The 18th Mile

JFK meant a lot, but also not much at all in the grand scheme of my running journey. It wasn’t a PR, it wasn’t a new distance, it wasn’t a hard course, yet it was everything I needed to believe in myself again.

It’s no secret I’ve struggled this past fall. I’m still learning how best my body responds to training, nutrition and everything else that comes with becoming an ultra-runner. I have to admit, although I will do my best to remain positive about things, running has been hard emotionally and physically. In short, it sucked more times than it was blissful, but I kept at it because I know these kind of things happen.

I signed up for JFK months ago thinking it would be my big race of the year. It still was, however I wanted to be more prepared for it. Actually, I wanted to be prepared at all, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. I tried my best to get up some mileage after my month healing from injury in September. However, that’s what it was, I just ran regularly, easy, and tried to work on the things I could. Relax about it, eat enough, do my best to cope with the depressive symptoms that would follow when I admitted that JFK was not going to happen.

However, with each week, I felt better and started to trust my body again. I didn’t feel like I creeping around on runs trying not to break. I started to relax and enjoy the process and simply let go. I did one 20 miler a few weeks ago and it went really well. That solidified JFK in my mind. I would go, I would start, and I would try.

I wish I could say I believed in myself at that point. Things got better, but I had a lingering doubt that would not go away. It would take a lot more than positive self talk to get it to leave, I had to prove it.

So here we are, two days post JFK. I have completed my first van trip. I hurt in all the places. My hunger is ravenous, yet many times after and before eating I feel sick. If I could do one thing for the rest of my life, I would foam roll my calves because they are so tight. I fucking love it because I earned it.

The Race

Getting to the high school in Boonsboro, MD was pretty uneventful. The day prior I was able to talk through all my fears and worries with my good friend Rich Heffron and he was very comforting. I was able to tell him, a bit bashfully, that I was ok if I DNFed. I wanted to start and see how far I got. I am not someone who can just do a random 50 miler. It takes so much out of me, both physically and emotionally. I admitted I really, really, REALLY wanted to finish, and I would be sad if I didn’t, but I was not putting my body in a position to be injured for an extended period of time. If I needed to stop, I would stop. He was very understanding, supportive of my decision and just made my feelings valid. Thank you Rich, your words helped me each time I wanted to quit. I had given myself permission to do so and nothing was wrong with that.

I got to packet pick up, knew no one there, and left without any fanfare, just the way I like it. I went back to my van, went to the high school where the race was starting, talked to my sister and fell asleep.

The race began at 6:30AM a little walk from where we all had gathered for the pre-race briefing. Actually I have no idea if I started when the gun sounded because most of us were still walking there.

I felt oddly shaky during the first few miles, my pants kept falling down and I really wondered if I was doing the right thing. I had to use the bathroom a few times and at mile 5, it was (honest to God) the first time (of many) I considered stopping. Really. At mile 5. Of a 50 mile race. This is not an ideal scenario. However, I tried not to think about it, figure out my pants situation and try not to fall on the Appalachian Trail.

The first 15.5 miles were beautiful, if rocky terrain. It reminded me of Escarpment, but not as bad. One thing that kept me going here was not falling and realizing I was running terrain this much better than I had back in July. Small wins I suppose. At about mile 8 I realized I had yet to start eating or drinking, so I put my focus into that. I decided I would try to eat something with each buzz (mile marker) on my watch. This also might be why I was going to the bathroom more than I’d have liked. Hydration helps digestion.

At mile 12 I had another one of the episodes where I thought about dropping. It was a particularly rocky section and I stubbed my toe so badly, I thought I broke it. Even the guy behind me told me I should get it looked at. However, I didn’t fall, so I kept going and just like that, we got off the AT and I was ready to actually run.

I got going at a good clip, ate more of my shot blocks (salted watermelon forever) and had a good 2 miles. Then another down moment happened and I started to get some weird lower back pain. I straightened up and it went away, but the dark thoughts were back. I made it to an aid station around mile 18, and this is where I changed.

