I recently ran 50 miles for the time at the Antelope Canyon UltraMarathon. It was an amazing accomplishment and I am immensely proud of myself. As I reflect on this latest accomplish, I can’t help but turn back time to the first time I ran 4 miles where the dreams of being a long distance runner all began.
I was living in Clarksville, TN and I had been going out for 2-3 mile runs pretty regularly. The moment I decided I wanted to start going longer, the idea of going farther than 3 miles was daunting and terrifying. But I wouldn’t be deterred and I went out for one of my regular 3 mile routes. When I got back to the beginning, I shot down a different road to add another mile. I felt determined.
As I turned down the road, two old ladies walking their Pekingese were coming straight at me. I swerved and ducked around them and the yappy little dog. They called out, “Great job, how far are you running?”
I sang back, “I’m going on my fourth mile!! Can you believe it?”
These ladies didn’t know me from Eve. There was no reference for them to either believe or not believe that I was capable of this monumental feat. But I wasn’t speaking to them, was I? I was telling myself, proud and out loud, to make sure that I knew, beyond a doubt, that I was capable of such a feat. That fourth mile was a door that I busted open to greater possibilities.
The significance of this moment rises to the ranks of my wedding day, the birth of my children, and completing a 50 mile race.
At that time, 4 miles was epic, almost beyond comprehension. Today, 4 miles is as easy as walking to the mailbox. I have to push myself to new heights and new challenges to get that same sense of pride and accomplishment. But as I conquer new feats, I am grounded in the understanding that it all began with a single step and the courage to conquer a fear.
The courage to put on running shoes and step out for the time – I was terrified I couldn’t do it, but I did it anyway.
The courage to go to a running store to purchase running shoes – I was terrified they would laugh at the newbie, but I did it anyway.
The courage to register for a race – I was terrified I would be a laughingstock, but I did it anyway.
The courage to show up for a group run with strangers – I was terrified no one would talk to me or run with me and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but I did it anyway.
Each time I had the courage to overcome a fear has brought me one step closer to where I am today. And it gives me the foundation to know that each time I face a new fear I have within me the courage to do it anyway.
Gary “Laz” Cantrell, infamous Barkley Marathons race director said, “If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a real challenge. You can’t possibly accomplish anything without the possibility of failure”.
Once upon a time, I took a risk to give running a try knowing that I could fail. Today it is longer and longer runs, running with stronger and stronger runners and most recently going to the gym to do strength training – but I seek out those things that scare me, the places I am vulnerable and try them anyways. Through these actions, I have proven to myself I am stronger than my fears, stronger than my depression, stronger that I realized. I surprise myself time and again and my goal is to keep surprising myself for a long time to come.
What are you afraid of doing for fear of failure? Whatever your answer…..put that at the top of your to-do list! The journey continues…..
5 o’clock AM – The sun is barely rising on the horizon, light gently spilling into my bedroom as I wake for the day. My phone chimes – a text from Kenny. The night before he camped at McDowell Mountain, preparing himself for a weekend to remember. He is letting me know is ready to go and I wish him luck before he heads off to the start line.
6 o’clock AM – Packing up my camping gear, my thoughts are with Kenny as he takes his first steps onto the race course.
Today is the day of the Javalina Jundred, a 100 mile footrace and Jalloween (aka Halloween) Party in the desert. His goal is to run under 24 hours, widely considered to be the gold standard time for completing a 100 mile distance. Think Boston Qualifier. He has been training for this race through the long hot summer months of Phoenix. His legs are strong and his mind is stronger. I have so much confidence that he is going to dominate today.
The boys and I and two amazingly committed, or crazy, friends load up our gear and head out to support him. We are all looking forward to a weekend of hanging out in the desert, though I am quiet with anticipation thinking about how Kenny is doing on his first loop.
Javelina Jundred is run at McDowell Mountain north of Phoenix. It is a beautiful park with smooth easily runnable trails. And while this sounds like the flat runnable trails would make the race easier, it means more running which is exhausting for the legs. A mountainous 100 miler gives different muscles a chance to rest as you climb up, go down, run flat. Further, this course has zero shade….literally. With the hot baking desert sun relentlessly beating down on your skin, even a mild 85 degree day feels scorching. Temperatures have been known to climb well over 100 during this race.
This course is run in 5 loops. The first loop is the longest at 22.3 miles long. Kenny is planning to run it in roughly 4 hours giving us just enough time to get there and prepare to meet him. Upon arrival at the park, I load up the wagon with Tailwind, hummus wraps, change of clothes, water, Nuun, shoes, sock, a chair, an umbrella and more. It feels quite a lot like that first trip out to the grocery store with a new born baby.
9:30 AM – We head to the start/finish area where we will meet Kenny. Keegan and Quinlan run around, playing, getting dirty. As the minutes creep by, I get quieter and more focused, hoping any moment to see Kenny come around the bend.
