How To Win A 100 Mile Ultramarathon (with only years of consistent training, tenacity, and a sprinkle of luck)

Photo by Tony Christensen. Given that I had a song called "Moderation" stuck in my head, this is apt.

from now on / with the sky as my roof

from now on / let the risk lead me to

from now on / somewhere I never knew

"Royal Blue", Cold War Kids

Last Saturday, I finished Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 under my original goal time with trail conditions less than ideal, all while smiling far more than I thought possible for a rainy day out on an island surrounded by ornery bison.

I knew my legs could run the pace I intended; I’d felt it in my body and mind for months. What I didn’t know was that it would all come together in a bouquet of glowing sage and hopscotched puddles and an overall win for me: it was a day of firsts. 

So, what actually happened out there? Was it just a magical day for me alone? Or did my exuberance extend beyond my bubble of bliss and bleed out into the ether of others. I hope so, because it truly was a goddam amazing day out there. Everything I hoped for happened, and then some. 

Last fall I set a goal to run sub-24 hours on the Stagecoach 100 course in Flagstaff. I met that goal and finished in 23:28, but my GPS as well as most others only tracked about 95 miles. This tugged at my brain for months. I made my specific goal, but did not feel like I had done the more meta-goal of running 100 miles in less than 24 hours. And then, with a blazing fast 50K in November logged on the now-familiar Antelope Island trails, I was heading into my new hometown of Salt Lake City and winter with excellent fitness. I wanted to capitalize on this. 

I ran more than most here in Salt Lake City do in the winter. Many of the trail runners are out on the ski slopes, trudging up peaks on snowshoes, or (horrors!) taking some needed time off. Not this one. These legs were continuing to pound 50 mile weeks, sometimes on snow, sometimes on pavement. And nothing was breaking down. Yet.

Early February brought RUFA's 12 hour race, a good chance to see if my overall fitness was workable. Indeed it was, with 4 snowy frigid laps completed in just over 9 hours. Even with time enough for a 5th, I called it both a day and an excellent training run.

Only two weeks before the race I finally realized the start time was 10am. This is a massive bonus in logistics. Why? Here's what happened race morning: I woke up after a full night's sleep in my own bed at 6:30am, made coffee, did morning rituals (ahem), and then got in my car at 8am to drive to the start where I was one of the first to arrive and got front-row finish line parking. SCORE.

RD Jim Skaggs said his friendly hellos as I shuffled my final drop bag contents due to the drizzling forecast. Where should my many jackets go? Where should I put my knickers? Should I start in shorts? Waterproof jacket or no? By 9:50 I'd gotten everything ready, did a short meditation in my car, and stumbled out into the crowd. And we were off.

Photo by Tony Christensen. Off we go into the wild grey yonder (me in black hoodie on right)…

My goal? A sub-22 hour finish, which would be a 100 mile PR by more than a minute per mile. My plan? Go harder than I ever have in a 100, and see where this theoretical redline might live. Can I toe the line and not fall apart? Now, the weather presents new challenges. The trails of Antelope Island State Park are insanely runnable when dry and tamped down; not quite as runnable when wet, sloppy, or tracked out by horses and dried to lumpy.

In the early and climb-heavy miles I chatted with a few folks, including my friend Ron Hammett from Las Vegas who ran Stagecoach with me last fall. We talked about goals and weather and trail conditions. I hinted that I had a "secret" goal that was not time-based, and he smiled. I noted that I wouldn't make any commitments or decisions until I saw how much time the mucky trail was going to take off my pace. No matter my speed, my plan was still to go hard and take risks, and think of my secret goal every step.

And yet.

Every single mile The Strava Lady on my phone informed me of my previous mile's pace. This was intentional. This was to keep me on top of what I was putting out. This was hopefully not obnoxious to anyone in earshot. I knew that for a sub-22, I needed to average just over 13 minutes per mile, including aid stations and everything that would subtract from actual moving pace. This means any time I heard a number well under 13, I felt good. When I heard a number well over 13, I felt less good. Of course, there are climbs and descents; these all contribute.

The trail? Hopscotch-worthy. Some runnable and actually kind of nice. But chunks were mucky and disgusting and worthy of puddle hopping to avoid soaking wet feet. I ALMOST took a fall when sliding down some slimy mud in the early miles, but saved it and didn't strain anything in the process. Yet my pace was still…. pretty good.

My first bison encounter could have been worse. Somewhere around mile 18, we contoured around a hillside strewn with rocks and outcroppings. I saw a runner in front of me veer way off trail to the right, and wondered why he was going so far for what seemed like a pee break. Soon, he turned around and pointed, and I looked LEFT to see the bison, just feet off the trail and dead ahead of me. WHOA!!

Once out of the path of potential stampede, a certain Fight Club scene came to mind. I of course riffed on it immediately to fit the situation, laughing out loud like a crazy person.

WHOA! WHOA! OK: you are now attempting a run with your imaginary friends NEAR 2000 POUNDS OF BISON!

The next chunk of trail went, well, fine. More mucky crud around miles 20-23 but more or less runnable. And then I was on the trail I got to know so well: Mountain View. 11.5 miles each way of flat singletrack along the shore of the lake. I'd run it often in training, and we'd do this stretch 4 times during this race. I was still chugging along. I counted runners and women in front of me as they came by from their out & back. Right now I was 6th woman and about 20th runner. I'm a closer, so this was perfect.

I arrived at mile 33, The Ranch, at a pace that indicated I might be able to pull this off. This was seriously happy-making, and yet, nearly 70 miles to go. Thinking about how many miles I have yet to traipse does not mess with my head. It does not depress me to think, at the 38 mile Frary Aid Station, "oh, I have a 100K race to go yet". It does not drown me in despair to complete my first 50 mile loop in 9:58—one hour under my previous 50 mile PR—and consider that I need to do it all over again, in the dark, and not slow down too much. I am lucky.

I lingered at the 50 mile for 10 minutes and yet that seemed long. All race my aid station stops were mercifully quick and focused, eyes on my goal. A few people said I was 4th woman and 3rd had just left. I strapped on my lights and said to anyone who would listen, "Hey, great 50 mile loop! I loved it so much I'm going to do it again!!!" and headed out in the quickening dark and intensifying drizzle toward Elephant Butte.

