I had read about it, watched videos, documentaries on it… but words and images don't smell, don't feel cold and heat, and pain. It's just an idea, a dream in my head, a picture. A pretty picture…
I had trained twice before for marathons, and gotten badly injured both times. And had to quit and do the "half," 13.1, when really what I wanted so much to do was a full 26.2. I was scared and frustrated. Scared that I would get injured again. And frustrated at my inability to figure out what was getting to me, messing me up.
Frustrated and scared. A wall to get through. But how...
I had to change my attitude about running. So I started with… well… I love running. So I'll do it. And keep doing it. "Do what you love, and your body will adapt." One of many phrases I've heard from friends that have stuck with me.
Running helped me so much during nursing school, and the bad times in the past. It kept me steady, and helped me get through sadness, frustration, and hurt and recovery from an injured wrist… so first of all, I refused to listen to the people that told me how bad running is for my knees, and how I should not run because of my legs being slightly different. Fuck all that. It helped my well being, so that was enough for me. No one is perfect, and I have an imperfect body just like everyone else.
So while I lived in Florida and running on pavement, the way I found to compensate for my leg difference was by running always on the right side of the road, where it gave me a slightly longer right, shorter left… and then when I would get tired… I'd walk. Or stop and take a picture. Or find a bush to hide behind to pee. Or text… or call someone… just whatever the hell I felt like doing. My time to myself, to do as I pleased. Sofia time. No work, no kids, no marriage, no house, no dishes, no cooking, no studying, no practicing... no nothing. Just running. Getting my groove back.
But getting centered, my groove, meant at the end… that there was no way I could ever follow a training schedule. I had tried to follow them before. They stressed me out. I would get locked into them, and feel pressured by them. Yet another thing to do… the weight training, speed workouts, long runs and all. I simply just could not do or follow them. And now I think that both of my marathon-training injuries resulted from my trying to follow schedules… and not listening to my own body. Because the workout schedules never ever matched my body schedule. It did not account for school exams, or orchestra performances, or my periods, or my kids, or work, or anything that had to do with my own life. It was someone else's schedule.
So I just started running on my own… running slow, fast... or walking when I felt like it. And then, moving to Lander… discovered trail running. And that was bliss. Because the trails are totally "imperfect." No more talk of leg difference. Because it's all uneven anyway. And I started going farther… just to see… what I could do.
Nature. Alone. Quiet. Peaceful.
Nature. Alone. Quiet. Peaceful.
And then one day, talking with a friend… we decided to try a race together. This race. An ultra. 32 miles. Why not? We had enough time to train… and it would keep us motivated and moving through the winter cold and snow.
So we started out to train. Steph in CO, me in WY. We kept each other updated. But we each went about our training our own way, just sort of keeping track of a general mileage we wanted to accomplish by a certain time frame so we would keep each other going in the months ahead.
Since I knew this race would have elevation gain and loss... I practiced hiking uphills with weights... carrying water in my pack… carrying the rope and draws when going climbing… or hiking and post holing through thick snow on purpose for strength training… running hilly dirt roads…racing up short uphills… running with friends who run faster to push me…
I also knew there would be a lot of slick rock… so I practiced running on pavement as well. And also running after hospital shifts, when I was really tired, to get used to the feeling of pushing through mental exhaustion, low energy, wanting to quit. "Treat it as training…" a friend said. And that is how training went… creating it as I went along. Keeping flexible with changing weather, body, and mind.
And race day came close… and with it…
Self doubt. My worst enemy. Created and tailored especially by and for me.
Self doubt. My worst enemy. Created and tailored especially by and for me.
My last long run was too long ago. I haven't run more than 6 miles in a month. I worked 4 straight days on my feet. It snowed this week and I couldn't run. I only hiked this week. Did I hike enough?? Did I hike too much?? My knee is bothering me from running flat pavement in Florida. I am tired. I didn't sleep enough. I didn't eat enough. I drove all day to get here. I am stiff. I run slow. Can I make it to the midway aid-station cut out time?? What if I don't?? Do I carry a pack with water and food just in case?? But it adds weight… What if the pack rubs and chafes my neck as it did before?? Is a bottle enough water for the desert?? And what about food?? Cheese sandwich?? Ham and cheese?? What if the ham goes bad... and I get sick from it during the race?? Salami?? Is salami too heavy for the heat?? And just where can I pee when running with so many people around me????
Those were my thoughts… they drove me crazy. And I tried as best as I could to methodically take care of each question, and make a decision on each one. And I realized there were only so many decisions I could make, questions I could answer. I was dealing with the unpredictable. I could only decide and control so many things. The rest, I just had to wing it. Because I had never done a run as long as this before, and in this kind of terrain and weather. I had heard from others what they did and how they felt. But really, I didn't know how or what I would do and feel other than my own past experiences. I could't even tell my friends in what time I expected to finish this thing by. I felt embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and experience.
