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.
In our strange world, running 100 miles is always a big deal, always tough, but not at all unusual. Outside of Alpine Meadows, or California, or hundreds of sleepy mountain towns across the country that host such events, we are considered strange (even deranged) and the response to us running 100 miles is often met with a look of concerned disbelief. So on this day, especially for this race, it was a surreal experience to be cheered on at the top of that climb like we were players just walking out onto the field. I felt like a rock star as I made my way down to Lyon Ridge.
Then the real work began.
Somewhere between Lyon Ridge and Red Star, once the adrenaline rush brought on by the sunrise and fanfare subsided, I started to feel light-headed. Mentally I was prepared for some adverse side effects from the elevation, but I thought after hitting nearly 9,000 feet without any altitude-related symptoms that I was in the clear. As the first wave of wooziness hit me I tried to reel in my power hike to get my heart rate down, but my footfalls were growing sloppy on the newly-laid, incredibly rocky trail full of baseball-sized gravel. I took a moment to sit on a boulder and contemplate my life choices. Remembering the elevation chart in my mind, I calculated that I didn’t have that much more uphill ahead of me, so I rallied down to Red Star.
During the first 30 or so miles, I tried to heed the advice from the talented runners I followed and tried to mimic as best I could with my own average “pedestrian”-paced training: Eat early and often. Sip and nibble. Keep your pace dialed in and relaxed. Conserve and consume calories on climbs. But in my anxiousness to try to run after the relentless slog to Duncan Canyon, I pushed a bit too hard and my body started to reject any efforts to hydrate or fuel. My problem was that my legs felt great. I felt strong. But I never allowed my internal systems to settle after that brief kick in the teeth that the altitude had delivered to me.
Still, I pressed on toward Robinson Flat where I knew my crew (my husband, Zac and dear friend, Avinash) and the CTS team might help. My stomach had hardened as much as those rocks I had been kicking and tripping over. My coach, AJW and Jason Koop helped me keep my head in the game and assured me I was doing fine, and told me I really needed to eat. I choked down some coke and a little fruit, got iced down, and for a relatively brief moment felt better as I maintained a steady clip all the way through to Dusty Corners. Here, I saw other familiar faces, Trena and Russ, who jumped in to crew me as they awaited our other Georgia runner, David. I got iced down again, but all I could handle was a few sips of coke as I made my way through the aid station. I acted like I was feeling better, Trena said I looked better than when she saw me at Duncan Canyon, but I was still on an inevitable decline.
By Last Chance, where another friend, Michelle, was on medical detail, I knew I had to force-feed myself, especially for the quad-thrashing descent and subsequent death march up Devil’s Thumb. Michelle kindly pressed me on my physical state and I assured her I was just fine. My legs felt good and I managed to move at what I thought was a sustainable pace. What I hadn’t accounted for was that even while descending, there would be no shade or relief from the heat. My heart rate never really declined at this point. I should have taken more time at the small water crossing before our climb back up but because I didn’t, I got my first real punch in the gut about halfway to the top. Surely, I just needed sodium, I thought. I chomped down on an electrolyte chew and immediately regretted the decision. Not a moment later, everything from the past several aid stations came up. Now devoid of calories or fluids, I felt momentarily better with an empty stomach, but knew I’d have to get back on my nutrition game, and soon.
That didn’t happen.
My stomach revolted again at the Devil’s Thumb aid station. And El Dorado. And Michigan Bluff, mile 56, just barely over halfway through the race. As I spent more and more time trying to convince my body to right itself, the cutoffs drew nearer and I became convinced that even if I could will my body to move (my legs still felt just fine, after all), my internal organs would not let it happen. I borrowed a chair from another runner’s crew while Zac and Avinash try to convince me to eat. At this point, any solid food touching my lips made me puke, and things seemed pretty hopeless. I willed time to move faster so that someone would kick me out of the race and tell me I had missed the cutoff. I can’t possibly make up all the time I spent at these last few aid stations, I thought. Despondent and defeated, I slouched lower in the chair almost as if I were trying to disappear from the race entirely. Then the woman who owned the chair I was trying to become one with came up and quietly said “I hate to do this to you but...”
“I’m up,” I said, placing my feet firmly on the ground and finding, much to my disappointment, I wasn't the least bit stiff or sore.
I could have laid back down on the pavement to appease my stomach, but I knew once I was on my feet, there was no way my boys were going to let me drop. “Let’s just get to Foresthill” Avinash convinced me. At this point I was 30 minutes behind the 30-hour pace, but still ahead of aid station cutoffs. Convinced I was doomed to get my first dreaded DNF, I reluctantly set off with Avinash, twilight fading and he without a headlamp, since we hadn’t planned for him to have to jump in at that point. In my mind I fought the battle of my desire to drop verses the shame I’d feel if I did, but company and conversation helped distract me from the looming dread of getting cut. Every time I vocalized my doubt that I couldn’t possibly make it to the track in Auburn, Avinash kindly but firmly said, “Let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s just get to the next aid station.”
