Getting My Toes Wet (with sweat and blister juice): My First Ultra Marathon

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All the food I brought. I had way too much!

From the time I started getting packing for The Keys100, I was in a calm panic.  Things HAD to get done and I was doing them at a very controlled pace, making list, crossing things off, and making sure everything got done right. I found myself using yoga breath while packing to make sure that I didn’t freak out.  I swear, I have never been so organized while packing for any trip.  Though everything for the race was packed super organized, I still just threw  my everyday clothes and belongings into my suitcase.

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I put everything in big zip lock bags to keep it organized and dry.

I was so excited!  This was my FIRST ultra!  I was also a bit nervous, and when I say bit I mean: a bit of a gigantic meteor a million times bigger than the sun.

It didn’t help that I was recovering from a minor shin splint and I hadn’t ran in over a week (9 days to be exact). Since I started running, I had never gone longer than 6 days without running and I was worried that my body would rebel against me or that I would experience lingering pain from my injury.

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Pre race meeting with my awesome vegan running coach: Chad Weller.

But I was as prepared as I could be. I was running 40 to 60 miles a week.  I got a running coach, Chad Weller, who was perfect a choice for me because not only is he an experienced Ultra Marathoner but he is also a vegan athlete… so when it came to nutritional advice, I could actually follow it.  I didn’t have to worry about him trying to push meat or dairy on me.  Or asking the popular silly question:  “Where do you get your protein?” ( Warning RANT: What I should start asking people when they ask me that questions is “Where do you get your dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins A, D ,E from?”  The truth of the matter is most Americans have very bad diets.  And yes, you can be healthy if you eat meat but even the Department of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is now recommending a gradual transition to a plant based diet. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-2.asp)

Also, I created a detailed game plan, which consisted of a 5 page outline to help my newbie crew.  They had no idea what to expect or what I wanted to accomplish, so I wanted to set them up for success.

Sitting down at the pre race meeting, I felt confident, strong and truthfully kinda wishing I was doing the 50 miler instead of 50k. But I also knew that I had to conquer the 50k before I could go after the 50 miler. I reminded myself, a year ago, a half marathon terrified me and today I have come so far from that girl 20 years ago that hated running and saw running as something I HAD to do to pass PE. Running now gave me peace.  It allowed me a venue to pacify my ego, which constantly makes me believe that I am not good enough and not worthy of success, friendship, and love.  While I run, its words are only a hum behind my breath. And after a long run, my mind is completely silent.  I run far and aim to go further because the longer I run, the more aware I am, the more my mind becomes the observer not the doer, thus the longer my ego is pacified.

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“Celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing” -Tool This was my mantra for the race and I put it on the back of my car.

This calm panic that started Thursday, continued literally until I crossed the start line. My mind was running crazy: Did I have enough water? Did I have enough ice? Did I eat enough before the race?  Was I hydrated properly?  Did I take enough salt?  Was everything in place? And of course: oh shit, I need to pee.  When I get nervous, I literally have to pee every 5 seconds. Okay not literally, it’s probably more like every 5 minutes.  I was in and out of the porta potty 5 times before the race started.  Even as I crossed the start line I felt like I needed to pee but like always that feeling quickly went away as I started to put in the miles.

The first 3 miles were the only time I felt the heat. My mind was running through everything I had to do, eat my gels, drink water, focus on my breathing, watch my form.  I realized very quickly, especially since I only wanted to carry one water bottle, every 3 miles was not going to work for my crew meeting me.

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First check point. Getting my Chica Band.

And oh my god, was my crew amazing! For a novice crew, they did not miss a beat! As I was approaching the check points, I would see them a 1/2 mile away jumping, waving and cheering. It really did push me and raised my spirits! It wasn’t until the very end that I did not run whenever they were around.  I didn’t want to effect the wonderful energy they were giving me.

