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.

Inside Tracker Blood Test #2

A few months ago, I got my first blood test from Inside Tracker. After which, I made some lifestyle and eating habit changes, took a break and saw some good results.

I took a month off from running.

I ate more nutrient and calorically dense foods.

I gained about 15lbs.

I came back to get second in the Cayuga Trails marathon, win Many on the Genny and have the courage to leave a job that was stressing my body and causing sub-optimal performance and fatigue.


I was feeling pretty good until Escarpment, which I completed, but I begin started a cascade of little niggles, that turned into bigger problems leading to a pinched nerve and foot issues at Greenlakes. After that race, I took a step back and started to look for more answers.

I saw a chiropractor. I changed my stretching and mobility routines, I didn’t run and I did other things. I spent more time with family, I was more present at my job, I got a van.

I didn’t run for almost a month, allowing my body to dictate my return. I shifted my priorities to other things, but kept up with recovery work.

One thing I hadn’t thought about for a while before Greenlakes, and oddly before my dad asked about free range eggs and why I don’t eat what comes from our chickens, I largely forgot about my Inside Tracker test and my at-risk levels.

Here I was, unable to walk, sad and tired. Sure, I was happy in my job and knew I was in the right place, but something was off and I was ready to fix it.

So I started eating eggs again, once every few weeks. I also stopped reading labels or asking what was in things. I let my parents and friends make and give things to me and I ate them. I took a very relaxed attitude to this, and felt a lot of pressure lift.

I got serious about my supplementing and now am compulsive about taking all my vitamins everyday.

I realized that I want to be able to run for life and be healthy and happy doing it, so I will take care of my diet and recovery outside of running.

Well, I feel better, am at peace with whatever fitness I have, running or not, and what do you know, my levels have improved.

My B-12 is great.


My testosterone to cortisol ratio (indicating overtraining) is in the correct range.


These were two things I was concerned about.

My vitamin D and Iron are still at risk, so this is the next hurdle.


Then I will tackle magnesium. I’m trying to work on sleep and just need to find my secret sauce.


I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

One thing I don’t know very much about is my low white blood cell count. I had a lot of inflammation, however I had just come back from a run, which increases inflammation and temporarily suppressed immune function. This will be in my focus along with vitamin D and iron.

What I started doing began to work, time to try a bit harder. I am discussing my test with the Inside Tracker team shortly and getting their recommendations as to how to proceed.

#blooddontlie

Any questions?

9.9 Humbling, Beautiful Miles

My day started while it’s still dark. It usually does actually, but today even my later 6AM wake up was cloaked in a darkness I associate with fall running. This morning I had it in my mind to try for 10 miles. If my foot hurt, I would stop, but outside of that, 10 was the goal.


Damn, it was hard.

I can remember a time when 10 flat miles was cake. Ironically, during that time I questioned whether 10 miles was enough. Could I do more? Push harder? Is this right?

This morning, I felt no pressure to conform to that. I gave myself grace and acknowledged that this running thing is hard. Building fitness is a huge challenge. But it’s also my favorite part.

The first few miles are uneventful as my body wakes up and it’s still too dark to notice the beauty of my small town. I make it through Stewart Park and pass the college rowers warming up. I wonder what it would be like to be strong like that. I am strong too, but in a different way. I run over the two bridges, one is so wobbly I think about come winter if I’ll slip this year like the two previous. 

I make it over the four lane highway and to my turn at Buffalo street and wonder if I’ll make it to 10 miles. I’m at mile 4 and I can feel my fitness, or lack there of. I start getting into the podcast I’m listening to about cultivating a side hustle. Sweet Jesus I don’t have time for that right now, but it’s a great concept. My sister makes beautiful signs out of restored wood, I should encourage her to listen to this podcast, she has a side hustle.

I get to Cass Park and make it to the bathroom just in time to take my characteristic mid-run poop. I’ve tried to stop going outside if I can avoid it because you never know if you’ll show up in the news. Is my backside cute enough for Good Morning America? I don’t want to find out. Kim K already has made her ass into her side hustle so I think I have big competition (pun intended). 

I get to the turn around point and have a choice to make. Keep going home and end at 8 miles or do another loop of Cass and get to 10. I am questioning how my foot feels (fine) and how my fitness is (not great). I decide to try. Slow and steady, just move forward, get to the rink, get to the boats, back to the bridge, back on Buffalo. Now the straight away down to my end point, my work, to CTB for coffee and a cool down. 

I made it. I stop my watch, almost 10. 9.9. Good enough. Cool down routine using the tree outside, get a coffee (half hazelnut , half love buzz) and walk a half mile home.

