Tag: ultramarathons

Love Hurts: Headwaters Ultra 50K Race Review

My day started out as usual. Woke up at 6, ate my typical pre-long run breakfast of toast, almond butter, honey and banana and washed it down with some strong espresso. I was really pleased to look out the window and see that my prayers had been answered. The hazy smoke from nearby wildfires that was building up in the sky all week had miraculously blown out of Shasta. It was an exceptionally beautiful day for a trail race.

Before I left my house for the starting line at Lake Siskiyou, I gave myself a middle school-style temporary sharpie tattoo on my upper arm.

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Because I neglected to snap a photo of it before the race, credit goes to my friend Jason, one of many wonderful volunteers who made the race so much easier for us runners. This was taken at Aid Station 3/4, right after I shoveled some PB&J and watermelon into my sweaty, salt-encrusted face. Since I was certain not all of it got into my mouth, Jason was so kind as to keep my head out of the photo :)

Leif is the owner of the mountain shop that I work at, and has been in critical condition for the past few weeks. It’s been a really difficult and intensely emotional time for those of us who work at The Fifth Season as well as many members of this beautiful community. Leif is a very strong and driven man who many of us look up to as a father-figure rather than simply just a boss. Although it’s been a tough time for all of us, the love and support that this community has provided is thoroughly heart-warming and makes me feel so grateful to be here. I figured dedicating my first 50K to Leif was the very least I could do. In fact, it helped me to finish.

I started off strong. Maybe too strong. For all the long runs I’ve done, I honestly have never pushed my body so hard that I found its breaking point. I decided that Saturday was my opportunity to really see what I could do. I didn’t want to bring my GPS watch because I didn’t want to know how fast I was going, I just wanted to listen to my body and focus 100% of my energy on finishing the race as fast as I possibly could.

At the starting line, I ran into our Smartwool rep, who I had met at the shop the day before. We had joked that I was going to pack a sleeping bag so that I could nap comfortably at the finish line while I waited for him. So, of course, my nickname for the day became “sleeping bag.” Hated it/couldn’t do anything about it/learned to love it.

I pushed really hard for the first few miles just to establish a spot for myself. That spot happened to be among a pack of alpha males that included Smartwool. After running together for the first several miles, it became clear that they were all pretty well seasoned ultrarunners, one of whom was chatting casually about trying to win a silver in a very famous 100 mile race. That’s where I found myself. Little newbie blonde girl’s gonna try to keep up with the big boys.

When they slowed down to walk up a hill that I knew was nothin compared to the hills to come, I decided to push past and jog up it with the short stride, high cadence approach. Clearly, being expert ultrarunners, two of the big dudes immediately began critiquing my technique, referring to it as the “granny shuffle.”

“Hey,” I yelled back at them, “this feels so easy, I might as well be reclining in a La-Z Boy!”

Not only did that shut em up right quick, I also heard one say, “Shit, I can’t believe I got chick’d so early in a race.”

He got chick’d. I LOVE IT!

But they were right. I was pushing at an unsustainable pace. They flew ahead of me at the first aid station, and I didn’t hear their hoots and hollers again until I hobbled across the finish line, greeted by giant smiles and hugs.

Why was I hobbling instead of running? Somewhere around mile 22ish, I busted my right foot. I just had it x-rayed yesterday, and definitely have a stress fracture in my second metatarsal, which is evidently a common injury for ultrarunners. I blame myself and my shoes for this injury. I’d been training on the race course, and knew that my old, beat-up barefoot Merrells weren’t nearly enough to protect my footsies from all the rocks on the course. I tried to order myself a new pair of trail shoes with some cushioning and a rock plate, but the delivery failed, twice, and I had no choice but to use what I had. I suspected it might be a problem, and I only made that worse by bounding down a rocky slope at full-speed before I reached the halfway point of the race.

It was straight-up masochistic and egomaniacal, and I paid the price.

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I love my feet.

Every time I set my right foot down, I felt searing pain. After 9 or 10 miles of this, including a second trip down the rocky slope I had totally killed the first time, my pride hurt just as much as the foot. I worked so hard to stay ahead for the first 2/3 of the race, and now suddenly people were passing me.

As they ran past and saw that I was limping, other runners would try to cheer me up, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I was angry at myself and on the verge of tears, but I kept going. There was no effin way I was going to drop out of that race.

I kept fuming silently, and occasionally crying out loud, until about half a mile before the finish line. Somewhere around this point, I realized that I was about to finish my first ultra. The notion brought a smile to my face that stayed with me until I dragged my gimpy ass across the finish. My time was 7:05 and change, which I’m pretty pleased with, considering the circumstances.

I set out to challenge myself and find out what my body can do. It was the first time I ever finished a race feeling like I couldn’t go on any further, and that feeling is intensely satisfying. Mother nature beat my swollen ego back into place and taught me that I am NOT, in fact, a superhuman. My body is breakable, although my spirit sure as hell ain’t.

The best part of all, is that while I was relaxing with some beer and pasta after the race, apologizing to all the passing sweethearts that I had growled at in my painful, self-loathing misery during the last leg, the dude I made the La-Z Boy comment to called me a STUD. This, to me, made it all worth it. I will break a foot any day to have a gorgeous, tall, broad-shouldered, athletic male ultrarunner call ME a stud. Instant ego re-inflation, my friends.

I will be back on the trail in about 6 weeks, or whenever my bone is healed up.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: with a golden heart comes a rebel fist

… I can’t help agreeing with those that would not quit.

In less than two days, I will run my first ultramarathon.