100 milers are a fascinating study in mellow focus. There's a flow state that happens when you just go, but not get sloppy. I found this state repeatedly during my race, but especially in the dark. I went past Alicia on this stretch, who said the messy trail took more out of her legs than she hoped. I wished her well and trudged on and through the next 14 miles of up/down/rocky/winding, until it was mile 65 and the gauntlet was done. I'd crossed 100K in another new PR, and needed to keep the wheels on.

No more bison on this next stretch as I blew through mile 70 at the start/finish and readied myself for the final 50K. By now I knew I could make my sub-22 if I kept eating and moving, but one never knows how things can implode, even at mile 95, let alone 70. Again to the Mountain View trail, again through Frary aid, where they told me the lead woman had left "not long ago".

Oh yay. Oh no. I've still got 22 miles to go, and the idea of catching up worries me a tad. Chasing might be entertaining, but being chased? Fucking terrifying. And yet, exciting. With 19 miles to go, I pass Dana and her pacer and hold my pace, putting a little distance on. I spent 8.2 seconds at The Ranch aid station (the turnaround) and see how long it takes before I see Dana again. About 3 minutes, which isn't long. And yet, that's over a minute per mile. Maybe….

How I race: at least after the halfway point, anyway.

I keep going. Back to Frary. Now 11 to go, and every single mile I am calculating how many minutes per mile I need to average to still break 22. It's over 15 minutes per mile now and I feel…. awesome. I pass more runners, one by one. Most with pacers. Some say, "go get 'em!". A few realize that I'm the first woman they've seen go by and they get enthusiastic which goads me on even more.

I text the friends who might possibly be roused from Salt Lake City to come see me at the finish, but it is 5am, after all. Back to the utter slop of the final mile before the fence line. Back up the hill at mile 94, back to the final loop around White Rock campground with the chunky footing of the Lakeside trail. I'm wondering where Dana could be. Is that light behind me her? The next light? Did she rally? I keep moving through the final aid station with barely a glance at the table.

And then, I can see the finish, a long two miles to go yet, and with just enough light that I turn off my headlamp and handhelds. Just in case someone behind me is trying to see my light in order to make one push to catch up. Sneaky? Perhaps. But I needn't have worried. The last bits are on road, first pavement and then soaked gravel. My face almost hurts from all the grinning I've done in the last 21 hours as I turn towards the tent one last time, and let out a WHOOP!

It's quiet here and no one looks official, so I wander into the tent to let them know I just finished. And it's over.

21:32:51 and first place woman by over 45 minutes.

Done, done, done. And happy.

And that was how it went. So many feels for everyone out there on the unutterably gorgeous island with me, from runners to volunteers to family and friends of all of the above. While I did not bring along my own crew, I was still surrounded by friends and felt at home, every single mile. 

In the mud, in the slop, in the gravelly sand, in the headlamp lit night, in the misty sky, in the drizzle spit every single hour.

With the chafing, with the nonstop oral IV of sugary goo, with the obscured full moon, with the damp windbreaker, with the furry bison, with the gloves on / gloves off cycle, with the alien glow of the sage, with Florence & The Machine stuck in my head.

Across smiles, across stuck songs, across miles and miles, across slippery trail, across the tread of my brand new shoes, across the hours and minutes as they passed too fast and too slow all at once as they do.

Holy hell I did it.

Good gawd, what more do my legs have in me?

Momentum: How Getting Faster Happens

I am a fast runner right now, and I love it.

How did that happen? Consistency. Luck. Momentum.

Newton’s first law of motion is that bodies tend to stay in the situation they are in. If moving, they stay moving. If still, they stay still. Momentum works both as actual motion as well as inertia. It is the driving force in the universe. Entropy also is a contributing factor: physics isn’t always clean and simple.

Translated from the original Latin, it reads thusly: “Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”

What that means for my running right now is that I am riding a wave of fast. I say this without braggadocio or swagger. I’ve amassed nearly a year of good training without injury (dear gawd let this not be a jinx) and slowly built up a good racing season. Joe Uhan calls this “marble in the groove“. It’s when you take that momentum and build something phenomenal, whether that’s over the course of one race, or a whole season.

After my first “A” race in June did not go entirely as planned—San Diego 100 in heat and meltdown—I focused on a sub-24 100 in September and nailed that without major issue, adoring nearly every mile of that high Arizona course. No unexpected downtime in the lead up, no missed weeks, no stressing. Just flow.

VFuel showing off their athletes, including yours truly. Wheee!


And then. After recovering from that race (which didn’t seem to take much time or effort, either), I broke my 50K PR set more than a decade ago. When I was 30 I ran a 5:22 over in Phoenix, and I thought that was a decent time, at the time. 2004 was a good racing year for me, with my 50 mile PR also set, and my first Hardrock finish yet to be claimed.

But last week outside of Salt Lake City, at an elevation where I do not live, I shaved 6 minutes off that PR at age 44, a full 14 years after the first one. And it was hard but not ridiculous. I was cruising, grinning, and on a goddam high pretty much all 5 hours of that magical race. I’d slept 9 hours the night before the race, but that was to make up for the 2 hours I’d gotten the previous night (umm), so it’s not like I’m some saint of sleep.

And since that race, I’ve continued to train hard. Or, hard-ish, given that I do not have another race on the horizon. I go out for “normal” runs on courses I’ve done dozens of times and set Strava segment PRs. It’s really kind of magical.

Marble, meet groove. Set last night.


And it has to end.

When? Dunno. Why? Because my body will hit some kind of combo of tired and unlucky. Some bug will hit me. My wackadoodle sleep habits the last month could catch up to me. The stress of moving to a new city and social engagements also adds to the physiological bill.

And, on December 1, I will know if my next 6 months of training will be as important as any I have ever undertaken. It is then that I will know if I get into Western States 100. When I run that race, it could be my only shot for years. That means I will run the race of my up-to-now life. That is the goal. There are performance goals that I will have in mind, but the main goal is to run The Best Race. Period.

