This past weekend I toed another start line…this time for the Mt Evans Ascent, a 14.5 mile run up a “Colorado 14er” mountain with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain. You finish at 14,264 feet above sea level and last year I learned that the altitude is real and it can kick your butt. This year…the wind was real, my mental mojo was missing and I only made it to the top because a motorized vehicle helped me get there.

Paula and me before the race started.

Yup, another DNF for this girl. My cranky foot tendons played a small part but it was ultimately my brain that did me in this time. I was gunning for a 3 hour finish that would get me a fancy finisher’s rock. For whatever reason I thought I had done enough random hill training to get me straight up a mountain with a 12:24 pace. I quickly learned that I needed more than just hilly trails to train for an uphill road race. Duh.

In all honesty, my body and legs were doing fine. Heck, even my lungs were not complaining. But my brain? Well, my brain checked out as soon as the GPS watch started consistently spitting out an average pace that looked something like 13:xx. The numbers were telling me that I probably wouldn’t make my goal. By the time mile 4 rolled around I was done being a happy-go-lucky mountain goat. I was angry. Angry at the wind. Angry at my insane optimism. Angry at twinges of pain I felt in my tendons. Just. Plain. Angry.

Around Mile 4 – I was seriously missing Lynne at this point!

I spent the next two miles willing myself forward in hopes of seeing Chris, Graham and Cooper around the next bend. They were in a warm truck filled with food and beverages. I wanted to be in that truck. I wanted to stop running. I wanted off this stupid mountain.

Eventually I saw them, just before the Mile 6 aid station. I ran over to the truck, kicked off my shoes, invented new swear words…and gave up. Again. Maybe it was my foot really acting up. Maybe it was my head being unfocused and angry at life. Maybe it was the agony of mile after mile of pavement I saw ahead of me. Whatever it was…it all piled up and gave me enough excuses to give up. So I gave up.

We spent the rest of the morning cheering on Paula and other friends as they powered their way up the mountain. The wind was soul crushingly brutal. Even with three jackets and two pairs of pants on I was freezing when I jumped out of the truck to tell Paula how incredible she was. It was at those frigid moments that I was both glad I gave up and pissed off that I was too wimpy to survive.

If you’re mad at the mountains…spend more time in them, you’ll quickly fall back in love!

How the heck am I going to survive ultra marathons with much lower lows if I give up on a simple 14 mile race? How am I going to talk myself out of the dark places my silly brain takes me if I can’t convince myself to go just 9 more miles up a mountain? How will I ever survive the adverse conditions of the ever changing mountain weather if I can’t take a few miles of 40mph winds? How am I going to call myself a runner if I keep bailing on my races before they even get stupid hard?

Those were the thoughts floating around in my head all day Saturday. And I think I finally have answers.

I’m going to be able to survive the extreme lows of ultra marathons because I’m only going to start the races I truly want to finish. I’m going to dig my way out of dark places and press on because I’ll be running on courses I want to see in areas I want to explore. I’ll be prepared for bad weather and I’ll train in bad weather…and when I survive the bad weather I’ll feel badass! And I’ll be able to call myself a runner because I’ll be running for the right reasons…just for me and on the trails that offer up adventures I actually want to chase down.

Up next? The North Fork 50M on June 28th. Yea, I’m still starting that race, even after a month full of “barely there” training and two DNF’ed races. I spent some time considering a DNS since it is a sold out race but my bib is non-refundable, non-transferable and the race doesn’t have a waitlist…no one benefits if I don’t start, so I’m starting.

But I’m starting with a different mindset. I’ll be running North Fork with no high expectations of myself, no time goals aside from the 14 hour cut off, no carpool waiting for me, no one expecting anything from me or waiting for me. All I want is a solid training run and a happy finish. I’m going in with no pressure to perform – not from myself, not from anyone else. I’m running because I like to run, on trails I know well. I’ve spent hours on my mountain bike along the North Fork course, often saying “I’d rather be running this trail!”…and now I will be running, and I will enjoy it! Because that is why I run trails…

[And to everyone who stopped by before the start to say you found a little motivation in last year’s recap…I apologize for a less than awesome race this year! That said, it was pretty awesome to know my race recap at least go you all to the start line — I sincerely hope you did better with the wind and mental battle on Mt Evans last Saturday!]


Logan @ Mountains and Miles · June 19, 2021 at 6:59 am

I had these exact feelings during my 50 two weekends ago. It was 100% mental, granted I wasn’t facing wind or foot pain, but I just didn’t want to be there. I managed to grumble my way along for the first half until suddenly my mood improved (or someone drugged my hydration pack…either way, it worked). It’s SO HARD to be doing a race that you don’t feel like doing. I’m going along a similar theme as you for the rest of the summer/fall - I’m only doing races that I REALLY want to do (which is about 3) and the rest of my runs I’m just going to go explore new fun places and spend my money on gas and post-run beer instead of registration fees.

