WTF50K Recap: The Final Exam

Have you ever reached a point where you realized all along you had been subconsciously preparing for that moment? Granted my “moment” was nearly 8 hours long, but this was exactly what happened at WTF50K.

Unbeknownst to me, my WTF50K training began in April 2018 at the Boston Marathon. I survived the 26.2 miles of wind, rain and cold to finish. In May, I ran a portion of the Appalachian Trail on Mother’s Day with Sara. At times, the trail was a river. In June, I ran (swam?) 18 miles with a group at the SU Cool Spring campus which was extremely flooded. As far as hill climbs go, in October I felt the need to tackle a mile long road climb I hadn’t run since high school. In December, I tackled a decent climb at my in-law’s house. Wind? In the past few months, I’ve run several mornings with gusty winds with both the Stephens City DD crew and the Wednesday morning group. Creek crossings? I think I got my fair share at Fire on the Mountain 50K in November. Snow? The Monday before the 50K, I hiked/ran 6 miles of trails in at least 5 inches of snow with Ryan.

At the time, all of these were just individual crazy experiences I shared with running friends. At the WTF50K, I realized all of them were lesson plans for my final exam.

Everything you are learning is preparing you for something else.” ― Marjorie Pay Hinckley.

Pack and maps ready to go!

If you read my last post, you know the expected weather forecast. Thankfully, no precipitation was going to fall. Just cold and WINDY. We arrived a little early, Emily, Laura and I gathered our gear and got ready to start. You will not believe what was announced next. The WTF50K finisher stickers had been left behind! A humorous groan traveled through the small crowd of about 4 dozen. After a few more announcements, we started trudging forward through the mud. Not too far in, we started our first climb of Waterfall. Whoa. Very steep at times and just kept going higher and higher. After a few switchbacks, we reached the top and headed towards Crisman Hollow. A couple miles later, we were rewarded with a beautiful view.

Photo credit: Emily

At this point, I shed my jacket, gloves and earband due to being extremely warm. We continued along the ridgeline for a few miles – rocky and snowy. We reached Jawbone Gap and headed up to the top. Along our ascent, we saw Matt S. and Kevin W. headed down. After a quick glance at the view, we turned around and headed down towards mile 9 (first aid station). After a couple pizza rolls, we were off again. A couple miles later, as we headed down switchbacks, I heard a few familiar voices at the bottom – Matt and Kevin (thanks for sharing the Moon Pie with us Kevin!). Emily and I joined up with them, as well as other runners Levi and Eric. Through this section we alternated a lot of hiking and running until we hit a good decline leading us to….Waterfall Climb: Round 2.

At mile 16, we tackled this tough climb once again. At this point, Matt and Emily pulled away as Kevin and I fell a little behind. I reached Crisman Hollow the 2nd time alone; however there was a runner at the top trying to make sense of his turn sheet. I informed him we were to head left on the road and we trotted off together. Since the last snowstorm, this road had not been touched by a plow. The only bare spots were created by the sun/radiation and at times, the road seemed more like an ice skating rink. We traveled about 2 miles until we crossed over Rt 211 and tried to locate the Aid Station before Mile 20. I grabbed some calories, a swig of Coke, refilled my water and was offered hand warmers. The wind was definitely picking up and I felt the coldest around this time. I pulled the hood up on my Cotopaxi jacket and took off with my new running partner Keith towards the trail. I reluctantly became navigator for our new group of two (which is one of the components of the race I was most worried about!). Soon, we hit the Bird Knob Climb. This climb had much more snow and ice than the previous climbs (which I’d take over the ones with rivers flowing down upon us). After the climb, we were rewarded with a somewhat more runnable path. We turned onto the white trail and then onto purple, following our turn sheet.

