Finding Myself in my Journey to 100

Welp, folks, I am 29 DAYS away from my first 100 mile attempt.  I’ve been feeling a bit sentimental lately and thought that this milestone provided a great opportunity to recap my training journey thus far.

My word of focus for 2017 was CONQUER.  And I do feel like I have CONQUERED this year.  My transition into trail and ultra running has been the most fulfilling and rewarding running experience to date and I think I am finally conquering some of those mental demons.

When I signed up for Brazos Bend 100, I was a completely different person than the one penning this post.  As much confidence as I have gained over the past couple of years, I was still very insecure in many ways and felt as though I had a lot to prove to myself (and others, sadly).  Committing to races and distances that scared me to death was actually the BEST thing I could have chosen to do.

Admittedly, I haven’t documented this journey very well at all.  In fact, I suspect that some of the transformation is directly related to me not sharing every detail and every run.  As the fatigue from my increasing mileage began to take over every muscle in my body, so did the weariness of posting on social media.  Suddenly, sharing details of every training run seemed a little silly and a lot overwhelming to me.  But I began to cherish my training more than ever before.  I’ve given this a lot of thought – probably too much – and I think that not posting as much about my training has been the catalyst to my training becoming more authentic.

My Transformation

I have *literally* undergone a transformation.  I am unsure if it is visible to the rest of the world, but I when I compare how I felt about myself in March versus how I feel about myself now – it is as if I went from caterpillar to butterfly.  Here are some ways in which I have changed for the better:

  • Confidence.  I can’t even begin to describe the confidence I’ve gained.  I don’t think it is a cocky confidence, either.  But one that stems from putting my body through A LOT more than I ever imagined it could do and yet my body responded amazingly well.
  • Enjoy the process.  I have always enjoyed training.  I’ve never been one of those people that train in order to race.  I’m the opposite.  I race in order to train.  I wanted to attempt a 100 to push myself to the limits, but also because I just like running long.  Running back-to-back runs AND being fortunate enough to be healthy the entire time has been a blessing that I’ll always treasure.
  • Consistency is key – not perfection.  Anyone that knows me knows that I am a perfectionist – to a point.  Being a wife, mother (volleyball mom!!!) and working a full time job required me to face my perfection demons.  There were a couple of weeks that I ran 20 miles less than scheduled.  Even though I didn’t get all my miles in, I️ was always consistent.  And you know what??  I may have struggled mentally within that week, but I haven’t carried forward any guilt from missed miles.
  • Trust my instincts and follow my heart.  If I had followed a traditional path, I would not have registered for Brazos Bend this year.  I would have raced 50 milers and maybe started dabbling at the 100k distance, getting some experience under my belt before jumping to 100 miles.  But I knew that I could do it.  I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied if I took the safe route.  I was more than willing to fall flat on my face for the chance to try.  And, boy, am I glad I trusted my instincts!!  More and more, I am making decisions based on feel rather than on intellect.  While this may not work in every arena, it has certainly worked in my running world.
  • *Failure* is acceptable.  Although I haven’t *failed* yet, I fully expected to DNF at Rawhide 50 miler.  I was mentally prepared to accept DNF, if it came to that.  My self-esteem isn’t no longer tied to a medal or finish time or place or buckle.  Not finishing a race isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to me.  And if I find myself facing a DNF, I’ll move on.  The reason I do this is because I enjoy trails and ultras.  I enjoy the community.  I enjoy pushing myself and I do actually hope I find my limit one day and have to fight with every fiber of my being to continue.

Hopefully, I’ll be writing about my beautiful, shiny, buckle in 29 short days.  But if I fall short of the finish, I know that I’ve already won.  I won the day that I committed to this journey.  The rewards of this transformation far outweigh the shininess of a single belt buckle.

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Conquering or Being Conquered?

Oh my, it’s been a long time since I blogged.  I’ve actually run 3 races, which have gone undocumented, since I last hit the keyboard.  Summer went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was back at work and busier than ever.

Race recaps in a flash

In July, I stayed an extra day after USAV Junior National Championships to run Afton Trail Run 50K.  It was to be a challenging, hilly course and I was excited to run a race that would cause me to struggle.  Except I didn’t struggle as much as I thought I would.  The course was 2 loops of 25K and I did suffer some fatigue during the first loop.  I didn’t start the race feeling my best and did the first loop at a  pretty good pace, considering the hills I had to climb.  Near the end of the first loop, I cursed myself – A LOT – for not overriding my ego and *just* doing the 25K.  I DID NOT want to go back out on a second loop.  I stopped at the aid station before heading back out and made a spur of the moment decision to throw out my fueling and nutrition strategy.  I ate M&Ms, pretzels and drank Coke then headed out on the 2nd loop. I ran conservatively the first part of the loop but broke off with 10k to go and ran a really good pace.  I wanted to finish under 6:30 and knew that I would really have to push to get to the finish in time.  (At this point, I feel I should remind you how TERRIBLE I am at run math.  I CAN NOT correctly do run math during a race.)  I kept fueling on Coke, M&Ms & pretzels at the aid stations but got in and out as quickly as possible.  I was also starting to feel the fatigue creep in, but the lure of sub 6:30 was enough to keep me going in spite of it.  I ended up finishing in 6:23, which was just 14 minutes slower than Wildflower but there was also much more elevation.  I was pretty happy with the way I pushed at the end and with the overall result.

