I often struggle during my first 24-48 hours down from altitude, so I wasn't too worried by the dizzy spells and heavy legs Thursday and Friday. I figured once Saturday rolled around, I'd be good to go. Home2 Suites Bellingham very generously donated rooms for the elites and we were very well taken care of all weekend. I was also very fortunate to take part in my first pre-race press conference with Kimber Mattox and Allison Morgan (eventual champion and runner-up) and Caitlin Smith (2015 USATF Trail 50km Champion), as well as 4 of the men. Rocket Pure, a natural skin care company, treated each of us to a goody bag filled with their products and I'm excited about putting them to use, especially the sunscreen and Friction Therapy. I also won the drawing for a year's supply of oil from Flora Health, and I'm looking forward to incorporating them as I work to overhaul my terrible eating habits. After the press conference, a few of us hit up a local pizza joint before bed.
|Part of the elite field after the press conference|
With a race start time of 10am, it was nice to be able to take my time getting ready and to have a nice breakfast to fuel up. An hour before the race, I set out on my customary 3 mile warm-up jog. Because I'd had trouble previewing the hilly part of the course on Thursday, I thought it might be a good idea to check it out so I knew what I was in for. First lesson of the weekend: don't do close to 700ft of climbing during your warm up when you'll desperately need your climbing muscles during the race. I took it easy and walked some of the steeper parts but, in hindsight, I wasted a lot of energy then.
|Just awkwardly warming up in the background|
Before I knew it, we were off and running! Now, my race plan was to run smart and calm for the first of two laps and then get aggressive in the second lap. But, honestly, when have I ever successfully pulled off that strategy? I let the speedy women go and tried not to panic about how far back I was, but I still hit mile 1 in 6:10. It was a bit of a downhill and not on technical trail, but I knew I was falling back into my usual pattern of running "stupid." I backed off a touch for a second mile around 6:30, and then we prepared to start climbing. The trail for this portion had more roots and rocks, along with some mud, and was punctuated by shorter, steeper climbs. It was impossible to get into a rhythm, as we were always going up or down, with very little flat running.
This section is where I blew two tires. In that third mile, my quads unexpectedly lost their ability to process any kind of uphill. Three miles into thirteen miles, and my legs were already toast. What followed was a long climbing section with several switchbacks. I alternated between forcing my legs to move with my hands and half-shuffling on anything that was flatter or downhill, so I sort of yo-yoed back and forth with Caitlin, but eventually I just couldn't keep up and I had to let her go. The big downhill was very welcome after all that time, and I tried to gain back some ground.
As I finished the first lap and headed out on the second, I had no idea how I would get my dead legs through another 6.5 miles. It seemed impossible. I didn't know what place I was in, but figured I couldn't even be in the top 20. I was beyond defeated. I wanted to quit SO badly, but I didn't want to have spent so much money on the trip, only to DNF. (Note: there are legitimate reasons for dropping out of a race, but I try to only do it if I'm injured or in some kind of danger. I really don't want to make a habit of dropping out of races if I can help it.)
There would be occasional moments where I'd make myself stick with a passing man for a few moments. I figured that being alone with my thoughts was dangerous to my chance of finishing. Like most runners, I've hit low points in races before, but I don't think I'd ever gone to such a dark place before in my running career. After some more time alone, I noticed a woman was gaining on me on the switchbacks, so I tried to latch onto her like I had with Caitlin on the first lap. We weren't moving very quickly, but Lizi helped pull me along and get my butt to the top of the long climb for a second time. Shortly before we reached the summit, I noticed another woman coming up. Still not knowing what place I was in and with over a mile still to run, I decided I had to go. I had run a terrible race, but it wasn't too late to still fight with everything I had left in me. And I did. She caught me with about 600m to go and my legs had no answer, but I still kept fighting.
I didn't know what place I had finished until about an hour after the race, but at that point it really didn't matter. That day, there was nothing more I could have done physically. That was really hard to accept, but I'm coming to accept it after a day to process. I've realized that if I'm in a position to be upset and disappointed with 12th place at a national championship, then my life is going pretty darn well. In my first two USATF trail national championship races, I've finished 11th and 12th, and that's not so bad. Being SO close to the top 10 twice now makes me even more motivated to put in more time on the trails to get ready for next time.
And, as I've told several people this weekend... Trail runners, especially these amazing women, have become such a wonderful family for me. I feel so loved and supported by this group of people, and I always find it so hard to return to "the real world" after a fun trail weekend. This morning, I shared some lovely trail miles with Caitlin and Maria Dalzot (a Bellingham resident who is at the same time a fierce competitor and one of the sweetest women you'll ever meet) and it was a beautiful, transformative run for me. Together we processed yesterday's race and they helped me work through my next steps to finding happiness as a runner. I can't wait to see them at a race sometime soon!
Speaking of racing soon... There are some changes to my racing schedule coming up... Stay tuned!
I have so many people to thank for making this weekend so incredible and I hope I don't leave anyone out...
Thank you to:
Tad Davis, race director
All the volunteers at the race, especially the man who chased me down with a water cup when I missed an aid station
My fellow athletes, every single one of you
Richard Bolt of USATF and the American Trail Running Association
HOKA ONE ONE, Henry Guzman of Flatirons Running, Susan Walton from Recofit, Racxers, and all my supporters