Secrets To Running 100 Miles Under 24 Hours

In 2018, I made a big deal out of my goal to run a hundred mile ultramarathon in less than 24 hours. I told everyone who stopped long enough to hear: runners, friends, family, grocery store clerks, hairdressers, baristas, toddlers, other people’s pets, you name it. Would making my sub-24 loud, proud, and public hold me accountable? I seriously didn’t know.

Secret #1: Public accountability

On the flip side, there’s a TEDx talk about this (what isn’t there a TED talk about, these days…). In it, Derek Sivers (one of my favorite thinking seekers on the planet) says declaring your intent to achieve a goal often backfires because just by saying it out loud you get approval and an emotional reward. By getting your emotional reward FIRST, it is possible that you could be completely derailed from actually achieving your goal. Yikes. Derek suggests, in fact, that you might consider keeping your goal to yourself. I think both theories are right: it just depends on YOUR personality. Maybe it even depends on the goal itself.

Fighters vs The Rest Of Us

There are some folks who really truly will FIGHT and achieve that which people said they could not. Many movie plots are based on this, and it makes for a great rallying storyline. They told her no way could she be a skateboard hero, and look how she showed everyone!!! But honestly, I think there are also many of us (myself included) who take criticism to heart, shrinking under naysayers. We tend to thrive in a supportive and encouraging environment, with a literal or metaphorical crowd cheering us in all the way to the finish line.

I don’t often declare goals publicly, so this was an experiment. In a way it was casting the net wide, allowing other people to partake in either my success or failure along with me. After all, if I told no one of my goal, no one would know if I failed. My tail would be firmly planted between my legs and I’d mope around alone. Failing in public actually has a lot of tangible benefits. Humans are natural caretakers; when we see a wounded creature we want to help or at least murmur our sympathies. We are a sucker for vulnerability, and that’s not a bad trait to have.

In this case and despite Derek’s theory, I think being public worked. But only because of reason #2:

Secret #2: Luck Favors The Prepared

Stagecoach 100 2018 1st Masters woman

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

As a matter of fact, this goal of sub-24 for the Stagecoach 100, in September of 2018, was not a far-fetched goal to proclaim. I had more than a year of consistent mileage and almost no injuries to speak of. I was lean (almost too much, but that’s another topic) and at my “fighting” shape.

In the end, it DID work. Luck gave be good weather and no bodily mishaps during the event. At the end, I not only got my sub-24 but I finished 1st Masters woman (over 40) and 6th overall in the race. I felt sustainably good almost the whole way (relatively speaking for a 100 mile event), and was able to chat with and maybe even help pull along a few people. (And my fitness continued to pull me along to additional racing feats for months to come…)

UTMB 2019: If A Lifeline Appears, Say Yes

Last spring I took a packrafting safety and rescue course. We learned that as a swimmer in distress (aka pre-drowning-victim) you must have agency to be saved. It is not enough that an expert lifeline is thrown. YOU MUST REACH. And grab. And hold. And keep swimming. Your participation in your rescue is not optional.

At UTMB last week a lifeline appeared right at the time I needed it, but I had already decided that drowning was inevitable. I walked away.

This is that story.

Chamonix, late August: Terrified

When friends asked me how I felt in the days and hours before the start of the 170KM UTMB race, my standard response was “terrified”. The magnitude of the trails, the potential wet weather, and my injured achilles tendon had seriously fucked with my mojo (not to mention two hard 100s already in 2019, and some challenging interpersonal drama). Other months I might have been able to reframe my story, to tell myself, “I have no expectations other than enjoying the spectacle.” Alas, that was not my mindset, and mindset is everything.

[Part One of the UTMB story: Two weeks before UTMB, I “janked” my achilles on a boring pavement jog.]

Prior to the achilles thing, UTMB was supposed to be a “frosting race” to cap the summer. A time to use my training experience to get through the course without stress or hurry. I set modest goals: first a finish and second a decent time, perhaps approaching 40 hours. After the injury, the first goal shifted: no serious injury that would put me out for months or more. The other goals? Demoted to meaninglessness. Honestly, I fully expected the achilles pain to announce itself early and loudly and I’d last maybe 20 or 30 kilometers before hanging it up, smartly and with no “didn’t tough it out” regrets. The worst case scenario was frightening: pushing through pain only to rupture the damn thing on a remote mountain pass.

