From Burnout, To Retirement, To Rediscovery
It’s three days after my competitive trail running debut at the Moab Trail Marathon Championships in Utah this past Saturday, and I’m sitting here with a lot to smile about. Not because the race came together surprisingly well for me (I assure you it did not) but because I feel like for the first time, in a very long time, I have a lot to be excited about.
Let’s take it back several months ago, when I first decided after two years of chasing around Mountain/Trail/Ultra stud Addie Bracy all over the world, that I too wanted to take a shot at competitive running again. You see it was almost impossible not to fall in love with running all over again when you’re exposed to a whole new way of looking at it. Following Add to all of her races for two years, crewing her, pacing her, training with her for these extremely challenging running feats was like experiencing running in a totally new way. I’m someone who had the pretty standard running career prior to moving to Colorado. I competed in College at a very high level, decided to continue post-collegiately at an even higher level and then prematurely left the sport all-together once I experienced the typical high performance “burnout” many elite athletes succumb to. Running to me was on a similar level as a root canal, something I dreaded, something I was scared of and something that may have left a little PTSD on the psyche. Ok, that’s dramatic but you catch my drift.. I simply didn’t like it anymore.
Just my luck to fall in love with someone who lived life in that stereotypical run/eat/sleep/breathe/run routine, am I right?! I mean come on, at first I thought to myself how on earth is my soulmate someone who might possibly run forever, and I mean that in quite the literal sense (Add can run 130 mile weeks over and over again and then race a supremely difficult 100k in the middle of those said weeks and crush the course record… and then go run the Leadville 100 a few weeks later). I’m not going to lie it was challenging at first. Many arguments were had over what I thought in my mind was “the prioritization of running over your girlfriend”. I laugh now because my mindset has changed entirely and now I apologize for how many times I had a temper tantrum over one of her training runs or an ill-timed race. But as cheesy as it sounds and as much as many of you disagree with the concept, Add is my soulmate. And so, over the course of two years my love for Add grew and my distaste for competitive running lessened.
Soon I found myself getting those nervous, stomach aches before her big races as if I were running myself. I’d stay up scanning through social media to see what her competitors were up to and try to get the inside scoop as to how their training might be going (kind of psycho I know… my apologies and I’ve since stopped doing that because I realized how ridiculous and unnecessary it was). I’d get so stoked for the big, epic training runs where we’d pack a whole day worth of supplies (including our Tenkara rods because there is always an epic spot to fish somewhere along the way) and spend an entire day in the mountains. Week after week and month after month I was running (adventuring as I call it) more and showering less. In fact I’ve really embraced the not showering part, a bit too much Add will tell you (sorry Add). Heck I was spending weeks at a time completely off the grid camping out in Leadville all Summer long. Where every morning consisted of a mug of coffee, a map and an ambitious trail route picked out to go run. Every evening spent enjoying a beer (or three) a deliciously creative camp-style dinner and the peaceful relaxation that only comes when all you have on your mind is your person, “what on earth those two dogs are getting into right now?”, nothing else.
Needless to say it wasn’t long before thoughts of how to help Add ensure positive race outcomes became thoughts of myself competing alongside her. Tentatively I asked Add whether she thought I could be good in this mountain/ultra/trail running niche, she’s always supported me for every impulsive decision I’ve made and there have been many, not surprisingly she was all on board. So, we sat down and decided to shoot for the Moab Trail Marathon as my first real competitive race and I was extremely excited/nervous at the prospect of having to race against some super talented runners. Deep down it was daunting to think I still had any ability left after I had taken 4 years off of racing and a full year off of running entirely. But training was coming along swimmingly shall we say and I was really enjoying the process of learning how to run hard again… and believe me it was hard!
So we make it down to Moab, camper in tow, the night before the race. We picked out a prime camping spot a half mile from the start/finish line so my morning wake-up time wasn’t too bad. I slept hilariously poor the night before but felt really good that morning. Unlike racing has been in the past, poor sleep and catching a cold the week before the race did very little to bum me out about my potential performance. Honestly things like that are so typical for everyone it was my mindset that you work with what you got come race day and you don’t dwell on anything else. I was locked in and ready to go at that starting line, had a close call getting there because of a poor planned pre-race bathroom stop, but I made it and positioned myself up with the leaders. Gun went off and holy smokes everyone was going faster than I thought, I mean this was the marathon start wave and not the half correct?!
