Two weeks ago, I did something I never want to do again…
A 62-mile ultra running trail run that took 18 hours (many of it in the dark) in freezing temperatures. I kid you not— this was harder than child birth. My husband, Ryan, will second that— having been by my side at both of these events when I needed it most. I went 100% natural both times— no pain meds, no alcohol, no nothing to take the edge off. Just hours and hours of deep breaths and mental toughness as I pushed my body beyond what even I knew it was capable of doing.
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. ―Tina Fey
How I got started Ultra Running
Six weeks before the run, I got a 10pm text from my friend Carissa asking me if I’d like to run a 100k in our local state park : Croom State Forest. As soon as I read the text, I was an immediate YES! It didn’t matter that I was only running 3-4 miles at a time or only had a month and a half to train… I was doing it! I went to bed all giddy about this epic event and starting planning out the new gear I would need to buy for this.
The next morning over a green smoothie, I drafted up a training plan for us to follow. I texted it to Carissa and we did our best to stick to it for the 6 weeks. It’s literally a “0k to 100k in 6 Weeks Program” (and is probably not recommended by anyone but us!). Yet it was a solid plan and I knew if we stuck with it we would be ready to go the day of the race.
Unfortunately, peak training happened to be during Christmas time when we had a rotating list of guests— my parents, my uncle and then my in-laws. So finding the time to train with family visiting was a challenge— and one that I failed at. According to my training schedule, I should have done 4 runs that were 20+ miles before the big day. Yet in reality I did zero. The farthest I went was 18 miles one Sunday when I played hooky from Sunday school.
Yet my lack of proper training didn’t stop me from showing up and doing my best race day. I knew I hadn’t trained enough to “seriously compete” with the other runners, but I was ok with that. I mainly wanted to see if I could finish the race… no matter how long it took. Could my 34 year-old body go 62 miles if I asked it to?
3 key reasons I did an ultra running race
After reading Born to Run, I really wanted to push my body beyond the limits of what I knew it was possible of doing it. Well, 62 miles was definitely it for me. I decided that it was now or never, and that this was the perfect time to challenge myself for a few reasons:
1) DATE : There was a start date already set for me that was in the foreseeable future
I don’t usually follow through on goals unless there’s a specific date to accomplish them. It helps me focus and stay committed when other things come into play. This was a 6 week plan and I felt that I could invest my free time into this and really go for it.
2) ACCOUNTABILITY: I had people to help me train
Having Carissa and a few other runners train alongside me was HUGE! We started a “6 at 6” club where Carissa and I would meet in our downtown at 6am and try to run 6 miles while the world still slept. We did this 3 times a week and then aimed for a long trail run on the weekends. Training is much more fun with others and it also holds me accountable. I still plan on keeping this routine up with Carissa because it really was fun and helped us both. Here’s a group pic at the startline with some of my running buddies…
3) HEALTH: I knew it would improve myself
Running not only helps me get more defined arms, legs and core muscles, but it also helps me mentally. I am my nicest self on the days I get in a run— ask anyone. It’s the cheapest therapy and it’s the best. I love being outside and working my body—even if I sometimes dread lacing up my shoes.
My 100k Ultra Running Race Day
I did a video series of the entire race experience and wanted to share it below in case you’re interested in doing a 100k run or just looking into ultra running. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
The night before…
I was definitely nervous and super excited the night before the race. When it comes to ultra running— you really can never have enough gear. I had 4 changes of clothes and that wasn’t enough! Below are some things I packed:
1. Hammock | in case I needed to put my feet up and sleep for a bit
2. Sleeping bag | to keep me warm after the race (I was gonna stay and cheer others on)
3. Body Glide | to help with chafing (arms, sports bra area, toes, butt cheeks)
4. Deodorant | I thought it would be nice to smell good out there
5. Homemade Vapor Rub | helps with breathing and my athletic induced asthma
6. Visor | when it gets sunny, I prefer a visor over sunscreen since I tend to break out
7. backup external power source | charge my phone and watch
8. Gloves | I wish I had 4 pairs of these!
9. Hand warmers | these were amazing out there!!!
10. Epsom salt | I took a bath once I got home and then another the next morning. It helped my muscles so much!
11. Vaseline | this was good for my lips as they kept getting chapped out there in the cold
Below are some things I packed up and ate along the way too:
The morning of the ultra running race
Mile 0 …
The race started at 6am on a Saturday morning, and it was a total of six trail loops through Croom State Park. The temperature was in the high 20s (Fahrenheit) when I started my first loop in the dark. That was a pretty rough one because I’m not used to running in temperatures that cold. I wore 3 layers of pants, 3 jackets and a two head scarves to stop the shivering. I felt like a kid going out to play in the snow… expect I was setting out to run 62 miles.
Mile 12 …
Still freezing… but the sun started to come up. Right before I pulled into the rest area, I spotted two of my friends on the side of the trail. They had come to cheer me on at 8am in 30 degree temps! I was so happy to see them and just felt so much love at that moment. I almost felt like doing a cartwheel to celebrate. We hiked up to the rest area and I took off two layers of pants and two jackets and really enjoyed the lighter load. I drank some water, green smoothie and chugged some chia fresca to make sure I was staying hydrated. It’s strange, but when you’re so cold it’s hard to drink anything. Yet I was still sweating and made myself chug it down.