If I don’t get in (and odds are still greatly not in my favor, with a 6.7% chance of getting in), I will look to a late spring or early summer “A” race again. Perhaps San Diego because that’s a stellar event. And then, there’s still the possibility of getting in to UTMB. Everything will shake out as it needs, but in the meantime I know that my volume of training is what is propelling me along now.

I will do my best to protect it and keep it sustainable. I owe that to myself and to my idea of racing well. Wish me luck.

If you want to have a go at ultra racing, I can coach you. This stuff runs in my blood and in my neurons, for three whole decades. Let’s make some awesome happen.

Brandishing my Antelope Island 50K schwag at top of Wire Mountain, Salt Lake City

I Need Alex Honnold, Who Can’t Feel Fear, To Give Me Access To All The Feels

For 90 minutes my body went through a rebellion: hands clutching and releasing anything they could grasp, palms sweating despite the chilly room, tears bursting out of thin air, all punctuated by the occasional gasp of joy. I was not undergoing dental work. I was not on trial. I was not fighting with a loved one.

No, I was watching a movie about a man with no boundaries and a compulsion to seek perfection, even if just for a moment. I watched him create mastery with death on the line. The man is Alex Honnold. The film is Free Solo. It was exhausting, and—oddly enough—life affirming.

That’s right: 99% on the Tomatometer.


I chose the film for a very specific reason: I needed to FEEL. Deeply, engagingly, with my whole body. I wanted—and received—a brutal dose of the feels. Why? I’m odd that way. I need something large to draw out feelings that seem routine to my friends and most other humans. I am slow to rile, slow to react, and am seen as so laid back that nothing much phases me.

Alex tells a similar story when he talks about how most things just don’t get to him one way or the other. His nickname is “No Big Deal”. Everyday annoyances, the daily grind, relationships: he appears a canyon. Vast, deep, immovable. Only when he gets into his comfort zone of flow—complicated, demanding climbing routes—does he start to feel the pleasure that comes from competence. Add to that the all-too-real danger of free soloing, and he can feel alive.

When I walked out of the theater I was in the right mindset to open up with a friend and explore a recent emotional quagmire. Hours earlier, I couldn’t let myself get there. I felt frustrated yet incapable of expression. Letting my mind get lost in the tension onscreen was key. Tension on Alex’s behalf, and on behalf of his friends and filmmakers. The buffeting my mind and body endured were just right. Just what I needed.

Apathetic Amygdala

Alex is odd that way, too. During the film it’s revealed that Alex has some “alternative” brain wiring, starting with his amygdala, the part of the brain that registers fear (in addition to all the other “primal” emotions). When tested in an fMRI machine—the kind that shows your brain lighting up in response to stimuli—Alex does not muster much in the way of, well, anything in the way of reactions in the amygdala. Structurally he’s fine: there’s an amygdala in there. But it’s slower to rouse than a hibernating bear.

This makes him highly unusual—even the control subject, a “thrill-seeking” climber, showed fMRI amygdala responses to shocking imagery. In Alex, this primordial deficit might not have been noticed in a conventional, non rock climbing life. If he’d opted for the civil engineer career path he started and abandoned, he might not have known that he didn’t feel things like other people did. Life just might have seemed . . . fine. Boring, but fine. He wouldn’t have known any better.

But Alex is not a civil engineer (yet; he’s still young). Instead he finds that he is able to touch perfection and truly feel alive when he is using his mastery to stay one smear away from death.

I’m no Alex Honnold.

And yet. I see some interesting parallels in how we process the world. Go big or go home is typically how I take on challenges. Everything else is so “meh” that I am doomed to fail. I don’t just break up with someone: I do that and then get rid of most of my stuff and move across the country. Rather than take a job that’s reasonable in a new company, I find a brand new subject matter in a new company and take over a whole department. Oh, and when I run, I run ultramarathons.

Yep, that’s me. Wanna go run this weekend?


When I step into a big change, I get a lump in my throat. A quiver in my belly. A deep sense of purpose that is damn near addictive. Purpose is fantastic. Purpose helps you open a door, peek through, and realize you—to remain “you”—have to step through. It’s not unlike falling in love: in both we find deep meaning and a dizzying “oh shit here we go this is happening” beginning phase.

But that kind of quivering sensation isn’t repeatable forever. Is it? We grow accustomed to nearly everything. That’s a human strength, allowing us to persevere through some truly awful shit. And it can be our downfall when we seek a meaningful life.

The bridge between those big purposeful feels and just being able to experience emotions without judgement is where I get stuck. And that’s where running comes in. A lot of running.

Endurance + Exhaustion = Feels

After an ultramarathon or an energetically challenging psychological experience (movies can do it, sometimes books, sometimes particular music) I can get to that vulnerable place. It is then that I can open up, have those heart-to-hearts if needed. My normal introvert self can’t be bothered to put up a fight when the rest of me is soooooo tired.

Yet I still wonder how sustainable that pattern is. One can’t go through daily life making big life-altering moves AND draining one’s body of energy just to experience an acceptable level of emotions and be able to connect with people.

Can you? I don’t know. It starts with an observation and a theory about normal people and normal emotions. We’re about to go deep. Buckle up.

The Emotion Is Not Strong In This One

I believe that humans are built to experience a large range of emotional intensity. And like all human characteristics the potential range varies immensely from person to person. Let’s say all emotions are on a scale from -10 to +10. A daily chart might show most people existing between -4 and +5 depending on all kinds of things from social interactions to blood sugar. Meaning: in the middle, but fluctuating a bit. This is based on observation and talking with friends and family.

Rare events (tragedy, great news) spike the numbers into the high numbers in either direction. Overall, it seems that the “normal” waves, the -4s and +5s, are good for mental health. When a person is wired to stray too far away from the norm, there will be a price paid. To the conscious mind, or to the spirit.

At one extreme, some people feel BIG feelings more often than average. They’re in those 8s and 9s too frequently. We might call them drama addicts. They probably have issues with cycling between rosy and shitty in their relationships. They could have diagnosed psychological issues. That can’t be fun.

And then there’s the other side of the bell curve: the underfeelers. Here’s where odd me and even odder Alex come in.

