100 Miles: Heaven or Hell?
There I was, an hour into the Zion Ultra Marathon 100 Kilometer Endurance Race. It began to snow atop the first peak. We entered a four-inch deep mud pit with a slight semblance of a trail—this continued for the next fifteen miles. With a smirk, I embraced the challenge: “This is what I’ve been waiting for.” Soaking wet for seven hours, blood blisters on my feet, an open sore spanning the bottom length of my sports bra band, cactus thorn through my toe, 1500’ climb under two miles at mile 38. No matter the obstacle, nothing could stop me. For 15 hours and 57 minutes, I experienced nothing short of unwavering resolve to accomplish what I set out to do.
Family and friends waited at the finish line and Bodhi yelled, “Go, Goldy! Go, Goldy!” well past her bed time. Could she sense my relief? Exhilaration? Exhaustion? The next morning, I reveled in my accomplishment and repeated in my head, “I’m never running again”, even though I’d signed up for the San Diego 100 miler six weeks after Zion. An extreme endorphin high was quickly followed by total burnout. Did I have another big run in me? I couldn’t stand the thought of giving up on my goal of running 100 miles, so after a couples of weeks I dragged myself out of a pit of doubt and elevated my psyche to race one more time.
Running has been a huge part of our life since I committed to running the Zion 100K last summer, but something was different in preparing for this 100 miler. My resolve wasn’t as strong as it had been in the past. It was getting harder to balance all of my roles. Although I’d like ultra-training to be my priority, it takes a back seat to my full-time demanding job as a water resources planner, being a present and available wife and mother, and maintaining meaningful relationships with friends and family. On top of that, Bodhi has been growing by leaps and bounds in front of my eyes. In the last six months, her vocabulary had doubled, meanwhile I had run 1,482 miles.
What was I missing out on during all those miles I had run? I had "mom guilt" tenfold. I felt guilty when I was missing out on her life, but I also felt guilty if I skipped my training.
My training plan for the 100K was constantly fluctuating now that it involved a thriving toddler. I’d pack in as many miles as possible on my lunch break and if I didn’t get enough, I’d run after daycare pick-up. Weekends I’d run big, back-to-back mileage days (20-30 miles Saturday and Sunday). Sometimes, I’d push Bodhi in the stroller for a few hours or until she threw a tantrum. Keenan would be there for the bailout—he’d pick her up and I’d run home. I was running every chance I got, and it felt like we were prisoners to my running schedule. Weekend miles were unquestionably followed up with a trip to the zoo with Bodhi because I felt that I needed to make up the time I was away from her. I’ve always had the mantra that if you’re not suffering, you’re not training hard enough. I was suffering alright, but was I ready? I missed many runs leading up to the 100 miler and my disappointment from failing to meet my weekly mileage only fueled my anxiety about the race.
As if I needed another sign that I wasn’t ready, Keenan and I got big news a week before the San Diego 100 miler – I found out I was pregnant. I felt torn about going through with the race. I had put in the work and this was my chance but could I live with a worst-case scenario outcome? This was a new level of mother's guilt entangled with my concern over being seen as an egotistical person who would put herself in front of her baby. I couldn’t help but think of those I knew struggling to get pregnant and what a terrible deed I’d be doing if I ran and potentially threatened the gift I’d been given.
After much deliberation, I decided to run with extreme discretion for how my body felt. This was a revelation. I was used to pushing my body to the extreme until my goal was accomplished. Finally, I was giving myself permission to listen to my body, even if that meant failure to complete what I had set out to do. I told myself if there was any issue, I would allow myself to stop. This is completely contrary to what most ultra-runners would do.
The morning of the race, I drove myself up to the mountains and in intense heat and on exposed trails I cautiously ran 12-15minute miles. By mile 21 my chest was tightening and my breath was labored. I surmised that my symptoms were from the 261 pairs of feet shuffling dirt up into a dust cloud that followed us through the Cuyamaca basin and not the 1,000’ I just climbed or my energy deficiency from growing a fetus. I figured the next 79 miles couldn’t be all bad now that the crowds had thinned. Wrong. Within 9 miles I descended into a pit of hell also known to locals as Noble Canyon. Eight miles of steep, quad-busting downhill was followed by 7.6 miles of mixed trudging and rock scrambling on hands and feet. During this time, the canyon had a heat index of over 1oo° F and nearly zero shade. My chest got tighter and taking deep breaths was now painful. After eleven hours and 44 miles, I made it out of Noble Canyon and called it quits.
After all that work I put in, all the miles I logged, all the time away from my family, I felt something I had never felt before — an acceptance that things don't always go as planned and it's okay to adapt. After all, that's what runners (and mothers) do! They assess the obstacles in front of them and figure out the best way to move forward. There will always be another 100 mile race; maybe the next time I race, I will have two little voices yelling “Go, Goldy!”