runner

How far it goes- Houston Marathon 2019

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It is hard to describe the feeling of crossing the finish line on Sunday. It is hard to explain how far away I felt from the person I was when I ran the Olympic Trials in 2012. When I was running amazing in 2012, I never wanted to let that feeling, that rush go. I wanted to stay at that fitness level and see what I was capable of. And I had a great stretch there in 2012. But as any athlete knows, the highs and the lows last only so long. That time was over in the flash of an eye after a freak fall during a routine trail run in my new, at the time, neighborhood. Then came the bakery. And frustration, trying to run when my life of 100 hour work weeks wouldn’t allow. I stopped beating my head against the wall finally and realized that trying to do the same thing over and over again was unproductive. So I flew to South Africa and ran a marathon and then two weeks later, Ultra Trail Cape Town. It was the hardest 100km I have ever done, but I finished, proud in 3rd place. A few weeks later, I ran Javelina 100 and set the third fastest trail time ever (at the time). I enjoyed immensely the reinvigoration of my ultra running career that had taken a backseat to the life of a small business owner. 2016 brought golden tickets instead of OTQ’s as a realized my head and heart just weren’t into the quest. The fast marathon had become something overly complicated in my mind and I found myself self-sabatoging my races and really not enjoying myself. And so, I raced WS and finished 3rd. My satisfaction immense, my love for ultra running true.

And then came the struggle and the fighting for my running life. To be honest, the last 2.5 years have been intensely hard. I was fighting almost constantly just to keep my head above water. I suffered my first major injury in the fall of 2016 and at the time I thought it would be just a blip on the radar, but instead it became an incessant test of my fortitude and will. Sure, there have been amazing bright moments in the last 2.5 years- two top 10 finishes at Comrades, winning Leadville, 2nd in the 50km national championships, winning a marathon outright for the first time- but mostly, it has just pressed me to wonder if my best racing days were behind me, if feeling good as a runner and sometimes even just as a human, was something I’d feel again. The spiral began when my foot exploded and was misdiagnosed in March 2017, fast forward to major foot surgery and recovery, followed by a swift decline into extremely poor health in 2018. I’ve fought like hell over the past few years. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve found myself lower than I could remember and it wasn’t just because of running or not running. I felt like I was floundering around in the world at times and being kicked in the face at other times. I started to joke that March was a cursed month for me after experiencing major illness and missed races, totaling my car and one other very terrible experience that I still cannot reconcile. When I was knee deep in it, I didn’t think much about how hard it was or the depth and breadth of all that was seeming to go wrong, I simply focused on trying to fix what was right in front of me, what I had the power to change or control. And sometimes, that was just my perspective. A perspective of gratitude and of hope was something I returned to again and again. 

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If I have learned anything in my life, from the very earliest of my days, is that you ultimately need to be willing to do what it takes for yourself. What it takes to feel better, what it takes to heal, what it takes to learn. I never abandoned my faith in myself, I never lost trust in myself that I could weather the storms. A few months ago, I was thinking about the moment in Billy’s movie, Life in Day, when I am sitting in the chair, unsure of how I can keep going. I realized, watching that for the nth millionth time, that I had been thinking about that moment wrong. I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I ended up in the chair. Trying to figure out how to avoid the things in life that stop us in our track. But as I watched that moment, I realized: it’s not about if you end up in the chair, it is what you do after you get out of the chair that matters. 

You get up. You move forward. That is what matters. What you do next is what matters. Its not the faltering or failure. It is what you do with it. It is weathering the storm, it is surviving and coming out the other saying “holy shit, I’m just soaked”. 

That is when I realized that I had to let go of the hurt, the failing, the faltering of the past few years. What mattered was how I chose to proceed. Would I play small and safe or would I again risk it all? It is scary to take risks when you’ve felt the intense disappointments of epic failures. I felt that last year when I tried to go all in post foot surgery on London Marathon. I couldn’t even toe the line I was so ill. Heck, I could barely move off the couch. Watching TV was exhausting. I had been humbled again by the sudden onslaught of a barrage of health problems, a pattern that had played out every few years of my running career, heck of my life. Once in 5th grade, I missed an entire month of school (probably the month of March ;) ) because I was sick. In high school, I spent half of a summer in bed with mono. My college boyfriend called me “sickly D” because I caught every bug that I came in contact with.

But last year really scarred me. And I became afraid to go all in on a goal. I raced sure and did some pretty decent things, but the reality is, I was undermining myself. Not allowing myself to risk too much, put too much on any one thing. While this makes for some fine results, they are pyrrhic victories. After a series of 4 races in 7 weeks of that sort, I emailed my coach Ian and said “I have the next great idea! I’ll do CIM!”. He responded in a way that I cannot appreciate more. He told me that if I want what I say I want (a marathon PR) then I needed to stop all the unspecific racing, traveling, stress and focus. He told me CIM was the wrong choice and I should instead focus on Houston Marathon. He told me that I had to go ALL IN. It was uncomfortable for me because it was true. I know I can perform at a very high level on non-specific training, but I also know I can’t run my best if I am not focused. And so for 12 weeks we focused. I narrowed my life down to this one goal. I set aside the fear. I showed up and did the work, day after day. I didn’t race, I didn’t travel. I just burrowed down into the details of this one goal. I put all my eggs in one basket. And while it terrified me, I knew it was the only way.

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Day in and day out, I was just married to the process. I removed unnecessary distractions. I did all the little extras. I neither stressed the failures or celebrated the successes to much, I just built myself brick by boring brick. When things went suddenly sideways in the first week of December, I didn’t panic. I suffered a crazy nerve impingement in my leg, got sick and then fell over my foam roller and broke a rib. I just stayed with the process and realized one bad week didn’t matter, I simply had to stay focused. And workout after workout, I saw paces I never thought I would. I found myself having to hold back instead of stretch. I arrived to my two week taper excited, confident. I had trained for 12 weeks, run hundreds of miles and only taken one day off. I knew I was strong and ready.

But as tapers do, I started feeling the doubts, I started to question what I had done, I started to question each and every brick I had laid. And then came the weird niggles and my legs #notfeelinggood. I honestly had to make an immense effort to get my mind right in the last 72 hours before the race. I read the book “Mind Gym” after taking the USATF Level 1 Coaching clinic and found these words to be the game changer for me: “Since you don’t know what’s going to happen, why not act as if you’re going to have a good day. When you are not afraid to fail, your chances of succeeding improve”. I stopped wallowing in the idea of “ending up in the chair” and started to embrace the infinite possibility of good. I didn’t focus on the weather report of 10-15mph winds and freezing cold temps, or my leg feeling weird. I focused on eating, resting and calming my mind.

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By the time I toed the line at 7:01am, I was free of doubt and ready to celebrate the fitness I had cultivated over the weeks and months. I lined up with the other sub-elites in the ADP corral and we shivered and finally were allowed our place behind the elites. The gun, the frenzy, I found myself calm among the surging masses. I started my Coros watch when I hit the start line a few seconds after the gun, but I quickly turned the screen to daytime, knowing I did not want the feedback of GPS pace. I settled in and chanted to myself “right effort, right mind”. I knew that if I wanted to run a PR, I needed to run on the more uncomfortable side of uncomfortably hard, but I also knew that I needed to stay calm and patient in the first half.  I floated through mile 1 in 5:45. Oops. There were people around as the half and full went off together, but I was surprised how, within 4 miles, I was basically running alone. Welp, guess I don’t get that CIM type group magic today! The wind gusted and I just hoped that that meant I would have a tailwind on the way back (spoiler alert, nope). 

Finding myself alone so early, I knew that I HAD to stay focused, I had to stay strong and on plan. I followed the instructions I had written on my hand for each Maurten gel. I followed the instructions for my mind. I smiled and remembered that this race was a celebration of my fitness. It is not a test, it is a celebration. At mile 12, a woman was holding a sign for me and I damn near started crying because it feels so awesome to have people out there rooting for me. 

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I hit halfway in 1:18:40, about 40 seconds slower than coach and I had planned, but I barely even acknowledged it (although to be fair, hit the 13.1 mile sign at just over 1:18 flat, but that mat was another 40 seconds beyond the sign). I was focused, focused on running a PR effort, even if the wind meant it wasn’t much of a PR day for me. I stayed calm, I stayed on it. I pushed as hard as I could and smiled as big as I could. I was wholeheartedly determined to have no regrets at that finish line.

I knew with about 12km to go that my goal of a PR was gone. I was running as well as I could, feeling good actually and just not able to take anything back from the wind. I remained undeterred, I would not back down, I was not going down without a fight.

At long last, I made my way back into the heart of Houston. With 1.5 miles to go, I reminded myself that my goal was to “drain the tank” and I pressed harder, unwilling to let go of the sub 2:40 and my fastest time in 7 years. I ran the last 1.5 miles in 5:43/mile pace. I powered to the line, 2:39:37 my 3rd fastest time ever (and my 2nd fastest time is a 2:39:36!). What a moment. Joy, relief, all of it. I ran the effort I came to and am so proud.

