If there is nothing else I have learned from my years of training (myself, as well as others), it is that the best advancements in strength and stamina occurred once I became comfortable being uncomfortable!
Cardiovascular training is important for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that the heart is the most important muscle in the body!
But working outside of what feels “normal” or comfortable is hard, and takes heart of a different kind. Here, I highlight two methods of cardiovascular training and the benefits of both.
Heart Rate Training
Monitoring heart rate during exercise helps my clients pinpoint a precise number where an easy effort becomes moderate, or where a moderate effort becomes hard. This kind of training is valuable to both everyday and professional athletes who wish to better understand their workout zones:
Joe Friel (M.S. Exercise Science) Run Zones
Zone 1 < 85% of LTHR Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR
Looks complicated, huh?
Here, LTHR stands for Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, which for most people is the hardest “hard” effort they can maintain for 30 minutes. To understand one’s unique LTHR, a trainer or exercise physiologist will look at the average heart rate from the last 20 minutes of the run. This eliminates a falsely high reading if someone goes out too hard in the first 10 minutes. This is better than the old “220-age” maximum heart rate calculation because efforts are measured against a pace that can actually be maintained.
Why is this important?
For the person dedicated to their cardiovascular training, using this formula paired with assigned workouts will help them know they are pushing hard enough during key workouts, and going easy enough on recovery days. Most weekend warrior type athletes push a little too hard, a little too often for most workouts. Having a specific number to adhere to, calculated based on that individual’s current abilities, ensures consistency and appropriate workout intensity. This is why I am proudly coached by Andy Jones-Wilkins from Carmichael Training Systems.
Rate of Perceived Exertion
😄 😏 😐 😩 😢
This is the easiest way to gauge effort for most individuals interested in working out, because its unit of measure is very simple: How a person feels.
When training is less sport-specific and more about improving overall fitness, being able to identify how hard an effort should be by feel is a valuable tool in assessing where someone can push harder or when it is time to back off.
Why is this important?
When someone is starting a new fitness routine, everything may feel hard, which can be frustrating, often stopping the routine before it even has a chance of becoming habit. RPE helps people understand the relationship between how they feel and how hard the workout is, and provide a guide for how hard they should expect a workout to be. When told ahead of time, “This effort is going to be hard today. I want you at an 8 out of 10 and it’s OK if it feels very difficult,” people spend less time analyzing why it is so tough, and instead learn to embrace it. Conversely, when a typically easy effort feels unusually challenging, they will know it’s time to analyze whether other areas of wellness - sleep, hydration, stress, diet - are affecting their workouts. When paired with % LTHR, we get a clear picture of what might be going on with someone’s training that day. Here are some personal examples, from the feedback I have given to my coach using the Training Peaks platform:
Putting It All Together
Ultimately, I wish to train everyone to move by feel. If a client hits a plateau, we can look to heart rate monitoring to see where they can begin to experiment with increasing the intensity and duration of their workouts. Conversely, if their heart rate becomes more elevated even after rest, we will look at taking a prolonged recovery cycle. Initially, I want clients to establish a simple baseline upon which we can gauge easy, moderate, and hard efforts. From there, when I start hearing things like “That felt hard, but good!” I know we can start utilizing heart rate zones as another training tool.
Cardiovascular training geared toward my clients’ specific abilities and goals is just one of the many ways I guide them in finding their definition of Fit, Healthy and Happy.
I welcome questions any time, and am happy to provide free email consultations as well has a complimentary 30-minute assessment!
I can't tell you how many times I started down that path and thought, "Well, maybe I'm just not a trail runner." From the burn of lactic acid that seemed to build in every part of my body to the frustrated tears that came with every misstep and ankle twist, I legitimately thought this was a thing, like so many other sports I had tried in the past, that simply wasn't for me.
The problem with "not" is that it's a way to absolve ourselves from the responsibility to take ownership of the process. It wasn't that I really thought I could not physically run on trails. I knew that all I had to do was slow down and take it easy on myself. Somehow, though, I had gotten it in my head that because I had run Cross Country in high school everything would just click into place. That I'd be cruising up the hills and flying down every descent with the same reckless abandon I had as a young teenager. But as I attempted to build mileage for my first trail race, things hurt. New things hurt. I was nervous and clumsy. I was working harder but going slower than ever. Nothing about being out there felt right or natural. But it wasn't because, as I thought, that I was "just not a trail runner."