Chamonix, 3 p.m. Sunday September 1st

If you’d asked me 24 hours ago what I would be doing at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Chamonix, I would have assumed jogging through the streets of Chamonix-Mt-Blanc with new friends and a ton of grit (literal and figurative). We’d all be exhausted, jubilant, relieved, and overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd and the sight of the UTMB finishing arch. As it turned out, my friends were indeed doing their celebratory final steps after 45 hours on the trail. I was within earshot of the clamor blocks away, in a haze of processing and self-pity.

Fifteen hours earlier, under the dark cover of night with 50 kilometers remaining, I chose to quit the UTMB. At the 125km Champex Lac checkpoint, I walked up to the table that said “Abandonment” and let a woman cut the barcode from my race number. I lied to myself and to the race official, asserting that I “would not complete the race”. For me, there would be no more checkpoints, no more stretches on off-kilter trails strewn with runners sleeping on rocks, no more procession of lights ahead and behind me as far as I could see. There would be no more pain in my groin on nearly every step, no more nauseatingly soupy mud-fests that used to be trail, no more soggy pack, no more force-fed energy gels, no more gut pain with every stride.

End of the line.

Earlier in the evening my stomach had gone way off on a fast and technical downhill to try to outrun a storm (didn’t work). The daggers in my gut only magnified the conviction that I was not fit to continue. That I was at risk of serious injury. That I was not prepared for this endeavor, not this time. It all seemed so inevitable.

UTMB Start, August 30, 6pm: Quadkilla?

During the race, I carried no painkillers. I needed to FEEL what was happening in there. This meant that early on, the achilles was indeed unhappy. Tight, a bit sore, and certainly giving me warning signals that I was noting and then ignoring. For now. I keep popping my hippie anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric – brilliant, FYI) and plodding up the conga line climbs into the first night. I have never had so many people behind me in an ultra before. I have never had this many people ahead of me in an ultra before. Amusing and amazing.

Here’s how UTMB goes: the average angle of climb or descent is right around 12%, similar to Hardrock Hundred. However, the flattish miles at UTMB account for a higher percentage of the course, which means the ups and downs are far steeper. And hoo boy, my quads were announcing loudly their disdain for the extreme angles and bumpy trail. This is when I need to call on my extensive experience to remind myself that this happens. This is OKAY. The quads might seem like they’re going to implode at 50K, but they will not if the calories keep flowing.

Achilles Yay, Iliopsoas Nay!

Despite the quad complaints, the evening and first night and day had been going relatively well, considering my fear around the achilles. I got through 20K, then 40K, then beyond 50K with no progression of the pain, possibly no threat of further injury. Très bien! And holy cannoli, the sunrise on the Italian border pass just made my entire year. On that pass I decided that I must come back to this amazing place, over and over, year after year. But after every blissfully grinding climb at UTMB there must also be a descent into hell.

Entering Italia

Around 60K, the downhill & flat running combo awoke my iliopsoas—an on-and-off injury for more than 2 years. Was this another warning from my body to stop to prevent real damage? Every single bumpy down on this course was followed by flat running and a fair bit of cursing.

Here’s the weird thing with injuries and pains and things that go bump in one’s body in the nighttime of ultras: they might not be anything at all. Or they could be THE THING that puts you in cross training rehab hell for a year, or more. My brother nursed a deep groin injury for over 5 years before hanging up ultrarunning for an actual life. That shit gets me paranoid. Luck probably plays a part in how it turns out, but knowing one’s own body helps immensely.

Through Courmayeur after a rooty downhill trail that would make HURT 100 proud, I changed into lighter clothes and got a burst of new enthusiasm for our next climb. Before leaving, I saw a runner with a mug that said, “WTF” and commented on it. He replied, “it’s not what you think…” and I chuckled. This is Paul from Ireland. I’d be seeing a bit of him over the next 12 hours.

I relish climbs. I grind, I pass people, I get it done. Usually in ultras I am asking, “when could I have another climb, please???” Which is why I’m drawn to stuff with big power climbs like UTMB. We ascended to an airy pass at a ski resort and then down to the next checkpoint with a fabulous shaded lawn for a 10 minute nap.

Yep, that's me in pink Vfuel attire.

Mentally, I was all over the place. Up then down, ebbing and flowing with my muscles and heat load. Next, our highest point at Col Ferret. On the ascent a storm rolled in providing welcome shade, but I knew we might get nailed. Sure enough, the fat drops came and the lightning-thunder gap was down to 3 seconds. I was ready to GTFO this mountain. When the 10 kilometer descent was described as relatively runnable, I was prepared to suffer the quads down to La Fouly to avoid as much of the slop and lightning as I could.