The aid station was manned by a XC team, and they had the most beautiful cookies I had ever seen. Seriously, they were professionally down. I ate one there and asked if they would be at the finish line. They said no, and I thought it would be a shame if I didn’t grab more because I love eating beautiful food, it’s fun and makes me smile. So I grabbed, a lot, of cookies, stuffing them in my bottle pouch and carrying them. I don’t know what it was, the sugar, the beautiful appearance or just the kindness of the aid station, but mentally I shifted. I started offering cookies to runners I passed. I was in pain and doubtful, but I started to let go, I started to run free, I started to believe in why I was running here. I want to finish and I want to run for a long time. I stopped caring about not living up to potential. I stopped worrying about anything other than moving forward and being the kind of runner I want to see out there on the trail. I got into a sort of flow, but it wasn’t a runner’s high. It was still painful, but I accepted the pain and let it come with me. I guess it would be more like a grind. I started grinding, putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

At this point, I started running with another guy named Scott, who made miles 20-30 an absolute blast. Both of us were relative newbies (his first, my second) and still figuring things out. We talked, we connected and it was just what I needed. So often, I crave alone time. I enjoy it actually as I’ve written before. Today though, I needed other people. Other positive people, suffering together, but also finding beauty in the suffering.

“The loneliest you will ever feel is when in need. Whether from pain of an injury, cold or hunger, you will feel at your most lonely, most insignificant when you are away from people and in need” – Aleks Kashefi

At about mile 30, Scott and I split up as he needed a bit more aid at the station than I did. I caught up to two other guys, Lou and Tom (I think) and ran with them for the next 10ish. During those miles, I had a few more low moments, but just having them there and talking with them made them not seem so bad. I stopped doubting my ability to finish. I just knew some miles would be more painful than others.

I forgot to mention that it began raining when I got off the AT and onto the tow path, which then turned into freezing rain and wind at points. That may have caused a few low moments, but actually I found a great strategy of putting the noodle soup in my handheld bottle and then eating bars which balanced my electrolytes. The soup was warm which was such a blessing out there. I didn’t realize how cold it was and might have avoided the hypothermia others suffered. I’ll definitely take that strategy into my next ultra.

The last 8 miles of the course were on the road. Miles 42-44 were kind of a battle as I felt like I was so close, yet so far. The road opened up and it actually felt like home. At mile 44, a man told me “it’s ok, less than a 10K to go!” They also were playing Christmas music and I had a cup of hot cocoa. I’d had it. I picked it up because damn it, I know how to run on the road. Those last miles might have been my fastest and I passed 10 people. I was just ready to be done. Not because it was freezing cold, I was tired and I missed my sister, but because when I crossed that finish line, I knew I would believe in myself again. I could call myself and ultrarunner and believe it.

I finished the race somewhere around 8:06 and change. A long day that exposed my lack of specific fitness, my mental and emotional demons and had terrible weather. A race I told myself I could DNF and it would be completely justified. A race I didn’t believe was possible just a few weeks before. I finished.

With that, this long post is done. Thank you to Mike, the RD, the incredible aid station volunteers, Red New Racing and On Running for their support.

Special thanks to my sister Laurel, my mom and dad, Ian Golden, Rich Heffron, my coworkers from CTB, Amelia Kauffman (who raced as well), and my wonderful roommate and friend Lesley, who has seen me through the injuries and believed in me when I couldn’t walk.

Green Lakes Endurance Runs: DNF

I suppose some day I will get used to not finishing a race. I do not say that lightly, but it happens often in ultraraces. What many people do not understand is that the beautiful things shown on the internet are often a compilation of many fails, many loses, many DNFs.

Coming from the road, where people do not DNF as often (because you really don’t have to walk that far from the finish) it is very hard to get used to. During half marathons, there isn’t really enough time for too many things to go wrong that would prevent one from finishing.

In ultra races, that is simply something that happens often, actually it is expected. I recently heard about a 100 mile race down in New Mexico that had a 5 person expected finishing rate. Not 5%, 5 people.

Not finishing an ultra often times is not a test of will or wimping out, it is an injury or the physical inability to run. If you cannot run or move forward, it is wise to stop.

That long introduction is basically my way of saying I DNFed my race today. I participated in the GLER 50K and stopped after 3 loops of the 7.7 mile course. To sum it up, I am happy that I stopped (after everyone convinced me to stop) but feel guilty for feeling happy about that.

Shouldn’t I feel more remorseful? Granted, it took a lot of condoling to get me to pull the plug. I was ready to limp for as long as I could on the last loop. After trying to do so just to get across the timing chip, my father told me I should stop. The RD, when I came over to say I was dropping said “Yup, I pulled you 20 minutes ago. It isn’t worth it today for you.”

So there’s that. I DNFed and honestly, it sucks, but I feel less ashamed about it because I know it was right.

Ok, back to the course and the race.

The 7.7 mile loop is run 4 times around Green Lake State Park outside of Syracuse. The weather at the start was perfect. 48 degrees and clear skies. The race began at 7AM and Laurel Leone (a very fast road racer) and I led together for the first 1.5 loops. It was well marked and we were told to “keep the lake on the right.” Which I took very literally and actually missed a turn early, but straightened myself out pretty fast.