In August, I traveled to 7iL Ranch in Cat Spring, Texas for Trail Racing Over Texas’ Habanero race weekend.  My coach was attempting the 100 miler and I was going to be one of his pacers.  Since I was already going to be there, I signed up for the 30K.  The thing about Habanero is that the race starts at NOON.  In Texas.  In August.  So it’s HOT.  I, luckily, only had to do 3 loops of 6.2.  When I finished, the heat index was 106 or something crazy like that.  It was brutal.  BIG kudos to all those who kept battling out there loop after loop.  I don’t perform well in the heat and I was starting to decline fast there at the end.  UltraSignUp has this ranking system.  I should never go in and look at these rankings, but I do.  I was ranked 3rd overall female going in – please know the field wasn’t large.   Even with a small field, I honestly didn’t believe that I could get 3rd OA female.  But….I finished 4th overall female and just 5 minutes behind 3rd place.  I wasted more than 5 minutes in that race.  This was the beginning of a wake up call for me.  Still, I was really proud of myself for battling it out with the heat the way I did.  It was a victory, for sure.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I went down to Mission Tejas State Park in East Texas to run another TROT race.  I know they have worked hard to find places to host events that are outside the Houston area and wanted to support their efforts to host more races North.  Plus, I had 36 miles scheduled that weekend and a 50K is a nice way to get miles in and break up the monotony of training.  I was NOT prepared for the hills!  Seriously, these hills reminded me of Afton Trail Race.  This race made me realize just how unprepared I am for my upcoming 50 miler in the Hill Country.  Again, I went in ranked 3rd overall female and, again, I thought there was no way that I could pull that off.  I started out with the lead group but I was having a little calf issue and slowed down on the first big climb.  It was dark.  At the time, I didn’t know that I was the only female in that lead group, so I thought that I had fallen WAY out of contention for the podium and I just set out to check off the loops and get to the finish.  As it turns out, I was in 2nd and 3rd most of the race.  Of course, I didn’t have any crew there and I didn’t check the screen after each loop so I was completely in the dark.  I struggled during the last 5k and it was during this time that I got chicked.  I later learned that I was in 3rd place at the time and this woman knew I was 3rd place and she gave everything she had to pass me and try to stay ahead of me.  Second race in a row that I missed the podium, coming in 4th OA female (my time was 6:27) and this time I lost by THREE MINUTES.  I have to sharpen my skills and get myself to become more aggressive in these ultras.  I am SO AFRAID of bonking.  I MUST get out of my comfort zone in this area.  If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears…  This one is totally mental and I think I may be subconsciously sabotaging myself due to a fear of success??  Or maybe I just think too much.   img_7098

I may have conquered myself but training is conquering me

I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year: conquer.  It’s amazing the effect of simply choosing a word has on your life.  I do not think of my word on a daily basis.  Sometimes not even on a weekly basis.  But the simple act of choosing a word has a profound impact in shaping the year, or it has in my case.  This is the 3rd year that I have focused on one word throughout the calendar year and each year, I am amazed at how things come together.  I think this relates to goals, as well, and posting our goals where we can see them daily makes a huge difference in us meeting those goals.

When I originally chose this word, it was to conquer my inner demons.  I was going into Houston Marathon trying to get a BQ.  I had gained A LOT of confidence but I still didn’t trust myself the way I should.  I still had a lot of self doubt and anxiety about my performances.  I trust myself so much more than I did 10 months ago.  I believe in myself so much more than I did 10 months ago.  I feel like I’ve turned a corner, for now, in that department.

But I’m still being conquered.  Training for a 100 miler is NO JOKE.  I thought that my biggest challenge would be juggling my hectic schedule to get all these miles in – and it has been a big challenge.  But a bigger challenge has been battling the fatigue that comes with 40-50 mile weekends.  I.  AM.  EXHAUSTED.  Like Walking Dead zombie exhausted.  And I’m just getting into the real meat of training.  I have 2 more months of the Walking Dead before taper.  I know this is all designed to give me the best chance of success on race day, but that doesn’t keep me from whining like a big pansy.  Still, I’m thankful for the ability to run and the opportunity to train for a 100 mile race.

Brazos Bend will be a blast, but first….Rawhide

Next weekend, I’ll be attempting my first 50 mile race.  This race is held on Flat Rock Ranch, which is where Ragnar Trail Hill Country was held last year.  I didn’t get to run all my legs at that race, so I felt like I needed redemption on that course.  Now that the race is getting close, I wonder if redemption is overrated.

