“There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, “what if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” ~ Erin Hanson
It was my time to let go of that pesky voice of self-doubt and fear… it was my time to fly. I lined up at the starting line with this strange dichotomy of complete confidence in myself, my training and abilities, coupled with the imposter voice of self-doubt. A voice that has made me question myself for much of my life and tends to show up when I’m at the start line. “You’re not fast enough... You don’t belong out here... You are going to fall apart... You didn’t train hard enough,” even though I had trained harder and smarter than ever in my life. I prepared for the demands of this race and won two competitions earlier in the year. Still, I didn’t think I had any business lining up at the front or even being in the race for that matter. It turns out that this isn’t just an issue for me. In fact, it’s a problem impacting many female athletes and explains part of the gender gap in participation in ultra-marathons. Caleb Efta, the High Lonesome race director, developed a policy to promote inclusivity in the race for women, so 50% of the lottery is guaranteed for those slots. This is so awesome because there is a much lower female participation rate in ultra-marathons. Many of the reasons for this gap is due to the very things I have had to fight for to participate myself. Women feel less inclined to partake due to imposter syndrome, where they don’t feel welcome and comfortable. They feel at times that the sport is less accommodating with gaps in pay, prize money, and sponsorship. Women more often than not take on the childcare role along with working, so the time and ability to train can be a bit more limited. There are many forward progressing efforts to increase female participation in all sports and I hope that our next generation feels more welcome. Now onto the race. The gun went off and we all settled into a relaxed pace, but I noticed the tempo seemed almost too relaxed for me, so I inched up. Feeling like my effort was super easy, I chatted away and kept moving forward, taking the lead within the first mile. We turned onto the Colorado Trail and winded up to the first aid station at Raspberry Gulch. It felt so fresh and amazing. I then shared some miles with other runners and kept my pace fully conversational. I was so freaking happy to finally be in this race… after two long years of waiting, dreaming, and the crazy amount of training I did building up.
I continued up the first major climb to Little Browns Creek. It is 4,750 in seven miles and leads above 13,000 feet. Talk about a monster. I did this one in training and it chewed me up and spit me out. Not today though, because I felt stellar. I alternated between running and hiking then before I knew it, the mighty Mount Antero and alpine skyline opened up. The air was thin, but I was ready and felt at home. The top of this section reveals vast 360 views, where you feel so small amongst the mighty Sawatch peaks.
It felt great to have the climb crest and break to some rolling terrain before the steep and rugged trek down the Antero HOV road into the Ghost Town of Saint Elmo. Although feeling really good, I held my discipline on this descent, which I typically would have bombed down in a shorter race or in training. At the end of the descent that seemed to go on endlessly in true 100-mile fashion, I was ready for a “gait change” and was hungry to start ascending again. Easier said than done because the next section was HOT and relatively flat with some light uphills that were just enough to keep you from holding a strong rhythm. Occasionally there were ATVs screaming by, but I just kept on the mission and moving forward. Arriving in the ghost town of Saint Elmo was an awesome experience. It was teeming with sightseers and some locals… most of them looking at us like we were nuts. The well-preserved buildings of Colorado’s mining history were truly something to admire and added to the adventure of the course.
Shortly after Saint Elmo, I finally got my climb! I hit the Saint Elmo aid and turned onto the Poplar Gulch trail, which was a beautiful single track that would take us over Laws Pass (one of 5 mountain passes in the race) at 12,000+ feet and over to Cottonwood where I could meet my crew. My big toe was hurting from the top of Little Browns Creek Trail and was getting extremely painful, so I needed a shoe change badly. I mostly ran the Poplar Gulch climb and felt good, but wanted to get into some new footwear sooner than later. My only concern was that my crew wouldn’t be there yet, because I was coming in 40 minutes earlier than projected. I ran solidly down the pass and into Cottonwood, feeling so relieved that Ryan (my husband) was on it and had been tracking me. He knew I was ahead of schedule. We changed out the shoes, exchanged hugs, and I started making my way back up Laws. This is where I got to see all of the other runners. It was amazing to exchange praise and good energy with what felt like an ultra-running family on the course. I hooted and howled for every runner, especially the other women, whom I know disproportionately feel the same doubts I felt at that start line. Making my way into Saint Elmo the second time, I started to feel the first “wall” come in, but it wasn’t terrible. Yet again, I was on an HOV road with rallying ATVs. It was rolling and just runnable enough, but then my stomach started going. Even though on paper this was one of the easier parts of the course, I had to push myself through. I just kept soothing myself with the kind and mother-like reassurance I have always trained with. A lot of success in ultra-running comes from keeping yourself from going down the negative thought rabbit hole. For some, a tough but encouraging drill sergeant voice helps. For those of us who are already excessively hard on ourselves, a compassionate approach helps. I continued to feel frustrated that I had to hike much of the runnable climb up to Tin Cup Pass. Although, when I got back I saw that I had several of the fastest times on this section and raked up Strava crowns and trophies. This goes to show that our minds can make us feel like things are going worse than they really are, so stay calm, positive, eat, and then move. Up high on Tin Cup, I entered an alpine wonderland and was welcomed by two giant bull moose. They wanted nothing to do with me, but I learned later that other runners got some grief from the alpine giants. I could still see the red dots ahead of me, who were the second and third place men.