Part of the easier trail we traveled. Photo credit: Kevin

Finally, we hit the pink trail. Keith said, “And that’s about all that’s left right?” I responded yes, 4.2 miles until our final turn back onto orange for the final stretch. Around this point, I actually was a little sad the adventure was almost over. As we traversed pink, we approached a fast-flowing creek with no great way to cross. I tried one route – trying to cross on a log like we had on several earlier in the day. A few steps on the slick log and SPLASH! I was in the frigid water up mid-calf. Keith tried another route and SPLASH! Ugh, we trudged on. Soon, I felt something hard flapping on my shoes every step and realized my shoelaces had turned into icicles.

About 1 mile before the turn onto orange, Keith pulled away. For the first time of the day, I was solo for a few miles. I quickly found the sharp turn onto orange and ran into a few downed trees. I couldn’t see a way around and did not see any footsteps in the snow. Crap, where did I go wrong? I retraced my steps and my eyes darted around the forest for the orange blaze. Aha! I missed the trail bearing left. Knowing I had less than 2 miles to go, I was on a mission. All of a sudden, I was flying forward; instinctively dropped a shoulder into a tuck and roll. Thank goodness I fell where I did and not where the trail was very rocky or muddy. I popped back up unscathed and continued on with a smile on my face. Soon, I could see the cars in the parking lot above. I climbed up the ledge and headed towards the fire and food. Complete!

7 hours and 42 minutes. Nearly 7,000 foot of elevation gain. Below freezing temps. Wind. Snow and ice. Mud. Did I mention sloppy? Following a turn sheet. So many obstacles to overcome. Prior to the run, I definitely had some fear. When I was out there, I was oddly calm. Mile by mile, climb by climb, I slowly chipped away at WTF50K. 

Prelim results just came in! 48 starters; 30 finishers and I made podium for females! Read more details about the weather, the run and the results here!

I’ll leave you with my final thoughts….

Remember that question I asked – “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

The reason I signed up for the Waterfall 50K is because I actually wanted to attempt something I knew I could fail doing. I didn’t want guaranteed success; I wanted to fear failure – buckle down and give it all I could give (and then some).

I’m encouraging you to find a goal, a little out of reach and maybe a lot of crazy and go after it. If you fail, try again. And if you succeed, you better start looking for the next crazy goal..

My First DNF: Seashore Nature Trail 50K Recap

One week ago when I wrote “Keepin’ It Real“, I had no idea what the upcoming weekend had in store for me. Before I dive into those details, let me back up a few weeks.

As I returned to the Runner In Training booth at the South Berkeley Christmas 5K expo on December 2, Dylan came running up to me. “Mom, you got picked off a waitlist for a race!”, he excitedly announced. Not remembering any race waitlist, I picked up my phone to see what he was talking about. Aha – the Seashore Nature Trail 50K Jeremy and Sara had run in 2016. From the email I saw I added myself to the waitlist in June and had completely forgot. The email informed me I had until Wednesday, December 5 to make a decision.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, talking to John and a couple friends, I decided I would go and run. I searched for a hotel close to First Landing State Park and got all my other ducks in a row to head to Virginia Beach on December 14. Since the local Shenandoah Valley Runners Winter Series race was on the same day, John decided to stay home with Dylan (unfortunately John’s paternal grandmother passed away on Wednesday as well).

Friday was soon here and I was excited to hit the road at lunchtime and arrive around 4 p.m. The drive should only take 3.5 hours, but my map app was already telling me 4 hours 22 minutes. Darn. Off I went. Packet pickup was at a local running store until 7 p.m. I found some tunes and started my trek south. My ETA kept getting later and later the further I went along. Somewhere around Newport News, it was suggested I take a detour to save 25 minutes. Sounds good.

Yeah, not so much… The detour guided me through a jam packed shopping area and through a residential area with bumper to bumper traffic. For 20 minutes, we crawled. Stop and go. Stop and go. Finally, I was on an overpass making the left hand turn back onto 64. The SUV in front of me began to move or so I thought. Boom. Dang it. Already running late, and now I’m in a fender bender. We pull over and do all the fun things you need to take care of in an accident. An hour later, I’m finally back on the road. 30 miles to go – GPS puts me at the running store at 7:02 p.m. Thankfully, I call and the race staff pulls my race bib as well as Jeremy’s (the Sanders were stuck behind me in all the traffic).

