If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I’m a doer. I get stuff done. And if I’m in, I’m all the way in. So when I started trail running, I didn’t mess around. I ran 13 races in my first year, and kept going for five years, racking up about 33 races by the end of 2017. At first, it took me two years of running and racing consistently to get past the many overuse injuries I sustained as I gained experience and knowledge. Running is simple, right? Lace up your shoes and run. Nope. There’s a lot to it, and it takes dedication, time, focus, discipline, and most of all, consistency; especially when you’re running ultra distances. There are many pieces that have to fit together to make the complex puzzle work, but when you’ve got it running smoothly, there’s nothing like that feeling of flow. So how do we do it all and reach that state of running nirvana?
Balancing family, career, home ownership and maintenance, pet care, friendships, and whatever else I’ve got going on is a full-time job and it can really feel like I’m in a constant state of juggling with three balls in the air. The feeling of excitement I have when I press Enter on my keyboard and sign up for a big race a few months away can seem like a distant memory, and my thoughts can turn negative when life seems to collide with my training schedule. At one point, after racing consistently for a few years, I had felt defeated – like I just wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. It felt like I was constantly going and never had time to just enjoy life, sitting in my backyard sipping tea or playing with my dog. I decided to take time off and focus on other things for a while, not sure if I’d ever go back to ultras.
As it turned out, I took off almost two years and focused on my family and my career, studying Aikido, gardening, and hanging out with my chickens. I continued to stay active, centering my training around functional strength, and throwing in a couple of Spartans for fun. Though I enjoyed Spartan, the vibe just wasn’t my thing. The AROO thing and all that just wasn’t the same as quiet trails with the sun shining through the trees, and I missed the vibe of trail races where there was excited chatter of friends at the start or the short but encouraging and cheerful conversations at aid stations when I stopped, dusty and achy, to grab a bite and share a few words with a familiar face on the other side of the table. There was just something about ultras that made me want to go back.
So I mulled it over in my head and after a while, I decided to switch coaches and start working with Michele Yates of Rugged Running. I have enjoyed working with different coaches over the years, learning different things from each one, and after our initial conversation on the phone, I was excited to get started. She started me off easy to build my aerobic base again, and threw in regular strength training. I made quick progress and soon turned my thoughts to a race to sign up for. I picked Pigtails 100 and signed up for some 50k and 50-mile races as training races beforehand. But as I progressed in my training, my job suddenly ramped up and I found myself traveling a lot, ending up spending long days at the office in Alaska, and then going out to business dinners afterward, then having to train. I’ve always had a hard time sleeping at night, so morning training doesn’t work for me. It wrecks me if I wake up too early and I can’t focus at work, so I found myself doing late nights on the treadmill in the middle of winter in Anchorage, and even did a 20-mile treadmill run one dark winter day. I soon realized I wasn’t enjoying myself and decided to take a while off again. I opted to drop my races, and I called Michele to tell her. To my surprise, she was super understanding and supportive. I took off for a couple of months, but it wasn’t long before I started to want to train again. After visiting a friend in Hawaii who Michele had introduced me to and who was training for Run Rabbit Run 50-miler in September, I was easily convinced to register for the same race. I felt ready to go back, but was unsure how I’d balance it all again and stay content. I figured I’d just put one foot in front of the other and see where it took me, and I promised myself that if I weren’t enjoying myself I’d stop, no matter what the investment had been.
So where am I today and what makes it different? I found a few things have changed for me: One is that I know I can trust myself to take care of myself. If I’m not having fun, I let it go. After all it’s supposed to be fun, first and foremost. Two, with Michele I get quality over extreme quantity. The strength work has really made running more enjoyable for me, as I just don’t suffer as much. Climbing is more fun and I feel better on longer runs. I mainly do speed workouts during the week, hitting the track for intervals, and then rotating in strength workouts on top of them. On weekends, I do hill repeats and longer runs, and throw in a 50k race or a fatass for fun, training, and to stay in touch with people.
The key for me to support my running and ensure that I feel good and balanced is to get plenty of rest and eat whole foods, supporting my recovery with excellent nutrition. In cutting out crap foods that make me feel terrible, give me stomach troubles, or contribute to inflammation and overall fatigue, I focus on getting the biggest bang for my buck with everything I put into my body. Certainly, I don’t do it perfectly. Sometimes when I’m traveling for work, I eat too much rich food or feel bloated and tired after a long day at work eating café foods etc., but I don’t get bogged down by that. I accept my schedule is intense and that I’m not going to do it perfectly when it comes to nutrition. That said, in general, I focus on my training, nutrition, and rest to ensure I’m giving myself every chance to feel good. I also plan my runs at times of the day when things are slower at work and I can get out the door, or do them right after work, no matter how tired I am, so that the reward is a hot shower and delicious healthy dinner. Note: I started studying the Wim Hoff method a while back, and learned that turning the water very cold at the end of a shower has immune boosting benefits, so I do that at the end of each shower. I relax my body and breathe through the discomfort, and focus on the health benefits I’m getting. As it turns out, I have not been sick since I started doing it. There’s a lot more to it than that, so Google it! It’s super interesting.
I also enjoy finding new ways to play with nutrition to grow my confidence and find that feeling of vitality I enjoy so much. Currently I’m eating nutrition based on my epigenetic markers. By changing things up and finding cool ways to support my health, I find the whole process of training more enjoyable.
In the end, there’s no one way to do this thing. Everybody’s body is different, we all have different lifestyles, families, careers, etc. So it’s important to try a variety of things to see what works for you. And if something isn’t working, change it. Don’t compare yourself to others, but instead dig into what really motivates and works for you and go with that. Many of us know people who run multiple 100-milers a year and never seem wiped out. That’s not my story. And whatever my reasons – single mom, demanding career, blah blah – it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I enjoy my process, sign up for races that excite me, work with coaches who inspire and support me as well as teach me new things, and generally do what feels right when it comes to training, nutrition, and rest.
You only have to look at the results of your actions to know if what you’re doing is right. Pay attention to how you feel, change the things that don’t feel right, and find your own way. Sometimes minor adjustments are all that’s needed.