    Heidi Nicole · June 19, 2021 at 10:57 am

    I think I’m going to look into bribing people to drug my handheld…I mean, if it works…

    I’m a slow learner, but long distance trail races are not things you just pile onto your schedule — they are hard and they take focus, unlike random 5k and 10k races!

      Logan @ Mountains and Miles · June 19, 2021 at 11:03 am

      I’ll ask for the magic recipe. And yeah, plus it’s a lot different to will yourself through another 10-30 minutes than it is for another XX hours, ha.

Tricia · June 19, 2021 at 10:02 am

Hi Heidi!

I’m sorry Mt. Evans wasn’t better for you! I was one of the people who found inspiration in your recap from last year 🙂 I’ve been battling injury for over a year and this is only the second race I’ve run since taking 6 full months off of any running. I actually walked the bear chase 50K in its entirety last year because doctors said absolutely no running. I have also been battling shin splints, posterior and anterior tendon pain, and plantar fascitis this training! Fortunately, my feet and legs didn’t bother me Saturday. My core did…but that’s another story. I didn’t make the 3 hour “rock” but I finished 3:13:22 and for all I’ve been thru need to be happy with it. The whole reason I was hurt for over a year is because I ran a half that I started in pain. It’s better to get a DNF or a DNS in my book than MNRA (may never run again). I’m sure I’ll see you soon…I’ll be power hiking the ups and running the flats/downs at NorthFork with you but I’m just doing the 50K. Good luck!!!

    Heidi Nicole · June 21, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Hey Tricia!

    Wow, I think you’re the inspiration! It’s incredible that you made it through all of that for an awesome finish at Mt Evans! Seriously! Paula, the girl I started out with, finished shortly after you did — it was an interesting day on the mountain, to say the least.

    And I agree, I’ll take a DNF/DNS over a MNRA any day! I’ll see you at North Fork, I love those trails, even if they never offer up enough shade!

Cassie @ Rural Running Redhead · June 19, 2021 at 11:50 am

Here’s some unsolicited advice from someone you’ve met all of once. You’re welcome. 🙂 Maybe after North Fork you need to take a break from races and just run for kicks for a while — recapture what you love about running trails without the pressure of a goal time or cutoff time or certain distance you have to finish. Just my 2 cents, of course.

    Heidi Nicole · June 21, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    This is why I love meeting people from the internet…they start offering up real advice because they know me! 🙂

    No, seriously, thank you for your two cents! I’m excited to head out onto the trails with no expectations, no pressure, no numbers and just enjoy them again!

    jena · June 23, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I’m with Cassie.. As I started reading I couldn’t help but feel like maybe you should take a break from racing (or at least from racing in these super duper duper long distances, and worry about dealing with whatever is up w/ your foot, and just running, to run.

    You’re an excellent athlete, and a superb runner - You’re time will come to conquer these races.

      Heidi Nicole · June 24, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Thank you Jena! I agree with you — after this weekend there are only two races on my agenda, and I’m keeping it that way! And even this weekend’s race will be low key and all about running for fun, as much fun as 50 miles can be…

Laura · June 20, 2021 at 7:48 pm

As I said on Twitter, I’m so sorry for your DNF… BUT, it sounds like you did find the silver lining! I’m glad that you’re feeling better about it and can’t wait to hear how North Fork goes!

    Heidi Nicole · June 21, 2021 at 3:02 pm

    It takes me a while…and a little creative digging, but there will always be silver lining, right?!

    I’m hoping North Fork has more smiles, we’ll see!

Amy · June 21, 2021 at 8:46 pm

Good for you Heidi! Hopefully your foot heals up soon and you’ll be back to your mountain goating, crazy long trail running loving self in no time!

    Heidi Nicole · June 24, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks! All my fingers [and toes] are crossed for a good race on Saturday. I’ll channel my inner mountain goat…or maybe desert lizard? It’s going to be a toasty race with lots of sand and sun.

Natalie @ Free Range Human · June 24, 2021 at 9:26 am

I know how much you were looking forward to it so I’m so sorry it didn’t work out the way you wanted. That being said, there are many, many kickass races in your future, and you’re still my running idol!

    Heidi Nicole · June 24, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    Awww…thank you! I’ll be extra awesome just for you on Saturday. Or something like that. I will figure out how to run for fun again. I will!

Randy · July 19, 2021 at 2:17 pm

Well, personally, I think running up a mountain is not a really good idea. Too much effort for too little gain. But that’s just me…. at least you gave it a shot. I love the mountains, but not for running in.

    Heidi Nicole · July 20, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    Oh, I love me some mountain running — I’ve just lost my tolerance for long times of trails! And the best part of the mountains?! They are great so running AND so much more! 🙂

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