At the first checkpoint, I threw the game plan out the window and told them that I needed to see them 2 miles, instead of 3.  Also, I got my Chica Band! OMG was it lifesaver, the ice cooled me down and honestly, I did not “acknowledge” the heat for the rest of the race.  I know most people say the heat in the Keys is the hardest thing but for me, I never said to myself “damn this heat!” or “oh wow it’s hot!”  I knew about the heat going into the race.  It was part of what attracted me to the race.  Yeah a 50k is only 5 miles more than a marathon but this one started at 1 pm in Key West in May. I did all my weekend training on Key Biscayne in the afternoon, so I was prepared for the heat and the sun!  I am positive that the heat had an effect on my body, but it did not play a factor in the mental game for me.  Chad, my coach, told me two things about the heat which really helped it not play a role in the mental game: First he told me, “the heat is going to be there and there is nothing you can do to change it, so there is no need to worry about something you can’t change.”  And secondly, the day of the race he told me to “respect the heat.”  So I went into the race, with a sense of respect for the heat and also knowing that there is nothing I can do to change it.  So just stay hydrated and keep my Chica Band full of delicious ice… No sense in fretting about something you can’t change!

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Feeling good and having fun!

The first 21 miles were easy! They consisted of gel, water, Nuun, banana, watermelon, salt, repeat…. During this time, I realized how lonely ultras could be.  In most races I have ran, there were always hundreds of people around; although I have never been a big talker, I have always enjoyed listening to other people’s conversations. I had none of that in this race.  So around mile 17, I decided that listening to music might be a good idea, which ultimately I think was mistake.  It took me out of the race. I wanted it to distract me,  to be something to do other than run. I love music but lately I feel that when I run music disconnects my body and mind and environment.

The last 10 miles is where everything fell apart.  It became almost impossible to run.  And unfortunately my wonderful best friend and my pacer Denia, as a newbie, was unable to motivate me and ultimately fed off my negative energy.  She even thought that I didn’t want her there.  More than once she asked me if I wanted her there and told me that I could run by myself if I wanted to. I now realize that I did a really great job making sure Ali, who was in charge of my nutrition, knew exactly what she had to do but I failed to do the same for Denia.  The only instruction I gave Denia was to run with me.  So although we have been friends for years, she had no clue how to get me out of the dark chasm that is my ego.  I guess, I never said anything because it not easy to admit your weaknesses, and my ego told me this wasn’t important. I know now that I need to outline exactly what the pacer needs to do to help me stay positive and full of mental energy.  Now I see how a prepared pacer can make or break a race.

A few things I will tell my pacer before my next Ultra:

  • Be a stoic cheerleader: constantly tell me how well I am doing, how far I’ve come, and that I should be proud of myself… But don’t have too much energy.
  • Don’t ask questions, the last thing I wanted to do when I was suffering was answer questions. Tell me to do things, I’ll listen or say NO if I can’t.
  • Never walk if I am not walking: Denia is faster than I am, and by mile 24, I was running really slow, when I was able to run at all. She would get ahead of me, then walk to wait for me to catch up. The second I saw her walk, I wanted to walk too…lol….
  • Never say “quit”. I have a habit of hitting my thighs while running.  Denia saw that I was doing that and she said “Don’t quit on us now!”  Now I know she meant this to motivate me, but in the moment, I was like “quit… who said anything about quitting!”  It made me mad that she would even say that.
  • Don’t mention the difficult aspects of the race. Early in her pacing she commented on the heat, that I wasn’t really feeling.  When she said something about it, I actually became aware of it.

Denia did an amazing job with what I gave her to work with: nothing. And I will never make that mistake again. I am am truly sorry for making her put up with me, without giving her the tools to succeed.

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Things are getting rough. I can barely eat that banana. It’s not that my stomach couldn’t handle it, I just did want to chew it, or swallow.

