Getting to the start line is the hardest part, they say…

In some ways, I really want to slap the person who said that getting to the start line or taking the first step is the hardest.  That person has never run for 17 hours straight.  That person has no idea what they’re talking about.  But sometimes they’re right.

For the past year, I have been planning my voyage to my first 100-miler.  I will choose a 100-mile race.  I will hire a coach.  I will train my body.  I will test my mind.  I will focus on race day nutrition.  I will run very hard training runs and races.  And I will get to that start line, take that first very difficult step, and then about a million more, and then be extremely happy.  This is how things were supposed to happen, and in my mind, there was no detour.  Life had something else planned.  I chose a 100-mile race, Bryce Canyon 100 in Utah.  I hired a coach, the amazing Krissy Moehl.  I trained my body and tested my mind.  I fine-tuned things that needed fine-tuning and I ran, a lot.  And then I went snowshoeing and injured a tendon in my lower leg.  Eight weeks with heavy rehab, body work and rest (and anxiety) got me back on track but not until it totally derailed my original plan.  Bryce wasn’t going to happen, and neither were any of the awesome training runs and races I had scheduled between January and June.  My first true “long run” back was when I ran the first 18 miles of the Lake Sonoma 50, my first official DNF even if it was planned.  Slowly, things started coming together again and I refocused on starting at square one again.

I chose a 100-mile race (again), Pine to Palm 100 in Oregon.  I continued working with my coach, the amazing Krissy Moehl.  I trained my body and tested my mind (more).  I fine-tuned things (again) that needed fine-tuning, and I ran even more.  I started to gain a very healthy balance of strength training and running and got strong.  I even dare to say I was getting…fast.  I was also getting confident that I was going to get there, to the start line, the first step.

I ran Santa Barbara 100K (race report here) and actually had a great training run and ended up winning the race.  Totally on the right track for my first 100-miler.  The week after my 100K race, all I wanted to do was run.  My body felt a little stiff but good and my brain was on overdrive thinking about all the great moments that awaited me at Pine to Palm.  But my body wasn’t that ready, it was creaky and a little more stiff than I thought.  My mind wasn’t that ready either, it turns out.  The more time for reflection that I had to think about my 100K race, the more satisfied I became with my season so far.  I wanted a break, I wanted to celebrate.  I wanted not to have to mental exhaust myself with a training schedule….yet.  But Pine to Palm was only two months away and I couldn’t afford such a luxury.    I was conflicted.  I wanted to run 100, but I didn’t want to run 100.  I wanted to train, but not yet.  I wanted to experience 38 more miles of suffering, but I didn’t.  I wanted to race again, but was also happy enough with my last race not to.  I stepped back and gave myself a moment to really think about whether lining up at that start line was something I was going to want to do in a couple months.

During that time I was deciding about Pine to Palm, I was also thinking about other races down the road.  HURT 100 might be one of the toughest 100-mile races in the country.  It’s terribly technical and miserable and takes everyone a very long time to complete, if you’re lucky.  It’s also pretty popular since it has a lottery to get in.  The more I thought about HURT, the more excited I got about running again.  It lit a fire in me to train and gave me something to look forward to.  I entered the lottery and waited for my name to be called.  I refreshed the screen about a million times and my name never appeared.  After not getting into HURT, something about running Pine to Palm felt so…vanilla.  It isn’t, at all.  Pine to Palm is tough, and beautiful, and everything I could have hoped for in my first 100-mile attempt except it wasn’t HURT.  And at that moment, nothing could live up to HURT, or the idea of HURT.

Backing out of Pine to Palm was a tough call.  I had a pacer lined up, my friend Jamie, founder of SweatGuru, overall fitness badass, speedy and tough trail runner, and one of the only reasons I know that 100-mile races even exist.  Before I even chose my first 100-miler, I knew I wanted Jamie by my side.  We’ve run plenty together, mostly up to the East Peak of Mt Tam, early in the mornings to catch sunrise.  She’s faster than me, but we can be evenly paced if I decide to work a little harder and she goes easy on me.  She’s a master fast-hiker, I don’t know how her legs move so fast without actually running.  She claims she’s part goat and I almost believe her.  Not only is she a great friend but she would be a great pacer.  Having done 100-milers herself, and even attempting Pine to Palm a few years ago, I knew she would have the experience I was lacking to carry me through the tough times.  I asked her to pace me at Bryce.  She cleared her (extremely busy) calendar and said yes.  It broke my heart to tell her I couldn’t run it because of my injury but she understood.  I told her I was going to choose another one.  When I chose Pine to Palm, I did so half because it was easy for her to pace me there.  Jamie and her husband (and dog) recently moved to Portland and I thought it was fate that the 100-miler that “spoke” to me after not running Bryce was in her backyard (almost).  Not running Pine to Palm hurts.  It hurts not running my first 100 miler when I’m physically able to.  It hurts not getting a Western States qualifying lottery ticket for 2016.  It hurts to watch friends run the race I was supposed to run, that I persuaded THEM to sign up for and run with me.  It hurts to take that week long vacation off the schedule and have to work instead.  But it actually hurts most of all because I feel like I’m letting everyone down.  I feel like I’m letting my coach down–the 100-miler was the only reason I hired her.  I feel like I’m letting my friends down who are only running the race because we were supposed to run it together.  And I feel like I’m letting Jamie down.  Again, I have to break it to her that I cannot run.  Not for the same reasons that I couldn’t run Bryce, because my body wasn’t able.  But because my mind isn’t able–and somehow that feels less valid of an excuse to not race.  But in the end, my heart felt flat when I thought about getting to that start line.  It should have been full of electricity.  I don’t want a flat heart, I want a fast beating hummingbird heart, beaming with lightning energy and excitement to take that first step.  I want it to come from a desire to want to be there, and not just the adrenaline that is inevitable on race day.  I want to get to the start and say, I’m ready.  And I don’t think I’ll get there in 2015, and even though it is a choice I am in total control of, and is the right call in the end, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel 100% good about it.

So how do you get that spark back again?  Right now, I’m trying to find inspiration.  It’s all around me.  Anna Frost and Missy Gosney just became the first female team to complete Nolans 14.  I just went backpacking in Desolation Wilderness, one of my favorite places on this Earth.  I’m re-reading Rebecca Rusch’s book, reminding me that the toughness comes from picking yourself back up, and success comes from working hard and smartly figuring out what your next move is.  I’m coaching track for a private training program in the city, helping beginning runners try to discover the love of speedwork.  There’s so much inspiration around me, it’s only a matter of time until I latch on to my next race, adventure or hair-brained idea.  Hopefully when I do, my heart will be ready to love again.

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Here’s Jamie looking out from Temelpa Trail, half way up Mt Tam, on one of our many morning summits.

My first official DNF, as planned, at mile 18 of the Lake Sonoma 50. All smiles because I get to stop running and get back to training the next day.

My first official DNF, as planned, at mile 18 of the Lake Sonoma 50. All smiles because I get to stop running and get back to training the next day.

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This picture was taken the week I decided to register for Bryce 100. It was a moment of clarity during a morning run in Berkeley, a few days after my second 50-mile race. Mentally and emotionally, I had a tough time during that race, but being able to run shortly after and have this inspirational moment on the ridge with a good friend made me feel invincible. That race hadn’t defeated me, it only made me stronger.

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2 thoughts on “Getting to the start line is the hardest part, they say…

  1. You have never let me down! I’m very proud of you for being such a strong runner and always listening to your heart and your body. That’s a hard thing to do. Enjoy your off time – there’s always time for another race. 😉 XOXOOX

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  2. Pingback: OCC | Perpetual Motion

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