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It is what matters what you do after you get out of the chair that matters. Failure, faltering and flops are part of life. We must take lessons from them sure, but we cannot become defined by them. It is a choice where we go from the low points. It is a choice if we let it those things break us or lift us to greater heights. I know that in life I will surely find myself in the chair again, I will certainly cry out “but I don’t know how to keep going”, but I also know that I will get out of that chair and I’ll walk until I can run again. 

Leadville 100 mile

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

"I have one goal" I told my husband before this past Saturday's Leadville 100. "I want to be the happiest person out there."

And while I will never be able to statistically analyze that goal compared to the field, I am certain that I was my happiest, best self out there. That to me is the greatest victory of all. Actually winning the race is just a sweet sweet bonus.

As I have reflected in many of my recent blogs, I have been all aboard the struggle bus for a while. I have been rumbling and trying to rise strong. There have been many false starts, many dead ends, many setbacks in this process. I feel like over the past few years I have no been able to be the version of myself that I want to be. I have not been able to find my own joy, grace and calm. My mind has been turbulent, the waves of emotion not easily quelled, I have been hurt, I have been humbled, I have been embarrassed and I have evaluated and examined everything. When I signed up for Leadville 100, after an unsuccessful run at Silver Rush 50, also in Leadville, I was starting to feel like I was on solid ground, but I knew that running 100 miles strips you raw. I knew I needed to have my mind, heart and spirit right. In past 100 milers, my emotions have played a large part in my experience, each time I had to pull myself out of a very dark place that largely existed only in my own mind. In the end, triumphant sure. But it still made me wonder, if I could spare myself from such torture and flagellation. Was the deep dark actually necessary? At Leadville, I resolved to find out. I feel like prior to the race I was a version of myself that I was proud of. Perhaps kinder, less intense, more joyful. The world seeming so dark, I wanted to be part of the light.

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Keep perspective pre-race. 

Leadville has been on my bucket list since before I even began running ultras 11 years ago. Over the years, my obsession with running the race has grown and grown. My willingness to sign up always tempered by the respect I had for how difficult of a race it is. Running at over 10,000 feet should be respected. The course which combines elements of speed and climbing is hard to get right. Ann Trason's record of 18 hours is no joke and was achieved only after she ran it numerous times in the 20+ hour range. If Ann Trason is running mid-20 hours, then I am sure as hell only attempting this race with total respect. Last year, I was signed up, but after trying to turn around from Western States and get acclimatized to the altitude, I realized I was digging myself into a deep hole and decided not to race. When I came out to run Silver Rush 50 in July, I didn't come to earn a spot in Leadville. But after not finishing the race due to a bum ankle I twisted prior to the race, I couldn't shake the intense desire to run Leadville. Thankfully for me race sponsor, as well as my source for optimal in race fueling, GU Energy had one sponsor spot left and were very kind to give me the spot. 

I got to work. I had less than 6 weeks to prepare for the task but I was up for it. And I was realistic about where I was too. In good shape, but having not raced on trails for over a year. Healthy, but nearing the end of a few months of lots of racing and traveling. I also knew that my foot, which has been through a lot over the last year with injury and recovery, was suffering from some post-trauma (from the tarsal coalition) arthritis. My foot has hurt most days since about 10 days before Comrades. But it was pain, not injury and was manageable. I knew going in to Leadville that pain in my foot was probable, but that it would not stop me. Pain is inevitable, suffering is option. I accepted it and did not fear it. In those 6 weeks, I got myself ready as I could. Not perfectly prepared, not the fittest I have ever been, but definitely the most up for the task I have ever been. I assembled an amazing team of crew and pacers and made my way to Leadville. I could not have made it to the finish line without Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden.

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I made a choice to run this race with joy, grace, love and gratitude. I reminded myself again and again before the race that I was racing for "a big ass belt buckle and a finisher's sweatshirt", that these were the stakes and so what really mattered was enjoying myself. And I did. In fact, I would say that mentally, it is the best race I have ever ran. From the start gun at 4am, I ran calmly and easily and according to my own plan. I ate, I drank, I said thank you to every volunteer, I smiled at everyone, I gave hugs to friends. I was in my element, I was happy.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

Leaving Twin Lakes out bound at mile 40, with HOKA teammate Mike Wardian. Photo by Amy Leedham.

And that never changed through the whole race. I weathered the highs and lows with calm. I worked the problems and kept coming back to simply being happy. I didn't pay attention to the race ahead of me, I focused on my plan: getting through the early miles, conserving energy, running in control. I arrived into Twin Lakes at mile 40 with good friend Brett Rivers, who had an amazing day ultimately finishing in 6th! I was feeling good, despite some pain in my neck (turns out I had some vertebrae out of place) and prepared to take on the most difficult section of the race: double Hope Pass crossing. A daunting climb in both directions, deep into the race day, going up to high elevation. I have run it numerous times and knew it was going to be incredibly tough. But again, I was happy for the challenge and knew it would be hard but I would get through it if I just continued to move forward no matter what. I also knew mentally, it had the potential to be the darkest time. After grabbing my poles and gloves from my crew and restocking supplies, I headed out. 

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About a quarter mile up the climb, after Brett and Mike Wardian had disappeared from view I hit my first real deep bad patch. I got really dizzy, my energy dipped dangerously low. I basically felt like I had got smacked in the face with a shit stick. But as AJW says, "shits gonna happen". And instead of getting upset that I felt bad, I thought of the above image. I raised my hands above my head and yelled "plot twist" outloud and immediately started laughing hysterically. I was able to feel bad and not go dark, not go negative. I just kept on climbing towards the oasis of the Hopeless aid station in the basin of Hope Pass, where I would see llamas (how they get supplies up) and smiling faces. I eventually made it, in great spirits and entertained all the volunteers by professing my undying love for Coca-cola during ultras. 

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

Nearing the top of Hope Pass on the return

I soon made it to the turnaround and was joined by Nathan as my pacer. He was full of energy and I was excited to have the company. Because the race is an out and back, I no longer could remain blissfully unaware of my position in the field. Yes, I wanted to be happy and enjoy my experience, but I am also competitive, I also wanted to perform and compete if my body was capable. At mile 50, I was still feeling on the good side of the spectrum having taken the early miles so conservatively. I discovered as I ran into Winfield that I was just over 10 minutes behind the race leader, Simona Morbelli. I knew I needed to get back over the even tougher second climb up Hope Pass before even considering trying to hunt her down. I know got to enjoy the energy of my pacer as well as the energy of the other runners on the out and back course. The single track was buzzing as people headed towards the turn around. I made a special point of encouraging every single person. The most dramatic moment of the race came a few miles after the turn around before reaching the climb up to Hope. I stepped to the side to allow outbound runners to share the trail and when I stepped back into the middle of the trail, I caught a toe on a rock, did a perfect pirouette and slammed into the ground, my head hitting a rock, the sound so loud my husband could hear it. I jumped up quickly, suddenly angry with myself for making the mistake, declaring "I just want to keep going". I had really hurt myself but didn't want to lose momentum. Nathan grabbed me by the arm, stopped me and bear hugged me. "Its ok if you want to cry. Just take a minute". At first I protested, I had resolved not to cry in this race! But then I realized, you know what, crying when you crack you head and destroy your arm is appropriate. I shed some tears and as was Nathan's intent, the emotional intensity went away. I felt it and moved on. It was just another "PLOT TWIST!", not a day ender and it was not going to be my undoing. 

We kept charging. Every step closer to the top. Every step more joyful. I smiled at every runner and kept encouraging every single one. At one point Nathan commented, "they all know your name!" and it was such a cool thing to have so many people say, "Devon, you inspire me". I climbed ever closer to the top. I got hugs from friends Billy and Eric. And finally, I had made it. I was over the top of the most daunting part of the course. I flew down the other side, feeling amazing, ready to chase. I had been told by at least 150 other runners that I was closing on Simona and that she looked like she was hurting (at least hurting more than I was- since at least 20 people told me I was "having way too much fun"). I didn't push down Hope, I just continued to float along and stay within myself. Less than 2 miles after the top, I was told by a hiker "she just went around the bend". A moment later, I saw her. Nathan and briefly discussed how I wanted to do this. I wanted to make a definitive move, but I wanted to also show her the same grace and joy and encouragement I had to everyone else. In a moment, I was upon her, gave her a few encouraging words and then accelerated. I pushed more than I had all race to put myself out of sight, to create a gap. When I arrived at Twin Lakes, 1.5 miles later, I had apparently put 8 minutes on her.

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

SO HAPPY! Excited to see the Oiselle Volee. Photo by Rebekah!

