Power Your Own Adventure

This post is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang initiative.

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Photo by Josh Uhl

 

Traffic drives me crazy. Literally. It’s one of those things that I will avoid at all costs. I rearrange my schedule, I ride my bike to appointments, I carpool, I even get up before sunrise to be the first one at the trailhead. But, sometimes getting in a car and being stuck in traffic is inevitable.

I’m a Colorado native, so I’ve been witness to the incredible growth of the Front Range the past decade. As someone who dislikes the extra bustling on the roads but loves to recreate outdoors and in the mountains – which I totally need a car to get to – I’ve had to get creative to avoid those traffic jams, while still getting to the places I enjoy most.

So, I got really excited when I learned about CDOT’s Bustang lines. It’s a bus service that commutes along the front range of I-25 and the I-70 mountain corridors and links major transit systems together. Right now they’re even providing extra routes to DTC from I-25 to help with commuter traffic from all the construction.

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As a professional endurance athlete, I train in the mountains. I live in Boulder, CO, so the foothills are accessible from my doorstep, and for those trips I like to get to where I’m going by using the power of my body. Whether that means riding my bike to a trailhead or starting a run from my house instead of at the proper trailhead, I like to power my own adventures. But, let’s be honest, to have access to the bigger mountains, I can’t always ride my bike there, I need a car. Driving, however, takes time and energy, especially with all the new traffic on the roads. This is where Bustang comes in –  I was intrigued by the opportunities for adventures without the headache of traffic and driving.

 

I wanted to try out Bustang and see how reliable and easy it could be. There’s a lot of  route/trip options Ride Bustang offers, but I decided to take the South Line to Colorado Springs, one of my favorite places to trail run. But, once I got there, I didn’t want to be limited without a car, so I decided to bring my bike along on.

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Riding to Denver on the bike path from Boulder

For this adventure I wanted the theme to be as ‘self-propelled’ as possible. I also had some company along the way too, because adventures are so much better with a partner! From Boulder, I wanted to ride my bike to Union Station in Denver to catch the bus. So, we packed up our bikes with a few changes of clothes, lots of warm layers, an assortment of food and running shoes.

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Our packed up bikes

 

The ride to Denver from Boulder is a continuous bike path, and then there was less than a quarter mile of actual road to reach Union Station. I already had our Bustang tickets downloaded on my phone with the Just Ride Bustang app, so I just scanned the tickets, loaded the bikes on the rack and we were ready to go. The bus ride to Colorado Springs, even in rush hour traffic, was less than 2 hours. I was already impressed.

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Once we got there, since I had my bike, transportation was simple. Our Airbnb was a short ride from downtown Colorado Springs, same with all the restaurants. So, it was pretty straightforward to get around with my bike and Google maps.

The next day was when the real fun began! I had mapped out a route to ride my bike from downtown Colorado Springs, up a gravel dirt road, to the trailhead of Mount Rosa. The peak itself, which is visible from the city, sits at 11,533 feet, but since the gravel road dead-ends at the trailhead (around 9,500 feet) we planned to lock up the bikes and go by foot from the trailhead to the top of Mount Rosa.

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I wasn’t sure of the road or trail conditions, but I was pretty certain there would be some snow and ice up high – again, it was December. But, I read the road was maintained, so we thought we’d give it a try. We packed up the bikes with extra water, extra warm clothes, and lots of food – it was going to be an all-day adventure.

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Photo by Josh Uhl

Going south from downtown, we headed to Cheyenne Mountain State park to find Old Stage Road. This road climbs 22 miles and 5,000 feet of steep terrain before reaching the trailhead for Mount Rosa. What’s incredible is that this road leads all the way to the summit of a neighboring peak, Mount Almagre too – and Almagre sits at 12,367 feet! As the road reached more of a plateau, it got rather snowy and icy, which made for some interesting bike riding.

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The road got fairly rough and really icy around 9,000 feet, so we found a good spot to hide the bikes, switched into running shoes and started running toward the trailhead for Mount Rosa. Once there, it was all snowy trail to the summit. Even for December, the weather was clear and the sun was out, although it was 30 degrees.

After returning to the bikes, it was time for a chilly descent back into town – and lots of food!

