I haven’t run 22 miles in 2 years. Not in training, not in racing- nothing over 20 miles period. But with a 25 mile pacing gig at the Black Canyon 100k in two weeks, I toed the line this morning at the Elephant Mountain 35k race in Cave Creek. I had hoped to use the Coldwater Rumble 20 miler to warm up to this distance again. But dizziness before the race even started lead to an early drop. So today’s race was going to be a big jump for me- and on a super challenging course at that.
Concerns over my asthma while wearing a hydration pack, lead to a last-minute decision to run with two handhelds-something I haven’t done in months. It ended up being a really good call. So as the race began at 7:30am, I was running the out and back course with minimal supplies. No phone should I run into trouble, no first-aid kit, just 32 ounces of water, a small flask filled with pickle juice in one handheld pocket, 2 gels, and 3 packs of honey stinger chews in the other pocket. With aid stations every 3-5 miles, my goal was to drain my handheld bottles between each aid station.
The start of the race heads up the Go John switchbacks. I made an early decision that I would not be running these but would save my leg strength for later in the race. So, I started out conservatively, letting people pass me as needed, and focused on my own pace and my own hydration. By the time I reached the first aid station almost 3 miles in, I had nearly drained my bottles and downed my one and only gel of the day.
Continuing on, I passed the point in the race where lack of recovery from bronchitis caused me to DNF last year. I knew that this race was going to be a huge mental battle for me as I fought doubts about my ability to race 22 miles. So I tried to find victories in every small milestone throughout the race. Passed where I DNF’d last year, check. Passed aid station #2, check. I continued to press on at an uncomfortable pace, forcing myself to run when I didn’t really feel like it, and making myself drink water when I didn’t feel thirsty.
When I did this race two years ago, the first 11 miles to the turn-around point felt terrific. Once I turned around, the race went off the rails for me. And so, I was determined to not let that happen today.
Getting a boost from seeing lots of friendly faces racing the 50k distance that covered the same out and back portion, I continued my constant internal dialog- encouraging myself to push hard, run when I felt uncomfortable, and not listening to the constant creeping doubts about my ability to finish the race.
At the turn-around point, I was right where I wanted to be time-wise, but I knew that here is where the race would truly begin for me. So much of these longer races is a huge mental game battling the self-doubt, encouraging your body to run up the hills when it wants to walk. But more milestones began to check off as I made my way home. Another aid station, keep running, and start downing the pickle juice…nausea is starting to creep in, drink more water, eat more chews…
The pain started to kick in about 16 miles. Not having run past 16.5 miles since March, that was to be expected. Mile by mile, I just willed myself to move forward. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would finish the race until I hit the final aid station with 3 miles to go. I knew I had the backside of Go John to grind up still though. But, I was almost where I wanted to be with my ideal finish time goal. So, with lots of groaning, moaning, and complaining, I kept moving on. At a few points along this climb, I spoke out loud to myself, not caring who might overhear. “You are doing it.” “You’ve totally got this race.”
And I did. I crossed the finish line after exactly 22 miles of brutal, tough, rocky terrain with lots of climbing. 2,522 feet to be exact. And I beat my previous time on the course by 23 minutes, finishing in 4:33 as the 10th Female.
And now I’m ready to pace at Black Canyon. And I can honestly say that I have trained more to support my friend in his big race than I have for most races that I have run. And today I learned that there are going to be days, and races, where you have to contend with the constant self-doubt. Where you might not know if you will finish the race until a few miles before the end. But you will, and it will be worth it, too.
***Special thanks to all of my wonderful sponsors: Aravaipa Running, for putting on such great races; Squirrel’s Nut Butter, for keeping me chafe free; Honey Stinger for continuing to fuel my adventures, and SolRx Sunscreen, for protecting my skin in the brutal sun while I train. And thank you always to my husband, son, and parents, for being a constant support.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free or at a discount. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”