Seriously, though.  Originally, the thought of this race took my breath away.  It scared me to death.  I thought that there was NO WAY that I could manage 50 miles, PERIOD, and especially on this course.  I thought about my word of the year and how the only way I could conquer anything was to step out and attempt what my brain registered as impossible.  So I signed up.  I love the transformation that happens during the course of training.  I am not sure at what point I realized that I could do it, but I began to believe, fully and completely, that I am capable of finishing this race.   However, I definitely still have my doubts.  I’ve been wrestling with them the past few days but doubts aren’t all bad.  They keep you humble and grounded.  I’ll need to stay humble and grounded to keep my ego from getting in my way on race day.img_7230

Brazos Bend will be the next up on the schedule and the big finale for 2017.  Most days, I feel pretty confident about being able to finish.  Some days, I panic and wonder what I was thinking to believe I could do this.   So many people talk about getting “the buckle”, but that is the least of my concern.  I am not doing this for a buckle.  I am doing this because I wanted to push myself farther than I ever have.  I am doing this because I wanted to put myself into a place so low and so dark that I have to fight with every cell in my body to keep going.  I am in it for that life-changing moment.  The buckle will just be a tangible reminder of what I was able to accomplish.

But first, I have to survive the training.

OH!!! Almost forgot….I got another tattoo 🙂

In July, Carmen went with me to get another tattoo.  I’ve been waiting for the perfect inspiration for my running-specific tattoo and I didn’t waste any time when it finally came to me.  I hadn’t used this artist before and chose him because of a couple landscapes that I saw, but when we got there he mentioned that landscapes weren’t even his thing!  I settled on Kokopelli and the cool thing is that he grew up in Arizona and knew all about Southwest and Kokopelli culture.  He ended up being the perfect artist for this tat, and I LOVE the completed piece!img_6688

Happy Hump Day,
Jen

Jumping off the Crazy Cliff

In an attempt to catch everyone up to my crazy antics of late and to pick up where I left off in yesterday’s blog, I’m blogging two days in a row.  <shocked face>  That hasn’t happened since…….I can’t remember.  I always have the best intentions, but you know what they say about that….

2016 is finally taking shape

If you knew me this time last year, you would know that I was still clawing my way back from that nasty ITB injury.  I was still attempting to build some sort of base fitness level and was doing those gosh awful run/walk intervals, so any kind of racing was out of the question.

2016 is a completely different year, though, and I am getting close to getting the framework of my race calendar set.  A couple of things are still up in the air but I’m hoping to schedule one last marathon toward the end of the year – I’m waiting to see how the rest of the season goes before I make any rush decisions on that one.  (Which will be a *first* for me, as one of my friends calls me “Trigger” because of my hasty race sign-up tendencies.)

Road Races

My next race is RnR Dallas HM on March 20.  Even though the weather will likely be much warmer, I am going to see if I can continue the progress that I made at Cowtown, step out of my comfort zone and take a few risks.

Ragnar Austin is quickly approaching!  This 200-mile, 12-person relay will start in Fredericksburg in the wee morning hours on April 15.  We will race South then back North, ending the race in Austin sometime late Saturday.  I am beyond excited for this experience, as a Ragnar has been on my bucket list for quite some time now.

After Ragnar, I am planning to run Skyline HM on May 1.  I ran Skyline last year.  While I didn’t really care for the course, this race has a special place in my heart because it was my first race post-injury.  Of course, it will be hot and I always need practice racing in the heat.

I’ll have a dry spell on the road race front until the Rochester Marathon on September 18.  This will be my first full marathon of 2016 (am hoping to schedule another one in late December).  It is on track to be my favorite and most special race of the year because it will mean a reunion with my Sole Sister Jenn!  AAAANNNNNNNNDDDDDDDD – this race will be her FIRST full marathon and I get to be there when she punches her ticket as a marathoner!  I could not be more honored or excited!

I am considering at Salinas Valley Half Marathon on August 6, if a college visit trip to Cali pans out.  If I make it, I will get to meet my good friend, Marci, in person and hopefully a few other Cali friends!

Tri-ing the Tri

Oh, the things I let my coach talk me into….

I am officially signed up for Pioneer Power Sprint Tri at the end of July.  This will be a special induction into the world of tri because Taylor is doing it with me!  Another meaningful twist is that this event is held at TWU, which is Taylor’s college alma mater.  I’m still scared to death of swimming 200m AT ONE TIME.  Swimming is coming along so quickly, though, that by the time July rolls around I should be MORE than ready!!

Transitioning to Trails

WHEN will I learn to never say never?!?  Because once upon a time I am pretty sure I said I would NEVER run a trail race.  I am ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that I said I would NEVER run a 50 mile race.  I did, in fact, sign up for a 50 mile race just a mere 3 days after declaring that I would NEVER run a 50 miler.  I completely and unequivocally blame my coach and my crazy teammates for this.

As scary as this monumental mound of miles may seem, I am still more frightened of swimming 200m in my July triathlon.  Go figure.

In any case, I’m fairly excited about this challenge.  It’s fun to run with teammates and this race will give me A LOT of QT with them! LOL  We are actually planning to stay together during the race to lend support to each other.

Looking to the horizon

I have another exciting goal up my sleeve that I’m not ready to share with the world just yet.  I guess deep down inside I need to find the confidence in myself to actually believe I can do what I’m hoping to do.

Stay tuned…… 🙂

Two more days until Spring Break!!!  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…..

Happy Hump Day!

Jen