Storm Drain

Through a rainstorm that sent rocks down, blocking several roads, I ran HARD down the mountain into La Fouly, Switzerland. The trail, once we reached the woods, was absolute wreckage. Soft squishy pudding mud while it was still downpouring. The trail was the stream. The stream was the trail. I managed to not slide/slip/fall and coat myself in the muddle. But through all that running and desire to just get to the next checkpoint, BOOM went my gut.

[Side note: I don’t get stomach issues. I’ve been extremely lucky this way. I don’t get nauseous, I don’t puke, I have low appetite but can usually put food in. So this gut thing on the La Fouly descent was unfortunately unexpected and overwhelming to my (then) fragile mental state. Jason Koop writes with amazing insight about UTMB when he describes a likely DNF as a person with multiple issues that they are trying to address or think about all at once. One issue? You’re fine and nearly all runners will plod through with one issue. But two? Three? Odds of DNF start skyrocketing. ]

Even with my now multiple issues, I got through La Fouly and started on the next section, a “rolling” 7 kilometers to Champex Lac. Along the way (frankly, as I sat on a bridge still in La Fouly hating life) I met up yet again with Paul who tugged me along with another friend through my whines and (silent) desire to stop. Running sucked. Walking sucked. Sitting down compressed the stomach and sucked, too. After a bit, I let my pity grow enough to let Paul & co get ahead of me. Now I was alone in the dark, with another runner or two or three coming by with regularity. This was demoralizing. This was mortifying. To stop UTMB seemed both perfectly logical and yet oh so dumb.

And the fun continued to Champex Lac with multiple stops for no good reason at all. Being upright in any configuration hurt. But, I had nearly 2 hours on the cutoff so I planned to lie down and sleep for at least a half hour at Champex to reboot the gut. I joined the morgue of sleepers on picnic benches and conked out. My alarm went off and I swung upright and the gut rebelled. Gawd. Damn. It. So this was it. I was done. 14 more hours of gut pain? No. Nononononono. That was my brain. That was all I could think. Fourteen more hours. Fourteen more hours. Fourteenmorehours.

Bench morgue. Champex Lac.

Just then I found Paul again. He was about to leave. I said I was giving the stomach one more try with some rice. I didn’t tell him I planned to stop. He said, “Do you want me to wait for you?” I immediately responded, “NO.” I hope I also mumbled something nice about not wanting to take up more of his time, but my memory is shit. And that was that.

Lifeline: rejected.

No Regrets = No Growth

As it turned out, I did in fact meet my first goal—to not render permanent injury. But a massive shitstorm of second-guessing and regret came almost immediately after the bar code was cut from my bib. (Maybe I could reattach it and undo??? Maybe…??) Much of the doubt came from suspecting that I could have still had my non-injury goal while still finishing, even if slower than planned. Had I said yes to Paul, there’s a damn good chance I would have finished. Simple as that. Sometimes it’s a door you walk through, and sometimes it’s a door you close.

Getting on the bus back to Chamonix with several other DNFs, the doubt was immediate. I could walk. I could keep going. Others seemed worse off. Why in the hell did I stop? I didn’t “deserve” to stop! One guy across from me was in his own world of funk, the UTMB running figure logo tattooed on his thigh. I looked at him, wondered what he was going through. If he couldn’t continue, or if he regretted already, too.

Regret is a tricky emotion. It MUST be funneled into positive action and mindset otherwise it will ruin you.

And this is why we process. When I take my experience running 75 miles through the Alps and really think about what I saw, what I felt, and the enormity of the event, I’ve got to believe that there’s little to regret. I came away with at least two new long-term friends (yes, Paul is one), and boy do I ever know what it takes to finish this course well for the next time I’m here. Of course there’s a next time.

Life has no guarantees. I might not get selected in the draw for 2020. This is how the game works. I am repeatedly reminded that I can choose better actions after making a questionable decision, but I might not get the chance again. I hope to keep choosing better before my time runs out. I’ve been running ultras for more than 20 years, and still I learn. Every single time, I learn.

“it takes a hard-won maturity to experience the depths of regret in ways that do not overwhelm and debilitate us but put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future” – David Whyte

The After After: Advice

Take the lifeline. When the rope is thrown, no matter how much you think you can’t swim, paddle anyway and grab on.

Paul offered me a chance, though neither of us thought it significant in the moment. He didn't know I was literally about to go get my number cut off, and I didn't want to mess up his race if he waited too long for me. My stubbornness rejected it even before my head and heart could give it the consideration it deserved. Other runners had different lifelines that they were able to use. It might be an expectant crew. It could be kind words from a volunteer. Sunrise. Coffee. A nap. Paul’s was a photo of a friend now passed. In a race this long, we all need some kind of lifeline, however small. We have to bring them with us, or find them in the moments of doubt.