The truth is, I didn't know if I could find the ambition or resolve to dedicate myself to the training necessary to make it feel right and natural. The "Not" was a cop-out - it was a way to let myself off the hook if I failed. I could say "I'm too clumsy for that," instead of "I didn't take enough time to practice running on tricky trails." It was too easy to give in to the idea that I was not going to run like how I used to, which would stop me from ever really trying.
All too often, we create goals based on what we're not. We're not the weight we want to be. We don't run as fast as we used to. We're not eating right.
Instead of only focusing on what you're not, I'm here to challenge you to frame your goals around what you could be - to move forward with a sense of ambition built upon a curiosity about what is possible. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of engaging in self-fulfilling negative thoughts and behaviors that do nothing to help us recognize our true potential.
Instead of, "I'm not as fast as I used to be," think "I wonder what pace I can run out of my comfort zone for sixty seconds?"
Instead of, "I don't have the same metabolism as when I was young," think "How can I make healthy eating a priority?"
Instead of, "I don't have the time to get the results I want," try, "What results can I achieve with the time I have?
There will be tough runs and hard workouts. Some sweat sessions will feel amazing while others might make you question your motives. Some will downright suck and it'll be up to you entirely to push yourself through. When the negative chatter tries to force its way in, remember that you're there to see what you can do at that moment and on that day. Success can be measured in a variety of ways, not just time ran or weight lifted, so take note of how you feel with every workout. A workout journal can be a great source of inspiration as you flip back through to see which workouts used to feel difficult that you can now perform with ease.
To this day I still have challenging runs, but I don't get in my head about them anymore. I allow myself to vent my frustrations in the moment and then move on, because the tough runs are just as important as the successful ones. That's where I build confidence that I have the mental fortitude to keep moving even when I don't want to, or that I have the grit to keep pushing even if I feel like I'm falling short of my workout goals.
So when it comes to how you think or talk about your training, try eliminating "not" from your vocabulary. It may be a hard habit to break, but when you create that positive shift in your thinking, I truly believe you'll be successful in achieving your goals!
Stretching is a natural and instinctive movement. When we wake up, we extend our legs to break out of the stiffness of slumber. After sitting at a desk for several hours, it can feel good to lift the arms overhead and reach up high through the fingertips. But there is some confusion around stretching and when or how to do it before or after a workout.
A Pair Of Weights
Body That's Ready To Move
Whether I am training clients in their home or in a private gym facility, we don't need a bunch of fancy equipment to target the necessary areas for functional training. What is Functional Training? For most training purposes, it involves exercises and movements that closely resemble the way their bodies are already need to move. This might mean training someone to fully engage the core so they can sit up and lie down without pain after recovering from a cesarean delivery. Or it might mean training shoulder mobility with functional range of motion exercises to help a power lifter better execute a move. On either end of the fitness spectrum, there are a variety of exercises that require little if any equipment to improve movement and function, whether it's a client's first time training ever, or they're looking for something to compliment their current training regimen.
I also enjoy training clients with little equipment because in reality, very few of us have access to every kind of weight machine available, let alone the time to use it every day. For those who may be at a loss for how to work out without specific machines at their disposal, my training helps show clients how to target every major muscle group no matter where they are. My most successful clients are the ones who take our creative routines and commit to doing even just a couple sets of a few exercises for fifteen minutes a day when they are traveling or experiencing an exceptionally busy work week.
So if you've been sitting on that gym membership, hesitant to cancel it even though you only make it there once or twice a month, consider taking that automatic monthly withdrawal and investing in a one-on-one personal training program that will actually work FOR and WITH you. After all, it's about finding YOUR fit, YOUR healthy and YOUR happy!
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The sun was setting on Michigan Bluff, and my chances of doing what I had come to California to do. My arrogant voice echoed in my head, repeating the words I’d told everyone leading up this race: “The only way I’m coming home without a buckle is if I break a leg or die.” Yet there I was, just 30 minutes from the final blast of the air horn signifying the closing of the aid station, absolutely convinced there was no way I was going to make it to the finish.
Back at the starting line, I was anxious but confident. Just standing there with the other runners at the 45th running of the Western States Endurance Run was an honor in and of itself, and I was ready to prove what relentless determination and a hefty dose of East Coast grit can do. To be clear: I am NOT fast and I had zero time goals. But I also don’t DNF (that's runner-speak for "did not finish"). I have never had to battle against the clock to make cutoffs, which is why I was so unprepared to have to do just that.
