A few months ago, Nicole Ostrom asked me to join her on a 2 person 24-hour relay team for Across The Years: Decade Edition where we would switch off running every hour from 9am Saturday to 9am on Sunday. This isn’t the kind of race I think I’d of ever signed up for on my own as it includes everything I like to avoid: flat, short looped course and pavement. Growing up, I was a gymnast. Ten years of repetitive pounding on my ankles, wrists and knees led me to avoid road running, or anything similar, like the plague. But, when Nicole asked me to join her I decided to say yes. Because I was scared to try something like this. I was scared to get uncomfortable. And isn’t that the most important thing? Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable? We signed up. I told myself I’d learn so much about my body and my mental strength out there, to have zero expectations, have fun and that it would be perfect training for other races I have my eye on in the next several months.
I didn’t train on road, packed gravel or any terrain similar to Camelback Ranch, I truly had no clue what I was getting myself in to. Asking Nicole every week to give me a list of what I needed, what to expect and what to bring with me. Even the idea of a looped course was new to me. This was my first attempt at anything over six hours, a timed format, a looped format and flat racing. Talk about being out of my own league.
After work on Friday I met Nicole at the race (a 10-day event where others were already over 400+ miles!) where both of our boyfriends were competing in the Last Person Standing race. An insane show of athleticism that should have its OWN blog post to showcase it. It was nice getting the lay of the land, seeing “Main Street ATY” where the main aid station, medical tent, warming tents, cots and everyone’s tents for sleeping were set up — aka home base. It made the race a little easier to grasp even with only seeing a tiny portion of the course.
The next morning, I arrived with my suitcase full of every kind of clothing: tank tops for warm daytime miles, multiple sports bras to trade out so I wasn’t wet, lots of socks, two pairs of shoes, long tights for the night, puffy jackets, a vest, hats and gloves for when the temps hit the thirties. There was a chance for any kind of weather and your body responding in different ways and being overly prepared is better than not having enough at this kind of race, where you can easily go off course and access whatever you need. At 9am I lined up along with other members of relay teams to be sent off on our first lap. We were cheered off and there I was, seconds into my first timed race and I was going to be running for 11 more hours if everything panned out.
Tracing the course around the 1.04 mile loop I got to experience pavement and packed gravel with sections that were exposed and hot and others that were very shaded, wrapping around a pond. I was able to run alongside George, a November Project participant I had run with a few weeks prior, sharing stories and allowing the first hour to pass very quickly. Nicole and I soon traded off for her first hour and I immediately dove into stretching and using the theragun to keep my muscles loose. I was trying to be preventative, praying it would keep me from locking up early on. My second hour I pushed my pace, feeling fast and strong with my music playing. But my third hour showed me that I had made a mistake, at roughly 15+ miles my right IT band began to tug and yell with every step. My knee was irritated and so, I began a run / power walk combo. My first challenge. Accepting I wasn’t running the entire thing and to say walking was okay. I was able to maintain that strategy for 8 more hours.
Running has taught me to never feel like I’m in control, that I can’t be. That preparedness means being flexible and adaptable. Previously, something like pain in my knees and having to walk would have crushed my perfectionist spirit. It wouldn’t launched me into a negative headspace that spiraled for hours, especially on a looped course. I would’ve ruminated on my inability to live up to expectations in my head. Instead, I re-worked my plan, told myself it was unrealistic I could’ve run the whole thing and had my first timed race go smoothly! I kept my music high and my spirits stayed lifted through every hour exchange.
I changed my shoes on my fourth hour, ran one sun-filled sports bra mile that actually felt hot and enjoyed the warmth on my skin, knowing the sunset was coming early and soon I would hit the miles that worried me the most — cold miles where I could still get sweaty and then freeze. I struggle to warm up after I start shivering and it was the thing that scared me the most about this kind of race. Not late night miles or chafing or my muscles and joints aching — but getting so cold I couldn’t overcome it. I had also hoped when we switched directions (going counter-clockwise instead of clockwise or vice versa) would have helped my knee pain, but it continued to tug and express discomfort even after having one of Nicole’s friend elbow my IT band as well as trying to switch up my gait and even run sideways: basketball shuffle style.
Last night around 8:30pm, I PR’d by reaching my longest distance to date (33 miles). I came into the main ATY checkpoint, getting to ring the green bell signaling I’d achieved a new feat. It was perfect timing as a group of my friends had arrived to cheer Nicole and I on. I can’t express how much life it gives you to see smiling faces that love you and bring brand new energy into your day. After running for 5 hours already, they completely refreshed me, celebrating my PR achievement with me by drinking white claws and laughing around a mini heater.
Simone went out for guest laps with me, helping me through my sixth hour and getting me to 39 miles. It was at this point, still feeling mentally strong, happy and fit enough to keep going that I knew I really wanted to hit the goal that scared me: 50 miles. I knew it was achievable and within reach if I’d continue to get myself out there in the cold each time. It also scared me to realize I could hit this goal that felt so far away from me. When I had started running and raced my first 25k in October of 2018 I couldn’t wrap my brain around 30 miles, definitely not 50. When I achieved 30 miles in May of 2019, I still looked at 50 as this unattainable, crazy distance. And here I was, so close to it.
As I said goodbye to my sweet friends, I went out for another round of miles, now completely dark and my breath visible in the lights. I put in my headphones and turned on a murder podcast (this IS how I roll). I let my mind focus on the story line as I kept rotating: run, power walk, run, power walk. Over and over until I was at 46 miles. I got back to the tent, shoved my toes close to the heater and decided to get something to eat. The aid station had made vegan mac n cheese and I made a hot cup of tea to warm my hands before heading out for my final four miles. It was roughly 1am at this point and the cold was ominous to continue going out into.
I sat putting off going back out for nearly 45 minutes. But there I was, stuffing hand warmers into my gloves and zipping my coat all the way up to my chin. It was time to finish this goal and make it a reality for the first time. As I began to power walk out for my 47th mile, my shins were sore and my muscles were completely cold. Running was not an option on these laps, so I power walked as hard as I could. I completed my 50 miles at roughly 3am, looping the course with others out there trying to achieve their own goals. Pushing past their own mental barriers, their own physical obstacles, all together mile after mile. Loop after loop. the same footprints over and over. It’s a special experience being out there alongside so many others doing incredible distances, striding beside many of them reminded me I could do this for another hour if they could be out here for hours longer than I had been. Days longer even.
To some in this realm fifty miles is a small number but to me, it was an unattainable amount that absolutely terrified me to consider striving for. But here we are. Only 5 days into the new year. It truly shows that we are capable of ANYTHING and everything we put our minds, will and grit towards. I didn’t continue to push after that, even though we had six more hours to accrue more mileage. I was satisfied and so proud to hit such a big milestone and decided to spare my knees.
I’d of never attempted this without Nicole’s encouragement, the kind and supportive messages, texts and reminders and the breath of fresh air that came from my friends showing up to cheer us on in the cold night.