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photo by Josh Uhl

The next morning we reversed the trip home, catching Bustang back to Union Station and then riding my bike back to Boulder. It was such an incredible trip and not having to sit in traffic or deal with the headache of driving made the trip even better! CDOT really has provided a reliable and fast alternative for commuting along the Front Range and it’s a resource I plan to use again. I’m already planning my next adventure, this time heading west! Where would you want to take the ‘Stang?

 

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What’s Nutrition Got to do with it?

No matter how you slice it, training won’t add up unless you’re refilling your tank – and not with just anything – with quality fuel.

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When I speak about nutrition, most athletes focus in on racing. They think about gels and the number of calories they should be consuming to maintain a race effort. Of course, this is an important part of nutrition, but it’s not the whole picture. I think more holistically, not only about my needs during my training, but about my day-in, day-out habits of fueling pre run, post run and everything in between.

I, personally abide by a plant-based diet. Even with all the traveling I do, it’s really quite simple to stick to. Skratch Labs products play a key role in supporting this lifestyle and my training. Now, if you’re curious about this plant-based diet, the science supporting it and specifics of meeting your body’s requirements, I encourage you to check out Thought for Food Lifestyle for great information and resources surrounding the powerful world of plants. Then start doing some research on your own! But for now, I’ll take you back to the task at hand, and tell you my general routine for fueling pre run and post run during a big week of training.

The big take away – eat often, eat sufficiently and (for me at least) eat all the plants you can!

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I recently completed a 105 mile route through the alps, over 4 days. Some know about this course, it follows the race course of the famous Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc ultra marathon over 3 countries and around the Mont Blanc massif. It’s a gnarly course, with 33,000 ft of positive elevation gain. The average finish time is about 40 hours. To complete this thing, not only did I have to eat properly during my runs, to maintain energy, but I also had to eat properly, before and especially after, to recover adequately.

 

First of all, consuming sufficient calories and quality calories is the first step. During a run I aim for 200 calories per hour, strictly from a carbohydrate source. I use Skratch Labs drink mix and Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews (the new matcha flavor is my FAV!) during my runs. I also like to bring along fruit for an extra crunch and treat for the summits. Typically, I start fueling in the second hour of my run, only because I started my days with a good breakfast (oatmeal, fruit and nuts), that would tide me over the first hour. Then, it’s a matter of staying on top of the fueling throughout the duration of my runs, which were typically 6-7 hours each day for this route. I’ve found that if I fuel well during my run, I’m more likely to recovery more quickly, physically feel better (less sore, achy, etc.) and to run better the next day. This also includes hydration! Skratch Labs drink mix is the perfect balance for full hydration – not only replenishing my water loss, but also my salt loss. I’ve had a sweat test to determine exactly how much salt i’m losing per hour – so I know exactly how much drink mix I need to replenish it. Science is pretty neat!

The big take away here is – eat and drink during your run! It has long term benefits and aids in overall recovery!

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Now onto post run. I kick off recovery with a recovery drink. Most athletes have great success with Skratch Labs Sport Recovery Drink Mix, but because I don’t consume diary, I have my own recovery drink (generally a smoothie with the Skratch Labs Wellness Hydration mix mixed in to get some extra electrolytes, almond or oat milk, plenty of fruit and some nut butter). It’s the best post run treat you could ask for. Not only does it satiate me until I can start refueling with real food, it has a good balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein to start the refueling process.

Then, once I’m ready for a meal, I make sure I consume whole foods, as many plants as possible, and again, make sure I get in fat, protein and filling foods to make sure my body replenishes all that it lost during the day. Then, lots of water! Even in France, Italy and Switzerland, there was no shortage of plants, so there was nothing lacking in the fat, protein or carb department.

After the food is taken care of, many athletes like to stretch or foam roll for extra help with their recovery. I’m a big fan of stretching and light muscle activation (if I feel I need it), but the most important for me is a good night sleep – as many hours as I can. Sleep, combined with all that good food, helps me to best prepare for the next day of training – oh, and some comfy slippers. Then it’s time to rinse and repeat the process of fueling and refueling.

 

How I love the simplicity of training life:  Run. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

 

I am better than a result

I am better than a result. I have inherent worth. There is no such thing as good enough because I am innately good.