I’ve grown to observe my personal daily pattern between -1 and +2. Not much rocks my boat. I am aware that I could be feeling things more deeply, good and bad, but it doesn’t seem to happen organically. The rub? This also leaves folks like me untrained for bigger fluctuations that would be normal to everyone else. So when faced with a -4 or a +4, I freak out a little and go for a run to smooth things out. A bit of self-medication to open up the little release valve.

But that release valve wasn’t serving me or my relationships. After maintaining my emotional ripples at a safe level, my spirit finally made some demands. It WANTS the big ones: those -5s and +6s. It craves them. So I must create them. I do that by watching Free Solo. Or running all day long, which interestingly is the opposite of those short “valve opening” runs. Long bold and exhausting runs contain big ups and downs within, as well as a payout in emotions at the end. Or becoming a freelancer before it’s financially stable. Or moving across the country. In the meantime, I’m going to watch Free Solo, again.

I hope that in learning more about emotions and how to understand and gently let them flourish, I’ll find that joyful spirit. Because feeling the intoxication of possibility is lovely.

With much love and gratitude to Hugh MacLeod and

Introvert Toolkit: Reach Out To Spread Love, With or Without Touching Someone

I just sent a cold email to Austin Kleon, asking if I could track him down in Pasadena for a "totally non-awkward" hug. This is what the digital age has done for introverts: we can reach out, nicely, from our trembling seated positions to those that we would like to appreciate. It could be an email. It could be a letter. They owe us nothing, but we receive the tingle of optimism for what might be.

It's good to offer something to those you admire, other than a hug. It could just be a story about their impact. "You have made a difference to me, and here's an example of how." A real story is better than just a thank you, but even those are okay. After I sent a letter to Natalie Goldberg thanking her for transforming my approach to the writer's life, she sent me a postcard back from New Mexico. You never know what delights await.

Natalie Goldberg sent ME a postcard. Squeeee.

Important side note: it's not good to ask for free advice (though if you do, put it FIRST, not after a whole string of buttering-up platitudes which ultimately make them suspicious of anything you might send in the future). It's definitely not good to ask to be mentored. Mentorship from a stranger is a fantasy that never works out well for anyone.

As to Austin? We shall see if he responds, positively or at all. In the end, I can feel good with the message that I sent, even if it goes into the ones-and-zeroes ether.

Whaddaya say, Austin?

How To Induce Existential Terror Using An Inflatable Kayak

I found existential terror over just two days on the Green River outside Moab. Packrafting was going to be my next new skill, but it turned out to be far more complicated than I could have imagined.

We’ve all heard people say, “go with the flow“, intending to calm and get others to mellow out and let things happen naturally. Go with the flow even sounds harmless—you just sit back on the proverbial river and let whatever’s around guide your course. But in March, the opposite happened to me. On a literal river, in a literal blow-up boat, facing the flow transitioned into a crisis of self.

What if going with the flow was not calming but rather like trying to let go and relax during an avalanche? Or a dust storm? What if “the flow”, even as a metaphor, is a tsunami-sized wave you can’t stop, and it’s your own personal version of hell and death all rolled into one? And, jeebus, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I have FUN?

Women packrafters outside Moab Utah on the Green River in drysuits

Smiling only on the outside?

I found myself pondering this and other obnoxiously huge thoughts when I was out on the Green River trying to have a nice packrafting and paddling skills weekend. Questioning my very purpose and meaning was not what I expected. Instead of quickly getting up to speed on stroke mechanics and how to put on a drysuit, I found myself over-metaphorizing the river itself. Each day I tried to navigate my craft downstream with varying degrees of success. I spent all my energy just trying to keep up with the group until I was exhausted, soaking wet, and freezing.

At night, I stared into the campfire and thought about death. Instead of talking to the rest of the women in the circle, I assumed a thousand-yard stare and went digging into that feeling of being out of control. I realized you can’t stop time or the creeping specter of our own personal grim reaper. Time flows, just like that river. You have to try to navigate as best you can, paddling downstream with as much skill as you can accumulate, not going too fast and not going too slow lest you get hung up on boulders or dead-spin eddies along the way.

Women around campfire; headlamps

Rad women being rad with each other. I wondered why this was so not rad for me.

And the river never stops. Never, ever. Until it does and that of course means you’re dead. But you don’t know if your river will end around the next curve or in the middle of the next set of frothy rapids or a bajillion miles downstream. You. Just. Don’t. Know.

Paddling isn’t so much about making speed. It’s about navigating well, avoiding traps, getting through the rough shit without a boat flip, bouncing over rocks without tearing a hole in the boat, bailing water sometimes, and just managing through everything while that water just keeps going. It feels scary to be pulled downward and to only have the chance to pivot this way or that but never to really stop. You could pull up in an eddy and rest, or spin, but the river still continues and you can’t spin forever. Or maybe you can spin forever, and then eventually your boat deflates and you get hungry and you doubt yourself and hate the water and think things like, “why can’t I just get up on the shore and stop moving and just WATCH!? Fuck.”

And that is how I discovered that paddling was no fun. River dynamics combined with my little human self whipping the paddle back and forth generated an existential terror that I could not face.

But I will. I have to. What else is there, after all?

trail end at fisher towers utah

5 Things You Need To Know About Running 100 Miles In A Day

It was Sunday, 10 in the morning, in the vicinity of the finish line of the Stagecoach 100 mile race. I was not functioning well as a human person.

“Hey, I couldn’t find you!” said Geoff after I’d wandered off for another unplanned nap in the back of the enormous tent. An hour prior I’d been wide awake, ringing a cowbell and cheering in other racers in the morning light. Three hours prior I was sitting in a daze after my own finish wondering if that had actually just happened (yes), if I’d feel some exhilaration any moment now (no), and why my ass hurt so much (TMI).

Okay. Wait. Back up just a tiny bit. Let’s go back a little more than a day and start this sizzle reel from the beginning. It was 6 a.m. on Saturday, I was about to run my first sub-24 hour 100 mile ultra marathon, and I felt pretty damn good. But why was I even here, with this particular goal? It all goes back to a “little” horse event called the Tevis Cup.

