American River 50

Rising Strong-American River 50 mile

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it is having the courage to be seen when we have no control over the outcome
— Brene Brown. Rising Strong.

The month of March started off terrible and got worse from there. I missed a total of 4 races, 3 that were originally planned, then one more that I last minute entered and was unable to start. The week after the car accident, I ran myself hard. I ran because there was nothing else that even came close to easing the trauma, frustration and all of the ills of March. I ran over 120 miles that week and I decided to sign up for American River 50 mile on April 2nd. I don't know why I was so insistent on racing, why I didn't just back off, regroup. I just felt called to race, so I entered American River 50 which has always been on my bucket list, even though the course is quite different from the fast, iconic course that got it onto my list in the first place. And then I immediately got severely ill again. A week before AR 50, I was in bed all day so ill I had to miss a combo party for one of my best friend's birthdays and for another two best friend's going away party. I felt like crap. I had pushed myself too hard after the accident with too little immunity and caught the next bug that crossed my path. As I lay in bed, I thought of AR becoming another casualty of the terrible month of March. Its only hope was that it was not in fact in March. I knew just getting on the start line would be a huge victory. The illness lifted after the weekend, I ran, I felt ok. I got 10 vials of blood in two separate draws on Wednesday to begin to dig deeper into my low immunity (which I will return to in a separate blog). On Thursday, I went through the motions of packing despite not feeling great, but knew I would not decide for sure if I would start until after Friday morning's very short trot around the neighborhood. At 10 am Friday, I decided; I am doing this. And I wrote myself the following pre-race letter as become my custom over the last 6 months.

This is not the start line I thought I would be on. I am not where I thought I would be. But I am here, now and that is the only place I can be. The only place I want to be.

March was terrible. It hurt so deeply, BUT I survived. This start line is the victory because I got on it. Everything else, cake. Doesn't matter. I am not here to win or prove anything or break any records. I am here to rise strong, to have whatever day I am going to have and welcome it. Cry, laugh, yell, stop, go, sing, smile. To be my own hero, to be my own inspiration. I persevered through the dark or March and this race is my first light.

It will be hard as hell. It will be messy. But my heart will be grateful for the opportunity to be real, to be messy, be "in progress". This race neither proves or disproves my worth. My worth is inherent. I don't have to be strong or perfect. I just have to keep putting myself on the line. Wake up, show up and have my day whatever it looks like. It will be enough.

I will tell myself I am strong. I will tell myself I am worthy. The start line, the journey, the fight. I am finally up for it. And that is enough.

And I was up for it. And the day was more than enough.

The reality is that that fact is not because I won or raced amazing or had a fantastically shiny perfect day. In fact, the run itself was good. Somewhere in the middle. Unlike Javelina, Sean O'Brien or all the month of March, the run was not filled with the highest highs and lowest lows. It was straight down the middle somewhere. I felt good, not great. I felt not so good, never bad. Physically and mentally. 

As I stood there in the last lingering moments of darkness before the gun went off, I didn't feel nerves. I didn't feel pressure. I didn't feel hungry and chomping at the bit. I felt satisfied. Phew, I made it to a start line. I was relieved. I may not be able to see the dawn's light, but I knew it was coming. I am no longer face down in the arena, I am in the process of rising strong. Phew. 

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

And I knew that my day would be good. I knew I would make it to the finish line. The gun had not gone off but I knew I would make it there and that I would run free. And I did. The gun went off and I never looked back.

I enjoyed the course. With the changes since '14, it is a much slower course than before that (about 25-30 mins slower). There is a great deal of nice single track in the first half instead of a straight shot of pavement for 26 miles. The course also have 2.5 more climbing than previous (closer to 5,000 than 2,000). I ran, taking the terrain as it came at me. Speeding up on pavement, slowing down as I hopped on single track or darted under a bridge. I ran alone and I was ok with that.

Nathan came with me to crew me and I just cruised along for the first 20 miles until I saw him. I had a nutrition plan (Tailwind the whole way!), I had a plan for distraction (music at mile 20!), I had a pacing plan- comfortable, don't go to the well, don't stress or press. After mile 20, I got to see Nathan around mile 30 and 40 and then he ran down to meet me with 3.5 miles to go. 

It was a fascinating experience to me. As I said, I was neither high nor low, good nor bad. I was just ok. And I was ok with that. I didn't need to be at the height of unfuckwithable badassery, but neither was I at the low of being face down in the arena. Being ok is exactly where I need to be right now. Being ok is exactly what I needed to be on Saturday. I didn't need to break any records, run a killer time or even win. I needed to run and just get into the "I can do this all day mode". I knew there would never be a moment where the switch got flipped, I knew that I would not dig down into the depths to see what I could do. I even knew that I would not have to face down my darkest demon, they had taken the day off or maybe they have gotten tired of chasing me. There might not be the devious smile when it is game on, but there were also no tears. Instead, I would just be ok. Ok with myself, my in progress self. I would be ok run/walking up the last three mile climb with Nathan, even though precious seconds were ticking away. I would be ok being passed by guys and not making chase. I would even be ok falling on my face and cutting up my arm on a rock. I would be ok just running MY race and doing MY thing. I would be more than ok making it to the finish line. And I did. I made it and *bonus* I won.

I wanted to race while I am in progress because I never want to be afraid to be myself. I wanted to have courage to show up and do something that I needed to do for myself, my process, my healing and not worry how it would look, not worry if it was ugly or messy. I don't want to just show my best face to the world. I want to be real because life is real. Life is filled with more than the highest highs and the lowest lows. Saturday was a small victory for me. Hitting that finish and raising my arms in triumph was saying "March, you may have been tough. You may have hurt me and worn me down. But you did not beat me. I survived, I've even survived tougher and now I will keep rising strong".

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras