“When I find myself in time of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it Be”
Oh Snap. This is a blog post that I really haven’t wanted to write, though its been coming for awhile.
But in the spirit of honesty, and with a deep breath, here is my story. Please understand (I’m talking to my future self here), I am writing this while very raw and emotional. But I can’t let these feelings fade without documenting them, or I am going to keep making the same mistakes and relearning the same lessons. And it needs to stop. Right now.
For the last five years, I have been training and racing. Starting with some 10Ks and a marathon in 2011, then my first year of ultras in 2012, I’ve built up my mileage and my racing schedule. In 2014 I completed 15 ultra-distance events (including my first 100). I was over-raced and over-trained, and paid for it with a wrecked immune and adrenal system. That led directly to my first DNF at Hellgate 2014.
Take a minute to read that report. I remember feeling like crap. I remember the bleakness of having NO energy. And I remember so clearly that sense of peace that came on the climb up to Camping Gap that told me to STOP. STOP running. Go home to your babes.
I told myself then that I would take some time off. That I’d regroup and get my priorities in line. And I did. Two weeks of no running and then….
….I was right back on the hamster wheel.
Weekends runs in Charlottesville. Holiday Lake and Terrapin….hey, let’s just throw in Promise Lane as a training run and then do the whole LUS. Why not run a summer 100 in Wyoming?? Oh, and definitely Catoctin again (gotta keep the streak alive). Playing it “smart” by not running Grindstone (but training for it anyway). Putting in big volume for MMTR and very reluctantly sending in my Hellgate 2015 application (because once you DNF its an unwritten rule that you must return to finish the job).
I had a lot of fun in 2015. But looking back, I did NOT enjoy really any part of the racing experience. There were moments of joy and beauty, but a pervasive sense of “Why am I here?”. What I DID love was being a part of the Ultra-community. Cheering finishers at races. Volunteering at TJ100K. Pacing friends to their finish. Sharing time on the trail during training. Dirty Mothers. CRUT and CATs. Working the Lookout Mountain Aid Station. Jumping at the Masochist finish because DANton had nailed his race. Running with Sophie through the afternoon light as she gritted out her 10th Hellgate finish.
Which brings me to MY Hellgate 2015 race report. Here are the highlights:
- The drive down was fun with Bethany, Sonja, Becca, and Sophie keeping me company as we raced DANton and Jimmy Rhodes down I-81
- The pre-race dinner was yummy – we chowed down and greeted friends
- I thought that I started the race in a MUCH better place than last year….I managed my stress and anxiety leading in and only had a tiny little cold. (Made sure to get a flu shot this year!)
We started the race at 12:01 a.m. and I stuck to the plan of running with Sophie to Camping Gap. The first three miles felt controlled, though many runners passed us, but once on the road climb our run-walk felt pretty good and we caught a lot of folks coming up to Petit’s Gap. As this is where things unraveled last year I quickly celebrated and kept moving. Throughout this next section approaching Camping Gap I felt really great….the pace was focused but sustainable. I had been looking forward to soup at the aid station, but as soon as I gulped some down it came right back up. I drank some ginger ale and that didn’t stay down either.
With a questionable stomach and three hours of running on the legs, my pace slowed. I was running with Sophie, Jeff and Becca and I yo-yoed a bit…catching them when I got a burst of energy, fading back at times. Still, I felt OK. My headlamp died, and I had to switch to my backup…that made it a little harder to see. Sophie had already taken off, and now Jeff and Becca pulled away. As I picked my way down a technical rocky section, I stopped having fun. Nothing really hurt. I wasn’t really tired. But the joy was gone.
Once that happened, I couldn’t find any reason to keep going. I kept asking myself “How bad do you want the finish line?” The answer: “I don’t want it at all”
So I asked myself “What DO you want?” And the answer came so clearly and so quickly. “I want to be with my girls. I want to spend weekends with Jimmy. I don’t want to be in an unending training cycle. I don’t want to be racing”
“And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be”
I will forever swear that there is divinity in the mountains. I feel God’s presence and strength. And on Saturday morning, that grace was there. Let it Be. Let it Go. I thought of my family and I know, I know that the girls want me at home now. in 2011, they were 5, 3, and 18 months. Their needs were simple and straightforward. Now, at 10, 8, and 6 life is a bit more complicated. Who knows when they will share their heartache…never if their mom is too busy “having” to run.
“And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be”
I approached Headforemost, and I knew Jenny would be there. We talked briefly, she urged me to go on, and understood when I told her I needed to stop. So without any drama or fanfare, I turned in my number and was done. I can’t blame an injury or illness or lack of calories. I just didn’t want it.
But I am a lucky girl, so I DID get to do all the things I love about ultra running. Hanging at the aid stations, helping runners, and enjoying the time outside. And when Sophie’s race unravelled due to the high temps, I had the legs and energy to jump in and run with her to the end. Sharing the last 14 miles of Hellgate with her was really special.
So now we come to the part that is really, really difficult to write. Yesterday I realized that dropping from my second attempt at Hellgate was a my way of publicly stating “I need a break!”. No big races for me in 2016. Maybe a 50K and maybe Masochist, but that’s it. I will still run, and I will still be a part of the ultra community. But more than likely when you see me I’ll have kids in tow. This year I want to be with my girls. Not just physically, but mentally engaged. I want to have the energy to go on bike rides and hikes. To be able to be at EVERY sporting event and recital and performance on the schedule. To not half-listen to the stories of their days while crunching mileage and pace numbers in my mind. To wake up on a Saturday and make pancakes, instead of getting a photo text from my family while on my run.
That’s the rational on the surface, and I while it is solid and good, there is more. Please forgive my melodramatic honesty….
The thing is, trail-running in general, and racing in particular, is a very effective way to peel back all the layers and get to the raw places we so often keep hidden. While the voices on the trail have told me for over a year to STOP RACING, its not just because I need to spend more time with my children. For me, the really raw part includes depression and anxiety.
I am going to go on record here and say that I have struggled with depression since college. I’ve gotten really good at managing it without medication. But for whatever reason, racing causes it to flare up. Its so ironic, because I turned to running in the first place to help keep it at bay. Classic! Too much of a good thing turns out to be really, really bad for my psyche. So I’ve gotten sucked into the pattern of pre-race anxiety and post-race depression.
A few years ago, ultra running gave me the strength I needed to find my place in the world. It gave me a community of like-minded people that are now a second family. Frankly, the idea of giving that up, or even just cutting back a bit scares me to death. What if I lose myself again? What if that sense of community goes away? The tears I’ve shed over the last 24 hours are not because of a busted Hellgate. They are because I feel like I am letting go of a part of myself.
So I tell myself that this is a leap of faith. By letting go and moving on, I think I have a better chance of finding those elusive finish lines somewhere down the road. A year off may allow me to heal, so the wet blanket of depression doesn’t continue to suffocate the spark in my soul.
In the meantime, I look forward to new adventures in 2016!!