In the week leading up to the Marin Ultra Challenge 50 (MUC for short), I was pretty terrified. I believe I was suffering from a mild case of TRT-PTSD, after the last race I’d entered, the TRT100, didn’t pan out so well. I went into that race feeling strong and ready, but my stomach rebelled and I spent a lot of time in a heap on the side of the trail. I’d trained consistently leading up to MUC, thanks to guidance from Coach Meghan, but after TRT, I knew that anything could happen.
Friday night, Steve (amazing and supportive boyfriend), Beverly (sweet and loving pup) and I drove to San Rafael, where we stayed with our friends Linn and Louis (fellow ultrarunners and our incredible hosts for the weekend). To break up the drive, we stopped at Boudin in Vacaville, and saw a group of Silver State Strider friends from Reno, including Kaycee and Michelle, two of my favorite aid station angels, who helped get me through some bad times at TRT last summer. Hugs from all of them, a good dinner and beer, and settling in to chat with Linn and Louis, all helped ease my anxiety.
5am Saturday morning, Steve and I left for the start at Rodeo Beach, leaving Beverly to spend her day with Linn and Louis.
I lined up among many friends (there were over 600 runners between 3 distances), and we took off in the darkness towards an adventure in the Headlands.
Climbing up to the SCA Trail, I saw several friends pass me with ease, who were either in the 50k or the 50 mile race, and it took conscious effort not to get discouraged, when I couldn’t keep up. “Run your own race“, I kept telling myself.
As the miles clicked by, I enjoyed the cool temps (50s-60s), fog, and absolutely gorgeous scenery of the Headlands – lush green hills, wildflowers, groves of eucalyptus trees, giant redwoods, peeks of the ocean- the variety of this course is incredible.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve used advil or tylenol or celebrex, to manage pain during races AND during many training runs – around mile 20, pop the first one (or two, depending on the level of pain). 2-4 hours later, time for more. Keep this up throughout, for miles of happy running with minimal discomfort!
After MUC last year, I brought this up with my coach, who warned me about what could happen long-term if I continue down this route – I’d heard it before, but finally discussing it with an experienced coach was enough to make me change my ways.
While reading to my son this summer, a passage from Dean Karnazes’ book really resonated with me:
“People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any runner.”
― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
I recently read an article on the positives of feeling pain, and using it to your advantage and I’d just listened to a TED talk (thanks, Holly!) about “Why Things Hurt”, and I wanted to embrace the pain and work with it, if and when it arose. Something, or many things, are likely to hurt, during a 50 mile run with 10,500 feet of climbing. Bring it.
Climbing up to Cardiac, miles 15-19, I really felt myself enjoying the run- I love this section of very mellow, runnable switchbacks. I also longed for getting past that 20 mile mark- I tell myself I do better the longer the race is. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s what I tell myself.
Descending from Cardiac and heading down into the magical redwoods, the Dipsea Trail led us to Stinson Beach. After running through this beautiful, Mediterranean-looking seaside village, we climbed up Willow Camp, back into the fog. My next goal was to make it to mile 30, where Steve would meet me and pace me to the finish.
Steve’s expert pacing techniques kept me encouraged, nourished, and somewhat positive (or at least quiet) as I battled some awfully rude and discouraging inner-voices, and fought the urge to complain about all the things that hurt, in particular the blisters on my feet, that felt like broken glass in my shoes, as the blisters split open after hitting a rock just right.
At one point he said “You’re smiling on the inside, right?”
When we reached Tennessee Valley aid station the last time, with less than 5 miles to finish, I started smiling more again. Relieved at the prospect of being closer to the finish line, and happy that I was able to get this far without taking any pain meds.
When we hit the downhill section towards the finish, we could hear Kaycee and Michelle screaming my name. The aid station angels had finished their own 50k races, and had transformed into finish line angels, to cheer in every last one of their friends.
We crossed the line in 9 hours and 45 minutes, about 10 minutes faster than last year.
I’d fought the fear, embraced the pain, felt the love and I’d made it.
The next few hours, we celebrated with friends who had finished hours before, or cheered them in as they crossed the line after us. Watching each one finish brought with it a wave of emotions. THIS is what it’s all about. Supporting each other, understanding how every person out there, no matter how fast or slow, had their own battles during the race. And having the character to face these hardships and overcome them is part of what makes our community of friends so incredibly special.
Thank you to everyone who made this day so special for me.