Despite the challenges of my injuries, I am certain that my best physical and mental days are ahead – that being the best athlete I can ever be is only possible because of the challenges I face now.

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These are the mantras I repeat, daily. My days are not always perfect, and there are times I question if I’m moving in the ‘right’ direction or forward at all. I face some sort of doubt and fear, every day. It’s an active choice to acknowledge them, confront them and lean into them.

Especially as I return to running, I am still holding onto many doubts surrounding my body, its capabilities and abilities to sustain the activities I want to do.

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Photo: Running in the Dolomites

This past week I faced some huge fears. I planned to complete a route I had always dreamed of completing – the HardRock 100-mile course. A group of good friends planned the adventure, aiming to complete the course in 3 days, averaging about 30 miles per day, with 10,000 feet of positive elevation gain, traversing the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado. I knew this undertaking would test me physically, but more so mentally. I was excited, yet anxious. Fearful of the technical terrain and its impact on my (still) recovering injuries.

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As I look back on the hours spent in the mountains, I’m in awe of our bodies and their resilience. I’m also in awe of the human spirit, how energy can ebb and flow. Entering this softrock endeavor, I was certain I would be the weakest one. But, each person in the group had their low moments and high moments, including myself. We supported each other – encouraging and supporting during the low moments, and doing the same when energy and motivation returned.

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Photo: SoftRock Day #2, on top of Handies Peak

I learned that energy is not constant, and no matter how well-trained an athlete is, there is also doubt and insecurities to face. It was empowering to see every single person confront these fears head on. One practice that helped me to confront my fears/insecurities and to keep pushing forward, was to say – out loud – three things I am grateful for, and one reason why I am great. My good friend, Lucy Bartholomew, had the idea. The only rule – we couldn’t repeat the same three things twice and we had to come up with a new reason we were great each day as well. It was a humbling practice and gave me strength to look for the positive, instead of focusing on my doubts of completing the route.

Filling my head with positive thoughts, even when I hurt, lacked energy, or was lagging behind on a downhill, wouldn’t allow room for negative thoughts or doubts in my head. It’s a daily practice I’m going to incorporate into my routine.

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Photo: Ice Lake

Upon writing this piece, I thought I was going to focus on the feelings of each day, and the pride of finishing such an epic course, just shy of a year from my accident. But now, I’m hoping to use it as a benchmark in my mental training, to remember it’s possible to accomplish the impossible if you’re willing to try and challenge doubt. Positivity and gratitude can alter your course, if you allow a little light to shine through.

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Photo: Silverton, CO after finishing the Hardrock 100 mile course.

Who I am – Without Running?

When did it become commonplace to define one’s life by a single subjective thing? When did we start whittling a person’s existence to a singularity; a career, a relationship or single attribute? Throughout evolution mammals never fixated on  one thing – if they had, they never would have survived. So why do we choose to judge, assume or react to ourselves and others based solely on one single attribute? Whether that be a physical characteristic, a personality trait or a job, modern society – enhanced by social media – encourages these snap judgements and generalizations.
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Photo Credit: Mike Thurk

I’ve certainly fell into this trap, especially when it comes to the activities I do. Since finding the sport, I have built a whole new life around running and the person I am as a runner. It’s an empowering community. To be surrounded by people who share your passions and can relate about gross toenails, ducking into the woods for a quick “break,” and especially those tiny moments where you feel so small, yet so connected to this vast universe. It’s addicting and can quickly become all you care about.

 

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Photo Credit: Greg Mionske

Recently, I’ve been forced to reevaluate this lifestyle. Now, the community and environment that has been a source of joy, belonging and acceptance has become painful. Running doesn’t come naturally to me now, it’s a battle of recovery, to regain strength so I can walk normally. Instead of finding solace in this community, connected and cemented in the life-centering activity of running, I find myself angry and consumed with grief. It has become isolating – a self inflicted ailment. Since I’m not running at the moment, I feel as though I have lost my identity, who I am. I’m lost in getting back to the “runner I was.” Trying desperately to prove to myself that this emptiness I feel can be fixed if I can just run again, if I could just walk down the street like a normal person, if I could just push through the pain of each step, if I could only go back in time and not step on that rock that cast me off the mountain side. If only . . . .