Entering Twin Lakes in the lead was an electric moment. There were huge crowds, I got the most amazing tasting popsicle and my Oiselle teammates from the Colorado Volee where there. I was out of my mind happy!!! I moved through the aid station quickly, determined to use the energy to get me up the climb immediately after the aid station. Nathan took over carrying my pack, as Leadville allows muling. This made a huge difference as carrying the pack was making my neck pain worse and causing my hands to go tingly. My pacers literally took the weight off my shoulders. 40 miles to the finish line. It was time to grind.

And work and grind we did. Relentless forward progress. Focus on nutrition, focus on my breathe. Running in the lead can be stressful, so I fought the urge to play out "what if" scenarios. What if nothing, what if I just keep running my race and focusing on my joy and gratitude. And that is what I did.

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Smiling happy girls rocking Oiselle skirts. Photo by Sufferfest Beer!

Nathan handed me off to Rebecca who was going to take me the remaining 27 miles to the finish line. I was feeling good, I had legs, I just knew we had to keep grinding. And we did. We powered up powerline as fast as I have ever done in training. We dance partied into the night to a most excellent playlist she had created. We sang Rebecca's jingle about not tripping repeatedly. "We didn't trip. We're doing so great. We love our joints. We didn't trip." Soon it was dark and we were descending into the final aid station at Mayqueen with 13.5 miles to go. There Rebecca restocked her pack with an inhuman number of water bottles for one person to carry and all the GU and candy she could carry. Nathan asked me if I wanted to know what was happening the race and I did, so he told me that as of the previous aid station, I was only 18 minutes ahead. Simona had rallied after Hope Pass and continued on. 18 minutes is not a lot with 13.5 miles to go. A lot can happen. But then Nathan said the most important thing, "So you've gotta run hard. But this is your thing. No one closes like you do". And just like that the fire was lit. Rebecca and I headed back into the dark around Turquoise Lake. My legs were tired, but I was determined. I started running everything, I pushed the pace at one point joking, "it feels like I am moving fast, like I might be running 12 min pace!". At that stage of the game on the rolling terrain, that is pretty darn fast. Rebecca looked at her watch and she laughed, "we are running exactly 12 min pace!". I thought about the day, how much joy their had been. I thought about my team and how I couldn't have done this without them. I thought about what this race has meant to me. I thought about how I could leave everything out on that course because for the first time in my career, I hadn't already planned the next thing. I had only planned for an off season. I was going to leave it all out there. I had run conservatively all day and now I was just going to push.

The last 4+ miles are uphill, including the worlds' longest stretch of uphill fire road. When we hit this section, I knew that I wouldn't be walking like we had discussed. I just ran as hard as I could. I took deep breathes. I soaked in the darkness. I felt my body move. I appreciated that my foot had not hurt all day (#miracle), that I could feel no trouble spots in my legs, that my feet felt great in my HOKA speedgoat 2s, that I was tired but so so strong. 

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

Pure joy. Photo by Mario Fraioli

In the blink of an eye, we arrived at the road with one mile to go. My crew was there to run me up and in. I pushed up the hill towards the red carpet and the finish line. It was only then that I believed that I was going to win. I crested the hill and could see the red glowing clock of the finish line up ahead nestled amongst the quiet sleep streets of Leadville. I savored the moment. I ran this race in the way I wanted with joy, grace, flexibility and gratitude. I shared this experience with amazing people who kept me going. I could be a version of myself that I am proud to be and win the race at the same time. I broke the tape for the win, in 20:46. And while I may have had races that were faster or physically better, Leadville is my proudest moment. I would say my best race. I did everything I could with what I had, I retained the spirit that I intended to and I accomplished my goal of being the happiest person out there. To do this, in a race that has meant so much to me and means so much to Leadville, is everything to me. It is something I will savor and appreciate for a very long time.

I want to say thank you to my amazing crew and pacers again. Nathan, Rebecca, Amy and Braden. This was a true team effort. Thank you for helping me be my best self. Thank you to the Leadville Race Series. It was an honor to become a part of your family. Thank you to all the volunteers out there. You guys rock! Thank you to GU for giving me the opportunity to race. Thank you to HOKA, Oiselle, Ultimate Direction, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Nuun, Hypoxico and Mammoth Lake Cribs! Thanks to my awesome coach Ian Torrence! Thank you to everyone reading this and following my journey.

So what now? That is always the question. Right now, I am enjoying my off season. I am taking time away. I am relaxing, recovering and absorbing a very intense and difficult year. And I am taking a break from social media for a month. Call it a social sabbatical. I will be off social media starting tomorrow (wednesday, Aug 22) for a month. If you need me, you can find me. 

Thank you for reading!

The Physics of Vulnerability

Laughably what the actual fuck

Laughably what the actual fuck

If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability. Fortune may favor the bold, but so does failure. Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back

Apparently, the blogs of the month of March are my Brene Brown inspired ones. Last year, after what I thought was a super terrible March, I pulled out my copy of Rising Strong and reminded myself that I was brave and strong enough to bounce back from the things that that went on during that month. Last night, I went back to the shelf and pulled out Rising Strong once more. After an intense weekend, that ended badly for me both physically and emotionally, followed by the continuation of an unrelenting stomach super villain, a heartbreaking email in which someone reflected to me that they actually thought the things that are my very worst fears that people think of me, and then my car getting towed, I knew it was time. In fact, it was laughable clear. As we stood outside the car tow place, waiting for my car, I joked, "I better not stand outside too long or a bird will probably fly along and poop on my head". Let's just say, if the message hadn't already been clear after months of struggling intensely with some things, it was definitely clear now: I'm face down in the arena.

But this year feels different. I am not struggling against it, resisting the space I am occupying currently. While I often feel despair,  I am not despairing. Because for once, I actually and genuinely believe in my own ability to survive, to return to thriving. There was a moment on Sunday where things had devolved for me to the point that I was sitting on the floor of a shitty casino trying to charge my phone so that I might be able to find a ride back to Vegas back from Parump, Nevada where I had spent the previous evening in the ER. I was wearing the previous days clothes which were covered in the stench of the results of my food poisoning, blind because I had to take my contacts out and had none of my belongings with me. I was sitting there, feeling physically terrible, emotionally wrecked that I had let my team down and then casino security walked up and yelled at me to move on and that there was no sitting on the floor of the casino. In that moment, feeling raw, hurt, and full of shame, I just started laughing. Laughing hard, thinking, "this is some shit isn't it". The situation made me feel sad and angry, but it did not make me feel defeated.

Photo by  @enduroTwerd  crew zen master and Parump savior.

Photo by @enduroTwerd crew zen master and Parump savior.

I didn't come into this past weekend's adventure with the Speed Project and Oiselle's Bird Strike team as my best self. I was already worn thin by the past few months of personal struggles. I worried that I would have the emotional bandwidth to stay strong for my team, I was unsure of what weight I would be able to bear. I knew that things would get hard and ugly at some point, I just hoped that, perhaps I would not be nominated as tribute. I also knew that teams are my jam and I love being a part of a team, I am motivated by it, I want to do everything I can to lift my team up. Unfortunately for me, my name was called in the reaping. First, my foot and ankle both decide in implode in a way I had not yet seen in my months of injury and then, I was struck down by food poisoning, severe dehydration, and eventually a trip to the ER. I was able to run through the first half of the race, knocking out 24 miles. I was 6th runner in our rotation, which meant, given our strategy, my miles were backloaded towards the end of the race. I had to tap out and burden my teammates with more miles. I felt terrible emotionally for that, gutted actually and I still do. Initially was going to go whole hog into crewing and motivating, but was reduced to not being able to even sit up. I was fully unable to be present in the experience in any way and that really makes me sad. Its not just about putting more miles on other people, for me it was about not being able to support them at all while they were doing something so incredible and so tough. 

Photo by  @enduroTwerd

Photo by @enduroTwerd

Fast forward to yesterday, standing in the car town lot, face down in the arena. I could feel sorry for myself, have a pity party about life's suckage levels, wallow, resist, refuse to continue. But instead, my mind wandered back to the weekend and to my BirdStrike team. The second half of the race was a brutal crawl across Death Valley and into Vegas. It was hot, it was flat, the miles were adding up, everyone was tired and there were like a billion miles left no matter how many turns the runners took. It would have been easy to feel like it was all too much. But that is not what they did. Instead, each of them, Sarah B, Sarah O, Cathleen, Collier and Nora, with the crew by their side, got out there and did as much as they could when they could. Time after time, they got off the RV and did another mile, another two miles. They did, whatever they could, little by little, to continue to advance towards the finish line. It was inspiring to see, even if I couldn't even raise my head (without barfing) to tell them so or cheer them through it. And I return to that idea now, to help remind me, that even though I feel an impossible distance from where I want to be, I simply have to keep moving forward even if it is just a few steps. They were unrelenting and so can I be. They did not give up, nor will I. They were not alone, and neither am I. 