Finally, I arrive 3 hours later than expected, get race bibs, call and cancel dinner reservations. At this point, I just wanted to check in to hotel, find food and get some sleep. After a quick meal at the hotel, I prepared my race gear and was asleep rather quickly.

Jeremy and I at the start (Thanks Jen!)

Race morning: woke up and ate my usual pre-race meal. I opened the oceanfront balcony doors to see nothing but a wall of fog. Temperature was not bad at all – about 50. I headed over for the short drive to the park and check out the surroundings. After a little walk and a short warmup, it was almost time to start. I decided to aim for 8:30-8:45 pace and see how the trail conditions were. First few miles went by pretty easy. The course was pretty, albeit foggy, and the volunteers and others along the way were upbeat and encouraging. I knew I was the 2nd female and man, was the first female (Gina Slaby) moving!

After the 2nd aid station, we headed right into the woods. Along the way, the course crosses several wooden bridges. As I stepped onto the bridge, I lost my footing but caught myself. Took another step and woosh, my feet go out from underneath me, I slide and fall hard on my right side. Yeowch. Right arm is scratched and bloody but nothing seems absolutely serious. A guy running in a kilt in front of me asks if I’m okay and I respond yes. I get back on and trudge on through the back loop chatting with him, trying to keep my mind off the searing feeling in my right hip area. On the way back to the turn around point for the 2nd loop, I battled between the voice of reason and the competitive athlete in me. The pain was not lessening. Do I just keep on running? Should I simply run/walk just to be able to finish? Should I drop?

Spectators along the way were encouraging me – “Second overall female. Keep going, you look strong!” Ugh, I am not feeling strong. I saw Jeremy on his way onto the second loop and gave him an update. At the turn around point, I mentioned to the race support I was most likely finished. They encouraged me to continue, again reminding me I was second overall female. “You can do this! You can walk and still finish in the time limit.” I refilled my water bottle, added a Nuun tab and decided to try to continue. Starting back up from run to walk was tear-inducing. My kilt running friend said, “Keep it up! Only a half marathon left!” 13 miles?? The reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Running in true discomfort and possibly risking further injury was not worth continuing. What about Boston? Other 2019 races? I decided to surrender and wave the white flag.

Not too much further up the trail, I saw my friend Jamey headed towards the finish area. I turned around and gave him the details. We walked and ran back to the finish together and I grudgingly announced I was pulling out. I walked defeatedly to my car and headed back to the hotel. What a disaster.

Battle wounds!

Sunday morning, I woke up in my own bed and the stress of the weekend hit me all at once. I may seem like a strong, competitive beast, but guess what?

I’m human 🙂 I allowed myself to snuggle up under the blankets and have an ugly cry.After I let the sadness out, I could feel the spark returning. I started thinking about 2019 races.

Yes, the weekend was a complete disaster but, no one was seriously hurt and I live to run another day. You win some, you lose some and yes, you DNF some.

 

I do think I want to go back to Seashore and try again. This time, I think I’ll walk the bridges…

 

Lost at the Finish Line

 

The end of the year is creeping up on us and wow, what a year. Back around June, I did a goal inventory and haven’t looked back since…until today.

2017 Race-Related Goals:

  • Mile – I wanted to break 6 minutes and clock a 5:45. In May 2017, I ran 5:21. CHECK!
  • 5K – Breaking 20 was my goal for this year. Added in speed work as I had planned and ran sub 19 in May. CHECK!
  • Half Marathon – 2017 goal was to break 1:40. Shamrock Half was very kind to me in March – 1:29. CHECK!
  • Marathon – I mentioned I wanted to simply beat my 2016 time of 3:46 and possibly BQ. CHECK! 3:25 AND a BQ!
  • Ultra – The thought was a maybe. Now it’s just a few days away…

Other 2017 Goals:

  • Train my husband for his first half: CHECK! He also did a 2nd which I helped pace him for a sub 2 hour finish.
  • Find more opportunities in the fitness/running industry – started working full-time in fitness once again. CHECK!
  • Personal Trainer Certification. CHECK!
  • Coaching Certification. CHECK!