Mr. Lesser used to tell me in our cello lessons… if you tell yourself… "don't think of chocolate..." you will pretty much think of… "chocolate." So as my nerves tried to get the best of me and my sleep the night before... I remembered that little simple truth when I was quietly reminded... "visualize yourself at the finish line." I fell asleep visualizing it over and over, all the details I could imagine. But the main one, the most important one I kept seeing, was: Smiling at the end. Big time smiling.
So the race started.
I felt like crap. Really beating on myself. I was slow. I just could not take off with the pack. At all. I could not run at the beginning. My stomach was cramping. I was stiff, cold, tired. So I had no other option but walk. And walk. And walk. I really was beating on myself. How can I be so slow? Why am I so slow? Why can't I run faster? Sounds stupid now, as I write it. But it felt very real then. I had to really fight in my head to just keep focusing on seeing myself at the finish line, and keep going.
And then I realized. I was by myself. Which I liked. Because at least that totally took care of the worry about being able to pee whenever I felt like. That was the first good surprise of the day.
But I was still worried. I had to make it to the midway aid-station cut off time… so I started shuffling, then jogging, then running… still sore, crappy stomach, cold. But I made it to the first aid station. Six miles. I knew from other runs that the first 2, 6… and really even the first 10 in long runs, for me were always, always the worst. Everything hurt. Different pieces and parts of the body. But what I always found, as I went along, is that the hurt came and went. Strange how that happens, but it really does. And it did in this case as well. It is like different parts of the body waking up and saying "Hi!" until everything starts to function together… and I get in a groove… just going, going… and the thoughts evaporate.
After mile 6, a lot of steep rocky downhills started. And those always remind me of racing downhill with my son Miles in the Tetons. We love running and jumping them as fast as we can without falling, so I went for it. It was fun. Whenever I encountered those, that is where I sped. The flat parts… just went slow… with music… and the uphills… walked and ate and drank, applied and reapplied sunscreen. Whatever I needed to do, I did it as I walked. "Be efficient, and just keep going."
As I went, I realized I was actually making good time, no more worries about not making it to the cut off times… and I started to relax and enjoy myself a bit more. The big steep down climb came, and I made it to 16. Aid station. Half way.
And that is where I told myself "Look. Even if you fucking walk this whole thing, you have enough time to finish it, and you are fine. So do whatever you want to do." So I sat in the dirt, and ate 2 honey sandwiches, a bunch of Oreos, potato chips, pickles, M&M's... in no specific order. Taped my toe blisters, and reapplied sun screen and Glide on my feet and neck for the annoying chafing backpack. At that point, I was so happy to just sit, eat, and be able to say in my head that I was half way… that I didn't care anymore about beating myself up. It was time for the steep uphill climb. It was not too hard. It felt just like the scrambling I had done in the Tetons before, so I just did it. Then, mentally, came the hardest part. A slow, steady, mild climb. My legs were fine, and felt fine. But I was hot. And tired. And just over it. So every time I would start feeling over it… I would start talking out loud to myself. Call it another unexpected surprise benefit of not being in a pack. "So, Sofia, how are you doing?" "I am fine and just dandy, how are you?" "Oh, I am good." "Are you having a good day?" "Oh, yea! and you?" And so it went… the two parts of the brain talking to each other. I must admit, they never got in a fight, which was quite nice. That definitely helped me keep a sense of humor as I went… and for sure a better and more entertaining state of mind than the pity party I had at the beginning of the run. That, and music. It helped keep me in a steady, good pace.
So I kept going. Tracking mile by mile with MapMyRun… to help me mentally. The nice thing about it was that I could use it even though I had no reception. It helped me mentally to know where I was, mileage-wise, so I could keep doing constant math calculations… a fifth… a fourth… a third… half… and so on. All kinds of math calculations to reduce the mileage. Six is just 3 plus 3… you did 2… now you only have to run 30! Another nice surprise was that because there was no reception… I just told myself: "Listen to me! No falls, no getting injured, no snakes behind the bushes, no getting dehydrated and passing out, no nothing. Just keep going!"
And so it went. But I was tired. Very tired. And hot. And run… and walk… and water… and eat… and pee. Repeat. Again and again. Just keep going. A little bit… another little bit... "One mile at a time..."
And finally, reception… and a message. "Talk to me." So I started… 24… 26… 28…
And as I am telling myself: "Look, you've run 3 miles before, feeling exhausted just like now… you can do this, keep running…'' I see this person coming towards me. Biking.
Now. There is no way I am going to look tired in front of him. No way. I was just so happy to see him, I just started running faster, lighter. Funny how I forgot my tired. Just running and happy, so happy, what an incredible surprise.
And then we see the finish line. Uphill. And Steph waiting near it. Ready to sprint to the end. So cool. Give it all I can. It was hard. But it felt amazing. It's funny how, feeling so incredibly tired, the body hears your friends going "come on, come on!" and it just listens and goes. It was great. Truly great.
I never thought I could do this. Not after getting fractures and tendon injures training for marathons. Not after doctors telling me I could not run. But the attitude, instead, of… I will tell myself what I can and cannot do. And a true friend who quietly tells you... "you can do this."
Ignore the naysayers. Listen to good people.