Our first and biggest climb up Emigrant Pass was simply amazing. I felt strong, running slow but steady on the few flatter stretches and maintaining a strong power hike for the rest. As we neared the top, the sun rose over Lake Tahoe, illuminating the valley below. The magnitude of these mountains quite literally took my breath away. Cresting that first incline, I was filled with optimism and gratitude for what the day might hold. A large group of spectators and volunteers, who had woken up just as early as the runners they were cheering, awaited our arrival at the top.
I wanted to take a moment and dive a little deeper into how I used to train (incorrectly) and how that has made me the trainer I am today.
As I may have mentioned before, my first run after years of smoking, drinking, and Taco Bell lunches was about 1.5 miles and TERRIBLE. That first run sucked so bad, and hurt so much, that the first thing I did before brewing my coffee and getting ready for work was smoke another cigarette. Despite my years spent running track and cross country, in that moment I thought I had no business calling myself a runner ever again. Luckily, I had a little bit of coaching from my high school days that I could latch onto, to recognize that maybe I needed a slightly more structured approach to training. I knew that not exercising was not an option, nor was winging it. But what could I do to make it not suck?
Fast forward a few years and a very bold but ill-advised decision to run a marathon; I learned the hard way that only running more and faster wasn’t the path to running happiness. All I was doing was chasing paces and finishes because I thought that if running was good for losing weight and improving fitness, running more had to be better. But when I couldn’t walk down a flight of stairs without a railing for two weeks after that first marathon, I knew I still had some work to do. I had friends that ran multiple marathons a year, some even running one every month, and here I was, wishing for a leg transplant. As it turns out, just piling on the miles wasn’t enough to make running a sustainable, or enjoyable part of my life.
Not long after this point is when I contemplated hiring a coach versus doing things on my own. I stumbled upon the middle ground that would lead me to the reason I'm able to do what I do today: I went to school for personal training so I could learn how to train smarter, and in the process, help others do the same. When I thought I had a grasp on things, I signed up for my first 50K trail race. But old habits die hard and I still trained on the old model of trying to accumulate mileage a speed week after week. I completed the race but not without some mental and physical battle scars.
It was then that I realized my goals had to be more than static finish lines, but ever-evolving portraits of the person I wanted to be. A strong woman and mother. An adventurer. Someone who could see the grandest sites by foot instead of tour bus.
Through time and patience I learned that if I wanted to run well, and more importantly ENJOY the benefits of covering ridiculous distances on foot, it had to be about so much more than losing weight or reaching a finish line in a certain time. It was the old mindset about what fitness and working out was supposed to look and feel like that lead me to make several of the mistakes that I now use as lessons and examples for my clients today.
My first mistake was always trying to make each workout hard, thinking that I had to just get used to it in order to improve. What I didn’t know was how and why physical adaptations take place and how to best facilitate that. My second mistake was thinking that if each run wasn’t faster than the one before, I would never be a faster runner. What I didn’t know was that only training harder and faster with no break would lead to injury and burnout. My third mistake was constantly fretting about accumulative mileage, thinking that if I didn’t hit every single distance on my cherry-picked training plans that I would surely fail. What I didn’t know is that the body can bank strength and endurance over time, and that a missed workout wouldn’t be a major setback.
To put it simply, I had to calm the hell down and take things one step at a time.
And now, that is exactly how I help my clients. When my clients come to me, they are frustrated with where they are with their fitness, and sometimes with their lives. I can give them the tools to break down every challenge in a way that can give them a sense of control and forward progress for weeks and months to come. Physically, we all know our bodies are capable of so much more than we give them credit for, but it’s the mental game that really keeps us moving. I help my clients learn to move with control, purpose and intention so that they can find the perfect balance of effort and ease to achieve their goals as part of a permanent healthy lifestyle.
Take a look at the chart below and see if any of the thoughts in the old training mindset resonate with you. If so, leave a comment below or reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram!
There’s actually really no secret about sweat... but there is a lot of misinformation. One example of this is the idea that sweat can carry away the previous nights’ sins and help the body rid itself of impurities. People go to hot yoga because they swear they can feel their body detoxifying when it's actually the water they are chugging afterwards that is helping to flush out the liver. I've actually gotten scolded by a rider in one of my classes for having the fans on too high because he wasn't sweating enough and therefor was losing the benefit of the workout.