10:15 AM – At last we see him, 4 hours and 15 minutes after the race started. 22.3 miles down and he is on schedule. Bad news though. He looks terrible, dragging and down trodden. I lower him into a chair and Quinlan holds up an umbrella for shade, a precious commodity today. My job is to diagnose any and all of his needs and in his condition he isn’t the most cooperative patient because even he isn’t sure.
He is nauseous but describes it more in the chest, not the gut. He tries to throw up and he doesn’t get any food out. He does gets a big gas bubble and feels slightly better. Later we will figure out that with the dry air and difficulty chewing, he is swallowing a lot of air. I patch him up the best I can and send him back on his way. It will be 19.5 miles until I see him again. With him feeling this poorly so early in the race, I am getting nervous. But I know that if we can keep his spirits up, he is going to be just fine.
If there is anything Kenny is capable of, it is pushing through physical distress and staying strong mentally. For many runners, hitting a problem 6 miles into a 100 mile race could spell disaster, but not for Kenny. I am concerned for him, but have faith he will soldier on.
11 o’clock AM – I head back to the campsite and spend some time playing with the boys, chatting with Kristie and Kim, and hoping for the best. Javelina Jundred is a notorious event. Sporting prizes for things like “Best Costume” and “Best Ass”, runners pull out all the stops making it an entertaining time. As we sit enjoying the day, Kim jumps excitedly out of her chair and makes sweeping gestures to the race course. “Come on, come on, you have to see this!”
In true Javelina fashion, a runner comes through wearing a bright red thong. We gawk at his dedication and are so in awe of his tenacity, and his ass, that we fail to notice that he is wearing arm sleeves, and a water pack. Trust me, you would fail to notice it too.
3 o’clock PM – Four more hours pass and we head back to the start/finish. There is no way for us to track Kenny’s progress with the exception of one aid station half way. Based on that time, we think he might still be on pace. This fact gives me hope that he is doing better. Four and a half hours after we saw him the first time, he comes rolling through again….in MUCH better spirits. 40 miles in and he is feeling pretty good. He tells me his legs are dead, but I remind him “You don’t need your legs.” Folks, this is the mindset of a ultrarunner. You don’t need your legs to run the rest of those miles. You need your mind and his is strong.
He has doctored up his clothes to deal with the heat and it is working well. We don’t need to spend much time with him this go around. We get him patched up and back on the course. I am still confident he can hit his sub-24 hour goal.
He anticipated his third leg to be slower. It is 40 miles into the race, he is getting tired but doesn’t yet have a pacer to keep him company. In 100 mile distances, runners can pick up a pacer at certain points to keep them company and to watch out for their well-being. He will be picking up a pacer when he heads out on his fourth loop so he has another five hours or so on his own.
5 o’clock PM – The next hours are uneventful. The boys enjoy a burping contest, some wood-fired pizza, hot chocolate by a campfire and giant connect four. I enjoy relaxing and being in my favorite place in the world, out in nature with family, friends, and lots of crazy runners. We settle the boys in for bed and then head back to the start/finish area to wait again for Kenny. It is dark now, rapidly cooling off and the fatigue is setting in for us as we desire to get some sleep. Kenny’s fatigue is no doubt tremendous and picking up a pacer for his next loop will definitely breath some life into him.
9 o’clock PM – When we see him for the third time he is still looking good. He jokes with us and celebrates an Ohio State win over Penn State. We execute our now perfectly organized routine, changing shoes and socks, refilling supplies in his pack and making sure he has all he needs to set back out. Chrissie heads out with him to pace his next 20 miles. She is the perfect pacer for him at this point – high energy, enthusiastic, talented, and overall just fabulous company. I can head to get a few hours of sleep knowing he is in great hands.
11 o’clock PM – I climb into bed with the boys and despite my exhaustion I have trouble falling asleep. Ultras are so inspiring and exciting and I lay awake dreaming of the next one I get to run. At last, sleep consumes me and I rest peacefully for a few hours.
Sunday October 29, 2017
2 o’clock AM – Too soon however, the alarm goes off, signaling our need to head back out to greet Kenny one last time. We trudge back to the start/finish. We have arranged for another runner to run the last loop with him. I meet Josh for the first time and thank him for being willing to run with Kenny. This is another amazing aspect of ultrarunning. The community support is so incredible. Where else in the world will you find a complete stranger willing to run 20 miles with someone they don’t know, through the desert, in the middle of the night, especially when the runner they are helping is probably horribly cranky and tired by this point? I LOVE THIS SPORT!
3:30 AM – It is another hour and a half until Kenny comes in. His fourth loop was way slower than his previous loops. Up until this point, his goal of sub-24 was still a possibility, though he would have had to push hard for it. Now, it was a lost dream. We moved onto his B Goal to beat his 100 mile time at Mohican 100 last summer. And that goal was still well within reach.