Against the odds I felt piling up against me (I had now, at this point, spent over three hours at the aid stations, waiting for my body to return to some semblance of homeostasis), we made it to Foresthill, where Zac and my next pacer, Traci, waited patiently at the CTS tent. I was so thrilled to see Traci, who I hadn’t shared trail miles with since my first 50K in 2013, that I was able to pull myself out of the funk and try to put this race back together. The CTS coach who was there (in my race haze I forgot his name) gave me the crucial advice of just sticking to water; that my body would eventually “figure it out”. I had to decide to forget about calories, forget about time, and even try to forget about the race as I was running it in order to keep moving forward. Traci helped by sharing her own running and life updates and getting me talking about things other than running, all the while slyly slipping into parent mode as she kept me from taking too long at aid stations and discouraged me from even sitting down.
It wasn’t easy. In fact it was all still so very hard. But Traci was clearly not going to let me settle for anything less than a buckle. My energy was fading from lack of food, but she got me eating again - just a tiny bit of fruit at a time - which eventually would help the teensy doses of caffeine and sugar from the baby sips of Coke and Mountain Dew to hit my bloodstream.
From Cal. 1 to Cal 2. to Cal 3. and finally, to the American River, she helped me regain a bit of a time buffer. We hit the water, which was a much-needed shock to my system that would wake me up and recharge me for the climb up to Green Gate. It was the coldest I’d been since we started in Squaw Valley. I was delighted to be shivering, almost so hard that it was difficult to take full breaths as we navigated our way across the water along the ropes. A volunteer shouted “You all are doing great! Right on 30-hour pace!” Realizing I was slowly making up time, I was ready to move. Traci was crucial in getting me back to my husband and Avinash at Green Gate. My energy slumps still hit hard but were fewer and farther between as I realized we were inching toward the pre-dawn hours.
Twenty miles feels like a normal day in the woods when training for a hundred-mile race. Twenty miles feels like an eternity during a hundred-mile race. But an eternity went by a little quicker by keeping a few things in perspective:
1. You chose this race, and this race chose you. This was something I had to tell myself constantly throughout the day. How many people didn't get in this year who have also been desperately waiting for there chance to run Western States? Who was I to squander this opportunity because of a little puke?
2. Remember the time others are giving to this race, too. I thought of my crew, my coaches, the volunteers and all of their emphatic expressions of encouragement from the very beginning. Volunteers are awake as long as the runners are, if not longer. I guarantee you that while the top finishers ran, showered, slept, then returned to the track at Auburn for awards, the volunteers were going on over 30 hours without sleep.
3. This is an elective battle. I’m not going to war. This is hard, but do I actually know what it's like to truly struggle? Life, outside of events like this, is comfortable and normal. I needed to continue onward out of honor and respect for those who fight real battles every day. For those who travel 100 miles as only a fraction of their journey to safety and the hope of a new home. For those who’d give anything to be where I was in that moment, even with all the puking and suffering.
Avinash took point and helped me through each aid station by exclaiming at every checkpoint how much closer we were to Auburn. He was familiar with these trails at this point, which was extremely helpful for getting a mental picture of what still lay ahead. From Quarry Road to Pointed Rocks, his excitement became more and more infectious. “You’re going to do this,” he kept saying. And finally, after moving for more that 24 hours, I could start to believe it.
I flashed back in my mind to the sun setting at Michigan Bluff. I felt like an imposter in that moment. What business do I have even being here? I had thought. The sun rose higher now as we neared Pointed Rocks and I was finally able to - as AJW would say - push it away.
Over a wide field blanketed in soft brown grass we saw Pointed Rocks and the CTS crew once more. Jason Koop greeted us with his gigantic smile, wielding handfuls of ice to shove in my pack. I nearly lost it and held back tears of joy and exhaustion upon seeing him. “Not yet!” he said, telling me to save it for the finish. Another boost of confidence that I’d actually get there.
From there it was on to No Hands Bridge, which was simply magical, but I knew I couldn’t spent much time there. The view over the river was impossibly beautiful in the high mid-morning light and the brief moment I could spare was spent on a selfie with Avinash to commemorate that amazing moment. But there was still some work to go. Avinash warned me that the last ascent to Robie Point was an ass-kicker. I feel like given everything that transpired over the previous 28 hours, I’d taken that hill in stride... until the last quarter mile or so just before the final aid station. “This motherfucker...” I said quietly, but angrily. “Finally!” Avinash laughed. I had somehow refrained from cursing in front of him until that point.
Even with only a mile to go, I received one more much-needed ice down at Robie Point. Upon leaving the aid station, I was completely unprepared for the reception that awaited. The ENTIRE town was out to cheer us on to the finish. The energy was comparable to the spectators that line the streets for the Boston marathon, or the Peachtree Road Race. Coming from ultra distance races where quite often, there might only be a couple dozen or so tired people clapping as runners finish, this was the best, most unexpected surprise of the whole race. Running the streets of Auburn is what really made me come back to life and feel the same enthusiasm that I first felt at the start.
Rounding the track toward the finish was everything I thought it would be and then some. Cheers, high fives, seeing my husband, and knowing that I was actually, really, truly, finally there.