In reality, sweat is mostly water. What sweat CAN do is cool the body as it evaporates. And whether someone sweats more or less then their neighbor in the kickboxing class is not an indicator of fitness. Some people just run hot or cold, yet clients worry when they start sweating that it means they are out of shape. Nope, it just means the body is recognizing that it's time to turn on its internal cooling switch, and the sooner you start sweating, the better your body is at recognizing that it is about to be put to work.
Even though sweat provides the very crucial benefit of maintaining a safe core body temperature, it can be uncomfortable. The more skin that is exposed, the faster the sweat can evaporate, but most people don't start a workout routine ready to take it all off for a run or workout. Jake wants to lose 15 more pounds before he runs without a shirt on. Julie won't wear a tank top until she feels better about how her arms look. Joe looks like he is sweating to death in his old cotton t-shirts from college.
Here are a few tips that might help make your workout, and sweating, in general, a little less bothersome. Heck, you may even come to look forward to it! As a trainer I don't just assign the exercises, but I try to help my clients feel really good about every aspect of working out, even the less appealing ones. By clearing these mental and physical hurdles, we allow ourselves to push out distractions and really focus on the work that needs to be done.
Here in the south, we tend to succumb to a reverse hibernation, hiding out when the heat is on. But it could be heating up as soon as a month from now, so it's time to start planning how you're going to maintain your fitness routine in a safe and comfortable way!
In 2017 American adults spent an average of nearly three hours on their phone EVERY day. Still, the number one excuse I hear from new clients about why they have struggled to start or maintain a fitness routine is NOT ENOUGH TIME. Surely, in this digital age, I know we rely heavily on our handheld devices for any number of functions, and with a countless variety of workout apps and fitness trackers it seems like it ought to be easy to get on a routine, with all the alerts and reminders these technologies can give us to get up and get moving.
But we are coming to find it is not that simple.
When you look at your phone to check the time, there's a notification that someone commented on a Facebook post you shared. You feel compelled to read and react to continue the friendly conversation. Or maybe you go to open your fitness tracking app to see today's workout suggestion, but before you do you notice a dozen unread emails from the time you left the office.
My goal as a personal trainer is to help people learn to carve out time away from the noise and distractions to benefit their health and well being. The payoff is learning exercises they can do even when they think they have no time to workout at all. While I do offer virtual training, it only works with continued client input and interaction, which is why I am always available to my clients and encourage them to tell me how every workout goes. Even if they feel they fell short of their daily goal, I can encourage them to focus on what got accomplished, and adjust their work load to accommodate their busy schedules.
For my one-on-one clients, we use a notebook so that every exercise is noted with the number of repetitions and weight. They then have an easy reference to follow when working out on their own. And a notebook doesn't ding or vibrate with every news alert or push notification, making it easier to step away from the world for half an hour and focus just on the work that needs to be done.
Perhaps you can implement this useful tool for yourself. Sometimes, the act of writing something down in and of itself creates a greater sense of responsibility and accountability. Struggling with food choices? Write down what you're about to eat before you start snacking and jot down how you're feeling the moment the craving strikes. Feel like you don't know what you're doing in the gym? Ask an employee to guide you through the usage of a few machines and write down your setting and weight for each one.
Just one small habit change - putting down the phone and picking up a pen - can make a huge difference in how much more connected you are to the changes you are making in any area of your life. This is why when I write down my to-do list for the week, it goes on a notepad instead of the notes app on my phone. When I write something down, it is more quickly committed to memory and I feel the extra effort makes me more likely to follow through with the plan.
Are you a hand-writer or app junkie? Have you found something different that works to help you commit to your goals? Tell me about it in the comments!
“I just... I just can’t. I just can’t focus. My brain can’t...” The words failed as my eyes welled up with tears. My husband and only pacer tripped just five miles into the 25 he was planning on running with me, and while avoiding a faceplant, he severely aggravated a persistent back injury. I felt bad for him and knew he didn’t want to tell me here, at mile 86-point-something, that he was afraid to run anymore. The problem was, without someone to push me (or clap their hands two inches from my face) and keep me awake, I was afraid to keep going, too.
My time goals were slipping away as the night stole confidence from my stride. My headlamp was fading along with my brain. My feet burned from blisters thanks to multiple water crossings and kicking a few rocks myself. Really, everything between my knees and my neck was fine... just the bottom and top were coming undone. And the top part - my mind, so desperate to curl up in the dirt and close my eyes - this was the beast I wasn’t expecting to battle.
