The good thing about racing long distances is that they never go as planned.
The bad thing about racing long distances is that they never go as planned.
This contradiction is what makes the ultra/trail running community so special. During a race, you are running for yourself, away from your inhibitions, to finish as well as you can on any given day. It is a sport of no excuses or pity parties, because we all have to deal with the same annoying shit. We learn to fight and we learn our own limits, how to surpass them, and how they can sometimes be unsurpassable. During both good and bad races, we learn something new about ourselves, about others, and ultimately, no matter how painful or exhausting it may be, reaffirm why we are in this “crazy” sport to begin with. We persevere through it all, and along the way we learn how much we can handle and where we start to break.
This year’s TNF was all about pushing through discomfort, entering a state you once thought to be out of reach, and then digging even deeper. I entered a state that I didn’t know I had, and even though it didn’t amount to my best race or placing where I had initially wanted to, it still allowed me to test and surpass my limits on that day. However, I don’t think I have ever witnessed the conquering of such an intense internal battle as I did watching Zach Miller finish that race. Talk about feeling like a dweeb :P Way to kill it Zach! This sport is all about the internal battle, how much you are willing to push past your comfort zone, and how willing you are to accept a slice of humble pie. Because, good day or bad day, we all get at least one slice, 50 miles is still 50 god damn miles. We mustn’t forget that.
Alright, alright, time for the juicy stuff.
After a Friday filled with a lot of ants running around in the pants, a rather terrifying and death defying trolley ride with the rents, and some lame touristy-selfies, I was stripping down near the starting line, handing off my pants and coffee mug to the rents, and jostling my way to the front of the elite start.
**WARNING: This race-recap is going to contain a lot of my internal thinkings during the race, they will not be filtered.**
Of course, we start off pretty quickly. But it's nothing too crazy, and I tune it down a bit for the first climb.
"What the hell, why do the ants in my pants now feel like rocks weighing me down?"
Today was going to be a lonnnnggg day if my leggies already felt the climbing. Luckily, since Coach David had me practicing downhills like no other, 6-minute pace on the downs was very easy, so I hung slightly behind the lead pack going into mile 10. Coming into the TV aid station I heard my friends Ryan and Silke (Rocky Mountain Runners) cheering for me, gave a corny "Whoop!", realizing that we were averaging 7:30s for the first 10.. and pledged to slow it down a bit if need be.
Around mile 15 it was about 1:50 into the race as we crested a climb to witness a most beautiful sunrise.
“This kinda sucks, but at least this is beautiful!” I yelled to Chris, as my legs continued to hate any sort of incline.
We ran through 18 miles in a little over 2 hours, averaging about 8 min/mile, feeling okay up the long climb. We had a little pain train going, and were climbing steadily, but this was the time that I had ran out of GU's and picked up some Cliff Energy Shots.
My stomach didn't like those.
Starting to struggle a bit on the climb, I slowed a bit to try and figure out my stomach/cramping issues. Sandi whizzed by, looking strong, and I cheered her on, telling her to start tracking down the carnage!
Realizing it was either Cliff Shots or bust, I decided to try again.
“I have an iron stomach, I’ll be fine, think of tasty snacks.”
“Third time may not be a charm, it’s not worth it. Maybe third time will be a charm. No, today doesn’t seem to be working in my favor. But third time's a charm- It’s a saying."
"No, no, not trying again. Shit.”
Clearly I didn’t win that battle, and I waited until Stinson Beach (mile 29) to get my trustworthy GU’s from my parents. I didn't think it was my best idea, but at the time it was more appealling than a third fail.
Aside from my stomach hating me, this part of the course is awesome. It is an annoying steady douche grade climb up to Cardiac, and then a beautiful ~4/5 mile descent into Stinson Beach where you pass about a mile’s worth of fellow runners. It was here that I decided to channel all of my negative thoughts into positive support towards everyone else.
“You look great!”
Passing my Rocky Mountain Runner friends, I screamed, "Miguell!! Addaaammmm!! Nice work guys!!! You look awesome! Whoop!"
I think I was being a bit obnoxious, but I'm not going to aplogize for my enthusiasm. Other people's smiles and encouragement kept me happy while my legs were not. I think I burned extra calories passing the other runners on the out-n-back. It was #worthit.
I was sling-shotting with some ladies, including Sandi and Clare, who are awesome and super supportive. Descending into the beach, I passed Clare, who was in a bad spot of her own, and yelled some encouragement as well as, "Eat a shit ton at Stinson and then take the climb nice and steady." As I continued to descend I felt a bit better heading into the beach.
“I got this, no fuel ain’t no thang.” Ha. Famous last words.
Seeing my parents there was awesome, I grabbed some GU’s and a waffle, and left highly optimistic.
One GU goes down.
“See, that went down just fine.”
"This waffle is too cold to eat, lets stick it in my bra.”
Clearly I'm very smart while racing.
5 minutes later.
“Ouch ouch ouch, chafing from the waffle stuffed in my bra. Get it out, get it out!”