100 Miles. One Day.

To run 100 miles and not get “lapped” by the sun. It’s the stuff of ultrarunner dreams. Those four iconic words are etched into each coveted silver buckle from Western States—the oldest 100 miler in the country. Originally, 100 miles under 24 hours was the final cutoff for the Tevis Cup, but after Gordy ran it without his horse it was clear humans could do it, too. Now, a sub-24 at the 100 mile distance is a people’s benchmark, attainable and yet still difficult. In other words, it’s the perfect goal.

For me, it took some planning, some specific training, and a lot of base building. This race was chosen specifically; I had run my 100 mile PR here, a 26:15 five years ago. Everything seemed to be in alignment. I didn’t even get injured (more than a niggle) during training. In the end, my race was a success and yet the achievement felt incredibly numbing at the same time. I was left with so many conflicting emotions, from “of course I did it, I knew I could” to “that hurt a lot but I can do it better” to “I’m already sad and I don’t know why” to “goddamn I’m tired” to “maybe I feel a little . . . yay?

I have been doing ultras for a very long time, including 100s, yet I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Maybe I imagined it a little like Zach Miller. If you haven’t seen the end of The North Face 50 mile from 2016, give it a look. Watching that kind of redlining . . . it makes me FEEL stuff. THAT is how sport should be! And feel! And wooooooo! But for me, at 6:28 am on Sunday morning, 23 and a half hours after I started, there was not a lot of fist pumping.

Crossing the finish line I definitely felt relief that I didn’t fuck it up. See, the thing is that I knew I could break 24. My training was right, the day was right, even my cycle was exactly at the right spot. (And yes, that’s important if you are a woman trying to race. Dr. Stacy Sims, y’all.)

Weeks ahead of time, I told everyone I was going to do sub-24. It made the goal more real and more visible. And scary: what if I totally failed? If the result was that I struggled all day and finished in 25 hours, I’d feel surprised and a bit humbled and a lot embarrassed. So I needed some perspective.

Detach From Results

In order to let my legs do what they were ready to do, I put my trust in them. My heart was ready. It was the head that needed some coaching, honestly. The head controls pretty much everything, including legs and heart. It was my head that would tell my legs to slow down if it decided I was a crap runner. It was my head that would allow my legs to reclaim their spunk in the last hours to put the frosting on my race cake.

Days before the race I was in a yoga class and almost lost it when the instructor said to the room, “Your body is ready. You are ready.” She wasn’t talking to me. She was referring to all of us being warmed up and ready to do a deep stretch. But it didn’t matter. My heart heard those words and melted like butter in a skillet. Yes. I was ready.

5 Things Toward Making Sub-24 A Reality

In the end, several things helped me get to my goal. They are what you must remember. They are what I needed to relearn.

1. Running to a timetable is damn stressful.

Nearly every other ultra I have ever ran was “to feel”. Meaning, I ran what felt appropriate for the day, for my training, for the race. Not too hard. Sometimes I was fighting cutoffs. Sometimes I pushed myself harder than usual to finish strong. But almost always, I was running what felt reasonable for that day. And that made me feel unfulfilled as an athlete/animal. WHAT COULD MY BODY REALLY DO? This was a question I’d started to answer 10 years ago when running marathons, but I am just poking into it with ultras.

My 24 hour target splits were absolutely perfect for ME. They were based on two people who’d run this race the year before, finished just under 24, and raced like I do: worryingly slow in the first half, then a barely perceptible slowdown in the later miles. Based on previous races I knew this was my kind of plan. But it left little room for error. I wasn’t putting in quick miles early to have some wiggle room later. That ends up disastrously for many people, and besides, I love that feeling of “orange-lining” the whole 2nd half. Not redlining and blowing up. Bad idea. But just below that is the orange line and that is where I twiddle the dials of my Central Governor and go into the pain cave for awhile. Sustainable discomfort. Which leads to . . .

2. Everything is temporary. EVERYTHING.

Feeling bad. Feeling awesome. Being too hot. Needing to “find a tree”. Feeling hungry. Getting talkative. Wanting silence. Being lost. Getting lonely. Those fresh batteries in the super-bright headlamp.

Pretty sure I fertilized a tree somewhere around here. About mile 30.

Nothing lasts. Soon, you feel better. Or worse. Or your batteries die. Deal with it, and wait for the next change.

3. Self-talk can make or break you.

Get ready for this one; it’s not as hippie as you think. Hours and hours of “you got this” and “you are ready” and “what a great day” will tend to produce a different mindset than “oh boy I feel slow” and “this hurts my feet” and “ow ow ow my butt”. And your mindset can turn into differing performance results. It’s true that some folks can rally when faced with criticism or difficulty, but those birds are rare. Many of us do far better with encouragement, from the world around us AND our inner narrative. Even though I wasn’t able to draw my Sharpie mantras all over myself, I still thought about them as if I had.

Corollary concept: positive talk directed to other people is a double shot of goodness. Telling other racers they’re doing well, thanking volunteers, all of it feeds into this big loop of sparkles and unicorns and love. And it works.

4. The finish is what you make of it.

Didn’t have any friends to be there and go WOOOOOOOO and take photos of your grimy face and thousand-yard stare? Suck it up, buttercup. You STILL did the thing and the tiny cactus still believes in you. Pat yourself on the back as much as you damn well want. Mope. Take a micro-nap without really planning on it. EAT something, unless you will literally throw up as a result. And, most importantly, get OUT of your head. You’ve been in it for more than a day. Stand up, walk around, and do the WOOOOOOO for everyone else who is coming in to the finish. Maybe they don’t have their friends around, either. BE their friend. You both did this thing.

5. Aftercare is real and underappreciated.

No, I didn’t just deliver a baby but boy did I put my body through the wringer. For days the muscles are confused and angry, the lower legs inflamed and swollen with impressive cankles. Sleep is challenging, and then sound, and then challenging. Hunger is fickle, rising and falling with no seeming logic. I am given a free pass to eat anything I want as a “reward” for my race, but when I go to the store the day after the race I buy salad and liver and eat them with gusto. More than a week after the race I find myself having a chocolate-bar-and-bag-of-chips dinner. Really. But with more than a solid week of nutritious food already down the hatch, I’m recovering like a boss.