On the descend at about mile 5, I felt something in my gluteal and back muscle twinge. It wasn’t a pop or anything, and I was running 7 minute miles feeling great, so I figured it would work itself out like things do sometimes in ultras.

Long story short, it didn’t. It kept getting worse, so much so I almost dropped after loop 2. However, I thought it was my negative thinking about it, and decided to press on. Going up hill was fine, it was the going down where each step brought tears to my eyes. I had no idea what I did, but it was becoming evidently clear that not only should I slow down, I needed to stop.

I struggled to the last aid station on loop 3 and saw a familiar face, John Donaldson, who told me I looked kind of bad. Well, yes, I was crying and debating with myself whether to stop after loop 3, stop now or try to walk to last loop.

I hobbled the last three miles to the finish and saw my dad, who was immediately concerned. I was in tears because I wanted to keep going. I asked him if he would be willing to walk the last loop. He said he would, but shouldn’t I sit down or something? I was afraid if I sat down I wouldn’t get back up.

Someone gave me some kind of IcyHot to put on the pain, but I think in my mind, I knew if I couldn’t even walk up the hill to the aid station, I was done.

I tried so hard. But it was not my race to get injured on. I was basically pulled from the race. It hurts, I feel down, but it was a great long training run. I did not fall. I ran the downhills until I couldn’t.

I may have DNFed but I am far from finished.

Thank you to Red Newt Racing, Strong Hearts Vegan Power, On Running, Barney Butter and Rabbit for all your support.

Thank you Wekdeb, for getting me here and for our future adventures.

Escarpment, I bit off more than I could chew.

I have begun to write this post before running the Escarpment Trail Race this weekend. Tomorrow, I will do something I have never done, hike, scramble and essentially try not to fall off a cliff.

The past two weeks, I have run 60 seconds. Total. After 0SPF two weeks ago, my foot felt off. Then the next morning, it hurt a lot. I had a very aware uncomfort when I walked. There was no point in running, so I stopped. I got on my trusty steed, the elliptical, and maintained my cardio while keeping weight off my foot.

Thursday of this week was the first time I tried running, got to 60 seconds, and then stopped. I only wanted to run enough to convince myself I would be able to get through my race this weekend, not press my luck.

I have not run since then (unless you could racing across an intersection with 2 seconds on the clock). It just does no appeal to me since no fitness will be gained. This race will be a hiking trail and I am doing it to learn how to navigate complicated trails. Not to win or become some adventure racer.

I guess we shall see how it goes. Couch to 5k in 2 months? Try Ellitical to Mountain in 2 weeks! 😉

Ok, so here we are…two days post Escarpment. I have yet to fully understand what I did to myself. It was such a beautiful race in a gorgeous area. The Catskills are one place I will return to, I probably will not run there again.

At least, not very soon.

The race boasts almost 10,000 feet of elevation change in 18 miles. That I could handle, the terrain was something else.

To say it bluntly, I was very unprepared to tackle a race of this difficulty. I had never come close to doing something like this and I am very humbled to say the least.

Escarpment revealed my weaknesses, exploited them and then proceeded not to show any mercy. Just when I thought things wouldn’t get worse, they just did. I cannot imagine doing this course with terrible weather, which is how it usually is.

I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll just start at 6:00AM Sunday morning.

I drove up the night before and camped on the RDs lawn that night. Dick is a great guy and lives in a perfect place to train for mountain running. Ithaca has hills, but not terrain like this.

We boarded buses at the finish line and got to the start to begin in waves at 9AM. My wave started at 9:15. I was surrounded by really talented runners, whom I wanted to learn from while we ran. However, it soon became about staying upright and injury free for me as they ran away.

The first few miles were mostly uphill, and I’m a good climber, so it felt great. After aid station 1, at about 3.5 miles, we started to descend and this is where fall 1 one happened. After that, I walked all the descents. My foot was just coming back from some time out and I was not going to push it. I started to be overly cautious, and it stole my confidence, but since I was in over my head, being that way was probably the best strategy.

After that point, honestly I struggled the rest of the race. I averaged 2 falls per mile for 18 miles. Not easy falls, but flying, hard, blood on my knees and exploding Gu falls. I just couldn’t catch a break. This was not even on the descents, this was the flat sections where I should have been a bit more confident.