I'll pose, again. It's inevitable.

UTMB 2019: If A Lifeline Appears, Say Yes

Last spring I took a packrafting safety and rescue course. We learned that as a swimmer in distress (aka pre-drowning-victim) you must have agency to be saved. It is not enough that an expert lifeline is thrown. YOU MUST REACH. And grab. And hold. And keep swimming. Your participation in your rescue is not optional.

At UTMB last week a lifeline appeared right at the time I needed it, but I had already decided that drowning was inevitable. I walked away.

This is that story.

Chamonix, late August: Terrified

When friends asked me how I felt in the days and hours before the start of the 170KM UTMB race, my standard response was “terrified”. The magnitude of the trails, the potential wet weather, and my injured achilles tendon had seriously fucked with my mojo (not to mention two hard 100s already in 2019, and some challenging interpersonal drama). Other months I might have been able to reframe my story, to tell myself, “I have no expectations other than enjoying the spectacle.” Alas, that was not my mindset, and mindset is everything.

[Part One of the UTMB story: Two weeks before UTMB, I “janked” my achilles on a boring pavement jog.]

Prior to the achilles thing, UTMB was supposed to be a “frosting race” to cap the summer. A time to use my training experience to get through the course without stress or hurry. I set modest goals: first a finish and second a decent time, perhaps approaching 40 hours. After the injury, the first goal shifted: no serious injury that would put me out for months or more. The other goals? Demoted to meaninglessness. Honestly, I fully expected the achilles pain to announce itself early and loudly and I’d last maybe 20 or 30 kilometers before hanging it up, smartly and with no “didn’t tough it out” regrets. The worst case scenario was frightening: pushing through pain only to rupture the damn thing on a remote mountain pass.

Chamonix, 3 p.m. Sunday September 1st

If you’d asked me 24 hours ago what I would be doing at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Chamonix, I would have assumed jogging through the streets of Chamonix-Mt-Blanc with new friends and a ton of grit (literal and figurative). We’d all be exhausted, jubilant, relieved, and overwhelmed by the noise of the crowd and the sight of the UTMB finishing arch. As it turned out, my friends were indeed doing their celebratory final steps after 45 hours on the trail. I was within earshot of the clamor blocks away, in a haze of processing and self-pity.

Fifteen hours earlier, under the dark cover of night with 50 kilometers remaining, I chose to quit the UTMB. At the 125km Champex Lac checkpoint, I walked up to the table that said “Abandonment” and let a woman cut the barcode from my race number. I lied to myself and to the race official, asserting that I “would not complete the race”. For me, there would be no more checkpoints, no more stretches on off-kilter trails strewn with runners sleeping on rocks, no more procession of lights ahead and behind me as far as I could see. There would be no more pain in my groin on nearly every step, no more nauseatingly soupy mud-fests that used to be trail, no more soggy pack, no more force-fed energy gels, no more gut pain with every stride.

End of the line.

Earlier in the evening my stomach had gone way off on a fast and technical downhill to try to outrun a storm (didn’t work). The daggers in my gut only magnified the conviction that I was not fit to continue. That I was at risk of serious injury. That I was not prepared for this endeavor, not this time. It all seemed so inevitable.

UTMB Start, August 30, 6pm: Quadkilla?

During the race, I carried no painkillers. I needed to FEEL what was happening in there. This meant that early on, the achilles was indeed unhappy. Tight, a bit sore, and certainly giving me warning signals that I was noting and then ignoring. For now. I keep popping my hippie anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric – brilliant, FYI) and plodding up the conga line climbs into the first night. I have never had so many people behind me in an ultra before. I have never had this many people ahead of me in an ultra before. Amusing and amazing.

Here’s how UTMB goes: the average angle of climb or descent is right around 12%, similar to Hardrock Hundred. However, the flattish miles at UTMB account for a higher percentage of the course, which means the ups and downs are far steeper. And hoo boy, my quads were announcing loudly their disdain for the extreme angles and bumpy trail. This is when I need to call on my extensive experience to remind myself that this happens. This is OKAY. The quads might seem like they’re going to implode at 50K, but they will not if the calories keep flowing.

Achilles Yay, Iliopsoas Nay!

Despite the quad complaints, the evening and first night and day had been going relatively well, considering my fear around the achilles. I got through 20K, then 40K, then beyond 50K with no progression of the pain, possibly no threat of further injury. Très bien! And holy cannoli, the sunrise on the Italian border pass just made my entire year. On that pass I decided that I must come back to this amazing place, over and over, year after year. But after every blissfully grinding climb at UTMB there must also be a descent into hell.