Mile 22 …
By this point I was shivering cold but it was the warmest point of the day. I realized my clothes were soaked through so I stripped them off and put on dry ones. I also changed my socks and put on a new ear warmer that wasn’t drenched. Just as I was about to take off for another 10 miles, Ryan and the kids showed up. If I had left 10 seconds sooner we would have missed each other! I stayed and chatted for about 10 minutes and felt encouraged and ready to keep on going. Ryan took a pile of wet stinky clothes that he would take home and wash— and bring back so I could wear them later in the race. I fueled back up with a quart-size green smoothie and a Picky Bar, stretched my tight hamstrings and off I went!
Mile 32 …
Reaching mile 32 and feeling really good! My family came to cheer me on, made signs, gave me massages and lots of hugs. This moment was the farthest point I had ever run before and I knew today it was ONLY my half way point. A few more friends came out to cheer me on and fill me up with love. It amazing how helpful those moments are. I changed my clothes (again), drank more smoothie, drank pickle juice and got back out on the trail. I kept seeing a guy ahead of me in the distance and I set a goal of catching up to him. It took a few miles but I did it and we ended up talking + jogging for the next 8 miles together. Talking with other runners is so helpful when you’ve got 18 hours of running in your day.
Mile 42 …
I made it back to the rest area to see Ryan, the kids and some more friends. Clare had busted her lip on a log while doing gymnastics and was pretty sad. I was half delirious and trying to help her, but wasn’t quite sure what to do. I wanted to hug her, but I was stinky and wet— and she didn’t want that. So I focused on what I needed, and that was dry, clean clothes. I quickly changed my clothes again, ate half a almond butter and jelly sandwich and took off my Garmin GPS watch (which had died after 12 hours tracking my vitals).
I was exhausted at this point and not looking forward to 20 more miles. I actually started getting emotional about it because I just felt so miserable. I just really wanted it to be over with. But I knew I could go on… so I did.
I got back on the trail; yet this time Ryan came with me. He was gonna be my pacer for the next 10 miles to keep me going. It was his job to keep me talking and moving. We walked down the roots (an area that’s downhill and covered in roots that twist ankles or trip runners) and started to jog. Yet my body was different this time. Instead of listening to me when I said run, it locked up and could barely move. My whole body was tight and I was exhausted. It just hit me all of the sudden. I had to hike with the smallest stride (like a very old frail lady)— and groaned along for miles.
We made it to the back half of the loop (mile 48) and I was ready to call it. I was tired, cold and couldn’t imagine going along like this for 14 more miles. Yet the rest area team told me I was doing okay and that I was gonna finish. They rolled out my hamstrings (which caused me to collapse on the ground in pain) and fed me warm soup and potato chips.
After a few more minutes of standing and stretching by the firepit, I decided I could at least make it through this loop and call it quits at mile 52. Heck 52 miles was a HUGE accomplishment! Ryan and I set off on the trail again. I was focused on completing to loop and getting off my feet for the rest of the night. Thanks to the foam roller, I was able to lengthen my stride and we were hiking at a decent pace again. Yet the pain was constant, the cold was constant, the exhaustion was constant. I wanted to go home, take a hot shower and sleep.
As Ryan and I hiked up the final stretch to the rest area, I told him I was done. That I was happy with the day and how I did. I had no desire to do another 10 mile loop and felt like I had already achieved so much. I knew people would try and talk me into another lap to finish the 100k, but I didn’t want to hear it or do it.
As I got into the rest area, I had my eyes set on going home. I didn’t want to do another 10-mile loop and told all my friends that immediately. This was IT for me. Yet some were insisting I go on, including my son who was cheering me on with Facebook Live. Fellow ultrarunners said that tomorrow it wouldn’t feel any different doing 52 miles versus 62 miles— that I just needed to keep on going. The words passed right over me. My heart was out of it– I was done and ready to go home.
Then our friend Keith, who’s 72 years old, chimed in and said he would hike the last 10 mile with me in the dark. With those words, everything in me shifted. If he would do that for me… if he wanted this so bad for me… then I should want this so bad for me too. Then another friend said they would do it too. Then another. I decided that even if I didn’t want this for myself, I could at least finish it for them.
So I changed my clothes (again), put on dry socks, ate some more soup and I set out in the dark surrounded by friends who would carry me through the last 10 miles. Every few miles we would stop and gaze at the stars— they were so bright and close! I would spin in circles and watch them spin around me— it felt like a dream. As I moaned and shivered step by step, we told stories, we laughed and encouraged one another. As much as I hurt, I was able to go on surrounded by so many amazing friends and Ryan. It felt like the loop was never going to end… until it did.
Mile 62 …
Hiking up the roots to the finish line, our group was met by more friends who came to cheer us on. One friend, Erin, had a video from my kids who shared how proud they were of me. It had me teary-eyed and just in awe of what I was doing. The last half mile I had six people alongside me— making sure I got to the end. It’s because of them that I am a 100k finisher. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have made it. Yet my friends and loved ones came along when I needed them most.
What I learned about myself through ultra running
This day-long adventure was one of the most vivid examples of the power of community that I have ever experienced. I don’t know if I would have even said yes to doing this 100k race without that text from Carissa. I don’t know that I would have trained much without my running buddies, Donna, Carissa and Tonya. And I am 100% certain that I wouldn’t have done the final lap without all of my family and friends pushing me to do it—I am pretty sure I was the only one saying I should quit.
What about you?
Do you have people in your life that challenge you to do awesome things? Do you have people that are willing to walk with you and keep you accountable? If you’re not sure, then let me be that person for you today. We can start small, I promise. 🙂
On Monday, a week from today, I’m hosting a free 7-day green smoothie challenge called Simple 7. I’ll give you the shopping list, a support group and 7 tasty green smoothie recipes, and all you have to do is blend and drink seven green smoothies for one whole week. How does that sound? If that sounds good, click here to join me.