Why Do I Run Ultras?

It’s a beautiful, sunny Saturday. The sun is shining and a majority of the population is poolside or at the beach sipping on a cocktail. I am 2 hours into my run, drenched in sweat, sipping on my Camelback hose. Why am I out here, in the middle of the woods, training for another crazy race? Here’s why:  I HAVE NEVER LOOKED BACK AT A DAY AT THE BEACH AND GOTTEN CHILLS AND LET OUT A SOB THINKING ABOUT IT!!!!!

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However, 15 miles into our trail run on Tuesday I couldn’t stop myself from crying while explaining to Matt (my brother) the feeling I had when I rounded the corner to the Finish of my first 50 miler.  How I saw my husband, who had been there with me every step of the way leading up to the race, and at EVERY AID STATION along the race, and what that image does to me to this day.  As I type this I am crying.  It is a feeling I will NEVER forget.  It had very little to do with finishing that actual race.  It had to do with those days that lead me to that Finish.  The 10 hours of running every weekend while my friends were poolside.  Those moments on the trail when all I wanted to do was quit.  On those days I gave myself every excuse in the world why I could just cancel this race.  Why it was stupid and not even healthy to run that distance.

But guess what?? That would be taking the easy way out.  And if I did stop when it hurt and got uncomfortable I would have lost out on so much growth.  It is in those moments, when everything in us tells us we are done and we continue, that a whole new world opens up.  On the other side of that wall is a life worth pushing for.  On the other side of that wall we are stripped of all of the barriers we have put up and are completely vulnerable.  We find out who we really are, and more importantly what we are capable of.

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I am not interested in an average life.  I’m not interested in running a race that is comfortable for me at a comfortable pace.  Because COMFORTABLE will NEVER give me chills.  Comfortable will never bring tears to my eyes at just the thought of it.  And for many, it doesn’t even need to be an ultra marathon.  What it needs to be is pushing yourself past uncomfortable.  When what you have done even inspires you looking back at it.  Sometimes it may not even be sports.  However, for me…it is in those woods that I find myself.  I don’t say that nonchalantly.  I literally find out what I am made of on those trails, and with that it carries over into every aspect of my life.  Lately, I have had many people comment on how I just fall into great things in my life.  Trust me, if I chose to settle for average in my training and in my racing I can GUARANTEE you my life would be average.  But I was not put on this earth to be average.

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The first step to making this change is to surround yourself with like minded people. It will be very hard to make the leap without the support of extraordinary people.  I was lucky enough (well, it isn’t luck) to spend my day poolside yesterday.  Except, instead of drinking cocktails, I was with my childhood best friend who is a Sports Psychologist/Mindset Performance Coach.  And around me were 3 others who are some of the most successful people I know.   Forward thinkers.  Elite Minds.  Endurance Athletes. The hardest workers I know.  We spent almost two hours working with her on strengthening or mental game.  These 4 people support my dreams and believe in them, as I support their dreams.  And for that I am one happy girl.

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My First 50 Mile Effort at Cayuga 50

This morning I woke up to a text: “Yep! Yesterday was real! You did it!”

Confirmed. It was not a dream.

14 weeks ago, in the thick of winter, I sat at my computer listening to Motivational Videos, searching for the words that would snap me out of my Seasonal Depression.  Eric Thomas and Les Brown were preaching to me. It worked.

Les Brown: “You see when you are not pursuing your goal, you are literally committing spiritual suicide. When you have some goal out here that you are stretching for and reaching for that takes you out of your comfort zone, you’ll find out some talents and abilities you have that you didn’t know you had”

“Unless you attempt to do something beyond which that you have already mastered you will never grow. What is it that you have looked at at some point and time and decided that you couldn’t do it. That you talked yourself out of it”

Eric Thomas: “if you’re still talking about your dream, if you’re still talking about your goal, but you have not done anything, just take the first step!”

So, I did. I stopped talking about doing a 50 miler and I took the first step. I signed up for the Cayuga 50 Mile USATF Trail National Championships. And the training began.