Oh, yeah. Emotional wackness. I get this one, real bad. Half a day of “yay, I did that” followed by a day of random staring into space and thinking, “boy is my life empty and dumb”. Repeat for a week. Or two. Throw in some sudden emotional meltdowns, such as panicking at the grocery store or bursting into tears during a run, and you have a pretty interesting post-race period. It’s sometimes called post-race depression and it can magnify any other clinical depressive symptoms already present. Pay attention and call someone if you’re freaked. Call me. There’s lots of us in this together, and we’re stepping up to be seen.

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

Ultimately, the biggest secret to aftercare is just tuning in. Need a nap? Take one if you can! Hungry? Eat something, dammit: whatever sounds good. Legs all freaky and tight? Lay on the floor and put your feet on the wall. It’s a lovely feeling. Want to go running? Go, but slow. Don’t want to go running? Don’t! But do walk around and be mobile as much as humanly possible. You might get a cold a week or two later. That’s fine. Sleep more.

And take it all in. Smile, even if you still have the thousand yard stare.

Hostels vs. Introverts: Homey or Hostile?

I am not a good hosteler.

I adore hostels. Let’s put that out there. The unique spaces often in renovated old houses with peeling paint and tin ceilings, the shabby common areas, the kitchen full of mismatched dishes and silverware and pots and lids. The clump of people on the porch all chatting with each other and seeming to enjoy it. That, too. And, of course, the reasonable fees to stay at hostels is another huge draw for any traveler, whether frugal or legit short on cash.

And yet, I do not conform to what seems to be the expected social contract one signs when staying at a hostel.

The accepted and expected behavior for a hostel-goer is something like this: check-in while chatting with the staff, say hi to everyone in the hallway, ask about nearby bars and music venues, dump your gear on the bed, wander down to the kitchen to see who’s cooking and who is going to the store for provisions and who is ordering pizza and choose your team, head out to the porch to sit and gab with whomever else is out there, stroll back inside for a bit of unpacking while planning evening activities with your new bunkmates, whether that’s playing guitar in the common area until 11pm or finding nearby social events to drop in on until well past curfew. Sleep, drink free kitchen coffee, repeat.

Playing records for no one but me at Salida Hostel.

Here’s my routine behavior at a hostel: check-in, say a few words to the staff, admire the funky building decor and/or freaky disrepair of said building, deposit belongings on bed while giving a slight nod to roommates, wander down to kitchen to admire mismatched dishes and scope options for meal prep, give a sideways glance to the drum kit set up in the common area, closely inspect the bookshelves for anything interesting, go back to room, get food, cook food, eat food in common area with other people present but reading a book, smile at other people but talk little, play the little portable record player when no one is around, eventually speak at length to the one person who seems compelling on final day at hostel. Leave.

Nothing better than a couch, slippers, and a book.

I’m also uncomfortably aware of some of my social pain-points, so when I am staying at a hostel I am doing what feels comfortable to me but also realizing that I am not fulfilling my ‘duties’. I am comfortable but uncomfortable. I engage little, which results in some curiosity from the other residents, I’m sure. Who is this person? Why doesn’t she hang out with us? Didn’t she hear us offer her some smokey treats if she wanted to chill out in the garage? If she’s so antisocial why is she at a hostel!?

There are folks that I do meet at hostels that I like very much. But they don’t tend to be the people you are supposed to meet: those travelers from a different land, a different creed, a different generation, a different worldview. I gravitate toward a specific kind of friend who in retrospect seems a lot like myself, only “better”. More creative, more inquisitive, more accomplished. But still a grounded adult woman, probably white, probably a little shy, probably a little tomboyish.

Hanna from Oslo and her notebook.

Many people come away from their hosteling experience with friends from every segment of life and planet conceivable. Shy white midwestern gals become friends with that guy from Argentina, that woman from Singapore, that couple from Senegal. That’s hard for me. But maybe THAT is another reason why I choose hostels: there’s something in me that wants to have the ease with others, the ability to connect, the social grace. And in a hostel the barriers are removed almost completely. No need to approach a stranger on the street. They will come to you. They will be on the top bunk to your bottom. They will see your shower clothes and your disheveled suitcase.

In a hostel, the ice has already been broken. So maybe I stay there, in part, to let myself melt a little.

Gear Picks: Clothing Worn

What to Wear: Clothing While Hiking

(2nd in a 5-part Series on Gear Picks)

Neatly folded up hiking apparel, never to smell this nice again.

Neatly folded up hiking apparel, never to smell this nice again.

Before my first thru-hike, I bought exactly one item of clothing brand new. I still have that item (a dress!) and it will be with me for many trips to come. Everything else was bought earlier, typically for trail-running. Note: in thru-hiker convention, items worn while hiking are typically not counted in pack weight. Here I won’t list grams and such.

Montbell Wickron Stretch Trail Dress

$49 direct from MontBell. Lightweight, quick-drying, with sun protection. With my arm sleeves it afforded me comfort and a haven from the Colorado sun. Really comfortable overall, though I could have used an XS size rather than S. MontBell told me they don’t make XS and I could get the equivalent if I bought Japanese sizing since they run smaller. That seems like a lot of extra work. And I’m not that tiny (34 chest, 38 hips, 28 waist). I figured a small should fit, but it was pretty roomy on me. Still really love it.

Arm Sleeves and/or Sun Gloves

Outdoor Research UV Arm Sleeves AND Outdoor Research Sun Gloves
I STRONGLY recommend both arm sleeves and sun gloves if you’ll be hiking above a few thousand feet. I’m in my early 40s and really starting to notice sun damage from a lifetime of “eh, who cares” sunscreen use. COVER UP! Bonus is that, with arm sleeves, you might only need a short-sleeve shirt for hiking: the arm sleeves offer a little warmth even when not needed for the sun.

Bottoms, For Ladies!