The Pinhoti 100-mile race had started 23 hours prior. It was warm and humid, something I knew would take its toll on many runners that day. I was prepared, however, with plenty of Tailwind, salt pills, and a nutrition plan that got me through several hot races. The plan was to sip fluids as often as I pleased, even if it meant keeping my pack and my bladder on the heavier side, and eat solid food every 60-90 minutes; even if it was only a bite, even if I had to force-feed myself. I’d keep an eye on my fingers for swelling, and chug water like crazy if I didn’t pee after 20 miles. My nutrition was dialed in and it lead me to a very strong first half.
My race “strategy” (if you can call it that, for a slightly above-average mid-packer) was to move with a little gusto in the beginning while it was relatively cool and create a little space for myself to avoid any anxiety-driven surges from getting caught in a conga line. This played out well as I clicked off some very calm and comfortable miles. I breezed through the first aid station and took a top-off and some orange at the second. As I neared the third aid station, mile 18, flashbacks of last year’s nasty ankle sprain came to mind. I recognized one particular bend in the trail where I first rolled it hard and called to the runner behind me that I was putting on the brakes and to pass if he needed to. He was happy to stay on my pace and we cruised through without incident. At the aid station, the crew that wasn’t my crew but adopted me anyway (more on this to come), informed me that some other runners were already looking haggard from the heat. Of course I hate to hear how so many struggled out there during the race, but I took it as a sign that whatever I was doing was working well. I power-hiked the road up to where the trail picked up again, called my husband with an update, then carefully and slowly stepped off the road and back into the woods. This is where the big sprain happened last year (and the “G** F*****G DAMNIT” heard ‘round the world). I decided to walk past that spot before resuming my pace.
For the next 20 miles I leap-frogged with some awesomely strong women and I felt like we all kind of tuned in to each others’ pace, with some time spent close together and other times more spread out. I could feel myself starting to want to slow down as we worked our way up to Bald Rock (mile 40) but having these women nearby kept me trucking along at a strong pace up that beast of a climb. It wasn’t incredibly steep but it was relentless. With every slight downhill I’d get disappointed, thinking “No! I want to climb! I want to be at the top!”
Because the top, that’s where the party was at.
In trail and ultra running, each race you attend (as a participant or volunteer) cultivates new friendships. At Bald Rock, where I knew I’d see my husband, Zac, for the first time that day, as well as the crew that wasn’t my crew, I also saw so many familiar faces. Everyone says the same thing here: It really does feel like a family reunion. The cheers and high fives were incredibly uplifting. After a brief chat with a few people I grabbed some grub and head to the car to refresh my supplies.
Leaving Bald Rock I felt pretty good, although stopping and starting was beginning to get a little tough at this point. My legs were still singing to me from the climb up and I now had to convince them to climb down “Blue Hell”. I had no reason to rush this, which was good because it was challenging to distinguish the trail among the field of boulders littering the path. Some flags had been stomped on which I took the time to fix, thinking what a bitch the trail would be in the dark.
Back down to level ground, I had some good smooth running and a bit of a mental break thanks to a four-mile stretch of pavement and fire road. The heat was still on but in the growing shade I started to cool off. One huge benefit of my heat training this year is that I cool off rather quickly. It wasn’t long before I was getting goosebumps when I stopped at the aid stations. Being on the far east side of the Central Time Zone, my headlamp came on not long after 6:00 PM on the Silent Trail, the path we’d follow along and over a river - one of many water crossings that day - before reconnecting with the Pinhoti Trail. We had Hubbard Creek, Aid Station #9 aka “Temptation Station” to look forward to as we reached darkness and the dinner hour. As expected, they provided a phenomenal spread. I scarfed a few bites of potato and chicken quesadilla, a few swings of Coke (quickly becoming a must at every stop), and plugged on toward where I would next meet my husband. My feet needed dry socks. Physically I felt fine but my feet were really barking now. At mile 55 I swapped socks, took in my staples of banana, orange and Coke, and half a cinnamon Pop-Tart for the road. I wasn’t cool enough to change shirts but stopping for too long brought on the chills. I hobbled on to warm back up as quick as I could.