Brene Brown

Brene Brown

In my own life, I am out there like my team was in Death Valley. Out there, somewhere in the middle, where it is too far in to turn around and not yet close enough to the end to see the light. This is a messy space. An in progress space. A ripped raw and exposed space. A vulnerable, often times ugly space. It is also a space, despite not knowing how to fix some things, despite having no idea what things can be saved and what things will be lost, that I know I have the endurance to survive. I am grateful for my teammates for their display of grit, unrelenting perseverance and steadfast refusal to give in. I take that now with me as I rumble and as I hopefully rise.  

 

Strengthening my weakest link

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

I only ever want to be laid out by giving it my all, not by getting ill.

"Sickly D"- that was my college boyfriend's nickname for me. And pretty much sums up my entire life. For someone remarkable durable both muscularly and skeletally, my endocrine and immune systems are most definitely not. Throughout my life, I have struggled with illness. I can catch any cold or flu that comes within the same county as me, I have had more stomach/digestive issues than the entire graduating classes of most high schools and my endocrine system often seems to be living on another planet in a distant universe. It is remarkable that for how many times I have been sick and how much of my lifetime I have spent at the doctor, that I haven't in fact had any truly serious illnesses or been hospitalized. (Let's just say everything in this post just gets one big knock on wood). 

When I was in elementary school, I missed months of school at a time with a never ending flu. In high school, I got mono. I missed my first Boston marathon because I had pneumonia. That may not seem like a lot, but in between those notable episodes have been so many "minor" illnesses, so many trips to the doctor, so many tests. In my 13 year running career, I have had to cancel or change my racing plans because of illness/health problems almost EVERY single year.  Over the past 3 years whilst opening and running the bakery I have had some issues so serious/painful/awful that the doctors were very concerned that it was something terrible/dire. Or nothing. That was their other suggestion. This is either an ulcer or nothing. This is either cancer or nothing. Really? How can those really be the only two options. Maybe you just need to quit your job? Maybe you just need to stop running so much. Those are their answers.  Just scrolling back on my own blog for the past 6 months, there are countless examples of the huge impact endocrine and immune system problems have profoundly impacted my life. After the terrible month of March I had, I was over it. I KNEW there had to be a more complex and nuanced story to my health somewhere between "it is nothing" and "it is something terrible". I am not dying (which is awesome), but I am also not truly healthy, how do we address that space? How do I not run myself into amazing shape and then have to hope and pray that I don't get sick again the week of a race. Forget the idea of "not being sick", how do I become optimally healthy? I want the same level of durability that I enjoy muscularly and skeletally to also be true for my immune and endocrine systems. So I went to my doctor and got the same song and dance as I always do- no answer at all.

I decided to take a different approach. On the recommendation of badass friends Amelia Boone and Michael Wardian, I decided to get in touch with InsideTracker.  InsideTracker looks at biomarkers differently. They are not looking for illness, they are looking for optimization. They are looking for areas you are at risk and areas that are problems. Not problems by medical stand point necessarily, but problems when it comes to feeling your best and healthiest. They believe that #BloodDontLie and I wanted to know the truth about my health. I wanted to find a way to strengthen my weakest link. As they say, "Know Better, Do Better".

I have now had three tests through InsideTracker, each revealed something that has been instrumental in my health and wellness as well as my training and racing. 

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

Suns out, guns out and still Vitamin D deficient?!!

The first test revealed something interesting, I am chronically low in Vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D is absolutely instrumental in immune function. When I uploaded my previous year's worth of blood tests for comparison (which is a cool feature of the InsideTracker dashboard), it revealed this as a persistent issue. Same for the magnesium. Magnesium is instrumental in good sleep and I am an absolutely terrible sleeper. Stress can cause a magnesium deficiency and let's just say that opening a bakery (and then working on the night shift) did nothing for my stress levels. I immediately started taking a Enduropacks liquid multi vitamin as well as extra Vitamin D to help bring my levels up. Slowly but surely and even through peak training and racing, my levels are rising. 

My ferritin levels have been chronically low and I have known that for years. The doctors don't know why. I have had to have endoscopies to look for intestinal bleeding, I have been poked prodded and finally given up on, as the WHY of my woeful ferritin levels. They wager it is just the running. So it is something I have had to keep my eye on for a long time. When I got my InsideTracker results, I was stoked. My ferritin was 75! The first time it had been over 30 in years. Guess we finally found something that worked! But I knew, going into peak training, being at altitude for a month, that it was something I would need to stay vigilant about. So I ate my Inside Tracker recommended beef liver and supplemented a bit more iron in my diet. One thing I found interesting is that plenty of iron was getting into my body, but not all of it was being absorbed (Total Iron Binding Capacity) which leaves me susceptible to feeling tired and weak also. I had to find a balance between getting the iron in and not getting too much. I have had a similar issue with the thyroid and my hypothyroid meds, the meds are getting in there, but they are not being absorbed and getting where they need to go.

After gathering all the initial biomarkers, InsideTracker walked me through a series of steps to determine which items to address based on my goals, how I want to deal with those things (diet, exercise, supplements, lifestyle change) and distills the information down into 5 action items. My first test had me eating lots of seaweed, beef liver, eating fish 2x per week, taking a vitamin D supplement and watching my calorie deficit(not having too big a deficit as it was messing with my sex hormones). Between the end of March and my next test 10 days out from States, I meticulously followed my action items. We retested before States to get a glimpse of what my biomarkers look like during my peak. And all systems were go. Many of the biomarkers had not in fact improved, BUT that actually does show improvement because they didn't drop during the most extreme period of stress. In other words, I was ready to race. It felt good going into the race knowing that all systems were go.

We also tested 3 days after WS 100. It is fascinating to see what running 100 miles does to your biomarkers. I also talked with one of the Inside Tracker coaches to help me understand the results. To put it plainly, I left it all out there. I am sure the early dehydration in the race didn't help, but by the end of WS, I had used up my available resources. I did what I could with the day that unfolded in front of me. My biomarkers for inflammation were very high (AST/ALT) and the InsideTracker coach recommend that I take my recovery seriously. I found this very valuable because I didn't try to do too much too soon. I respected my bodies need for recovery, I didn't try to bully it into doing too much too early. I allowed myself to be tired and worn thin. I took my new set of InsideTracker recommendations and posted them where I could see them and I have seen my recovery happen. Today, I went out and crushed a workout that would have been a lot during peak training. It was possible because I used the knowledge I had from my InsideTracker results to let my body recover. I slowly, patiently was able to pull back the layers of inflammation and tired, I was to power my recovery in a methodical way. I didn't rush back, I didn't try to do too much. I waited, I listened to my body. I feel confident in the way forward towards my next race and my next goals.

Knock on wood, I haven't had a serious medical issue since March, I haven't gotten really sick (though I had a very close encounter right before States!) to me that is immense progress. I am a firm believer that InsideTracker's testing and approach have helped me begin to strengthen my weakest links. I will continue to utilize them as I train and race and try to live a more healthy optimized life. 

If you want to try InsideTracker out for yourself, use the code FASTFOODIE for a great discount. You will absolutely not regret it! And thank you InsideTracker for helping me on the road to optimal health! #blooddontlie  

 

Javelina 100 mile

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Over the past few years, I have lost my running mojo. It slipped away gradually or more, got slowly worn down over time when I wasn’t able to attend to it. Frankly, since 2012, I just haven’t been able to run or race with the focus and energy I need to maintain it. And for the most part, it has been worth it because Nathan and I have been devoting our energy into building a business and a community around that business. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy to watch the awesome development of the ultra running community and the exciting happenings of the running world. I wanted to be a part of it. I have talked about this a lot this year because I started this year thinking this would be the year that I would re-emerge in racing and start chasing down big goals again. I was hungry from the start of this year to passionate pursue races that made me excited. 


But the year didn’t unfold the way I hoped. I went back to the drawing board so many times on “where to?” in racing. My training has been great this year but my confidence in myself as a runner has been almost non-existent, my mind highly critical of myself. It wasn’t until my trip to Cape Town and running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100k four weeks ago that I even felt like half the runner I use to be (mentally). That trip renewed me and inspired me. It showed me that I could battle through the hardest race I’ve ever done and overcome. After that, I wanted more challenges like that and again went back to the drawing board for my race schedule and decided to run Javelina 100 on October 31. Just 4 weeks after running my first 100k in 4 years, I was going to run my first 100 miler in 5 years and 7 years since I last finished my only successful 100 miler. I felt excited and ready after UTCT 100km to take on the challenge.

I sit here now three days post race wondering, “did that really happen?”. I went to Javelina to get to that finish line. I went to see if I could go the distance. I went to the desert to find my mojo. I went to find my strength and courage. I went to battle my demons and face the darkness. I went to see if I could rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, if I could find a new runner me. I could have never imagined the day unfolding the way it did. 