I was running with them prior to this section and elected not to run hard down Laws the second time, in an effort to preserve my legs for the remaining 14,000 feet of elevation gain/loss on the course.
Eventually, I arrived at Hancock, which was roughly halfway. I got to see my crew again and meet my pacer. They made me sit in a chair and I have never sat in an ultra… not ever. I loaded up my pack with the night gear, pants, long sleeve shirt, hat, emergency bivy, and my headlamp. It felt like I was carrying a turtle shell. I grabbed one of the burritos I had made and tried to muscle it down to no avail. Solids were not happening anymore… that became very clear. This is where I had to practice fluidity making fast and smart decisions to save my race because it would end quickly if I couldn't get in any calories. I switched over to liquid calories and did about 45+ miles without any solids, which saved my race but definitely was not what I was expecting.
My pacer Max and I made our way up past Hancock Lake. The location was absolutely breathtaking. We continued pressing on and I was able to move really well at this point, much faster than I was anticipating, although I had slowed down from the first half of the race. I still haven’t figured out the ideal pacing for 100 milers. We climbed up the High Lonesome ridge and I was able to see the expansive southern tip of the Sawatch range, which was incredible. I was in so much awe and truly joyful to be out there.
As the fatigue of the earlier miles set in and it got dark, I started to worry about getting caught and passed. I fought to mentally keep the greater picture in mind. That picture was the joy of running through these gorgeous mountains, the knowledge that this was the only moment I had out there, and that there were no guarantees I would ever get to do it again. I just tried to savor the scenery as well as every smell of fresh willow and fir tree. I soaked up the positive energy from everyone involved: my crew, pacers, race volunteers, and other runners. Joyfulness, passion, and gratitude are the deeper “why” that you need to dig for internally in order to get through a 100-mile competition. There are notable accolades and fringe benefits we strive for, but they are not enough to keep us pressing on when it gets really tough. The greater meaning behind your personal why, the deeper you can dig and the more longevity you will have in the sport.
I got passed by a few men in this section who had saved more of their running legs for the CT stretch that is composed of rolling hills at lower altitudes. It was challenging for me to manage my footing on the rocks in the dark, but I pressed on, running the flats and downs, hiking the hills as fast as I could. Speed walking was my friend at this point. My second pacer and fellow Rugged Runner, Adam, joined me for the last 17 miles. I was gracious for his patience and ability to reassure me that my pace was on track, to keep my lead, and even get the record after my watch had died. The sun rose and I got to the final aid station where finally my crew and Max, who had been telling me to slow down the whole race, gave me the clear to go hard and get the record. It was funny because my legs didn’t have much left, but I pressed on and threw in a couple of ten-minute miles on the road that seemed pretty fast on 97+miles and 23,000 vert.
I finally arrived at journey’s end and it was beautiful. My family and crew proudly ran with me through the finish. It was all so surreal and went by way too fast. The race director gave me my buckle, which confirmed that I had indeed earned the new women’s course record. That voice that had told me not to line up, that I wasn’t enough, and that I didn’t belong, well… it was wrong. My hard work, ability to smile while suffering, and hours of training had proved the voice of self-doubt wrong.
We all have moments in our lives where we have to choose between living in fear, within our comfort zones, or taking a leap. When we exist stifled by apprehension and doubt, we can never live life to its fullest potential. I hope my story of silencing the voice of self-doubt inspires you to take the leap and fly because you have nothing to lose but opportunities.
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