Going the shirt and pants route? Consider leaving behind those old-school hiking pants with zip-off legs. They’re heavy, complicated, and might not even be that comfortable under your hip belt. In recent years the prevalence of trail running shorts on thru-hikers has been quick and transformative (and note that with most running shorts you won’t need underwear as they have a liner built-in). Here are some of my favorites, chosen for decent length (no chafing, some sun protection) and minimal waistband stuff going on:

  • Oiselle Long Roga Shorts: everyone on the planet seems to love these shorts. Good pockets, as well.
  • Tasc Performance Challenge Shorts (5″): Good length, UV protection, and glowing reviews.
  • PATAGONIA STRIDER PRO shorts (any length, your choice!): details change constantly with pockets appearing or disappearing from year to year. That said, these remain some of the comfiest and longest-lasting shorts I have ever owned. Quick-drying and flattering as heck.
  • The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts: Kind of hard to source, but usually on Amazon for $50. Also, eBay isn’t a bad place. Ridiculously light and ephemeral. They’re the cuben fiber of shorts. Don’t abuse them too much and they will love you in return. They are SHORT, just be warned.

Undergarments: panties, bras, oh my!

Firstly, let me put a shout out for going commando. ESPECIALLY with a dress or skirt. Here’s the strategy I would use on every thru-hike from now on: carry one pair of favorite underpants, wear sporadically ‘as needed’ to balance out the commando days. Some hikers carry two pairs, but there’s no need for that. Even if you are not a fan of going without, you can survive a day or less after rinsing out your one pair (200′ from water sources, minimum!!) and hanging them on your pack to dry. (Oh, yes, on the outside of the pack! Thru-hikers are a practical lot.)

Ex Officio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Bikinis: The only underpants I recommend. They’re awesome.

What about sports bras? My advice is take your current favorite sports bra, the one that never bothers you no matter how boring it looks, and take that along. That’s it. I found one that doesn’t chafe (usually) and fits well and that’s what I hike in. It’s from Target. I think your sports bra is even more important for thru-hiking comfort than your underwear: after all, you’re wearing your pack right over its straps. Choose wisely, and TEST first!


Like sports bras, you do need to experiment a little and see what works. Here are my favorites over the miles, for several reasons and purposes.

  • Darn Tough Light Hiking Socks, $20 (I like crew height): best thing about these (if you keep your receipt!) is that if you wear them out, send them back for a new pair. For realz.
  • DryMax Trail Lite Crew Socks, $15: When you just want your darn socks to dry out quicker. If you suffer from a lot of foot sweatiness, DryMax might help.
  • SmartWool Cabin Socks, $20+: finally, SLEEPING SOCKS. It’s a good idea to put something clean over your tired and grimy feet before you slide everything into your fancy sleeping bag. When it’s time to go night-night, SmartWool is my pick. Get a thinner style if you want less weight and/or warmth.


Everyone’s feet have a shoe preference, based on history, shape, and lots of other factors like pack weight. But look down at the feet of 100 current thru-hikers and you’ll see probably 50+ pairs of Altra trail running shoes, often the Lone Peak model. Lone Peaks acquired beloved status on long trails about 5 years ago and their dominance can be seen in the tread left behind on any section of the PCT. I wore them for most of my Colorado Trail thru-hike last fall, with zero issues.

What should influence your shoe choice? First, your own hiking history. If you have always always always hiked in full-grain leather hiking boots, you will be most comfortable in those, for now. But if your pack weight is significantly less than 30% of your body weight, consider testing out trail running shoes. Light-begets-light in this case. By having less weight on your back, you could need less structure around your feet. And you’ll need to strengthen your feet, too, if they’ve been bound up in boots until now. Already a trail runner? You might be ready to jump right into a pair of Brooks Cascadias or Altra Lone Peaks straightaway.

Followup Notes and Comments

Clothing will always be a lot of personal preference. Some folks like to keep things as cheap as possible, even purchasing items at that “Wal-store” place and justifying the low cost with how many miles they can squeeze out of running shorts or whatever. I have some bias against that place: I’d rather paw through the running shorts section in any thrift store. This way, you’re supporting either a charity or a local business, and getting more use out of something that might have otherwise been thrown away. Heck, I’ve even bought Target brand stuff at thrift: $4 instead of $17.99 is still pretty awesome. And it’s a far cry from a brand new name brand pair of shorts at $50+.

Next up: Kitchen!

The Gear Picks Series Page

Call Me By My Name(s)

I’m at the rear counter of a curio shop, ordering a mocha latte for my aunt Dolores. The owner, a woman in her 70s, is describing the size options to me in a not-abundantly-clear fashion. The small sounds rather small but is not terribly expensive though a number is not given. The large is $15 for newcomers, less for repeat customers. And two are, of course, $30. Because I am who I am even in my dreams, I order one small and wait for the cup.

My aunt and other traveling companions, who may or may not include my mom and other family members, are outside, admiring the small town views of rural highways and endless land. Before I went inside, we were remarking on how each house had two addresses plainly written on their exteriors or mailboxes. It kind of looked like this, for each and every house we spied while walking around town:

house with two addresses

A house, with divided addresses, cannot . . . exist?

This was a curious practice; I suspected part of the reason my aunt pressed some money into my hand and told me to go fetch her a latte was so that I could ask the locals in the shop what was up with the house addresses.

Through eavesdropping and some small inquiries, I had an answer. Turns out that there is a nearby town, larger, used for shopping trips and the like by the residents of the small town. The larger town has essentially consumed and absorbed the residential contents of the small town, though the small town seems to be suspicious of this. The two addresses reflect the locals’ shifting realities and inability to accept the larger city’s grand plan. One address is their official location relative to the larger town. The other is the small town address, from which no local can bear to part ways. Hearing this explanation made some sense to me, and I prepared to relay it to my travel partners. Just as soon as I received my potentially-expensive mocha latte, that is.

But before I could see the looks on their faces upon hearing the explanation, I woke up, wondering what was going to happen next. In reality, what happened was I took down some notes about this dream. And then I began musing on this dual-address state, not just of residence but of mind.

How often do we find ourselves with two “locations” in life? We are both children of our parents and adults (or even parents ourselves). We can be both an independent person and a spouse (with or without a new legal name). We can exist as a lover to a stranger and a stranger to our families. And often, for those who overthink our lives, we can exist as a fully realized adult human with accomplishments seen by our acquaintances and friends and yet feel like child who needs to get on with adulting to ourselves.