9 o’clock AM – The camper is broken down, we are packed up and ready to head home. The only thing we are missing is our runner. At 8:29 am, Josh had texted me letting me know they had passed through Rattlesnake Aid Station, 4 miles from the finish. His message said, “He’s moving really good now.” I knew it wouldn’t be long before he showed his happy face.
9:05 AM – He arrives, ripping off his water pack, his shirt, and sporting the biggest smile a face can hold. It is a quarter mile to the actual finish line and he bolts off, moving like he just rolled out of bed, not like he had just run 100 miles. The boys greet him about 100 yards from the finish and Keegan grabs for his hand as he runs the last fews steps with his dad.
9:07 AM – He completes the Javelina Jundred in 27 hours 9 minutes and 32 seconds, a new Personal Record.
Tears are in my eyes watching his complete his goal, watching him prove to our kids yet again that a person can do anything if he puts his mind to it, watching him filled with such joy.
Over the next several days we have spent a lot of time picking apart the race, reflecting on what worked and what did, reliving the challenges and the excitement. Kenny’s unfailing confidence – if he puts his mind to something, he will prevail – is a trait I aspire to embrace and grow in myself. I doubt myself ceaselessly, but his example is a powerful reminder in the strength of a positive attitude and of faith.
Congratulations Kenny Fife. Can’t wait for the next go around.
A woman woke this morning, laced up her running shoes and headed out the door. It is a routine that I myself do almost daily and it is the very thing that keeps my depression at bay and that helps me be the best person that I can be. I am a better mother, wife, and woman because of this routine.
Thousands of women do this same routine, rising before the family to get in the very activity that sets them free. For one Ahwatukee woman, when she stepped out the door this morning, she would never go home again.
I spent the day mourning the death of Martha Hilts of Ahwatukee. I have never met her, but I have shared the same streets, run the same roads. Several women in my running club set out for a run on in the exact same place only 30 minutes after the tragedy struck. How easily it could have been one of them. How easily it could have been me.
As I share my grief with my friends who are dealing with similar surreal feelings, I see us thinking of all the “what ifs?” This reaction leaves us afraid to leave home, afraid to run the same roads we are used to running, afraid that next time it will be our kids that will be left with broken hearts.
My depression, that little devil that whispers so smoothly into my ear, convincing me of its lies, wants me to give into that fear. But running has helped me grow stronger than my depression and each moment is worth living because each moment is all we have. There is no guarantee for the future and it is up to each of us to make each day count. I will not let fear or depression take control of my life.
So while I can’t control what happens around me, I can take steps to make my running experience safer.
Running Safety Tips
Use Headphones Wisely – It is common to hear, “Don’t run with headphones” saying no headphones and expecting running to follow that advice is like teaching a teenager only about abstinence. Many choose to ignore that advice. So I say use headphones wisely – keep the volume low so you can hear sounds around you at all times, run with only one ear bud in, or choose a pair of bone conducting headphones like the Trekz Titanium so you can always hear your surroundings.
Run Against Traffic – This will allow you to see what is coming, how the car is being driven, and so on. Is the car swerving or driving right on the line? That’s a good indication to get as far off the road as possible.
Wear High Visibility Gear – Reflective vests, headlamps, blinking lights. If it is dark out, make sure that you can be seen.
Stay Alert and Vigilant – Even with high visibility gear, always assume that you haven’t been seen. Even though the law gives the right of way to pedestrians, this doesn’t matter if you lose the battle with a car. Chances are very much in favor of the 1200 pound metal box.
Make Eye Contact – If you are crossing the street or a drive, make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of the car. Drivers, especially ones who aren’t active themselves, don’t always think to look for pedestrians. Don’t assume they see you.
Wear or Carry Identification – If something does happen, identification will allow responders to get in contact with your family, identify medical history, and know how to best take care of you. RoadID.com carries a lot of great wearables, but sticking your license in your pocket works just as well.
Run with Friends or a Dog – While it may not keep you safe from a car, running with friends or a dog can keep you safe from other people or wildlife. Both are less likely to attack if you travel in pairs or multiples.
Trust Your Spidey Senses – If you see someone out and you get a feeling of unease, go a different way, cross the street (carefully) or turn around. In most cases, the odds are that person or situation is probably not a big deal, but don’t take that chance if your gut is telling you otherwise.
Make Your Plans Known to the Right People – Don’t broadcast your running route on social media, but let a family member or friend know where you are going and when you expect to be home. Someone needs to know where to look for you should the worst happen.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You – It is easy to become paralyzed in the face of fear. Use your fear to arm you with wise safety tools, and then get out there anyway.