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Am I really that unbalanced? To be someone who defines their entire self-worth solely on one activity? Before my accident I would have defined myself as a balanced person. I have a Masters degree in Neuroscience and I teach Chemistry, Biology, and Physiology at a small college in Colorado. Anyone who knows me can see my extreme fascination and intrigue in the world around me, with science, especially with bugs, lizards and frogs. It’s been a passion of mine long before I became a runner and will likely continue to be something that captivates me long after I stop running competitively. I do have a life outside of running and I enjoy fostering those interests.

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Yet, I am still devastated by this state of injury I find myself in, and the halo of sadness that constantly surrounds me. So much so that it has begun to negatively affect my life outside of running, those interesting parts of me that have always been there. I’m realizing now that I have intertwined my identity with running. My injury is temporary, and as I continue to show signs of progress to regaining my strength and a sense of normalcy, this feeling of disconnection still persists. It can be dangerous, especially when ‘health’ and being ‘injury free’ seems to be the only cure – the promise of a wholly better self in all capacities, even those that weren’t directly injured in my accident. It is the utopian idea that once I can run again, all of my problems will disappear. But this is not true. Real life problems, the ones that running once helped alleviate, have a persistent nature and lay in wait for the next time I slow down or find myself injured again.

So I ask the question: who am I without running? Beyond my job, my hobbies, my relationships, what lays in wait there? I’ve struggled immensely since my injury and it’s forced me to take a deeper look and connect with who I am at my core – without the preconception of a job, activity or physical attribute interfering.

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Photo Credit: Greg Mionske

It’s a difficult question to ask, one I still struggle with. In fact, I’m still amid the process of introspection. It is the part of the injury recovery process that most people don’t get to see, and one we most often try to keep private, attempting to hide our struggle from others to save face. Why? I’m not sure I have those answers quite yet. I’m finding a sense of ease in the process but I still struggle. The biggest impact of this rebuilding process has been that I no longer look at myself through the lens of singularity. I can see a more complete and complex person beneath the brightly colored running shorts and shoes. One that enjoys being outside, with eyes glued to the ground in search of bugs, or frogs, simply because it makes me giggle and brings me joy. I want more of that complexity and diversity in my life. This injury and break from running has been immensely difficult but the blessing has been the lessons it has taught me about myself.

Of course, I’ll get back to running – it brings me so much joy to move in that way – but I’m no longer allowing my happiness to be fixed to that linear timeline. In the meantime, anyone want to go bug hunting?

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Resting Into Greatness

 

Resting is recovery. Resting IS recovery. Resting is . . . well . . . it’s hard. I’m a person of routine, and running is part of it. Running, moving, getting outside is part of me. It makes me better. I can focus; I’m more patient, and more productive. When I rest I find myself restless, not sure what to do with my pent up energy.

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It’s a distinct feeling from tapering. For a taper, I’m relieved for some rest and recovery. I am motivated to save my energy for an upcoming race or hard effort. I have an end goal. Extended periods of rest are a bit more difficult for me.

I like to take an off-season from competitions. I need the mental reset. Generally my off-season is October until my first race of the season in May, which leaves me with no real goals until the following spring. Of course I’m running during that time, but my intention is to reduce volume and intensity; I do easy running mixing in skiing and strength work. This time is important for me mentally and physically, so I feel rejuvenated when it’s time to train hard again.

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Logically I can talk my way through this, but when it’s actually time to rest, to recover and take a break, I struggle. Maybe you can blame this on my type ‘A’ personality, my goal-oriented way of thinking, my determination and discipline? All of these qualities make me a great runner and hard working; however, they also make it hard for me to chill out!

Recently resting has been a challenge for me. I spent the summer in Europe racing. I was focused, training every day, making sure I was prepared for the challenging races I committed to. So, once it was over and I returned home, I found myself at a loss. I was bored, unhappy and dissatisfied. It wasn’t due to disappointment – I was happy with my season – so what was it, this profound sense of uneasiness? So I went searching for it, trying to run through the boredom and uncertainty. I would stay in Boulder during the week to teach my classes, and then I would take off for 4 days, meeting up with friends or spending time in the mountains alone in hopes of shaking this unease.