Which leads me to….

Fellow runners and readers, you may understand or you really may think I am crazy.

Do you ever feel a little lost once you complete a task? You’ve worked so hard for an extended period of time, focused on doing whatever it takes to be a success, and finally crossed the finish line. You are ecstatic. Yet, soon after, you are looking for a new challenge.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Just a couple days out before the 50 miles and I’m already thinking, what’s next? Where do I go from here? Do I want to run longer? Go faster? Try something new? I have been so focused on checking off the boxes and not looking ahead for the next carrot.

Fresh red carrot hanging on white background

Chasing goals is exciting; keeps me dreaming and raising the bar. The line we cross when we tackle a goal is not the finish, but a new starting line.

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What do I want to try to do? Honestly, I am unsure right now.

I’m not too worried; after all, I have 50 miles to think about the possibilities. 🙂

I do have a goal formulating in my mind, but I’m not quite ready to share yet. Stay tuned….

Tell me: Have you reached your 2017 goals? Set any new goals for 2018?

Frozen by Fear

Each week, someone will chat with me about goals they’d like to achieve whether related to weight loss, running/fitness, career or personal goals. Many times, I can sense a hesitancy; something holding them back from proceeding with 100% effort. The end result they are looking to achieve would definitely make them happier, more fulfilled; yet fully committing to the journey creates an uncomfortable feeling….fear.

Fear of change. Fear of feeling like a disappointment. Fear of failing. Fear of the unknown.

Fear can be found creeping in every area of our lives – careers, families, relationships, extracurricular activities, our health, attitudes towards ourselves and others, etc. Sometimes due to our fears, we become slaves to habits, patterns and actions which do not serve us and may actually hurt us.

The fuzzy gray zone of the unknown stops many people in their tracks – should I stay in the less than ideal, somewhat comfortable area I know so well? Or should I push my boundaries, struggle a bit, be uncomfortable to hopefully reap big rewards?

There are no guarantees. We can plan our hearts out, work hard every day, do everything we can to succeed and still, we can end up with a different result than we anticipated.

Is your fear stopping you from living your life to its full potential? One day will you look back and think, “What might have I achieved if I didn’t let fear get in the way?”

What can you do? Feel the fear and do it any way. Yes, you will have to decide whether the struggle will be worth the possible prize waiting for you on the other side of fear.

Whether or not we believe we are in control of our destiny, we are certainly in control of our choices. Don’t let fear paralyze your actions. After all, YOLO!

How does this relate to me right now? I definitely have fear approaching this 50 miler. Yes, racing is not life-altering, but it’s the current fear I am experiencing. I have trained and trained for months. Run hundreds of miles, made a plan, studied the course and yet, I may fail. Running 50 miles is going to hurt. My brain is going to fight me; want me to give up. I fear giving in. I fear feeling extreme discomfort.

Outside of the upcoming race, I also have fear of returning to the old me. I feel I need to keep moving forward; always looking for the next goal to stay focused. I fear injury and needing recovery time. I fear letting others down. Like you, I have many fears. Some I am attacking full speed and others I am still tip toeing around; dipping my little toe in the dark, unchartered waters. If I don’t try, how will I know what is possible?

Once again, I encourage you to do what makes you happy – whatever that is. If needed, take a step back to see the big picture. Maybe write down goals you’d like to accomplish – where do you want to see yourself a year from now? 5 years from now? How can you get there? Who can help you?

Whatever the goal is, I want you to buckle up, brace yourself and take the first step. Don’t let fear decide your future or kill your dreams. Remember, fear is only temporary – regret is forever.  Be brave heading towards the unknown. You may reach the other side and be surprised by what awaits you.