Over the next 10 miles of mostly fire road, the day began to wear on me. I was moving fine, calories and fluids on point, but my focus was fading. Perhaps it was my sinuses (as expected my nose was dripping all day- normal for me on any run) or just tiredness, but my face felt heavy. I blinked hard, slapped my cheeks, shook out and stretched here and there, but I felt like if I didn’t start taking in more caffeine RIGHT then I’d be in trouble. I choked down a caffeinated gel and perhaps it was placebo, but I felt a little lift. Until mile 65.
When I reached this aid station to find my husband passed out in the car, I was concerned. If he couldn’t stay up, how in the world was he going to keep me up? The original plan was to have him take me in from mile 85, but after learning that he had a poor night’s sleep, I wasn’t so sure. As I refueled I begged him to get some decent food, rest more, and really be “on” the next time I saw him. The next aid station was only 3 miles away so I said I didn’t expect to see him until mile 75. He surprised me at mile 68 anyway and I was incredibly grateful as I was finally ready to change shirts before starting the second biggest climb of the day. He insisted he could start running with me from mile 75 and again, I said “I’m tired so I need you to be on!” The Pinnacle, as it’s called, is not THE pinnacle of this climb and I was having to really push now to stay on my A-Goal of finishing within 24 hours. It wouldn’t be until much later that I would realize just how ridiculous of an expectation that was.
But as promised, Zac was on and ready, in his favorite neon yellow shirt and sufficiently caffeinated. I downed some Ramen and Coke, changed shoes, and we were off. Not three miles in though, I noticed my headlamp fading. Of course I was prepared for anything except a backup for my USB-chargeable lamp that, as I was just discovering, did not last the promised 12 hours. My husband’s lamp was brighter, but bounced all over with each stride and my eyes got sick of trying to focus. I had to squat down and just stare at the gravel by my feet to stop the tunnel vision. For a second my eyes closed and I thought I’d fall over. But my pace was slipping significantly and I had to keep moving forward. Luckily, we were soon back on single track (although I was cursing roots and rocks at this point), so I let Zac go ahead with his brighter light and I used my iPhone as a backup flashlight. This worked fine... until that one damn rock grabbed his foot. He stumbled, then planted a foot hard to regain his stride, but in doing so he made a groan I immediately recognized as an indication something was wrong. He insists he’s fine but his posture says otherwise. We fumble our way to the aid station near mile 80 and split a 5-Hour Energy. The climbing wasn’t done, nor were we done navigating chewed up fire roads or rocky single track. I feigned positivity but in my heart, all I felt was the feeling of doom and crushing doubt. I’m suffering, he’s suffering, why are we here? Why am I putting him through this? What business do I have even imagining a 24-hour finish? Do I even bother if I can’t make it in 25 hours, or 26? I’m here to do better, not worse. But here I am and in my mind, I’m failing.
Enter Team Dad Bod.
I got to work an aid station with these fine (and quite intriguing) people at Georgia Death Race and since then we’ve stayed connected, plotting the future races we would work or run together. When I found out TDB Alum Jeff Stafford was running Pinhoti, I was thrilled to know I’d have more familiar faces to look forward to seeing on the course.
Although I started my race technically crew-less for the first 40 miles, I was fortunate to run strong enough most of the day that I stayed close in pace to Jeff, so I got to see the TDB crew at every aid station. They drove me to the race and took excellent care of me before Zac took over at Bald Rock. By "take care" I mean, this crew practically ripped my vest out of my hands to do refills and gave me the third degree about every single calorie and ounce of fluid I had consumed between aid stations. They 100% took me under their wings, and here, at mile 86-point-something, would save my race.
“Do you want me to pace you?” Ryan Ploeckelman pressed, as I held back tears and tried to tune out “Hit Me Baby One More Time” blasting from the speakers at Bulls Gap aid station. Something about crying to Britney Spears made me feel like I was falling into a pit of despair I would never escape. But the way he said it sounded more like “I’m running with you,” and within a minute had his handheld filled and pockets stuffed with food. “Come on, let’s go.”
Ryan already ran 25 miles with Jeff, and other TBD members Jen and Patrick also took turns running and crewing. The fact that they were so willing to contribute their energy to me was truly an honor. I felt bad dropping Zac, but we both knew it was for the best, and that I was in really good hands. We pressed on toward the fire road, where for the first time in ages, so it seemed, I was treated to soft, level ground. It was hard to shake the feeling of failure, knowing I was going to be so far off from both my "A" and "B" time goals, but as we settle into a groove I start passing people and I regain some confidence that maybe I have some untapped reserve of strength that will carry me through. Ryan has more than enough stories (and some great vocal impressions) to pass the time and I’m able to relax into the notion of simply finishing this damn thing and stop worrying about the clock.