The whole course was very technical with roots, stones, boulders and just crap everywhere. The only parts I did well were the sections where we climbed the side of the cliffs. I could climb and I wasn’t afraid of them. However, the confidence I garnered from climbing was extinguished by the fall I took each time I hit the summit.

After mile 9, I was thinking “ok, this is enough of a taste of this terrain to get a good training run. I can stop now.” Ten miles would have been perfect to end on. But there were still 8 left.

The hard part here was both physical, I was literally crushing my body when I fell, but also psychological. I was afraid I was going to get injured and there goes my season. Being overly carful got me nowhere. I eventually had this acceptance that I was going to fall a lot and I had to lessen the blow. Like in a boxing match, you know you’re going to get hit, you’ve got to absorb the impact and not let it hurt you too bad.

The final 8 miles were a battle both to not injure myself and try to keep going. After each aid station I told myself I was dropping at the next one. Then I would just keep going, tears, blood, s’mores Gu all over my leg, I just didn’t stop.

I did manage to get to the finish. However the feeling I have is odd. Normally once I finish a race, at least I feel like I overcame the course. I mean, that’s true because I finished. But to be honest, I feel like this course defeated me. I just don’t know what happened out there. Beautiful day, beautiful place, just not my day nor my terrain.

Maybe once I process this and heal, I’ll consider the day a success in terms of learning and teaching myself trails. But right now I stand by what I said at the finish line. Through tears, snot and blood I said “guys, I just don’t think this is my kind of race.”

On to other things.

I want to thank Red Newt Racing for the support and On Running for the Cloudventure shoes I ran in.

Many On The Genny 2017

First I must thank Ian Golden and my Red Newt Racing team for all their support and encouragement leading up to this race. I must thank Trail Methods, specifically Sheila and Eric Eagan, the RDs for putting on such a great event. 

This past Saturday I was fortunate to run in the inaugural 40 mile race, Many on the Genny in Letchworth State Park. A few weekends ago, I was able to preview the course with the RDs, Sheila and Eric, and already I knew I was in for a great time.

The course boasts over 7,000 feet of elevation change in 40 miles. The first 20 follow the gorge trails up one side of the Genesee River and then back on the Finger Lakes Trail for the final 20.

[Photo: Many On The Genny Race Website]

I spent the weekend at my parent’s house, so I woke up at 2:30AM on Saturday to drive up and catch the shuttle to the race start. It rained a bit that morning, so it was nice and cool at the 6AM start. I saw a bunch of people I know including Pete Kresock, Chris O’Brian, Michael Valone and Katie O’Reagan. The race is capped to 125 runners, so it had a really great small town feel. I wasn’t nervous, mostly excited to start.

The race began with a yell from Eagan and Rich Heffron and Scottie Jacobs (two of my RNR/MPF teammates) took off. Pete, Katie and I started running together for the first few miles that included a loop around the park before getting into the gorge trails. Talking to Pete is always fun because he is so experienced. He just flies down hills, where I hobble and exhibit baby deer movements.

I missed a turn early, but realized my mistake after about 30 seconds, so it wasn’t too bad. We stayed together mostly until the first climb around mile 10. I started hiking and I heard them coming behind me. I remembered this from my preview a few weeks ago and stuck to my plan of hiking the hills even though I could have attempted to run. 40 miles is requires a lot of energy, I had to save it. Hiking also gave me time to eat and drink.

[Photo: Ron Heerkins Jr. Goat Factory Media]

After the first climb we we spit out onto a road section for 2.5 miles. This is where I saw a guy ahead of me and eventually caught up to him. He introduced himself as Rob (happily married with three kids) and we ran together for the next 10 miles. That part was a blast and definitely the high moments of the race. We were cruising and chatting (so much so I forget to hydrate as much as I should have) and the miles flew by.

We got to the halfway point together, refueled and set off promptly. Right after the aid station you were supposed to turn left and cross the bridge to get to the FLT. However…straight ahead of us was a rainbow. A rainbow you could RUN THROUGH! Not under it, but THROUGH IT! Caught in the amazement, we ran straight and missed that turn. Luckily I stopped us, checked the map and we turned around only wasting a few minutes.

No shame, that wrong turn was worth it. I would do it again in a heart beat.

A few miles later, Rob pulled ahead and I let him go, I needed to concentrate on my race. At mile 25 I remember thinking, “ok, I’m feeling good, I can run 15 more miles.”

Then…SPLAT! I took a fall and fell on my right rib (not the previously injured one). That began the mental downfall that plagued me from miles 30-35. My rib hurt almost like I had a nagging cramp. I also took a few hard downhills and my feet/ankles were getting sore. (Undertrained woot woot). I started getting in my head about tons of stuff.