Before the race, I wrote a letter to myself. In that letter I wrote: “Be led by passion, love and perseverance. I will rise to a new level and see what I am capable of. Yes, it is going to be hard as hell. But don’t back down. Walk across the fire and let it burn. You can handle this.”. I didn’t merely handle it, I instead put together the performance of a lifetime. I truly went to a new level and not only found that I was capable of running on the level that I use to, but that I was in fact capable of so much more. I have never run like I did on Saturday, I have never pursued my limits so hard, run with so much guts and found moment after moment that I had more to give. I not only finished, I crushed it. First woman, second overall, new course record in 14:52 in the 6th fastest time ever in the 100 miler for a North American resident and 3rd fastest trail 100 mile time ever. I ran the last 41 miles faster than anyone including faster than the male winner (besting him by 6 mins, he finished in 13:49). People have asked, “where did that come from” since and I truly believe that this kind of race has been a long time coming. I have had the physical tools for a long time, the combination of speed and endurance. But mentally, I have worked very hard to get to the place where when I ask myself “How bad do you want it?”, the answer is “MORE”.

I am truly grateful for Aravaipa Running and the amazing race they put on. Top notch event with incredible organization. I am beyond words with gratitude for my crew and pacer, Hollis and Yiou. I could not have put together this day without them. I am so thankful for my husband, although he couldn’t be at the race, has been extraordinarily supportive of me trying to find my runner self again. Thank you to my awesome sponsors and supporters: Oiselle, HOKA One One, Julbo, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Stance Socks and San Francisco Running Company, as well as all my awesome friends and training partners especially my girls Yiou, Liz and Maddy K! And my incredible coach, Ian Torrence!

Photo by UltraSportsLive

Photo by UltraSportsLive

You can stop reading here if you like, I know race reports can get long and boring and all sound the same. But for myself, I am going to keep going. I want to remember this race. I want to remember how it felt, I want to revisit it over and over and over again to say to myself: this race, I saw who I really am as a runner. It was a game changer for me and I feel now, that it is just the beginning.

Javelina Hundred (Oct 31, 2015) 6am

I wanted to do this race because I wanted to “do things that scare me” and challenge myself in a new way. After signing up for the race 3 weeks ago, that feeling slid from scared to terrified to feeling on the inside like the cowardly lion being pushed toward the Wizard by his companions. I stood on the line more nervous than I ever have been before. I kept wondering “can I do this?” and then the gun went off and I shrugged my shoulders, started running and thought “guess I will find out!”.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Work the problem (Loops 1 & 2)

The day before the race I did a run through of all my crewing stuff with Hollis and Yiou. I told them that things would come up, challenges would arise and we would have to find a way to keep going. We would have to find a solution to problems, a work around for obstacles. Yiou pronounced, we needed to “work the problem”. I liked this, it gave me a mantra to hold up for myself when difficulties arose. When she said it, I naturally thought it would be helpful in the second half. But given my starting line apprehensions, I actually had to utilize it quite early. 

I headed out into the desert with 458 other runners and settled in to a nice comfortable pace. I planned to run on the easy side of comfortable and not press at all. The Javelina course is very runnable, but that is also dangerous early on because it is very tempting to run too fast. I wanted to be smart, but I also accepted that my first two laps would be on the faster side since I was fresh, it was the cool of the morning, etc. I clipped along hoping for the nervous energy and “can I do this?” monkey mind to slip away. I tried to NOT focus on the distance and instead just focus on that moment and that loop and getting into a groove. I excepted to face demons in the race, but I didn’t think they would attack from the start. But within 5 miles, my mind had already slipped into a very pessimistic place. Every bad thing I could think about myself, I did. I listened to the demons tell me every reason I would fail, every reason I wasn’t good enough, every reason I was not enough. And then I heard Yiou’s voice saying, “Work the problem”. What was the problem? I was being negative, I was indulging the demons, I was giving them a voice. And then, out in the desert as the sun rose and a pack of coyotes raised their voices and howled, I exclaimed, “shut up brain!”. I started pelting the demons with every positive phrase and mantra I could think of. I pushed them back, beat them away with a stick. They didn’t belong here. I had barely even started running for goodness sake!

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

And so I settled in and just focused on this lap, this moment. Being within myself and letting the miles pass. I had set my watch on “OK” setting so that I would have battery life for the whole race. This meant though that the GPS accuracy was pretty poor and before I knew it I was back at Javelina headquarters (the start/finish line/party). My watch had me at 14 miles, but the loop in actually closer to 15.5. I was under 2 hours for the loop and kind of sheepishly entered the headquarters knowing that was way way faster than even my fastest projected split that I had give my crew. I had given them (even) splits for 15 hrs, CR pace (15:40), 16:30 and 17:30. I was well under 15 hour pace, but I also knew I was running easy and comfortable. I knew I would back off more in the heat of the day but was fine with being a touch fast early on. Hollis shook his head and told me, “Dev you are running way too fast!”. I set out on loop 2 and just continued to run comfortable. I was joined by Brian Tinder for a few miles who had been ahead of me on the first loop, but fell behind when he did a wardrobe change just outside of HQ (if you don’t know what I am talking about, you must find out!). It was nice to have the distraction and we passed the uphill miles to Jackass Junction which is the “middle” of the loop. The course is uphill to the midway point and is done in machine washer style, so loop 2 was novel since it was seeing the trail and terrain from a different perspective. The first two loops had a novelty to them that I knew would wear off. I could tell I was going to get really tired of running giant loops in the desert. 

I didn’t really slow much on the second loop and was greeted coming into HQ by Karl Meltzer who has more 100 mile wins than anyone on earth ever (35 wins). He is a smart runner and knows his way around a 100miler. He was heading out on his 3rd loop and took the time to stop me and say, “Devon, you need to slow down!”. I said, I know I know. And I knew I would since now, exactly 4 hours and 50k into the race, it was starting to get hot. I got in to the HQ, grabbed my stuff from Hollis including doubling up on bottles and taking my headphones for distraction, and headed back into the desert ready to battle the heat and take my time.

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

What do you mean?

I was not looking forward to the heat of the day. The high was projected for mid 80s. But in the desert that feels much hotter. There is no shade, the heat reflects off the ground and bakes you from the ground up. I have been running in the heat of the day this summer here in San Anselmo, days reaching up into the high 90s, so I felt at least moderately prepared. I knew I would have to keep myself cool and calm. 

Through the first two laps, I had only taken in liquid calories in the form of Tailwind. I was doing 200 calories of Tailwind per hour and my energy, hydration and electrolytes felt solid. Hollis had encouraged me to try and gel on loop 3 and about half way I tried to take one and immediately threw it back up. Uh oh. My biggest trepidation coming into this race was the heat effect since my last 100 mile start in 2010 ended with me in the med tent with 3 IVs. I knew things could go south fast and if I couldn’t stomach calories or liquid I would be done. I was able to continue to get in small sips of tailwind, but my head was not in a good place now. I was focused on not feeling good and by the end of the loop, after a few more rejections of sips of water, my mind amassed a good list of all the reasons I wanted to drop right then and there at 45. I came into HQ in a negative place, ready to be done. I dramatically described my issues straight in front of the Ultrasports Live live feed camera and friend Laura Bello who was part of their team, just said, “you look like you could use a hug”. She gave me a hug and I walked over to Hollis and sat down in the chair. I told him, “my stomach isn’t good. my foot hurts. my colds not gone. I am not having fun”. To me, it all seemed so clear that I was done. I had run the whole loop still and Hollis pointed out that even after running 2:30 for that lap that I was still well under even my fastest projected split. My response? A very snappy “I don’t care”. He cooled me off. Listened to my complaints and indulged me for a minute. After 5 or so minutes in the chair, I got up, resolved that I would do one more loop and then quit. After all, my legs really were fine and I was still running quite well. 

I headed out on loop feeling cooler with a nice ice bandana around my next and started running again. Since I had resolved to stop at the 100km in my head, every time I felt bad from there on, I just told myself, well at least I’ll be done at the end of this loop. It wasn’t a fun loop. Nothing really changed. In that 30 miles of running, I hated all but about 2 miles. I just listened to my music and kept going. I was running in 5th place overall and was first woman, but I just wanted to be done. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to stop.

My pacer Yiou had arrived and I complained to her all my various problems that made me want to quit. She pointed out that my running form looked great and that I looked comfortable. I responded that yes, I was able to run but ick, I was just done. It was like the Justin Bieber song that I had listened to at least 5 times on that loop, “what do you mean?”. I was saying one thing and doing another. I was nodding yes and running, but I wanted to say no and stop.