Over a decade of my life has been spent trying to figure out how to move and be happy with my body. How to run with a sense of joy and wonder, and not just out of anger or frustration. How to make running fit into my family life and not become a thing they’d have to fight with to spend time with me. I used running as an escape, as a means to lose weight, as a way to cope with grief and loss. It was always about wanting to get rid of things.
On that track at Placer High School in Auburn, I felt a flood of happiness and contentment. I had nothing else to shed or to run away from, and this race was giving back to me everything I had put into it and then some. After 14 years, 29 hours, and 11 minutes, I can say that I finally learned to push away the negatives that initially drove me to run, and to allow in the positives. To be happy just to be there, no matter what the time on the clock might read.
The tears threatened the moment I crossed the finish line. I fought to keep myself composed but I already knew I’d easily lose it the moment friends started to surround me. Zac, Avinash, Trena and Michelle were all there. Brief sobs escaped through in small gasps as the reality of having finished continued to sink in. When AJW rushed over, however, the floodgates opened. I had been so worried about being a disappointment, spent so many hours feeling like a failure, that when he grabbed me, it was as though to give me permission to let it all go. I am crying as I write this, thinking of that precious moment, knowing I have so much more within me than I was able to give myself credit for. There’s still a slight sting of sadness, knowing the weight of life events that have made me feel that way for so long, but there is immense pride as well in the fact that I really can get through anything.
For me, Western States Endurance Run is more than a race, and its spirit is not confined to the trails between Squaw and Auburn. It’s not about having more or less elevation gain or loss than this or that other race. It isn’t about whether it’s hotter, colder, faster or slower than other races. And while impressive things take place on this course, for 90% of its participants it isn’t even about whether a record will be broken.
This race is about discovering the will and intensity within all of us, boiling just beneath the surface, ready to blow when challenged to move. Finishing is always a gamble; runners who some think could never fail might throw in the towel, while other runners who seem unlikely to finish prevail against all odds. This race celebrates each and every participant, from the breaking of the tape to the final finisher in the last minutes of the Golden Hour. And that is a spirit we can all take back to our hometown races, no matter how big or small, how technical or buffed out the trails are, or how many elites show up to battle it out.
I know I sure as hell will.
Thank you again to everyone mentioned here and countless more who made this race a possibility. As I think back on this race, and other 100-miles I've ran, the journey is not too dissimilar from what I see clients work through in their efforts to take control of their health and wellness. Your work has inspired me as well. In many ways, I would even venture to say that running 100 miles is probably easier than what I have seen some of you go through. And when you keep showing up and working hard, I know I have to as well. In that spirit, I also know that I will attempt this race again, if the Western States Lottery Gods allow me to do so. The way I see it, I had to learn how to almost get it completely wrong in order to work towards getting it right.
Until next time.
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!
An important role as a personal trainer is to not only correct my clients' training mistakes, but to share the information I know about how the body moves and what the body is capable of.
Sometimes, a client keeps asking me to add more, and more, and more weight to an exercise before we have established proper form. Other times, a client is convinced once they feel the weight in their hands that I'm asking them to lift too much. It's my job to help clients identify the difference between what is hard and what is harmful.
The guy who's jerking heavy dumbbells up to his shoulders, arching his back and then swinging the weights back down by his side is not only exhibiting terrible form, but he's not adequately targeting the bicep muscles, and is at serious risk of injuring his back or shoulders. I coach this person to properly isolate the bicep muscle through controlled movement that focuses on the eccentric (unloading) phase of the bicep curl to create optimal muscle recruitment so that when he does his bicep curls, he's not relying on momentum generated elsewhere in his body to complete the exercise.
Conversely, when someone lifts the weight properly but quits after five repetitions because the muscles are starting to ache, they are missing out on challenging the muscles enough to see any notable improvement in strength or fitness. I must encourage this person that when the body works to repair itself after a challenging workout, the muscle fibers thicken and strengthen as the body heals. This is what creates more muscle mass, which will boost metabolism and help change body composition. But only when enough weight is lifted that the client feels challenged between 8-20 reps.
My goal for my clients is to make sure they leave every workout feeling capable and confident. Having a sound understanding of the mechanics of movement and a good eye for proper form are how I make sure my clients both feel and see improvements to their fitness!
When I implement a training plan for my clients, I do so with a sound understanding of their physiological needs and how certain exercises will help them. So when I find that there are additional benefits to my training methods, I am thrilled!
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Eldred Taylor, who along with his wife Dr. Ava Bell Taylor authored "The Stress Connection" and "Are Your Hormones Making You Sick?". Dr. Taylor practices functional medicine, which emphasizes maintaining wellness over just curing illness - something that I feel our current medical system often fails to address. The information he shared with me is available in an in-depth interview he did with the EliteHRV podcast, an informational podcast that focuses on the importance of understanding heart rate variability (HRV). I will link to that podcast at the end of this post.
In 2016 we have seen a number of food trends in the spotlight. There has been a big jump in veganism as more people become aware of the harm of industrial farming. And for those who can't part ways with their beloved steak, it is far easier than it was even a few years ago to find and order from organic, humane, sustainable farms. Clean eating continues to be a popular buzz phrase, and goes beyond eating organic as it eliminates all processed foods and refined sugars.