Entering Italia

Around 60K, the downhill & flat running combo awoke my iliopsoas—an on-and-off injury for more than 2 years. Was this another warning from my body to stop to prevent real damage? Every single bumpy down on this course was followed by flat running and a fair bit of cursing.

Here’s the weird thing with injuries and pains and things that go bump in one’s body in the nighttime of ultras: they might not be anything at all. Or they could be THE THING that puts you in cross training rehab hell for a year, or more. My brother nursed a deep groin injury for over 5 years before hanging up ultrarunning for an actual life. That shit gets me paranoid. Luck probably plays a part in how it turns out, but knowing one’s own body helps immensely.

Through Courmayeur after a rooty downhill trail that would make HURT 100 proud, I changed into lighter clothes and got a burst of new enthusiasm for our next climb. Before leaving, I saw a runner with a mug that said, “WTF” and commented on it. He replied, “it’s not what you think…” and I chuckled. This is Paul from Ireland. I’d be seeing a bit of him over the next 12 hours.

I relish climbs. I grind, I pass people, I get it done. Usually in ultras I am asking, “when could I have another climb, please???” Which is why I’m drawn to stuff with big power climbs like UTMB. We ascended to an airy pass at a ski resort and then down to the next checkpoint with a fabulous shaded lawn for a 10 minute nap.

Yep, that's me in pink Vfuel attire.

Mentally, I was all over the place. Up then down, ebbing and flowing with my muscles and heat load. Next, our highest point at Col Ferret. On the ascent a storm rolled in providing welcome shade, but I knew we might get nailed. Sure enough, the fat drops came and the lightning-thunder gap was down to 3 seconds. I was ready to GTFO this mountain. When the 10 kilometer descent was described as relatively runnable, I was prepared to suffer the quads down to La Fouly to avoid as much of the slop and lightning as I could.

Storm Drain

Through a rainstorm that sent rocks down, blocking several roads, I ran HARD down the mountain into La Fouly, Switzerland. The trail, once we reached the woods, was absolute wreckage. Soft squishy pudding mud while it was still downpouring. The trail was the stream. The stream was the trail. I managed to not slide/slip/fall and coat myself in the muddle. But through all that running and desire to just get to the next checkpoint, BOOM went my gut.

[Side note: I don’t get stomach issues. I’ve been extremely lucky this way. I don’t get nauseous, I don’t puke, I have low appetite but can usually put food in. So this gut thing on the La Fouly descent was unfortunately unexpected and overwhelming to my (then) fragile mental state. Jason Koop writes with amazing insight about UTMB when he describes a likely DNF as a person with multiple issues that they are trying to address or think about all at once. One issue? You’re fine and nearly all runners will plod through with one issue. But two? Three? Odds of DNF start skyrocketing. ]

Even with my now multiple issues, I got through La Fouly and started on the next section, a “rolling” 7 kilometers to Champex Lac. Along the way (frankly, as I sat on a bridge still in La Fouly hating life) I met up yet again with Paul who tugged me along with another friend through my whines and (silent) desire to stop. Running sucked. Walking sucked. Sitting down compressed the stomach and sucked, too. After a bit, I let my pity grow enough to let Paul & co get ahead of me. Now I was alone in the dark, with another runner or two or three coming by with regularity. This was demoralizing. This was mortifying. To stop UTMB seemed both perfectly logical and yet oh so dumb.

And the fun continued to Champex Lac with multiple stops for no good reason at all. Being upright in any configuration hurt. But, I had nearly 2 hours on the cutoff so I planned to lie down and sleep for at least a half hour at Champex to reboot the gut. I joined the morgue of sleepers on picnic benches and conked out. My alarm went off and I swung upright and the gut rebelled. Gawd. Damn. It. So this was it. I was done. 14 more hours of gut pain? No. Nononononono. That was my brain. That was all I could think. Fourteen more hours. Fourteen more hours. Fourteenmorehours.

Bench morgue. Champex Lac.

Just then I found Paul again. He was about to leave. I said I was giving the stomach one more try with some rice. I didn’t tell him I planned to stop. He said, “Do you want me to wait for you?” I immediately responded, “NO.” I hope I also mumbled something nice about not wanting to take up more of his time, but my memory is shit. And that was that.

Lifeline: rejected.