I again took the chair and Hollis and Yiou went to work trying to get me to get going again. My foot was still hurting and I was worried that 41 more miles might injury it since I had some issues since UTCT 100k because of all the rocks. My stomach was same as it had been, fine but not great. Yiou gave me my iced coffee and I asked for asprin. Maybe, just maybe I could caffeinated my way into another loop. I had been careful to avoid caffeine up until that point so I wouldn’t have a terrible caffeine crash late in the race. Meanwhile, Yiou got ready to start running with me. I had planned to have her from 75-finish, but she knew that I might quit right then if she didn’t tease me out of the chair. It worked. I got up. I finished my coffee and ate a handful of gummies.

#runlikeagirl

I had yet to walk in the race at all and still 10 mins ahead of even my fastest projected split. I told Yiou I would have to walk to the road crossing of loop 5 which is about 1/3 mile from HQ. I didn’t want to throw up my coffee and gummies. We made it about 1/3 of that distance before I started running, walking was boring. I still had legs and screw it, I was going to use them. Both the coffee and the aspirin kicked in and I had Yiou to pick up the pace and distract me. Slowly, the overwhelming desire to drop diminished, then disappeared. For the first time all day, I heard a whisper in my mind “you can do this”. And I believed it.

Yiou and I settled into a fast pace and she reminded me to take gels (which I finally was able to stomach) and told me how strong I looked. We run together FAST a lot. And part of why I was excited to have her as my pacer was because she is so fast and that our natural pace together tends to be very quick. At this point, I was astonished how good my legs felt. They didn't feel like legs that had more than 60 miles on them. They felt like legs that could run. The heat of the day had been survived and I had legs. I began to push. Not too much, but I inched the pace up and my mind opened up to the idea of not just surviving the race, but crushing the race. Just like that I was ready to see what I could do. We pushed and pushed. I knew I opened myself up to a massive meltdown at some point, but I just felt so good, I didn’t want to be afraid of what might happen or some potential later crash, I just wanted to break down barriers and push my limits. At the end of loop 4, I had been behind Karl, Michael Carson and Jon Olson (who has run a stagger 11:59 100 miler!) by more than 30 mins. By the end of loop 5, I was behind them by less than 10 mins. I had just completed a loop in 2:16 and flew threw headquarters, eager to get out onto my final full loop. The sun was going to be setting soon and I grabbed my headlamp, and we set off to chase down the boys.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

I was running so well at this point. Smooth and comfortable. I had Yiou give me 15-20 min reminders to take gels and focused on making sure that we didn’t make any nutrition or hydrate mistakes. My legs felt amazing. Within 3 miles back out on the loop, we started to catch the guys. Now, if you don’t know them, they are all incredibly fantastic runners. All very strong and accomplished. To be catching them was an insane boost to my confidence. I first caught Jon Olsen, he smiled at me and said, “So happy to see you bounce back Devon!”. I thanked him and encouraged him on and hoped he too would come back to life. I set my sights on Karl, whom I could see up ahead. We caught and passed him easily minutes later. As I passed, he exclaimed, surprised, “Devon, WHAT are you DOING?!” “Running!” I responded, to which he said, “well, I will see you later” indicating he would catch me when I cracked and slowed down. But in that moment, I said to myself, no you won’t. And I doubled my resolved to run the remaining 21 miles of the race as hard as I freaking could. 

Yiou and I moved like a bullet train in the night. We gathered more and more momentum as darkness descended over the desert. I ran silent, pushing myself, not backing off, but trying to give a little bit more, a little bit more each mile. I told Yiou that I didn’t want to have anything left at the line. I wanted to see what I was made of. We made it to the top of the loop and gathered more speed, Yiou yelling out “on your left, on your left” as we sped past all the runners that were out on course, some of them multiple loops behind me. All the other runners, whooped and cheered when they saw me coming. “Yeah girl!” “Woman you are amazing”. I fed off it. I chased down the next headlamp after next headlamp. I exclaimed at one point, “Sorry Karl, you ain’t catching me today.” And Yiou and I started yelling, “Run like a girl! Run like a girl!” It was thrilling to be there in that moment flying along, feeling so strong with such a good friend at my side. 

We were nearly to the aid station that is 2.1 miles from HQ when I said to Yiou, “I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you jumping in a loop early. I could not have gotten here without you. It changed the game. That said, I know that this was more distance than you had planned and am not going to ask you to run 41 miles with me instead of 24 as planned. You don’t need to go out on Loop 7(a smaller loop) with me.” She said, “ok! Because you would drop me anyways”. It was a proud moment, she had done her job beautifully and would let me fly on my own. We crushed it back to Headquarters, smiling and laughing. I sprinted through the start/finish area and headed back out as quickly as possible.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Next level

I was alone then. My legs churning up with gradual hill, my path illuminated only by a small light, just the sound of my breathing and the stillness of the desert. I pushed. Yiou had told me before the loop that I could run the next loop in 2 hours and still break the course record. I thought the loop was just under 9 miles, so I set my sights on running closer to 1:20. I arrived back at the 2.1 mile aid station, grabbed a coke and thanked all the volunteers for being out there. I pushed onward and made my way towards the Loop 7 cutoff, a teasing sign I had seen all day that said Mile 97.3 —->. About a mile later, I crossed paths with Karl again. He saw me and said, “simply awesome Devon”. I was on fire. I felt so good and I wanted to see how much I could push. I finally made the turn towards home and came into the water stop at the turn. The volunteer said, “your on your final loop?!?!”. I responded yes I was and he said, “wow you are in second place!”. I had no idea I had passed Michael at any point and I got a boost. Then he continued, “4 miles to the finish line.” My water bottle filled, I took off. Wait, 4 miles? I thought there was only 2.7 miles to go! Doh. I am such an idiot, I just assumed the race was perfectly 100 miles for some reason, I hadn’t even bothered to loop at how far it actually was since trail races are rarely exactly on. Turns out the course was 101 miles. Having digested this information, I realized that I was really going to have to hustle to get in under 15 hours. I was on target for a low 14:40, but with the extra 1.3 miles, I knew I would have to go as hard as I could to get under 15. The trail was runnable, I felt fresh. I yelled into the night the Oiselle mantras, “head up, wings out” and "go fast, take chances". And I flew. I pushed and with each pushed discovered I had a little more to give. I tried to find my limit and with each step discovered that I had more to give, more to push. I have never run that hard. Hollis once told me that I needed to run “eyeballs out” in a marathon and in that moment I finally understood how that felt. To go to the next level, you have to push in a way that risks everything, holds nothing back. And for the first time, I was going to leave nothing out on course.

Coming into HQs, I was flying. Yiou and Hollis were with me and running me in (or trying to keep up). I dropped my headlamp, bottle and waist pack where my crew station had been and turned the final two corners to the finish line. 14:52:06. Holy Shit, what did I just do. First woman, 2nd overall, CR by 50 mins, sub 15. That is 8:46 per mile pace, even with sitting in my chair for 10+ mins. 

I had just put together the best run of my career. I had come back from the dead. I had pushed myself harder than I have ever in a race. I asked myself for more and continually found another gear, another level.

I came to Javelina to do something that scared me. To do something that challenged me and pushed me. I did that but I realize now that I also came away having discovered the runner that I can be, the runner that I am. This is me and this was my day.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Full results here: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2015JJResults100Mile.htm

Where to?

Photo by Peter Kirk Media. Used with permission

Photo by Peter Kirk Media. Used with permission

I came back from South Africa inspired and excited. I started plotting ways to return to Cape Town because I miss my friends, the trails and life down there. I started signing up for races for next year that I am excited and passionate about. I haven't felt this invigorated by my racing in a long time.

I came back from South Africa with a drastically different outlook on the way forward too. After being thwarted by high humidity (80%!!) in my OTQ attempt at Cape Town marathon, I was as frustrated as ever with the pursuit of the qualifier time. I have been frustrated for a while but mainly because my life for the last few years has been in no way conducive to running my fastest. Yes, my training this year has been much better but I was constantly working against that with terribly long hours on the night shift, taxing my body and mind in ways that no amount of good training can overcome. I didn't have the luxury of a desk job or a part time job or no job; I am down an dirty doing physical labor on the hardest shift imaginable that messes up even a non-runner. But I didn't accept this. I simply thought I could will my way past it. I can only now begin to understand the toll, as I have "retired" from the night shift and my body is starting to slowly recover, demanding 10-11 hours of sleep a night. I know it will take a long time to undo the damage, especially since I continue to tax my body with hard training.

The reality is, I have not really truly raced an A race since 2012 marathon or ultra or otherwise. It simply has not been possible. And so my numerous marathons over the past two and a half years have instead of filling me with joy and pride for the accomplishments, have compounded over time to just frustrate me. The arbitrary time goal frustrates me. I have run faster than 2:43 numerous times and so the goal of simply running sub 2:43 is not a deep and passionate one. And I failed to see it. 

