all over my long run last Saturday. 

I found a telling comment in my training log from my run on Thursday evening. I'd had a massage the night before and it was hot out, so I didn't give this comment the thought it probably deserved until after the fact: "very relieved when it was over. hoping my legs feel fresher for Saturday or I might just sit down on the trail and cry." SERIOUSLY? Seriously. This was my mindset going into a 20 miler. Full disclosure, my last few longs run have been challenging. I've been running in the same place for weeks, at the same time, and feeling increasingly worse. I chalked it up, again, to being deep into training. That I just need to gut it out. That EVERYTHING IS FINE. 

And in some ways, yes, everything is fine. That is the worst part of anxiety. My mind has chosen to latch onto something, anything, that is vaguely important to me that it can manipulate. I am not injured. I have finished all of my long runs. I haven't always felt like a million bucks but I've done the work. I've been pretty damn consistent this training cycle. Anxiety doesn't care about the truth. It doesn't matter. Anxiety can make me believe that I am too slow, that it's too hot, that the ache in my knee is really an injury, that this race is a mistake, that I am not capable, that I have too far left to go and it will take way too long so just STOP. Quit. You suck, you're embarrassing yourself and your coach. You're probably her slowest client. Go home. 

 who doesn't take a picture of themselves ugly crying on the trail?

who doesn't take a picture of themselves ugly crying on the trail?

All of these thoughts and more cascaded through my mind at mile 11 last weekend, hands on knees and sobbing on the side of the trail. Nine miles to go and no idea how I would get them done. I knew I would hate myself for quitting on this run but finishing felt impossible. I had a brief respite when a fellow runner stopped to check on me. He was doing 17 miles and asked me to join him. "Are you *sob* slow *sob*" I asked? And he was going a little faster than I had been but he convinced me to get moving again. I only spent a mile and a half with him but he talked to me and he kept me going to my turn around point. I wish I could say that his kindness snapped me out of it and gave me the perspective I needed to push forward. But I can't.

I covered the 1.5 miles back to the water fountain where he had picked me up, refilled my pack, and tried to get my head straight. It wasn't working. Last week I didn't know how I was going to finish 18 miles but I just kept pushing and I made it. That gear was nowhere to be found now. Making it back to my car would put me at 15 miles and I told myself that was it. Just get there. Screw the last 5. This isn't worth what you're feeling right now. I do have some aches and pains and at 13 miles into my run I was feeling them. But they weren't at a point where the rational person would stop. They were just tired sore legs. My mind was the problem and my mind was broken. I texted Nora to let her know I was done. I'd already sent a few panicked notes and this made it official in my mind. 

I dragged myself back to the trail by my car, stopped my watch, and broke down. I was so tired and angry, frustrated and sad. My heart hurt. I felt like I'd sold myself out and created a dangerous precedent. I had the exact number of days until my race pounding in my head and this was all the proof I needed that I wasn't going to finish. 28 days away and you're fucked, kiddo. Never mind the money you wasted on the registration fee, the hotel, the plane ticket. If I cannot finish 20 miles, how will I finish 50k? I didn't know, and I still don't. I went home and sat on the living room floor. I talked to Nora about what happened and we discussed what I can do moving forward. We have some options but this is not something that is fixed in one conversation, one run, one day. 

I can't tie this up neatly in a bow, and I have 20 miles on deck for tomorrow. I'm still anxious. I don't know why the anxiety is coming back after years of quiet. I am going to show up tomorrow for my run, as I've shown up every Saturday this year. I have a mantra. I have a plan. I want to finish. I want my mind to shut the fuck up and let me do the work. I want to believe in myself the way others believe in me. I have months of evidence that says I am capable AF. When it is you versus you, how do you win? If I figure that out, I'll let you know. 

Week 22 summary: 
Miles scheduled: 48
Miles ran: 43
Time on my feet: 8:40:45