I started running because it made me feel like a mountain fairy, floating effortlessly up peaks, through rivers and over snowfields. I ran six days a week and occasionally even twice a day. I was single and living in a cabin by myself in Alaska. Here are a couple of photos from those days ...
Fast forward a decade and life looks a bit different. A family and a business have entered the mix. And, while running continues to be hugely important to my mental and physical wellbeing, it can often play second fiddle to hectic schedules and important deadlines.
To help me prioritize time on the trail, I have a tendency to impulsively sign up for big summer races in January, and then come March realize I should actually train for them. So it went with the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail (SMUT) 50 miler, which I ran on June 2.
The months leading up to the SMUT were a whirlwind. I managed to get out for a run 2 to 3 days a week, plus a couple of long weekend runs (two 15-mile days, one 22-mile day and one 30-mile day). Training done. I hoped it would be enough to put in a solid effort.
I stressed about running shoes – the first two pairs I tried became excruciating after 10 miles and the third pair that I paid expedited shipping for never arrived. (That didn't exactly enhance my views of big box retailers).
I eventually did get that third pair two days before the race start, which meant basically no time to break the shoes in. Fortunately, it was a pair of Topo Athletics – and while I can demolish them in three months flat, they’ve never once hurt my feet. Happy feet are worth every penny!
I also stressed about the time the race was scheduled to start. I’d need to set my alarm for 3:45 am to make the 5 am start. I’m much more of a night owl than a morning song bird, and literally the only time I can be convinced to get up before 7 am is for: a race, a mountain adventure or to catch a plane.
Groggy and still in the dark, a motley crew of us lined up in a dirt parking lot in Pocatello, Idaho to set out for our 50 mile day that would include almost 11,000 feet of elevation gain and an additional 11,000 feet of loss. I stumbled and stubbed my toe a lot during the first 13 miles. My legs and brain seemed to communicating through a predominately static radio system.
But eventually I got in a groove. I found that I had a lot of uphill stamina, which historically has not been my strong suit. I attributed it to winters spent skinning and booting up mountains in the Tetons, forever chasing light, deep powder.
I came into the mile 30 aid station ahead of my predicted time. My knees were starting to hurt and my right shoulder ached, but all in all I was in good spirits. My husband and daughter, iced coffee and music awaited me at the aid station. Just 20-ish miles and Scout Mountain still to go!
I powered up Scout Mountain and then did something of a cross between a run, trot and hobble down. My knees were really starting to complain at that point. I wiped the crusty salt off my cheeks that had accumulated from a day in the sun. I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I made my way to the finish line in 12 hours, 15 minutes. My daughter ran hand-in-hand with me for the last quarter mile. I earned a squarely middle of the pack time, and the satisfaction that comes from giving something your all.
At the finish line, my daughter – inspired by the day – told me to “watch” as she ran a short course set up specifically for kids over and over and over again. While I don’t find myself on the podium as often as I used to in my 20s, setting an example for my six-year-old daughter that women can be strong and gritty, and that worthy things can be uncomfortable, but that they’re still fun and worth doing, is a far better reward.
And, if nothing else, it’s nice to know I can still “go the distance.”
A huge thanks to my husband for crewing, all the volunteers and race director, and everyone who joined me on training runs! As with most things in life, running 50 miles is not done alone. All those little acts of support – for example a random stranger cleaning my sunglasses for me at an aid station – got me to the finish as a (fairly) intact and (definitely) happy human being.