The past several weeks have been intense, fun, hellish, painful, liberating, terrifying and astoundingly transformative. I’ve observed my body and mind undergo drastic changes throughout the three months I’ve spent training for the Headwaters Ultra 50K. I’ve lost 10 lbs since June, and my legs are finally starting to resemble the powerful, sinewy structures they once were.

More impressive, though, is the attitude adjustment I went through very recently. A couple of weeks ago, I had a full-on anxiety attack about this race. I was convinced that I had somehow messed up my training schedule. The one 26 mile run I was supposed to do turned into an 18 miler due to an extensive hunt for spring water in this awful drought. My morning runs before work were embarrassingly slow despite all my effort. Everything was WRONG! I was doubting myself and feeling scared. I started telling myself I couldn’t do it… again

You see, this is the second 50K I’ve registered for. I had a similar freakout moment before my first one, and ended up dropping down to the 25K version of that race. Although it was probably a good idea overall, being my very first trail race and everything, I’ve never felt proud of that decision. I guess you could say it haunts me a little bit.

But then, everything changed.

Everything.

I started listening to my friends, who would praise and support my dedication to running. I would respond with, “anyone could do it, you just have to want it!”

When I took a new friend on her first 3 mile run ever, I assured her that, “your body is so much stronger than your mind wants you to believe!”

Meanwhile, I was telling everyone else: “I won’t place in this race. I’m a slow runner. I’m not ready for this. I’m SOOOO out of shape. blah blah blaaaaaahnegativeblah.”

I was pulling tarot cards that represented false illusions and unhealthy habits, wondering who was trying to dupe me… but then I realized that I was encouraging everyone else to try to do something that I was clearly afraid of failing at, miserably.

Then I was all like, “oh honey, dat don’t make NO SENSE!” and I slapped myself. Real good. Then, my tarot cards started representing courage, triumph, and adventure.

Conveniently, this attitude adjustment lined up with my body finally falling into athlete mode, and I was running like a goddamn gazelle. It just happened. Like BAM!

I decided to deviate from my training “plan” and go out for 26 miles on a week I was supposed to be taking it easy. I ran most of the course, through a thunder-hail storm, and did NOT stop or turn around despite all my wilderness guide training that told me to get the eff away from all those trees and lightning. I was very nervous, but I pressed on, and I finished strong.

Watch the weather change
Watch the weather change

 

It was intense, but I feel happy. I’m ready. It’s go time. In less than two days, I’m going to run my first ultramarathon, and I’m going to fucking rock it.

 

To see farther, climb higher

 

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The view from Mt. Eddy summit, looking down on Black Butte (the little peak in front of Shasta)!

It’s been quite a while since I last updated this blog. That’s only because I’ve been directing all of my energy toward a major transition (yes, another one).

Shasta is just so utterly, undeniably wonderful- I decided that I wanted to move here indefinitely. Oddly enough, I meet people with similar stories almost every day. People who came to Shasta for a visit and have now been here for over 15 years.

They say Mt. Shasta is an energy vortex. She either sucks you in or spits you out. Well, I guess I got sucked right in, because within a couple weeks of falling in love with this place, I was able to find a sweet job at the coolest mountain shop in town, a great room to rent on a homestead, and an amazing group of new friends.

A double layer of icing on that cake- my room has green shag carpet and there’s an ultramarathon happening only a few miles from where I live!

But it hasn’t been all hunky dory over here. With all of these changes occurring in my life, I was starting to feel a little out of control. A little frazzled. A little bit like I needed to start training for a race!!!

Honestly, the moment I learned about the Headwaters Ultra, I was 100% convinced that I was meant to be in Shasta. I’ve found Home.

Training for my very first 50K has helped me restructure my life and stabilize myself in this amazing new place. It forces me to take very good care of my health, to wake up early every day, and to spend hours running through the mountains, breathing fresh air and drinking wild water from mountain springs. It teaches me to quiet my mind and focus my energy on moving forward. It provides me with the confidence that I can, in fact, commit to something that I love even though it hurts and sometimes keeps me from doing other fun things. It gives me perspective.

Every other week I do a long run exceeding twenty miles, which always proves to be a transformative experience. Spending several hours running through the wilderness makes me feel completely at peace and madly in love with the mountains, while simultaneously making me feel like a savage beast who can rip your face off with my teeth. Sometimes I get hungry enough to do so.

This past long run took me up Mt Eddy, one of the beautiful mountains I admire every day. I parked at Lake Siskiyou and ran a few miles down North Shore Rd before getting on the Sisson-Callahan Trail. By the time I got to the end of that trail, I was about a half mile from turning around. I had planned on only going 24 miles, but some tourists I spoke to told me that I was only about a half hour hike from Mt. Eddy summit. There was no way I was going to turn around that close to the top. No_effing_way, baby. That is NOT my style.

So, I added a couple miles to my route. I ran out of water on the way up the summit and had to beg for a bottle. I was almost late for dinner. But all of these things were worth it for the incredibly spectacular views from the top!

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I could have gone down to Deadfall Lakes and refilled my water bladder at a spring, but the summit was too tempting. Maybe next time, lakes.
You can see Lake Siskiyou, my starting point, in the distance. THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!!!
You can see Lake Siskiyou, my starting point, in the distance. THIS IS WHERE I LIVE!!!

 

Starting point: Lake Siskiyou, 3,185 feet

Turnaround point: Mt. Eddy Summit, 9,037 feet

When I say I “ran,” I mean I power-hiked up and actually ran down. That’s just how I do. Hell yes!