Four ultramarathons and close to 2000 miles of training – after all that, some assume that each one gets easier than the next and training somehow gets easier. That’s a myth. To get to the start (and eventually the finish), you still need to put in those miles. And each training block leading up to a race is still a test. Athletes constantly test themselves and see if they can train more efficiently and perhaps improve on the areas that they feel are the weakest. And sometimes, the thing that needs improving most is your mind.
I’ll be the first to tell you that my mind has not always been in “the game”. I’ve struggled to get through weeks of running – yes, I said weeks. Getting mentally prepared to walk out the door and go for that long run, especially in the winter when the weather is not necessarily ideal, is not an easy thing. And even during runs, for whatever reason you’re struggling, it can be the most challenging thing to convince yourself to push through it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. In that regard, we are no different.
After running many races, I feel the only thing I’ve mastered at this point is my mindset going into the race and getting myself to the finish line. With 4 ultramarathons completed, I’ve definitely not mastered the training. Or, rather, I’ve not mastered the mindset of training.
I still get excited about the prospect of ultramarathons, whether it be the challenge of conquering new distances or exploring new places. When I signed up for Way Too Cool 50k, although I wasn’t sure whether I was quite ready to want to train again, I was excited about the possibility of running a race that had a great reputation for being very well organized and had a beautiful and fast course – elements which made it very popular and attracted some darn, speedy people. All reasons why registration was a lottery.
I had a few other friends who were interested in running this race, but the main reason why I was motivated to run was because one friend wanted a training partner. This was paramount. For my last race – my first 50 miler – I had friends who would jump in and run with me for parts of my long runs, but there was no one person who I was sharing the whole experience with and someone who kept me accountable and motivated. So, to have that agreement going in was a game changer.
Sadly, a couple of months before the race, she had to cancel. She was devastated, and my heart sank. My training suffered; without needing to go back to my training log, I know it was evident, with some training runs cut short or even missed. More importantly, my head was no longer in the game.
The only thing that kept my spirits high was the trip as a whole. Way Too Cool is located in northern California and we (Hozumi, who was racing, and Greg, who was supporting/spectating) had planned to spend an extra couple of days in San Francisco. Now, some may say that SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder) is a farce, but it’s not. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, we are all affected by the weather. Look at how the mood of Vancouver changes when the weather changes – from Raincouver to Suncouver. You’ll all of a sudden see people smiling with heads held high even when the temperature is nipping at our noses and fingertips, which is a far cry from the glazed reflection of defeat in our averting eyes when the clouds roll through and rain envelops the city.
The Way Too Cool 50k was located about 2 hours north of San Francisco in a great little town called Cool, CA. With a high of 16-18 degrees Celcius, I couldn’t complain. I was happier, more energetic, and slept better.
The morning of the race, the sun was shining and, as with most events, everyone was in good spirits.
Even finding tears in both of my shoes en route didn’t dampen my mood. We arrived at the race about 45 minutes early, unbeknownst to us that the line up to park would have us rushing to the start line with only 15 minutes to race start. To add insult to injury, I needed to to park myself at the back of a long bathroom lineup. Stress levels were not good. With 5 minutes to go, Hozumi came by and wished me luck as he took his position at the start. I, however, was still patiently but not so patiently waiting in the line to the loo. Finally! In and out as quick as I could, I rushed out of the port-a-potty and ran to the start with less than 30 seconds to start. In fact, they were mere seconds from doing the 10-second countdown. At this point, I was positioned right near the back. Now, I’m not expecting to win the race – far from it – but I knew I wasn’t in the right spot. And then the gun goes off! So, what do I do? Run a little hard to fight for a spot further up along the chain. The course was quite runnable, especially in the first 8 miles. It was a large expansive meadow with single track trails and a few creek crossings. Some took the extra minute to cross the creeks, while others splashed through them to get a bit ahead.
With seemingly less training in my legs, I projected a time close to 6 hours – hopefully under. My pace for the first 8 miles, which loops back to the Start/Finish area had me finishing just over 5 hours. Big mistake. And boy, did I feel it. After the initial 8 miles, there was a good downhill section, which most people know I love. So, throwing caution to the wind, I barreled down earning myself a handful more spots. Note the photo of me sideways on the trail – this would be due to a lack of control running downhill. SO FUN.
My legs were starting to fatigue and the hamstring which had been giving me problems for almost 2 years started acting up and I hadn’t hit halfway yet. By the time I was halfway in, I checked my watch and I was at 2:29 – uh oh. And this was when the wheels starting falling off. This was also when most of the downhill was over and it was time to start climbing back up to the Finish, including a ridiculous hill called Goat Hill, meaning it’s a hill that’s meant for 4 legged animals naturally inclined for climbing ridiculous hills. FYI, I am NOT a goat nor am I feeling like a goat at just over a marathon distance in.
Up until this point, there was really no chatter on the trails, which added another element of difficulty to this race. There is a lot of self talk that happens on runs, but the tone of that self talk declines rapidly the longer the run. The best cure for that is to distract yourself by some great chatter with others who are also suffering. Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy this aspect and was stuck in my head, until I heard a voice that broke through it all at about 28 miles in. My first reaction was one of relief and rejuvenation because I was feeling very much beyond my abilities. But then the voice got clearer and clearer. And it wasn’t good. Unfortunately, this woman who was also in the race who was just behind me was told by someone on the course that the next aid station was 300 yards away. When I first heard it and looked down at my watch, I knew it was off. And by quite a bit. I quickly told her that I think it was more like a mile .. at least. This didn’t go over well. We passed another person on the course, either a volunteer or spectator, and she confirmed this. I all of a sudden heard a broken record of negativity behind me of how she had been wronged. Don’t get me wrong – it was wrong and I can empathize with how she was feeling, but I also couldn’t be around it. I had to get away or she’d weigh me down mentally.
I knew the next aid station would be coming up soon, and from there, the finish was very close. When I first looked at the course map, I questioned having an aid station less than 2 miles from the finish. At this point, it was a Godsend. I got to the aid station first, saw her come in and heard her start her rant. She started the final 1.4 mile uphill trek to the finish just a bit before me, but I passed her within the first 5 minutes. There really was no running to be had on this section, as it was very rocky ascent so it was more hiking and scrambling.
A very enthusiastic volunteer just a bit ahead was announcing that we were a mile to go and I was ecstatic. Energy is contagious and this volunteer was giving it away like it was nobody’s business. Thank you – I’ll take what you got! But then, the woman behind me started her rant and I had to get away as quick as I could. And at this point, there was really no speed until I got to the top of the rocky ascent and was back on a single track packed dirt slightly uphill trail that led to the finish line. Now, THAT was a glorious sight. I had left every single ounce of my being out there and my hamstrings felt as though they were going to snap.
I hate to end to race report with a negative tone and everyone has good and bad days, and clearly, this woman was having a bad day. So, I’ll end off thanking her for giving me that extra little push to get me to the finish line with all smiles.
Hozumi, of course, did amazing. He finished 13th overall with a time of 3:56, which only shows how strong of a field he was up against. After I managed to hobble my way around the finish area, we got to have a quick sit on some hay bales before heading back to the hotel for a quick turnaround to our trip to San Francisco!
The shoes, in case you were wondering, never came back from California. 🙂