While our many statuses can act in concert to balance out our life goals or current choices, they can also act in opposition, causing suffering that is unnecessary. We contain multitudes, indeed. Each of these possibly dueling states has a “location” within our minds—and in the minds of those who surround us. Unlike those houses of my dream, we rarely wear both of our addresses at once. One is outside (the parent, the functioning adult, the artist) and one is inside (the dreamer, the child, the wanderer).

To boldly show both of our faces at the same time, both of our “addresses”, to the public at large is a rare act of vulnerability. It can make folks uncomfortable to see the duality freely acknowledged. Like when you see a politician cry during a speech. Or you see a woman breastfeeding in a business suit. Luckily, we live in an era that is starting to accept our many facets. That’s progress. Those examples I gave above might still raise an eyebrow, but they would have been unheard of—scandalous—a few decades ago.

What are your locations? Are they in neighboring towns, or are they antipodes so far apart there’s oceans and earth to keep them separated?

P.S. The original intent for this thread was to dig deeper and explore the history of name-changing for marriage and the cultural implications thereof, but it went in another direction, as thoughts often do. Perhaps I will explore the spousal tradition inquiry in a future post.

Gear Series: The Big Three

The Big Three: Tent, Pack, Sleep

(First in a 5-part Series on Gear Picks)

When I finally set out on my first thru-hike, I had a base weight of 12lbs. Not bad. Definitely not super ultra light (SUL). Heck, it’s not even technically “ultralight” which needs to be under 10lbs. Most hikers will find that the easiest (though costly) way to get their base weight down is to lighten up their “big three”, which is the backpack, the shelter system, and the sleep system. Get these under 5lbs and you’re doing really well. My list below comes in at 7lbs on the nose, but you’ll find notes on how I’d cut that down next time.

TarpTent Notch (1lb 11oz)

$314 direct from manufacturer. First, my light and versatile tent, used for all of the Colorado Trail in 2017 and more than a dozen nights since with nary an issue. With stakes, groundsheet, and sack, it comes in at 27 ounces. To pitch it requires two hiking poles: a welcome reason to bring the “sticks” that save my legs on long days. I could get a similar but lighter tent at far greater expense (sigh, Solplex….). I ain’t into doing the tarp thing, which would be far cheaper. And like Heather “Anish” Anderson, I prefer to keep the creepy crawlies out. So for me it’s a real-deal tent. Henry Shires, the founder of TarpTent, and his team build these in Seattle and they do good work.

TarpTent Notch, set up near Copper Mountain, CO

TarpTent Notch, set up near Copper Mountain, CO

Osprey Tempest 40 Backpack (2lbs 3oz)

Osprey Tempest 40. $160 from Amazon. One of the oldest items in my kit at 5 years old, this pack was my first serious backpack and it took quite a bit of adjustment before I found the magical fitment that made every mile well balanced. Luckily this pack’s torso length is adjustable and the hipbelt fits nicely snug right over my iliac crest. I wear my belt low compared to many women, so getting a big enough belt can be an issue, but this Osprey does the job. It is not superlight at 2.2 lbs, but it carries weight well and that’s more than you can say for a lot of the very light frameless rucksacks. If I were getting another Osprey today, it might be their new ultralight pack called the Lumina 45 which sheds nearly a half pound yet still has solid internal framing.

Thermarest NeoAir XLite Women’s sleeping pad (12oz)

$160 from Amazon. Whew! Crazy lightweight and packs down tiny when deflated. Drawbacks? A little crinkly when you roll around on it, thanks to the thermally reflective material inside. Other than that, nothing. This is the short version, meaning 5’6″ in length to capture just what is needed for shorter humans and not a gram more. The R-value is 3.9: wonderfully high. The thru-hiker favorite ThermaRest Z-Lite Sol weighs the same with half the R-value and must be strapped to the outside of your pack. It ain’t small. Why a thru-hiker favorite, then? Cheap, indestructible, simple. There you have it.

Marmot Xenon Women’s Sleeping Bag (2lb 6oz)

$459 from Amazon. This bag ain’t cheap nor light but boy is it toasty when you need it! I started my Colorado Trail hike with a phenomenal 20 degree ZPacks quilt (1lb 3oz!!!), which was unfortunately more of a survival rating. I was darn uncomfortable for a few nights before I swapped out for this Marmot, ordered in Breckenridge and shipped to me in Twin Lakes right in the nick of time. Still have the ZPacks and it is the lightest summer bag I will probably ever own. But it ain’t for fall camping in the mountains. This Marmot is rated for comfort at 15 degrees and ‘survival’ at -9 degrees. That makes it 30 degrees warmer than the Zpacks, which makes the weight all of a sudden seem tolerable. Biggest drawback to me isn’t the weight so much as the size it takes up, even stuffed, in the pack. That said, it still fit with my tent, the pad, gear and all my food inside a 40L backpack.

Marmot and Zpacks sleeping bags

Warm bag top, summer bag bottom. Note the Marmot was stuffed much tighter than the Zpacks.

Followup Notes and Comments

Heavier can be better! Let’s say you get your Big 3 down to a really feather weight. Below 5lbs or even 4. This means you definitely have a shelter that might be best when treated delicately. You might have a pack that can’t take more than 25lbs or even less. And you might be skimping on a bag that lets you kind of sleep but still keeps you pretty chilly throughout the night. Where would I recommend you go very light vs not so light? I’d spring the big bucks and get a really fancypants tent, taking 11oz off that weight. And I’d go back to a lighter pack, maybe shaving off 8-10oz more. But where does extra weight mean comfort that is truly wonderful? SLEEPING. Buy the best, warmest, most amazing sleeping bag you can stomach. Maybe it doesn’t stuff down super tiny. Maybe it costs $600. But sleeping poorly after a long day on trail because you are cold flat out SUCKS. And you won’t be rested for the next day.

When I started the Colorado Trail last fall my Big 3 weight was at 5lbs 5oz: quite a bit lighter than the 7lbs above. I was using an Ultimate Direction Fastpack 45 (8 oz lighter than Osprey) and that Zpacks sleeping bag (1lb 3oz lighter). Next “cool weather” trip I will stay with the warm sleeping bag, but probably switch to a lighter backpack again.

Next up: Clothes on your Body!

The Gear Picks Series Page