In those last 10 miles, I found it extremely difficult to run.  Every time, I started running I felt the gravity pulling my feet to the ground and I started to get lightheaded.  I didn’t want my team to make me stop running. I didn’t want to pass out. Finishing was the only option, so I decided speed walking was what I needed to do! It also became really hard to eat and I did my best to keep my nutrition up but I think I only consumed 900 calories for 7 hours of a race, which is only half of what I should have been eating. According to Sunny Blende, in her Ultrarunner podcast interview, a runner should consume about 240 calories per hour.  It became impossible to drink or eat anything until I put Dip Drop into my system. It tasted delicious and it was really easy to get down! I felt a million times better and was able to eat some saltine cracker. Also I realized the chocolate Cliff Gels, that I love were too much by the end of the race.  It was much easier to down their Citrus ones. I learn in this race that light fruity tasting foods work best for me.

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Struggling and in desperate need of a bathroom. Next time, I will memorize where ALL the bathrooms are.

The last 3 miles, although disappointed that my body had given out on me, I tried my best to stay super positive! I had to work really hard to stay out of the darkness in my head.   I am glad that I had Denia there to talk to. Without her there, I would have been that crazy person speaking to the clouds. With about 2 and half miles left, I was like shit I am so close, with that thought I felt a panic attack coming on. I knew I needed to calm myself down ASAP, so I said out loud “Let’s see what am I grateful for?” and I went down the list:  I said, “I am grateful for you Denia, of course, for being here for me; I am grateful for Ali and Nelson. They are rocking this crewing shit. I am grateful that I actually am here still walking. There are so many people out there that are not willing to challenge themselves to this extent.  And  more importantly, there are people that would love to do this but can’t. I am grateful for my coach that really helped prepare me for this race. I am grateful for everyone that is part of this race that cheered me on, smiled at me, started a conversation with me, and flew past me with kind words. Every single person (competitor, organizer, and crew members alike) in the race really is inspiring me and I am so grateful for all of them.  And I am grateful for this beautiful f**king sunset!”  I then told Denia, “You see, I am not going slow because I have no other choice. I just wanted us to see this beautiful sunset and I didn’t want the reflective gear to be a waste of money.

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Running into the sunset with Denia. It was a beautiful sight and I am grateful to be able to see it while racing… A positive of not making my time.

I found ways to spin the silliest things as positive.  Around mile 29, I needed to pee. I wasn’t excited about peeing in the bushes because it is cool, although it does add a sense of authenticity to the race, but rather that I was hydrated enough that I couldn’t hold it for the remainder of the race. I saw this as a success.

When we got to the last half mile or so, Ali came to join us to finish the race. I couldn’t remember the exact distance your crew could run with you at the end,(which is 1/4 of a mile) and either did Ali, so I told her she couldn’t run with us because I didn’t want to get DQ so close to the finish line.  I felt bad but I couldn’t risk it at that point… As she was walking back to the car, she was constantly cheering me on. She was amazing the entire race, and still had the energy to keep it up!

When I finally saw the finish line I was like “holy f**king shit! Finally!” (I can only imagine how many times that feeling was multiplied for the bad asses that ran the 50 and 100 milers!) When I crossed the finish line everything was a blur but I remember one of the first things I noticed was Hector one of the co-owner of IRun and Nia where there congratulating me, which was awesome and unexpected. Then I turned around to hug and thanked my team. I was done.

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You can see it all over my face: DONE!

I must admit I was not happy with my performance at the race, my goal was to finish in under 6 hours and I ended up finishing in 7:31. My spirits were kinda low for the rest of the night because of this.  But I am allowed to feel that way.  Even at that time, I understood what I accomplished and I was proud of my hard work but I felt like I let myself down.  So now, it’s about adjusting, and training harder and smarter because my first 50 miler is in November, the Daytona100, and I want that to go well. I want to finish strong. I want to take all that I have learned from this run and apply it to my prep for the next one. Although,  I know the prep will most likely fly out the window 10 minutes into the race, it is a must: the prep gives you a solid place to start.

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One of my favorite pictures of the race. I really did have the best team ever! I loved you guys before the race; I was extremely grateful for you during the race; and I love you even more now after the race!

I am beyond grateful for my crew, Ali, Denia, and Nelson (who isn’t in most of the pictures because he was taking them. Thank you Nelson for doing such a great job capturing this journey for me.)  It was great sharing this experience with them, and I can’t wait for the next one! =)