No Regrets = No Growth

As it turned out, I did in fact meet my first goal—to not render permanent injury. But a massive shitstorm of second-guessing and regret came almost immediately after the bar code was cut from my bib. (Maybe I could reattach it and undo??? Maybe…??) Much of the doubt came from suspecting that I could have still had my non-injury goal while still finishing, even if slower than planned. Had I said yes to Paul, there’s a damn good chance I would have finished. Simple as that. Sometimes it’s a door you walk through, and sometimes it’s a door you close.

Getting on the bus back to Chamonix with several other DNFs, the doubt was immediate. I could walk. I could keep going. Others seemed worse off. Why in the hell did I stop? I didn’t “deserve” to stop! One guy across from me was in his own world of funk, the UTMB running figure logo tattooed on his thigh. I looked at him, wondered what he was going through. If he couldn’t continue, or if he regretted already, too.

Regret is a tricky emotion. It MUST be funneled into positive action and mindset otherwise it will ruin you.

And this is why we process. When I take my experience running 75 miles through the Alps and really think about what I saw, what I felt, and the enormity of the event, I’ve got to believe that there’s little to regret. I came away with at least two new long-term friends (yes, Paul is one), and boy do I ever know what it takes to finish this course well for the next time I’m here. Of course there’s a next time.

Life has no guarantees. I might not get selected in the draw for 2020. This is how the game works. I am repeatedly reminded that I can choose better actions after making a questionable decision, but I might not get the chance again. I hope to keep choosing better before my time runs out. I’ve been running ultras for more than 20 years, and still I learn. Every single time, I learn.

“it takes a hard-won maturity to experience the depths of regret in ways that do not overwhelm and debilitate us but put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future” – David Whyte

The After After: Advice

Take the lifeline. When the rope is thrown, no matter how much you think you can’t swim, paddle anyway and grab on.

Paul offered me a chance, though neither of us thought it significant in the moment. He didn't know I was literally about to go get my number cut off, and I didn't want to mess up his race if he waited too long for me. My stubbornness rejected it even before my head and heart could give it the consideration it deserved. Other runners had different lifelines that they were able to use. It might be an expectant crew. It could be kind words from a volunteer. Sunrise. Coffee. A nap. Paul’s was a photo of a friend now passed. In a race this long, we all need some kind of lifeline, however small. We have to bring them with us, or find them in the moments of doubt.

I'll pose, again. It's inevitable.

Utahn at UTMB: Prologue

Delta flight 5724 from Salt Lake City to Burbank is completely full. This is not difficult given that it is a microscopic plane sporting 2×2 rows all the way back with the exception of first class which flaunts its four rows of ultra-wide 1×2 thrones for all of steerage to see.

Tomorrow, I hop on a United flight early enough to require a 6am airport drive for the impressive 5 hour flight across the continent before another 8 hour hop to Geneva, Switzerland. My body will land 15 actual but 24 clock hours after I begin. Upon deplaning I will immediately begin the breakfast routine of a country not my own. Coffee? Ya. Pastry? Not quite yet, merci. 

Back up… There’s more to this prologue chapter.

My Achilles Heel Is… My Achilles Heel

Two weeks prior to race day—8 days ago—I was jogging the streets of my neighborhood, breaking my usual routine to watch a local cycling race that looped around city streets for hours on a Friday evening. drawing a weak number of spectators plus me. I darted to catch almost dangerous views of tangent cutting and pace cars. But one of those sudden starts landed a dart right in my Achilles, near the heel. Like most runner addicts, I limped a bit, ran some more, and then ran some more. No biggie: the next morning it would be fine, and I could get in some of my last anticipated runs before a massive taper in the last week.

It wasn’t fine.

Waking up reminded me precisely of the darting pain from the night before. Immediately I knew this was A THING and I was none too happy. I walked, a little. My stubbornness gimped down to the coffee shop asking my body to answer just what the fuck was going on in there. The unhelpful answer was, “you hurt me, idiot”. (To be fair, I added the “idiot” part. My body’s not that cruel, normally.)

Back up, even further this time.

The Signs Pointed To: Rest

I’m tired.

Since September I have run three 100 mile races, all of them deliberately and with what counts as speed in my body. September’s gorgeous Stagecoach 100 took me over Babbitt Ranch land near the Grand Canyon in heat and sun to exactly the finish I wanted. I celebrated. Then I fell calamitously in love with an old friend and rode the vibes to a November personal best at 50K—a record I’d previously set at age 30, which was a long time ago. Winter brought a move to my new lovely hometown of Salt Lake City and a reboot of many personal motivations and values. Through heartbreak and upheaval and new romance I trained and trained and ran the race of my life in late March, my first win in a 100 mile event. It was a very good day. 