I did it. It was hard. It was humbling. It was fucking beautiful.


See you out there (finally)!!!!!

Signs

Racing has certainly done a 180 on me this fall. I originally had plans to do a few races leading up to JFK in November as training runs, but the universe had a different direction for me to take.

Starting with Escarpment, where I was very humbled and shaken, manifesting into a nerve issue in my butt at Green Lakes and then travelling to my foot, running this past few weeks has been inconsistent, then non-existent as I work to heal my foot.

It’s getting better, but not at where it should be right now. I understand that and realize that it’s not my fault per se, but another step in my running journey.

I received word this morning that I did not get off from work on the Saturday of the Watergap 50K. The gym I work at part time is small and there are only 4 employees. Two of them have families and the other has a massaging business taking precedence on the weekends. I simply did not find coverage.

Taking this as a sign, rather than push it and try to force another employee to give up their weekend, I am not going to do the race. I have not run in a week and don’t like betting on “being able to run” in a certain period of time. This includes JFK. I continue to see improvements in my foot, but if it’s not better by then, of course I am not going to race it.

Last week was very emotional as I processed facing yet another training setback. I felt like a failure yet again. It took some time and a lot of talking with my friends and other runners, but I have come out of the anger phase of injury. I am simply looking to move forward.

Most people ask what I’m doing different this time, so here is the biggest change…one that is still very hard for me, and one that I’m not sure will be forever, but needed right now.


I have started eating some animal products again.

It’s now out there. I’ve only confided in a few people, and they can see how upset I’ve been over this. They have been nothing but supportive in whatever I choose and I thank God for them.

How did I get here one might ask? After Green Lakes, I was upset with how that went, but then also noticed that even with resting after that, I was still tired, oddly off balance and just in a weird zone. I shrugged it off, and just rested more. However, I could not ignore the symptoms I was having. I say symptoms, not cravings. I was not craving meat, eggs or dairy.

I looked up what I was experiencing and there it was, classic B12 deficiency. I looked at my Inside Tracker panel, and was reminded that I was low in that nutrient back in April when I was tested. The first 3 years I was vegan, I didn’t know about supplementing and this past year, if I get busy or work early, I forget to take my vitamins.

Nothing I can do about that now, except change what I am doing thus forward.

So, I have started incorporating small amount of animal products, a huge dose b12 supplement and more balance work in my training. I’m thinking of this period as a supplement for my body. I just want to get those levels up.

What this time is not: this is not me renouncing my veganism. I still believe it is important to try to eat as close to a vegan diet for the animals, the planet and for your health. I think I should have made more sure to take a b12 supplement, especially because I am an athlete. I am not “breaking vegan” and am not advocating anyone healthy do so. I am doing this for my body and my health.

I am not going to overthink this any longer. I have been in emotional distress the past week over this and can no longer live in that state of mind. I’m following what my body is telling me it needs.

If anyone has any questions, please email me and I can try to answer.

Onward.

Hold Yourself Back Sea Biscuit

When I feel good running, it is so hard to hold myself back. Especially after a few weeks of feeling flat and stale, feeling good is such a blessing and I almost feel compelled to take advantage of it.


In the week leading up to GLER, I had that amazing week where every run felt good. So I added, a few miles, here and there. No extra speed, nothing too crazy, but adding it up, I ran 20 extra miles that week. 

20 extra miles.

That is too much for my current level of fitness. Even though they felt amazing, they most likely contributed to the nerve pain that prevented me from finishing Green Lakes.

Too much Sea Biscuit.

This past week, I’ve seen a great sports chiropractor and PT who has thankfully gotten my nerve pain sorted out. It is feeling better and I should be looking to running a bit more. I say should, because no sooner did my butt feel better, did my right foot begin to hurt. So much so, I had to limp home yesterday morning in tears.

Tears that I fixed one problem, but had another. Tears falling because I have been trying to hard, doing all my stretches, not running, seeing a PT and I cannot escape this cycle.

Talking to my PT, he thinks I most likely did all this damage at Escarpment in July and it was just a time bomb. Falling twice per mile for eighteen miles is a beating. The extra mileage I ran the week of the race exposed the issue. The pain was coming, all I can do now is prevent it from happening again.

Right now that means allowing my foot to heal, when I can run, doing so cautiously and trusting that my body will use the limited training so I can still compete.

The thing is, through this process, I was reminded that I just love to run. I don’t really care about pace or winning or even racing. I just want to run. Talking to my coach, I told him I want him to remind me of this injury and how smart it is to take the smaller amount of mileage and let my body use it. I want him to remind me that just being able to run is a gift.

Because it is. 

Onward from here!