And if you fail, at least you tried – you probably learned something about yourself along the way. Go try again.

 

Dare to Jump

“It is not failure itself that holds you back; it is the fear of failure that paralyzes you.” – Brian Tracy

Some days blog topics come easy, and some days I feel like I’m searching and searching for something to write about. Most of the time, the answer is right there in front of me based on an experience I am either going through or preparing for.

Later this week, I am going to attempt my first official speaking engagement, or rather share my story publicly which sounds way much less intimidating.

I absolutely DREAD standing in front of a crowd and speaking. The thought of doing this is probably just as bad as a fear of the dentist, or nails on a chalkboard.

Yes, that bad.

The thought of being in front of a gathering of people, all eyes on me, is paralyzing.

I worry about what I say, what people are thinking, wishing I was funnier, wishing I could crawl under a table and hide. Fear of judgement. Fear of failure. Fear of passing out.

I’m surprised I haven’t had the cliche dream about imagining I’m in front of an audience and I am only in my underwear….there’s still time.

Yes, I realize I teach group fitness classes and coach a kids running club, but that’s different. Once I’m moving, I get in the zone and my mind just flows better. Hmm, maybe I’ll do jumping jacks while I tell my story.

Back to this heart-pounding experience I am preparing myself for.

A wise man told me recently to be successful, I need to share myself with others. Go out and tell my story to anyone who would listen.

So, in a few days, I am going to put on my big girl panties and just do it. Tell a group about my weight loss and return to running journey. I don’t plan on writing out what I plan to say; just a basic outline. I want to speak from the heart and hopefully something I will say will inspire someone.

Do you share my fear of public speaking? Are you afraid of change? Do you fear being uncomfortable? Maybe you want to start working out but you fear stepping into the gym for the first time? Perhaps you have an idea for a business but you fear the jump.

I will tell you there is beauty in taking the road unknown. Every time we push ourselves into an area we fear, we have a great opportunity to learn about ourselves. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is important for personal development.

As I prepared for this post, I came across this article from Forbes: Why Feeling Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success.

An excerpt: “…when you go out of your way to experience new things, or when you let new things happen to you, your body creates brand new neural pathways that fuel your creative spark and enhance your memory”.

The article goes on to explain how we should embrace the uncomfortable. “Putting yourself in new and unfamiliar situations triggers a unique part of the brain that releases dopamine, nature’s make-you-happy chemical.” How about that!? Our fear may actually make us happy!

I challenge you to take a step outside your comfort zone into the fear zone with me. Make a plan and let’s dip our toes into the unknown ocean together.

Let’s give ourselves a chance to grow.

Remember, you are only confined by the walls you build yourself.

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And no… I am not telling you when and where this will speaking engagement will be. Maybe after I get this first one in the bag, another “Story Time with Becky” will come to your town soon 😉

Book Review: How Bad Do You Want It?

“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week, or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime.” — Mark Allen

A few months ago, I discussed the mental battle many of us feel when running whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner. A friend read my post and mentioned I should read How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald. 9781937715410

So, during a cold winter weekend, I downloaded a copy and curled up on the couch to gather some knowledge about the mental game. I knew this book would speak to me, but I wasn’t prepared for the negative emotional effect.

I’ll admit the beginning of the book was tough for me to read. To be brutally honest, I was pissed off. Sometimes reading the truth and admitting previous self defeat really sucks.

In college, I felt like that athlete who “pulled up lame”. I was tired. I had lost interest. My passion for running was at a low. I’ll confess I claimed a fake injury once or twice during a race when I couldn’t hang. So many life changes had occurred when I was in college and some days I felt I was just a lost ship at sea. Or maybe I just stopped trying.

For years, my goal was to use my running talent to earn a college scholarship. Looking back, once I achieved this major feat, I don’t recall setting a new goal. No goal to win the 800m at ACCs or qualify for NCAAs. Did I stop dreaming? Was I just happy to settle and have college athletics be my final destination? Unsure.

I’ve strayed – back to the story.