My friend who passed away.

My relationships.

What I was doing.

How much I missed Ithaca.

How mad I was that I forgot to refill my water.

I was mad that I was crying.

Everything just came up and I was a dehydrated, emotional mess. It didn’t help that this was in the 8 mile stretch with no aid. That felt like FOREVER.

I told myself I could stop. 30 miles was enough. No shame in stopping.

But I wouldn’t let myself quit. I might have a death wish or something. But I told myself I could cry like a baby if I wanted, but I was not stopping unless a bear ate me (which I would have welcomed at that point). It was a pretty low few miles.

However, I made it to the aid station, ate a bunch, chomped on ice, got my pack refilled and just breathed. Seeing the people also helped. They were so supportive! All the aid stations were great, they really took care of me refilling my bladder, asking what they could get me, not overwhelming me. It was amazing.

I ate a bunch of PB&J and drank a bunch of Mt. Dew and set off again. Only 5 miles to go.

After another mile, I almost started to cry again, but I ate the best two gels ever (THANK YOU JASON!!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!) and, for some reason, I stopped feeling bad and started to enjoy things again. I think the hydration helped, but also, I just needed to feel that low moment and keep going. I needed to believe I would come out of it.

I did. I finished.

Rich won in like 6 hours. What a boss.

My first 40 miler was completed in around 7 hours and 7 minutes.

It was beautiful, terrifying and an experience I will find hard to replicate.

My reward? Eric is sick and give me entry to next year.

Too soon.

I currently am sponsored by On Running, receive product from Barney Butter and am a part of rabbitELITE. 

Gorges Ithaca Half 2017

First, I must thank Ian Golden and the Red Newt Racing team for both supporting me and putting on the race. They did a great job!

Driving to this race Saturday morning, I was really excited. My dad was coming to the race.

To watch me run. To watch me in my element. For Father’s Day.

This is all I thought about before, during and after the race. The only thing I was going to do was try my best, whatever that meant. I was using this race to get a baseline for speed. I had not done specific training and that was very freeing.

Get ready for the story of pain.

The race started outside a barn across from a hayfield. It was quite picturesque and made even more so by the blow of Ian’s ram’s horn that started us off. 

Immediately I was chasing Katie O’Reagan and a few other men. Katie is a super fast elite who races often in Upstate NY. She also did CT, but the 50 mile option. Girl is badass.

My legs kind of stumbled at the start, but I eventually found my stride and started taking advantage of the slight downhill. I caught up to Katie and another guy as we started on the Black Diamond trail. I ran with the guy for the next 4 miles and get ok. I knew I was going to suffer, I just was hoping to hold on.

After mile 5, I looked at my watch for the first time and saw a sub-6 mile. For me and my lack of training at this point, I knew it was too fast and I was putting myself in a hole. I decided to consciously slow down and let the guy go.

Then, it started to get hot and we were exposed after coming off the trail and by the waterfront. I began to suffer mightily and just tried to keep going. It felt like I was slogging through 8 minute miles. I was just waiting for Katie to catch me so I wouldn’t have to worry about her catching me anymore. 

A whole other issue I had besides fitness was the heat affected my gut. I had to poop from mile 6 on. I tried as hard as I could to ignore it, but I was facing a code brown.

At the last aid station, mile 12, I actually stopped, drank Tailwind and asked to use the bathroom that I knew was in the children’s center behind them.

They said no.

So…I made my way down the road a bit, found a few bushes and…well…relieved myself. After that, I felt a bit better in the gut, but then got a cramp in my rib (yup, the bruised one) and spent the next half mile massaging it out. That last mile was rough. 

The home stretch is almost a mile where you can see there finish line, but it’s still so far away. All I thought about in that mile was how happy I was the my dad had come to see me. I was in a lot of pain, but he was at the finish line, so I knew everything would be ok.

(Photo credit: Jeff Holbrook)

I finished, he was there, it was the best!

After the race, we spent the morning getting brunch, talking and getting him fit for shoes. I cannot think of a better way to spend the day after a race.

Dad, I love you. I love how I get my quirky habits from you. Peanut butter on everything, let cereal get mushy and then add peanut butter, cooked carrots are better than raw and most meals can be improved with some sort of “crunch” topping (for him it’s cheeze-its and for me it’s corn nuts). Thank you for coming to my race. Thank you for spending the day with me. 

You are the best. I love you.

I run for Red Newt Racing, On Running, Rabbit ELITE, and Strong Hearts Vegan Power.