The week after my March race I ran over 30 miles and almost couldn’t believe it.

I felt…. fine. Of course I knew I ran a hard race, but the miles did not feel heavy or wooden, so I listened. Spring passed as I prepared for my third round at San Diego 100 in early June. Without complications, I had a  difficult yet satisfying race. But after San Diego, the recovery looked different. The miles were harder. The legs were heavier. With that new bodily information, UTMB was definitely looking like it would be a “get it finished” kind of goal. My body was ready to stop racing for the time being. 

So the mileage stayed reasonable through the doggy summer days of Utah. The weeks ticked down to the UTMB trip with all its planning and packing and mandatory gear and weight limits and hooboy. So much planning for this event, relative to most others where one can show up with some running clothes and a jacket and get through the day. Here my kit will weigh at least 5 pounds before water, not a burden but certainly more than the usual carry even for all-day runs.

But I can finish. This much I KNEW.

I might even want to finish well ahead of cutoffs, perhaps 39 hours instead of 46 is a reasonable goal…. that would be lovely. 

And then, the dart to the Achilles. 

(Next Up: Guinea pig in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc)

Miss Tenacity: The Podcast?

Miss Tenacity, as part of my own personality, was born out of a love of trails. And the idea of tenacity has grown, as we all have, into something more expansive and embracing. This kind of tenacity is about women who run trails and often run really dang long trails. This flavor of tenacity is about athletes who balance families and societal norms and self-expectations and come out stronger.

This kind of tenacity is the community of female ultra runners and trail bad-ass women, and the friendships, trust, and knowledge that can be shared between us all. We are like a pride of lions, independent yet still cohesive. We are supportive of the group and value the accrued wisdom therein. If we function as a pride, we even recognize when the group needs to branch out and grow for its own survival.

Tenacious Flowers

And, yeah, we are PROUD of being ultra women. We’ve battled our schedules, other people’s expectations, our own inner demons, and a dozen other “maybe not’s” before we found ourselves HERE. We are runners, drawn to the self-unraveling that towers over us during long days on trail. When our emotional defenses topple in the middle of the night; when our bodies are ready to collapse in the heat of the 2nd day, THAT is when we have the chance to gather our smoldering embers and use our inner fire to finish what we started.

We trail and ultra women are special. We are like the guys in some ways: we’re tough, we are resilient, we are drawn to this strange kind of discomfort….

A long, long time ago in an ultra-world far, far away . . . One dude postulated that men run ultras because they envy childbirth. They envy the struggle, the pain, the final emergence into success and exhausted rapture. Well . . . perhaps. Could that explain women like me who run ultras and never plan to have children? Again, perhaps.

And yet. We are very different from the rest of the ultrarunning crowd, too. We need different gear, different nutrition, different attitudes. And that’s how we are coming together to make Miss Tenacity, the podcast.

Yes, you read that right. Miss Tenacity is about endurance women. It’s a thing. It’s a podcast. It’s coming.

You are your own Miss Tenacity. And I want you to be part of my tribe.

Better Than “First Aid”: Ultra Aid Kit Essentials

A few weeks ago I was running down a trail with a friend new to the amazing world of trail pounding. And then, they pounded. Caught a rock with their toe and landed with their ankle on another rock. Oof, and there goes a few ligaments.

Sure wish I had a cold pack…. Argh.

We got back to the car and I chastised myself for having such a crap first aid kit. Lots of bandaids but nothing truly essential for trail runners or even ultrarunners. Then I started fantasizing about creating such a kit myself and selling it, even a Kickstarter, the whole shebang.

But…. no. Some Kickstarters are lame and mine was about to join them.

And then I got pragmatic. Instead, I’ll tell you what will be in my perfect Trail Aid Kit for your car, and you can craft your own based on mine. No commercial first aid kits tailor to the odd desires of trail and ultrarunners, so this kit might save your butt, or make your ride home far less unpleasant.

TRAIL/ULTRA AID KIT: FOR THE CAR

The reasoning behind each of these is usually self-explanatory, but I’ll elucidate when I have something to add.