I was only able to remember what it is like to feel passionate about a goal race after running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km. While UTCT was not an A race for me simply on the fact of my training not being specific for it, it unlocked an excitement and reinvigoration for my ultra goals. I never intended to pursue the OTQ and put aside my ultra dreams, but life/work and circumstances (like injuries and coaching changes) has made my year shape up differently than I had planned. But after finishing UTCT 100km, I have an undeniable thirst for adventure. I went so deep into the darkness during that race and found my way out that I am inspired and eager to continue to explore my limits. I need a break from the clock and again need to just stand on the start line and say, "can I even make it to the finish line?". That is what is making me excited right now. I want to take on things that people say I can't do, I want to take on things that people say aren't my style. I want to seek and explore my running in the way I use to; without bounds or limits. I want to continue to be as multidimensional and non-event specific as I ever have been. I want to run cross country, do obstacle course and tackle 100 milers. I want to run fast on the road and learn how to blast up hill over technical terrain. I came home excited and thirsty for new adventures and I knew that my race schedule for the fall would change. Yes, I still want to be at the next Olympic Marathon Trials, but not at the cost of putting off what is truly making me passionate now. I have been to the Trials, it was awesome, that is why I want to go back, not because I have a snowballs chance in hell of making the team. It is an honor to be there and it pushed me to my best. But I've been there and I represented as the first ultra/trail/mtn runner. If I don't make it I will be sad, but I will in fact have more opportunities. And I don't want to deny the rest of my runner self for that race any more.

I buzzed for days after UTCT. For being so hard, I found it to be an interesting side effect that I wanted to seek out challenges that could be as difficult or even more difficult. So I scrapped my fall plans and cleared the deck. On one of my very first wobbly legged runs after returning home, I was struck with an idea. I "raced" home and emailed my coach, Ian Torrence, with my idea. He was enthusiastically on board and I started to make plans. Things just clicked in my head and I knew what I wanted. I wanted to run 100 miles and I wanted to do it now. And with that, I signed up for Javelina Jundred on Oct 31st. It is my first 100 miler start since 2010 and hopefully will be first 100 mile finish since 2008. Am I ready? Yes. Am I scared? F-yeah! 100 miles is a long way. Doesn't matter how "hard" or "easy" a course is. It is a long long way. But I am ready because I am ready to embrace whatever the day has for me. I am ready because I am passionate about exploring my limits and seeing what I can do. I am excited to be out there. I have no goals other than getting to the finish line. I am just looking forward to being the runner that I want to be.

Birds of a feather, fly together.

I have had nightmares (some real, some imagined) my whole life about spending extending amounts of time with large groups of women. It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I set out for Oiselle's annual bird camp this past Friday-Tuesday to be held in Leavenworth, WA. I was excited to meet and spend time with many of the Nest, Haute Volee and Volee, the majority of whom I have either never met or have only known through social media. But let's be real, I was nervous. Would they like me? Would they accept me? Will I fit in?

Colchuck Lake. Photo credit Oiselle!.

Colchuck Lake. Photo credit Oiselle!.

I kind of chuckle to myself now that I was even nervous because I wouldn't be on this team or a part of this "run family", as Sally calls it, if it wasn't made up of accepting, sweet, strong, beautiful, interesting, badass women who many of the same fundamental principals (all beautifully summed up in the Oiselle Team Manifesto). In fact, the experience didn't just exceed my expectations, it was problem the most satisfying four days in a row I've spent doing anything for a long time. 

It's all fun and trail games until you bust a hole in the side wall of your tire. Lauren Fleshman is one tough chick!

It's all fun and trail games until you bust a hole in the side wall of your tire. Lauren Fleshman is one tough chick!

And these days were not magical because of some over the top production or bought experience. It was the people, the experiences we shared together and the community we got to build and deepen. We got to run with different ladies from all over in extraordinarily beautiful setting, we ate amazing food at our retreat location Sleeping Lady, we enjoyed smart, funny and insightful talks, we got to sit down together as a Haute Volee TEAM and discuss how we continue to grow and support each other across disciplines. I loved being able to spend time with women who inspire me deeply and are my "sister-heros" and connect with women of all abilities, backgrounds and experience. 

Colchuck Lake.

Colchuck Lake.

I walked away from these few days absolutely inspired and happy, having learned a great deal from each and every person I had the pleasure of spending time with. 

This is what I believe. Oiselle makes the most amazing clothing for female runners. Watching nearly 100 women walking around in every stitch the brand makes all weekend really brought this home. We looked fierce, all of us different shapes and sizes, and put together and ready to run, hike, bike, chill or take on the world. We witnessed some design ideas that were so excited I think our minds were all blown. Oiselle's product game is on point. But as a brand, they are much much much more than that. They are trailblazing towards a new paradigm in women's running. They are changemakers, who want to see the sport evolve, grown, deepen and include. They want to build a community that accepts us all, from short to tall, from 100m to 100 miles (or less or more!) to throwing heavy objects or jumping over things, that supports us, that drives this sport in the right direction with passion and love. 

My twin from another mother and soul sister, Dr Dre. Photo Andrea Duke.

My twin from another mother and soul sister, Dr Dre. Photo Andrea Duke.

I don't just believe this, I witnessed this in action this weekend. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of #birdcamp15 and to be a part of the Oiselle run family. I cannot wait to see the heights to which we can soar together.

Learning to Race again: Tale of Two Oceans 56km

I never really thought it was possible to forget how to race. Once I started ultrarunning in 2006, I raced so frequently that it was a skill sharpened and refined often. Between 2011 and 2012, I frequently nailed A, B, and C races. It felt good to know how to push, how to plan a good race for myself and how to get the most of out my body on race day.

My last big A race I completed was Comrades Marathon in 2012. That is nearly 3 years ago and it didn't go as well as I would have liked but it was an amazing experience. Since then, I have completed a lot of marathons. Some even could be considered "C" races, like Napa Marathon last month which felt perfectly executed. I thought after that race that I still knew how to "race", but really, as I learned over the weekend, it is a skill and sometimes being out of practice in its subtleties will stop you in your tracks from having the race your fitness might warrant.

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Last week, I flew half way around the world to take on my first ultra for the first time in two years. I was excited to return to Cape Town, South Africa for my second attempt at the Two Oceans Marathon 56km event. It is the second largest ultra in the world with 11,000 entries in the 56km distance. That is insane compared to any US ultra. I love the event, the energy and the insane competition. I had goals for the race which thankfully didn't need modification when the course was rerouted due to wildfires in the cape. The reroute meant doubling the size of the first climb and the outlook for weather was extremely windy. I wanted to "race" this but didn't feel any pressure internally or externally to perform. I've fallen off most people's maps in the last two years and it puts me in a nice comfortable dark horse position. My racing this year has all been training so the efforts don't really reflect the kind of shape I am in. Going in to Two Oceans, I felt fit enough to win if I ran a good race. I feel strong and good on the hills. My goal however was to be smart and use this race to prepare for my big goals at Comrades. Comrades is THE race I am focusing on and I would give up everything else for that goal. I wanted to use Two Oceans as a solid lead up for Comrades, remember how to get my legs under me while traveling so far and make sure I still know how to race.

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

I flew to Cape Town on Tuesday, arriving on Thursday morning after 30+ hours of travel. My body was ok, I had slept enough (more than I usually do, ha!) on the plane, I was tight but thought I would be fine. Thursday turned out to be quite hectic and I was unable to get anything to eat until almost 2pm after eating nothing since the evening before. It was a product of being in a group of people and having to go with the group (picking up everyone, picking up the van at the airport, going to the expo) I believe this underfueling was the root cause of some of my energy issues on Saturday. Thursday to me is the most crucial day of fueling for a Saturday race and I barely ate that day, let alone ate enough carbs. This will be one of the main things I focus on for Comrades.

Ultimately, a few things leading up to the race including tightness and bad fueling lead me to not have the race that I wanted. A few mistakes on race day further held me back. I don't think that my fitness was accessed at all due to these mistakes. I could be disappointed about it, but I am not, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn them now so that I can better prepare for them next time.

Photo by  4OMTOM .   Used with Permission.  Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

Photo by 4OMTOM.  Used with Permission. Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

I flew halfway around the world and lined up with some incredible talent. The gun went off and I had the day that I did. I fought the 30 mph headwinds, the hills and myself. I battled to the finish line and was incredibly proud to finish strong passing two women in the last 1000 meters, including one woman at the line. I finished 7th place in a stacked field on a really off day. I am pleased with my progression even if at times it seems to be incredibly slow. 

Photo by   4OMTOM  . Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

Photo by 4OMTOM. Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

I am working on coming back. I am working on regaining and surpassing my former fitness and taking on big goals. That is not easy, it is not glamorous and it doesn't always go to plan. If the journey were easy, it wouldn't be as worth it to undertake. I absolutely love Two Oceans Marathon and I will go back again, and as often as I can. I really appreciate being a part of the Nedbank Green Dream team. I am so happy I had the opportunity to put myself out there on this big stage and begin to learn to race again. It makes me even more excited and dedicated to what is to come.