A mile or two in things began to calm down and I decided to run with the leaders and stick my nose in it, I was feeling good. I kept thinking to myself, this is amazing, I feel pretty good for running in this ankle deep sand, we are running so fast, I think I could contend for a win if things stay like this! About six to eight miles in I began to notice some things changing let’s just say. For one I still felt decent, not as good as before but still decent. However, in those moments where things began to get a bit more difficult I failed to realize the fact that I wasn’t taking in fluids and gels. At this very crucial part in the race I made a very critical error, one that I continued to make for the rest of the race. I didn’t focus on fueling at all! For me all my focus was on racing. I was yo-yoing positions with the second and third place females and it honestly felt like a real race! One where you’re so focused on making moves and creating gaps that everything else is a blur. I realized quickly that … I.SUCK.at.technical.terrain (if I could insert hand claps in between each word I would). I’m not talking about it being a weakness, ladies and gentlemen it was THE weakness. The women I was jokeying position with were putting minutes on me when we would hit technical sections, literally minutes! All I could do was try and get through them and then bee line it during the runnable sections to try and catch up or try and create some distance so they wouldn’t gap me so hard on the next one. All it took was one very long technical section for them to put enough on me that I couldn’t catch back up.
Frustrated and discouraged I tried to stay positive and tell myself “I’ll catch them on the climb”. At mile fourteen there is a doozy climb that I figured would be a good place for me to catch them. I like to think I’m fairly good at climbing. Trouble was that I was about to begin my major bonk that would take me from cruising through the course at a solid pace to finding it hard to walk the last four miles. Take your gels and drink your fluids folks! After the climb I was all by myself, the leaders were out of sight and all I was left with was a dope view looking down into the entire canyon (actually made me feel a little better taking a moment to take that epicness in). Anyways I won’t take you through the last 10 miles but I will give you the highlights:
Missed a turn about every five minutes because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. Nothing where I was miles off course but enough to make you want to just hunker down in the fetal position and close your eyes forever (again dramatic, sorry).
Yelled F&*# about twenty-eight times or so
Met an amazingly kind man who helped me run probably my fastest mile in the back half of the race (he was all smiles as he shouted to me “hey that was a ten minute mile!” I proceeded to slow cry at how bad I was doing now)
At mile twenty I tripped and laid out HARD on the slick rock and thought I broke my hip bone (Add saw me fall since she had hiked in and was standing on the other side of the turn, her advice was “get up”) helpful Add, really helpful thanks!
With a 5k to go I turned to an aid station worker and referenced the Jay-Z and Kanye song where they say “Ball so Hard” and tried to turn it into “Bonk so Hard”... it did cheer me up a little
Had one last hard tumble with a mile to go that had me landing a couple centimeters from an aggressively thorny cactus, at that point I just laughed and thought “this is fitting”
Anyways, I did make it to the finish and I was still able to walk away with a seventh place finish. As I slowly sipped some broth and halfheartedly munched on a quesadilla I couldn’t help but smile. The race turned out to be epic, not in the way that I thought it would, but an epic adventure that had me digging deep just to get to the finish. I learned so much in that first race and I have so much to try and improve on. Being a self-proclaimed “good runner” does not automatically make you a good trail runner. Trail running is so much more than simply running and I have so much respect for everyone who takes it on.
Unlike a track race or a road race over the course of a long trail race or ultra race you are faced with so many unforeseen challenges. Things do not go as planned out there and problems you never thought you would run into suddenly, inexplicably do. In my humble opinion, each individual out there gets a very personalized experience that will have them growing more as a person mentally and physically than any of the traditional races I’ve completed. Whether you’re someone looking to crush course records and make your way to the elite level or you’re someone who has taken up the sport to simply challenge themselves with something new, I commend you. There is so much room for improvement for individuals who first start out in the sport. As for myself, my post-race analysis had lead me to consider honing in on my technical running skills and my fueling to improve my overall performance. Also, just throwing it out there that beer tastes better the more you suffer for it!
**Cheers to Add as she tackles The North Face 50 next weekend, if you haven’t taken a look at the women’s start list please do check it out. Going to be one heck of a race!