START with a basic first aid kit with bandages and the usual. Most normal first aid kits have SOOOO many bandages and not enough of the ‘serious’ stuff. Keep the basic kit and get another sack for your ULTRA kit. 🙂

  1. Instant cold pack(s). For injuries, usually, but also can be used to bring down body temp if you are finishing your run on a wicked hot day (just wrap it in cloth so you don’t frostbite anything, then stick under armpit(s), alternating as needed).
  2. Stretchy compression bandage, any kind. Tons of uses. To hold an ice pack on or create stability.
  3. Technu. (Or IvyX) Ran through a patch of poison ivy or oak? These are pretty much your only option.
  4. Nut butter or other chafing relief stuff.
  5. Electrolytes. Tons of options these days. I have definitely finished runs low on electrolytes because I misinterpreted the heat or the weather.
  6. Space/thermal blanket.
  7. Water filtration. Can help in more ways than you think. If you get to the trailhead and realize you’ve forgotten bottles, take a LifeStraw to purify water on your route (if there’s a stream/spring/lake!). If you bring bottles and run out of water, fill your bottles at a water source and bring it BACK to the car to filter later if you know you’ll be dehydrated.

CAR EXTRAS

Not necessarily in your first aid kit, but in your car: WATER. (If you keep a plastic water jug in your car, change the water at least every month because that plastic will leach… ick.) Also, some dry clothes, possibly a towel, and some calories that are heat-tolerant. Nut butter packets are great. I like to keep some protein recovery powder and my shaker bottle to have something for my quivering muscles on the drive home (or directly to a grocery store for some FRUIT).

Further ideas? What else is something you would LOVE to know is waiting for you in the car as you stagger down the last bit of trail, hurt or dehydrated or (gawd forbid) bleeding? Let me know!

For realz. Car-stable PIZZA ROLLS!

[NOTE: this post is full of Amazon links; buy your gear where you choose!]

Sunshine And Bunny Rabbits: Why Trails Are Therapy Until They’re Not

The tongue-in-cheek bumper stickers and t-shirts are clear: running and hiking are a direct substitute for therapy.

Is this true? I’d say . . . sort of. Maybe. Rarely. Here’s why: if I were to categorize running as therapy, it is akin to psychoanalysis. Wait, what? Hear me out.

In traditional psychoanalysis, much like running, you must do it repeatedly—even several times a week—for a long time, possibly for years, but you will certainly gain from the amount of repetition. In both, you’ll learn about yourself, you’ll be able to introspect and let your mind wander, and you’ll develop a kind of understanding with your therapist (or your body). But you will never graduate from therapy. It becomes your outlet, your tool for decompression, your safety valve. In psychoanalysis this comes at a cost, depending on factors such as insurance, choice of therapist, and more. It could cost you as much as a few hundred dollars a week. For life.

i don't need therapy just hiking

I don’t need therapy just hiking

When compared to that, running or hiking on trails sure seems like a bargain. Running can be inexpensive relative to other sports due to the minimal gear requirement. All you need is shoes, and maybe some shorts and socks that won’t be irritating when sweaty for hours at a time. But if you run regularly, it can be a lot of shoes. At more than 2000 annual miles, I might wear out 5-8 pairs of shoes in a year. Paying full retail that could mean almost $1000 per year, or a few hundred a year if you hound sales and thrift stores as I do.

Psychoanalysis (also called talk therapy), like running, does not require a huge investment to start but has costs that never end until the therapy ends. You might ask: is talk therapy effective? Depends on your long-term goals. Perhaps you want that reliable and neutral third party asking you the introspective questions. Perhaps you want a decompression time to vent or cry or let your thoughts wander. In those cases, talk therapy might be for you.

Running is My Therapy sticker from Trail GangstAZ

(Trail GangstAZ)

In that same way, running might be for you if you want to have some time to think, some time outdoors, some time alone, some time to work up a sweat and get that pleasure from discomfort. Or to connect with a group of like-minded folks. If all or any of those things are up your alley, running is a totally good option.

Running To Shut The Valve

And yet, there’s a rub. I spent nearly 25 years as a runner using running as a TOOL to drown out my emotions. To stop them before they even started up. To beat them down with a club of neurotransmitters designed to get me addicted to exhaustion. If my emotional sea was a faucet, running was the valve I used to tighten down any leaks.

I had to change my running from one tool to another, and it took time. No longer does it beat down the feels. Now, it helps them surface. Running is STILL the valve on the faucet of emotions. But now I’ve figured out how to turn it the other way to open the flow. This started to really manifest on my Colorado Trail thru-hike in 2017. Further deep diving and being coached last fall has put all the pieces together in a way I’ve been waiting for for literally 30 years.

Next?

There’s a much larger story here. Long enough for a bunch of posts, or a book, or something. Stay tuned. Get this same benefit for yourself and your running through my coaching. Because having a coach is so much more than a spreadsheet of mileages. It’s a whole-human enterprise.

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

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.