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I followed a plan I found at runnersworld.com. The early weeks had me on the roads a lot since trails were covered in deep snow. I bought Microspikes, which allowed me to get back in the woods, but even with those my options were limited! Finally  the snow melted and I got to enjoy some time in the woods. Then it became A LOT OF TIME IN THE WOODS. My mileage peeked around 78 miles a week, all of which were trails. A number I never thought I’d hit. During those weeks I was doing back to back long runs on weekends (24mile/29mile) While I was blown away with my ability to basically run the equivalent of 2 marathons every weekend, I also hit a wall where I started to burn out. I work two jobs, a Personal Trainer/Bootcamp Instructor and a waitress.  Both were ramping up as my mileage was doing the same. I was leaving work early to run for 5 hours, all while missing out on just about every social invite I received.  I started to feel isolated and alone. I felt like no one understood. “Can’t you just skip the run?” they would ask. But that’s not me. If I have a goal I stick to it. In those 14 weeks I didn’t miss ONE workout. I fought through until the 5th hour when all my body wanted to do was call it a day. I knew it was for a good reason. I knew it would pay off. And it did…

Fast Forward to this weekend. Erik and I worked Saturday morning then began our 5 hour drive to Ithaca, NY. What a drive. Beautiful. We picked up the race packet then headed to our campsite. Such a cozy spot. Perfect.

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It must be noted that my husband spent the next 24 hours waiting on me and making my pre race/race flawless. He is a true gem. Everything from setting up Golden Girls in the tent for bedtime, to waking at 3am to make me coffee and a bagel, to working his ass off during the race to make sure I was following my hydration/nutrition plan. Marriage is more than I knew it could be at the early age of 23 when I said “I do”. I’ve said it before, he is the BEST teammate I have ever had!

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Before I knew it, it was 6am and we were off. My biggest concern was that I would go out too strong and not finish the race. I had a time goal of under 10 hours. I based that on last years top 10 females, knowing that it would not translate to top 10 this year with the stacked field. But honestly, this was the first race I started with the real goal to JUST FINISH. I found my way into a pack of runners within the first few miles and hung with them for awhile. By mile 6 I spoke to a couple girls I was running with one of which said she finished in 9:16 last year but felt stronger this year (she went on to place 3rd Female Overall-6 minutes behind Krissy Moehl!). The other was doing Western States in a few weeks. Uh oh.  Did I need to dial back? I wanted to stay with them for the sole purpose that they were all chatting, helping  me to take my mind off the race, but unfortunately, my bladder was full and I needed to stop.

The next mile or so (with only the sound of my own thoughts in my head) confirmed my belief….I needed to find another buddy.   At about mile 9 I saw someone that looked familiar. I follow a ton of ultra blogs, and I trying not to sound too creepy I asked, “Are you Ashley Moyer?”  It was. Uh oh. Another top runner. One I read about in the preview as a possible podium finisher. We chatted for a bit and with a little hesitance I told her it was my first 50 miler. Throughout the day I would always say this with hesitancy. I know people would think (and sometimes say) “just be careful. Don’t go out too hard”. I was so appreciative of how people would give me advice throughout the day. Ultra Running is really a different breed.

However, I trained hard and I felt the pace I was doing was very comfortable, so I kept going. We soon bumped into Amy Rusiecki, the girl who beat me at Bimblers 50K. Again, like a creeper I said, “Hi Amy. Not sure if you remember me..we did Bimblers together”. She remembered me and we started a conversation. I am guessing this was maybe at mile 10?  Again I thought, “ok, this is another REAL DEAL runner. Are you sure you belong here?”  Amy told me her and her husband had just done Masanutten 100 miler TWO WEEKS AGO and wasn’t trying to kill this race. It made me feel a little better and from that point on my goal was to just stay with her as long as possible. The next 40 (?) miles deserve their own blog post…..but, I’ll try to sum it up in this one.

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Amy basically taught me what ultra running is in this race. I followed her lead, LITERALLY. She lead us, we chatted, when she walked I walked, when she ran I ran. I had a really bad feeling this was poor race etiquette and I asked a few times if she wanted to pull ahead, stop talking, etc. She seemed pretty genuine in her response that she was enjoying the company as much as me. And again, she wasn’t looking for a podium finish. She wasn’t even sure how the race would play out for her just 2 WEEKS POST 100 MILER.  Incredible!

I hustled through each aid station to catch back up to Amy and I will never forget when I was started to fade a Buttermilk Aid Station (mile 37.5) She marched up the stairs and yelled, “get up here Darcy!”  The day was getting HOT and I ran out of water a few times between aid stations. I knew the open field section was coming up with blazing sun and told Amy how I was a little nervous about it. For that mile (?) of open field Amy dug in and got us through there at a good pace. She would later tell me how my concern of that section made her push harder. She said the teammate mode kicked in and it wasn’t about her at that point, it was about getting me through that section as fast as possible.   Are you kidding me? This, my friends, is something that will stay with me forever. Sometimes racing Ultras isn’t all about YOU. Everyone has their races that are their key races where it is. But, there are some that have a different meaning. This was one of them for me.