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But I didn’t find it. I only ran into tears, fatigue and more dissatisfaction. I wasn’t giving myself permission to enjoy the down time. I was terrified of where my mind would go, what I would do with my time, of feeling unproductive.

Finally, after too many runs spent crying and wondering why I was still pushing, I realized rest was really what I needed. In fact, after a few days, I got pretty good at it. I just needed permission to rest, and some time to figure out the transition; to establish a new routine.

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I’m learning these periods of relaxing and allowing myself to move at a slower pace are a treat. I come back stronger, more motivated and eager. It’s not always easy. There are definitely days where I have to be more patient and not be so hard on myself, but those days are getting easier. I’m letting myself rest into greatness.

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Check out more articles at Trail Sisters, and thanks to The North Face for their continued support.

Balance

Strictly speaking, balance is defined as the ability to remain upright and steady due to an even distribution of weight. This is definitely applicable for most trail runners – although falling is inevitable at times. However, I’d like to talk about a different kind of balance, one dealing with the stability of one’s mind and state of being. I’m constantly striving for balance. Maybe you laugh, scoff even, that an ultra runner knows the meaning of the word. Balance? Indeed, I am familiar with the term, and I strive for balance in my daily life.

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First, I start with running. It’s a huge part of my life, and my favorite way of enjoying nature. However, I don’t want to overdo it. This is to prevent over-training, but even more importantly, to prevent burn out or lack of motivation in my running/racing. I balance my training: mileage, hours and vertical gain.

Now, it’s not always easy to maintain this balance. Heard of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? What about YOLO (You Only Live Once)? I fall victim to these ailments, especially when I’m traveling or exploring a new area. All I want to do is get out and run for hours and hours up every mountain I see! Of course, I will get after it, but I’m constantly monitoring how I feel. I allow myself the freedom to slow down, skip a workout, take an extra rest day, or go longer that day if I’m feeling good. I am dedicated to my training plan, but want to maintain a playfulness and happiness with running. This balance keeps me hungry for more.

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I can’t run all the time, and even if I could, I don’t want to. Another important aspect to maintain a balanced mind is work. This is something us runners don’t talk about a lot. We assume that if someone is a sponsored runner, that’s all they do. Wrong. In fact, the majority of ‘professional’ trail runners have a day job too, a family and other interests that they are balancing. For me, it’s science.

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I’ve been a scientist since before I could walk. I’m pretty sure my first words were ‘miller moth,’ you know, those moths that come around in hoards once a year and get stuck in your house? Yep. I wanted to be an entomologist for as longa as I can remember, dressing up as an entomologist on career day in kindergarten, or for every Halloween.

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This love of science and curiosity in the natural world motivated me to earn an undergraduate degree in Organic Chemistry and a Masters degree in neuroscience. I worked or volunteered in labs starting in middle school.

Currently, I’m teaching chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology at a small college outside of Boulder, CO. It’s the perfect way to motivate the next generation of scientists. Plus, it’s challenging to teach the material well.

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Science, teaching and running are major parts of my life, without each piece I am not whole. I’m a better teacher if I prioritize running before class. I have more energy and more focus. Then, when it’s time to run, I make it count no matter what the training is that day (even rest days). Balance is more of a way of living, rather than an achievement. It allows me the freedom for change, constantly adjusting my life as my interests evolve. I also coach runners, I ski, and rock climb. I do yoga, cycle, read, cook and travel. Now, of course, I can’t balance those daily, but I can incorporate them in my lifestyle as a whole. Each adding a unique value to my life, while contributing to entirety of me.

 

Check out more pots on Trails Sisters

 

Past the Limit

Ultra running is a niche sport, an extreme one at that. It can take many forms as far as terrain, but the definition is simple: covering a distance more than a marathon. Covering that distance in one piece however, is not so simple.

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I first discovered ultra running in the form of mountain running. This quickly turned into a love for an even more extreme form of mountain running known as skyrunning. Here, courses take you from the sea to the sky, in the most direct path imaginable. This year I’ve been lucky enough to compete in La palama (Transvulcania 75km), Madeira (Madeira ultra sky 50km), the Dolomites (Cortina Trail 50km), and the Pyrenees (Buff Epic 110km). I find motivation and challenge in skyrunning, due to the demanding technicality and steep grades. However, my most recent race, the Buff Epic, at the skyrunning world championships in Valle de Boí, forced me to places I had never been before.