2 miles of climbing later.
“Shit. I feel awful. I wonder why.”
“I have eaten enough, I’m not sure why I feel so shitty, maybe I just suck.” My runner amnesia already in full force with me forgetting my 10-mile hiatus of calories. I got a bit negative.
Mile 30 ish: “This is where I am supposed to start going faster and passing people.”
“I am not going any faster. Damnit. Come on legs, mooooove, moo moo moo, (in time with my cadence) **If anyone has any good explanation as to why our minds latch on to weird shit in the middle of the race, feel free to let me know.**
The climbing was over and my favorite descent through Muir woods was coming up. Clare badass Gallagher passed me around here. I tried so hard to stick with her, but she caught me at my lowest.
“Run faster, Keel. Ah, but my ribs are seizing."
"Fine, run slower. Gah, they're still seizing.”
“I want to cry. No, no I don’t. Yes, I do. No. Put on your tough face, tough face.”
“All these damn people on the trail. Screw them. No, that was mean, they're racing too.”
“On your right, Great Job! You're crushing it! Keep Rocking!”
“Okay, now that was overkill and too much work. Intercostal muscles are angry with that much yelling. Shit, I'm seizing up again.”
Albeit my inner struggle, I tried to talk with Chris to distract myself, and eventually we passed Sarah Price, who later informed me that I looked to be moving well, but angry. Damnit, I wasn't masking my struggle as well as I thought I was. I may not have been moving very fast, but on an effort scale it was freaking up there, and that alone was motivating to me.
Rolling into the 38 mile aid station I started feeling a little bit normal, and by mile 40 I was close to running strong again.
Perfect timing for the Muir Bitch Climb (Trademark: Miss Kelsie Clausen)
Chris caught me on the climb and we chugged up together. On the way up we saw the amazing Myke Hermsmyer who always puts a smile on my face and takes an amazing photo.
I finally felt somewhat back to normal up this climb, and even though I wasn't hammering it, we passed a good amount of people. This was the kick I wantd, just about 10 miles too late.. :P
By mile 44, I felt human again, although I pretty much hurt all over.
The 4,000' of additional elevation gain and descent had served some serious pounding to my body, and it freaking hurt. But my spritis and energy were high as I entered the TV aid station for the second and final time.
Running into TV I saw Rudy and Ezra, who were tweeting for iRunFar, and I tried to do a little jump-celebration-thing, while yelling. It was kind of a fail. (See photo below).
"Everything hurts!!"- I exclaimed.
Because, well, it did. A lot. But I continued to push on.
I think I took the final climb the hardest I ever have.
I say hardest and not fastest, because I doubt it was my fastest, but I pushed to 110% the entire time. And eventually passed two other badass ladies who were also beat up and struggling from the unrelenting course.
I ended up sprinting my way to the finish chasing my very enthusiastic friend Gordo who was running the marathon. Not super happy with my overall result, but very satisfied with the effort.
7:37, 8th place female, and a whole lot of hurt later, I finished TNF 50 mile championships. Grateful for the friends I raced with, encountered, and made on the trail. And most importantly, I was content with the effort I gave and level of discomfort I sustained for the entire race. As weird as it sounds, I have never truly pushed through an entire 50- mile race, typically taking half of it "easy" in some regard, so knowing that I am becoming better suffering is great news.
After the race, we all went and drank some at "The Deuce." If you haven't gotten an opportunity to witness some of the sports best mingling around a divey-bar, you must go and experience it first hand one of these years. It's quite incredible.
The rest of the weekend was spent with fellow GU athletes with the GU crew. We got to go on some private tastings and tours. GU HQ is awesome, such an awesome, stoked group of people. We watched Ghelfi and Laney show off in a stair climbing race (Laney lost), and then Laney took on Zach on a hobble fest up a hill (Laney lost again). We hobbled our way through an awesome photo shoot with Myke Hermsmyer and Matt Trappe. All while getting to hang out in an awesome house with a hot tub. How did I get so lucky?
TNF 50 mile is by far my favorite race. I think I will come back to it for many years to come. The community is un-beatable. None of this would be possible without my awesome sponsors, Nike, GU, and Bobo's Oat Bars. My parents were one hell of a crew, and I cannot express how awesome it was to have them fly all the way out from PA. Thank you to David Roche for being the most supportive coach out there and taking my training to another level, I can't wait to see how it pays off in the long run. Thanks to Celia, Magda, and Brian (GU) for hosting us and showing us such a great time, Chris Neilson for being an awesome training buddy/keeping me company during some of the race, Ed n Kyle for trecking down from Portland to cheer, Gordo for pulling me up that last little bump to the finish, Silke & Ryan for being the best supporters out there, and everyone else out there racing, cheering, and helping put on such an awesome race.
Happy off-season, ya'll (2 weeks). Time to sleep for days, drink some beer, and play in the Portland-snow-pocalypse.
If you haven't seen the Gu-Mannequin Challenge- Check it out. You won't regret it.