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.
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.
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!]