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I’m not going into the details of a race report, but for background, this race was 110km with 8000m of positive gain (about 69 miles and 26,500ft). Extreme.

 

I knew this race would challenge me, maybe even break me, but never did I expect the day I had.

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I started comfortable, anticipating all the climbs, letting the steepness dictate my pace. I felt comfortable, calm to be running. Within the first 20k I had already managed to go off course for a few minutes, to fall on some slippery rocks, but even that couldn’t get my spirits down. I knew I was going to be out there all day, mentally I was ready to be patient.

Then, all of a sudden it hit me. Nausea. I was being proactive about my nutrition, but suddenly, around the 25km mark, even the smell of food made my stomach turn. I would vomit when I tried to eat anything!

I thought things would turn around if I stuck to liquid calories and salt to get back in some electrolytes, but things just got progressively worse. Sipping coca cola soon lead to vomiting and by the 50km mark I was stuck to drinking a salt solution provided by the aid station, with very little caloric value. I was worried and I wanted to quit.

I had an amazing support crew who were meeting me around all sections of the course (which were really hard to get to), so perhaps that was a source of motivation. But, for me, running is so personal. I won’t simple do a race or a run because someone tells me to, I must be convicted to do it myself. So I kept going.

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This time, every uphill, or slightly steep pitch I was dry heaving. Pushing my body past a certain pace caused me to double over with nausea. I was 67km in.

My mind was spiraling. I worried about my place. How I was competing – I wasn’t competing. I wondered what people would think about my performance, it was the world championships, I wondered if I was a horrible runner now. I thought about quitting simply because I wasn’t in a podium position like I imagined I would be. Right then, I stopped on the trail, and told myself out-loud: ‘That’s a horrible reason to quit Hill, and it’s not why you run.”

 

So I kept moving forward. Around 75km now.

 

I wanted to quit! Why wasn’t I quitting?? Should I quit? Am I causing myself damage? How am I able to walk up this mountain with no food in me??

 

I carried these questions with me into the last major aid station at 81.5km, convinced this was the time to call it quits. I had run 50 miles – that was good enough. Plus, I didn’t want to run in the dark. I was ready to quit, like I had told myself around the 30km mark.

 

My crew had everything prepared. My headlamp, water, more water – water was the only thing I could stomach now. I looked at their faces to confirm my defeat, but they told me they’d see me at the finish. I didn’t believe I’d make it. But I got up, making my way towards the door, hesitant. I wanted to quit, to end the suffering, but I was still moving toward the door. I left in a slow trudging jog.

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Where was the hope, the perseverance, and this determination within me? Why were my feet still moving me forward? How? Why won’t my stomach stop hurting? How in the world am I still dry heaving? Why am I not quitting?? I still want to quit.

 

These words played like a broken record within my head. Repeating, circling, questioning, begging myself to quit. I really had no idea how I was still moving or if there was anything to be proud of with my performance. I was absolutely defeated. Yet, still moving. How were these two things possible?

 

The last few hours of my race were all a blur. The dull ache of my stomach and my circling questions made time irrelevant. I came to when I say the 1km mark on the side of the trail. I had made it to the finish, but not in a triumphant manner, or with any extra surge of energy. I was relieved and confused crossing the finish line. Why and how did I keep going? How did I make it hear.

 

Over the next few days, I kept reliving my experience and I still can’t explain what transpired that day. I’ve always said I run for the challenge, and the strength it gives me as a person. That day I felt the weakest and most challenged in a race or run. Extraordinarily, I still had something more. Nothing tangible or explicable, but I had something deeper that kept me moving forward, something that wouldn’t let me give up or give in to the pain, the challenge and doubt.

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I wouldn’t have discovered this silent strength, this powerful force within me, unless I was pushed past my limit. I would have never known I possessed this immeasurable strength if I had not kept going that day. This is my silver lining, and the true reason why I run. There is strength in the struggle and grace in the challenge. All I must do, is simply run.

 

 

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Thank you to The North FaceSky RunnerUltimate DirectionSkratch LabsSwiftwick Socks and Real Athlete Diets (RAD) for their continued support.