This book is a collection of stories about athletes who share their experiences; their battles and the coping mechanisms they have used to conquer the beast within themselves. I especially enjoyed reading about a runner named Jenny and her disaster of a race at 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Later, you find out her married name – Jenny Simpson – who was just in the most recent Olympics.

Upon finishing this particular chapter, I thought, “thank goodness”. I am not the only one. This fierce battle between mind and matter even happens to the best of the best.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone into the area where running is HARD is difficult for everyone. During a typical 5K, you have at least 3,000 steps to conjure up many thoughts – good or bad. And the bad tends to scream much louder than the good.

Since finishing the book, I have utilized a couple key tips while racing.

Embrace the hurt. Accept the fact that some of your run/race may be tough.

One of our local 5ks ends with a windy, gradual uphill about a half mile long. During the race, I knew it would be in front of me soon. I told myself, accept the challenge; yes – it will hurt. But you WILL run the hill and you will be finished soon. Fitzgerald mentions bracing yourself for a tough race or workout can boost performance by 15% or more.

Preparing yourself for the inevitable helps.

Also, reading and being reminded your brain is going to try to quit before your body is ready to give up. Studies show although you mentally feel you cannot take another step, your muscles are not at maximum effort yet. Mind over matter or matter over mind??

I encourage you to read this book if you’ve ever engaged in this mental war while running. You can admit you do – it’s more common than you think.

Whether you are an elite runner or a recreational jogger, I’m sure your mind has tried to make you quit before your body was ready. Arm yourself with a few coping tools and next time, you’ll be prepared to power through!

Now years later, my passion has been reignited and I’m back to racing. I feel as though I’ve been given a second chance to give it my all.

From here on out, and especially when I toe the line chasing that BQ, I will I ask myself, “How bad do you want it?”.

The answer?

Bad…very, very bad.

Forged by Fire

One day I woke up and decided I didn’t want to feel like that anymore, or ever again. So I changed. Just like that.

Sounds easier said than done, right?

I was tired of feeling tired all of the time. Tired of saying, “I’d like to”s.

I’d like to run again.

I’d like to lose weight.

I’d like to look fit.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

My runaissance has not had any boundaries; no finish line. Surrounded by those who inspire me on a daily basis, my spark has turned back into a raging fire. For years, my drive to succeed and be healthy sometimes felt more like a pile of smoldering ashes.

I’m not getting any younger. The days of becoming an elite runner may be behind me. Will this stop me? Probably not.

Some ask why? Why are you so competitive? Why not just run?

I reply, why not?

Why not show my children it’s never too late to try?

Why not see how far I can go?

Why not give it one last hurrah?

Recently, I watched the video below (by the way, this YouTube channel is amazing; you may become addicted to their vids). Check this out:

Wow, mind blown.

As mentioned, this message reminded me I may not even have scratched the surface yet of what I CAN do. I am willing to put in the work, even if it means waking up at 4 a.m. and working long days.

I am willing to risk failure in hopes of succeeding. I am willing to throw out lofty (but attainable) goals.

From the beginning of my return to running, my focus has not been trying to beat others. You may have seen me say I am chasing the old me. She was pretty fast and this may seem unattainable, but you can bet I am trying my hardest to catch her. Most of the time when I finish a race, a voice whispers, “maybe you can go a little faster.”  Runner problems.

And I don’t feel this way just about running – this applies in my work life as well. Returning to the fitness industry has revitalized a passion for helping others. Sharing my story – the peaks and the valleys – has allowed me have the opportunity to encourage and guide others on their own journey. I love this. My mind is full of possibilities and dreams of where this can lead.

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My soul is on fire.

Every morning when I wake up, I know there is someone else doing the same and possibly wanting the same success as I do; maybe even more. If I am not committed (some mistakenly call this obsessed) with getting better and doing more than everyone else, I may be left behind.

I hear footsteps every day.

Why someday? Why not today? I do not want to be left behind.

I feel forged by fire – stick around and see where my journey goes…