The final aid station still felt like it was an eternity away, but getting out of the dark - literally and figuratively - made me finally feel like the end was within reach. Once we finally reached Jen, who was now the only TDB member on aid station duty as everyone else was on the course, I lightened my pack, took the last big bite of Ramen I’ll have for several months, and stole a gulp of Ryan’s PBR. I’m not ashamed to admit how amazing that was.
Six miles. The last stretch of a trail with portions that were less “trail” and more rocky drainage ditch, accompanied by the appropriate amount of curse words for the terrain.
Five miles. Fuck this hill. Fuck this shit. We start yelling out “Oh thank GOD more ROCKS.”
Four miles. Wait, didn’t we already run by this? Are we going in a circle? Honestly I can't even tell east from west, despite the sun's position in the sky. Everything feels kind of backwards but at least I'm still moving forward.
Three miles. Just get to that boulder that you thought was a house. Now to that tree you were certain was a lamppost. Now to the GATE! That's really a gate, right? Oh my God I can’t wait for pavement.
Two miles. Sweet, back country road, with your sketchy boarded up shacks, flea-ridden train track cats, and rebel flags. I could kiss you, beautiful road.
One mile. It’s Jason Green! You can't not smile when you see this guy, and now I'm certain I'm not hallucinating and we're near the finish. Then comes a low rumble from the tracks. We book it across the rails because I’m NOT getting stuck waiting for a train I swear to God I’ll lose my shit if I do.
Half a mile. Last turn toward the school. Can’t push too hard. Don’t need to have my finisher picture be of me crawling across the line.
400 meters. Through the cool dew of the field adjacent to the track. I’m going to see my people. I’m going to be done. This is it.
200 meters. I remember running track in high school and my one-time 200m best of something like 25 seconds. That sure as hell ain’t happening now.
100 meters. Smile, but not too hard. You look crazy in all of your running pictures. Oh what the heck grin like an idiot who cares?
Nothing worth having comes without a little fight, right? And truthfully, this one was a fight. I don’t know why it felt harder than last year, when I ran on an ankle the size of a softball. Some say it was the heat, which I suppose slowed me down more than I realized as it never really cooled off overnight. Or maybe the lack of caffeine that I thought I wouldn’t need to rely on. Or maybe it was just my turn to really feel what it was like to want to quit, and to claw myself back up out of that hole. Whatever happened, the course of emotions is unexpected when they occur, but make total sense when it’s over. And I always go from “Never again,” to “When can I sign up for next year?” sometime between the start and the finish.
Sometimes I take for granted being able to just get up and do something. Having an unrealistic goal thrown in my face is humbling in many ways. It reminds me that there’s always work to be done, but to also take the time to recognize where I really am and be patient in that moment when facing my limitations. But I don’t want to be content to just “do” anymore. And this year’s Pinhoti taught me that I have a little more fight in me than I thought, which I will apply to my training in 2018.
Thank you, everyone I mentioned here, and so many more, for your support in this never-ending journey. And to those of you running your races, fighting your fights, know that the darkness might come and you’re going to have to punch, kick or claw your way out. You’re going to doubt that you can, or that you even want to, but deep down you know this will shape you into a new, stronger person. Perhaps even make you feel more galvanized to move forward with the challenges that await you in the real world, when the race is over.
All photos provided by We Run Race Photos, which have been purchased for private and personal use only. Any redistribution or commercial use is prohibited by copyright. 11/14/2017
Since I spent a decent chunk of time preparing this flyer for a fitness presentation, I thought I would share this with you here! When you call or email to take advantage of your free assessment and intro session, mention something new you learned from this post.
Not in Atlanta? No problem! I can offer a phone assessment and free virtual training trial. Having a few workouts that require minimal equipment at your fingertips is a sure-fire way to jump-start your new fitness routine.
And as always, if you have any fitness questions but don't want to commit to hiring a personal trainer just yet, I am here to help. Before studying health sciences and developing a passion for training and running, I used to worry all the time about what time of day I should eat what kinds of foods, or whether I needed to do weights or cardio first at the gym. Comment below with anything that has confused you on your own fitness journey!