At about mile 43, Amy sensed they I may have a little more in the tank then she did and she told me to go ahead. I told her there was no way. First, she got me to this point. Without her I am not even sure if I would still be running.  I KNOW I would not have enjoyed it so much. She gave me a CLINIC on running an ultra. I wasn’t going to leave her. Secondly, I knew if I went ahead there was a VERY good chance she would catch me and pass me in a mile and I would be hiking my way home.  Third, even if I went ahead, and finished ahead of her (highly unlikely) it wouldn’t have been as enjoyable as sharing the last miles with her.

A client and good friend gave me this personalized card before the race.  It pretty much sums up my race experience at Cayuga!

A client and good friend gave me this personalized card before the race. It pretty much sums up my race experience at Cayuga!

At that point were running as 6th and 7th female and on our way to easily break my 10 hour time goal. I couldn’t ask for more. Sometime between Underpass and the last Aid Station we caught the 5th place girl. I old Amy to finish strong and snag Top 5. She told me to stay with her, and I tried like hell, but this girl is AMAZING!!  For the next 3 miles I kept her in my eyesight and finished the race with Amy waiting for me with open arms. I was blown away that she would be thanking ME as we hugged!  Apparently I helped her get through this race, but she will never know what she taught me in the process of this race.

She taught me how to run a 50 miler. She taught me that Ultra Running is a community of special people who look out for one another. She is a true ambassador for the sport. She cheered on every runner who ran by, asked every person who was stopped if they were OK, thanked every volunteer, and gave one girl a race to remember!

Finish Time:  9:13  

6th female overall.

2nd in Age Group

33rd Overall

 

 

Race Reflections: My First Ultra

Yesterday while doing my trail run I had several thoughts of things that I would do differently for my next ultra. All and all I think I did pretty good for my first one. I knew it was going to be a learning experience and I definitely learned a lot.

What I was happy with:

  • Training Plan: I had never really followed a true training plan before and I feel like it definitely helped me. I took rest days when it told me to, I ran an hour when it told me to, and I did nine hill repeats when it told me to. It definitely got me out on the trails when I wasn’t feeling it and normally would have taken a day off.  I love organization and I’m a person of lists and this definitely was good for me. I also know that it helped me big time towards the end for the tapering. Knowing me I probably would’ve went all out trying to cram as much in in the last three weeks as possible and burnt out.
  • Garmin:  I have always been attached to my Garmin when training on the road and even in the trails.  It was a very hard transition for me when I went into the woods and had to let go of my 6 to 7 minute mile pace .  A friend of mine suggested that I don’t wear it for this race and to run solely by feel.  this scared me…I though that I would either go out too fast and not realize I was doing a strong pace, or run too slow.  It turns out that I found someone to pace with in the beginning and then went by feel the rest of the way. I am not sure that I will leave my Garmin at home for future races, but I do think for my first ultra this was the best choice.
  • Hill Repeats:  my training plan called for them. 600m repeats. Sometimes 6, 8, and at most 10.  While I didn’t particularly look forward to these, I did know that they were going to be huge in my training and I was right. Throughout the race I felt pretty strong  on hills.  I will definitely continue to do these in the future

What I will do differently :

  • Nutrition: during the race my nutrition consisted of:  Clif Shot Blocks, Gu, and Perpetruem. I stayed with this  because it was safe. It was what I had trained with and I wasn’t trying to change anything up race day. However, next time I will make sure I train with real food and try to stay away from so much sugar. I have been pretty good about having a clean diet off trail, I don’t think it should change on trail.
  • Cross Training: with the long runs taking up all of my free time I slacked on my strength training and stretching/YOGA the last couple of months.  I need to add these back next time to have an even stronger race.
  • Race Date:  While October is a great time to race, I found it very difficult with my work schedule and lack of daylight to get in my long runs.  September/October are my busiest months at the golf course, nearing 40 hours some weeks. Add 20 hours personal training/teaching classes and 10+ hours a week on the trails…I started to get burnt out.  I even had to find coverage at the course, losing a lot of $ to gt in my 4= hour runs.  Boo. Maybe next time I will plan an early September race.
  • Company:  I am not sure if this is something I have power ove, or that may even be common in Ultras, but I wish I saw SOMEBODY the last 20 miles.  It got lonely, mixed with fear, always wondering if I was  on course.  The few miles I was able to run iwth people in the beginning were so much less stressful and went by so quickly.  Maybe find a race with more people?  Or try a multiple loop course?

As I said,I cannot be dissappointed with my first Ultra.  2nd place female (2nd to the course record holder) and 12th overall is good.  However, as many runners know, it is also a race against ourself.  ONly we know if we did eberything we could leading up to the race and during.  While there are changes I hpe to make, I would say I worked pretty darn hard and it did pay off.  Now, time to plan for what’s next?