 

The comeback kid

Akron Marathon. September 2014

Akron Marathon. September 2014

It's been almost exactly 2 years since I really raced. This time two years ago I was getting back into phenomenal shape after a brief injury at the end of an amazing 2012. I raced a competitive field of ladies at Chuckanut 50k coming in 2nd, then followed it up a week later with a CR & victory at the Oakland Marathon. I was excited and inspired to see what I could do as a racer. 2012 had given me a glimpse of my potential, but I feel like I had not had enough time yet to truly reach my potential. And then the bakery happened a lot sooner and in a lot grander scale than we had imagined. I knew that my racing would be sacrificed and that I was willing to do what it took to get the bakery rolling. And I haven't raced since. 

You might say, but wait, you ran 9 marathons since then! And yes, I have started 9 marathons in that time but I haven't raced them. I have run them most with just general fitness (I can run a 2:48 like a boss!) or the ones I was in slightly better shape for have had complications due to work stress or health issues. I couldn't really do consistent work over the past two years. Workouts after a 10 hour shift on your feet in the heat of the day are not quality. Stress, anxiety and lack of sleep further deteriorate any chance at quality. For the remainder of the 2013 year after Oakland, I was relatively satisfied just running. I actually signed up for races just to get the weekends off! 

But as 2014 rolled in and the ultra that is opening a "big" small business such as ours revealed itself, my discontent grew. I was not ready to give up my goals. I was not ready to let go of the potential I have. I made a few attempts in 2014 to get things rolling, but the business was not ready. I knew I would not be able to race well until I could get my own schedule under control. Through many frustrations and growing pains, I realized with great clarity that I wanted more than anything to see what my potential as a runner could be. I couldn't let it go. And so, I bided my time, went underground in to my cave and began to plot my re-emergence.

Surf City Marathon 2015. Victory!!!!

Surf City Marathon 2015. Victory!!!!

I began to plot, I began to plan. I began to be able to do the work and workouts that would be required to gain back all the edge I had lost. I knew I needed to be all in. I had to commit. I couldn't do this half way. I had been trying to do that for 2 years and it just doesn't work. I had to put it all on the line. And so, with the support of Nathan, I went all in. I started signing up for races, committing to big hairy scary audacious goals and putting the pieces in play to make this year an amazing comeback for me. I took a really non-restful, back breaking quasi-retirement from racing and now I am on the hunt.

The first two things I did to begin to work towards my goal was signing with Oiselle and starting to work with Coach Jason Koop and CTS. Being a sponsored athlete is a commitment which I take very seriously. I want to be someone for my sponsors and for my coach. Oiselle has been amazingly supportive and made my have a sense of fashion at the same time. Working with Koop for the past 6 weeks has been an incredible endeavor. I have given myself over to the process and enjoyed simply doing the intense work. I don't think I have ever done this kind of work before. I never had the accountability. Now, I am focused, informed and ready to do the work as Coach intends me to do. I am sure Nathan is tired of me chirping "Koop said... Koop thinks...." but the reality is I have a coach now, not just a plan and someone to walk me through every step of the process.

Napa Valley Marathon 2015. En route to victory #2 of the year!

Napa Valley Marathon 2015. En route to victory #2 of the year!

Now, I wake up on Monday mornings tired from an amazing weekend of hard work and buzzing with excitement for my big races to come. I am hungry for the work and the challenges. It is invigorating to be beginning this process and slowly emerging from my cave after months of toiling in the dark (literally and figuratively as I have been working 7 days a week on the night baking shift for 5 months which will so end). I am excited.

At the beginning of February, after a great month of training in January including some killer workouts while on our "annual days off" from the bakery, I raced Surf City Marathon. I had a rough day due to an over adjustment of my thyroid meds which left me supremely dizzy and lightheaded, but I was stoked to win the race, soloing the whole thing in 2:48. It was not an A race, so I was happy to jump right back in to training and start my coaching by Koop. After a few weeks with Koop, I was slated for another race, this time the Napa Valley Marathon. My big goal races for the year are Comrades and Leadville, my secondardy races are Two Oceans and Pittsburgh Marathon (at least until September after Leadville I am undecided), so anything else is in support of those goals. Napa, as it has traditionally been for me, is a fantastic training race. Beautiful weather, great course, lovely people, I was very excited to get back out there feeling fit. Last year was probably the most suffering I've done in a race in a long time as I was severely anemic and barely could walk it in at the end. I was determined to execute a controlled, even effort. Koop told me that he wanted me to run 6:20s and not let the race atmosphere push me into going faster. The point was to be able to jump back into workouts pretty quickly. I needed to stay smooth, comfortable and reined in. And I did just that.

Rolling with my homies.

Rolling with my homies.

When I woke up race morning, I felt great. I felt no nerves. I just felt bad-ass. I text Nathan "I am going to win. I hope you like wine" (since the prize is 5 cases of wine). From the gun, I took control of the race. I felt in control of myself and it just felt easy. I stayed in easy gear, tucked in with a few guys and just started rolling. I was right around 6:15-6:20 pace and felt like I was jogging. I considered for a moment whether I should push for the 2:43 and OTQ, but decided to trust the plan, execute the plan that Koop and I had decided on. I never looked back. The whole race I felt invigorated. This is me, this is what I want, this is how I want to feel, was all I could think. I smiled and smiled and smiled as the miles rolled easily. Around mile 20, I decided to pick it up a notch and dropped the guys who had given me great company for so many miles. Pick it up a notch at that point of Napa means, run harder with diminishing returns since there is always a headwind, but I did increase my effort. For my final 1/2 mile, I decided to put a little zing in and dropped down to 5:40/mile pace. I broke the tape in a winning time of 2:45:48- perfectly executed on plan for my third Napa victory.

Total elation

Total elation

Two marathon victories in two months? Things are trending well. I bounced back off Napa really well and we are back to work towards Two Oceans on April 4th. Yes, winning is nice, but the reality is, I feel like I am getting back to me. Devon the runner is coming back. That is so intensely important to me whether or not I ever win another race. I just want to feel like I am exploring the limits of what I can do. I can't wait to see how things continue to unfold.

A very special thank you to all of my sponsors especially Oiselle, Julbo and CTS! Thank you for believing in me!

Comeback or move forward

Second run back, marking the Firetrails 50 course
Photo by Brett Rivers

Six weeks ago I was in the best shape of my life. Workouts were going great. I was coming off a good training run at Kauai marathon feeling hungry to go after a PR in the low 2:30s at Chicago. Fit as a fiddle and ready to roll. 

I was excited and motivated to keep pushing. But then I fell and then I was injured. A month ago, I was still hoping to be able to run on our wedding day. Instead, I had to watch from the sidelines (and shed some tears) about not being able to join my friends for some wedding weekend running. I had to withdraw from Chicago, cancel my trip and miss out on seeing my sister PR in the windy city on her birthday. The last six weeks have been filled with the best of times (getting married!!!) as well as some very rough times (it is not in fact just me that is injured, Nathan has a stress fracture in his foot). 

With an injury like mine, there comes a point when you feel like you are no longer just trying to bridge the healthy running with intense cross training and instead are struggling to hold on to your goals. You come to a point where no matter how hard you workout in the pool or on the bike or on the elliptical, that you just don't feel fit anymore. It took me four weeks to get back to running and naturally, I went out of the gate pretty hard with it. The first week it felt blissful to just be back out on the trails again. I felt nervous and tentative about pushing my foot/ankle too far. But that blissful caution wore off pretty quickly with the reality of my upcoming goals. I am slated to do NYC marathon in less than two weeks. Last week I pushed myself like a crazy person and took risks that I might not have if I was simply focused on my healthy return. I was focused on the comeback, not moving forward. 

The funny thing about the idea of a comeback is that it is not very forward thinking. It is a focus on getting back to a place of something, in this case fitness. Moving forward means letting go of where you were and focusing on creating something new; better, strong, faster. Because I have a race rapidly approaching, I have had a comeback mentality which ultimately a very short sighted approach. I could ready myself enough to run NYC in two weeks, but I wonder if it is worth it. I struggled really hard to let go of Chicago and am now faced with making the same choice again. I wonder if I will be fit enough to deserve to stand on the line with the elite women. I wonder if I will get dropped quickly and be bringing up the rear of the elite women's start. I wonder if I will wheezy and lumber myself through an embarrassing performance. I wonder if my ankle will flare up or if it will hold steady. I don't know the answers, but I know that I would make different choices if I had no races on the immediate schedule. It is a complex thing to decide whether to come back or move forward.

I want to make the right decision for my health, for my running, for my racing. Ultimately, I simply love to run and I love that my body has allowed me for so long to push it this way. I want to respect it and take care of it so I can do it for a long time.