As our community recovers from this tragedy, a lot of us, though we did not know her, will be remembering Martha Hilts and her loved ones in the steps we run each and every day.
Call to Action: What do you do for safety? Comment below on other words of wisdom that you can share with others to keep us safe as we continue our running journeys.
“Opportunities go right by you because you think you’re not ready.” David Goggins, Retired Navy Seal and Ultra-Endurance Athlete
Over the summer, I was debating whether or not I should do Antelope Canyon as my first 50 mile ultra. I wrote about how it seemed meant to be because of an old photo I found of Horseshoe Bend in my vision board, but also how I was terrified of heights and fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle the heights in the race.
After attending a ChiRunning Clinic and talking to the instructor, Lisa, about her experience, especially because she also fears heights, I felt a little more confident. In attendance was also another runner, Tricia, who had signed up for the race as her first ever ultra distance. Inspired by these two ladies, I went home that day and signed up as well. Unfortunately, by this point, the race was full so I was put on a wait list with 114 people ahead of me. For an ultra, that is a lot of people and the likelihood of me getting into this race was looking slim. Read more →
Last weekend I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time. You can read about the beginning of my adventure in this post. After finishing the Grand Canyon Half Marathon Saturday morning, C and I decided to hike below the canyon rim. After exploring our options on Bright Angel versus South Kaibab, C and I opted to hike to Skeleton Point. Not only was this a prime destination, it also would allow us to join Adventure Race’s Skeleton Club. Our destination was set.
I was feeling a little apprehension since I am deathly afraid of heights. Or more appropriately, I am deathly afraid of the long agonizing fall and subsequent splat that results from an untimely departure from a high place. Since this was my first trip to the Grand Canyon, I was uncertain how I would handle the trails. Nevertheless, I refused to let my fear hold me back though. Read more →
Friday afternoon I arrived in Tusayan, AZ to spend a weekend camping, running, and hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon – my very first trip. I have been struggling a lot for the last several months and in the days leading up to this adventure, I was dreading going. I had talked myself into thinking it was not going to be worth my time, that it was more stress than it was worth, and that being away from my family for two days was a bad idea.
In addition to all of this, I had convinced myself that my visit to the Grand Canyon would result in me falling to a spectacular and horrible death. Some days I can be a smidgen dramatic.
Luckily I have a lot of practice following through on the very things that my brain is so diligently telling me “Do Not Do”. In addition to that, I recently embraced ChiRunning which adds a whole new perspective to my running – one that brings more than just the physical benefits (I’ll tell you more about that soon). So Friday morning, I packed up my vehicle, picked up my friend, “C”, and we were on our way.
By the time we reached Tusayan, I was already feeling a thousand times better. Laughter and good conversation will do that for a girl. We pitched our tent and went to the race expo to pick up our packets for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon. We were going to run the race the next morning and the expo was charged with great energy and excitement for the next day.
C and I talked about heading to the visitors center to check out the canyon that night. We had plans to hike the next day after the race but didn’t want to waste an opportunity to see such a wonder. I was feeling nervous because the heights at the Grand Canyon have worried me for a while. I think C was getting nervous on my behalf, but she did a great job easing my fears by teasing me that any moment we were going to drive right off the cliff. Making light of a fear can be a powerful tactic.
We also spent lots of time laughing at the odd shape of my head that prevents me from looking cute in a trucker hat. If you are a trail runner, you will know how cute so many women look in trucker hats. Crazy I know, but very true. And I am desperate to find one that I like, but alas to no avail. We decided that my head was too much like a shrunken apple for me to ever look cute in a trucker hat!
The trip to the visitor’s center was well worth it as I got to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time. No longer a Grand Canyon virgin, I can say that it is well worth the obstacles to get there. No wonder people travel from all over the world to take in its beauty. I am still awestruck almost a week later.
We headed back to our campsite where we hunkered down for the night. Temps were going to drop into the 20s and we were getting prepared. C wrapped herself in her mummy bag and I prayed I wouldn’t need too many middle of the night potty trips into the frigid woods. We survived, though I did learn that a Tempurpedic pillow turns to a solid rock in freezing temperatures. Lesson learned.
The next morning we awoke to find another friend, “K”, had just arrived after traveling 24 hours home from a relief mission in Puerto Rico. This chick is amazing and we were so excited that she was able to join us. I had planned to run the half with her and had been disappointed when it appeared she might not make it, so having her with us was quite the treat.
The half course did not go into the National Park grounds, but it did snake through the Kaibab National Forest. After so many months running in the desert, being surrounded by trees was a nice change. I love the wonder of tall pines towering over my head and the company was nothing short of phenomenal. K was a rock star completing the race after so many hours of traveling. At one point she even asked me to run ahead and see if we could catch the 3 hour pace group. What an ambitious inspirational woman!
Unfortunately I discovered the 3 hour pace group was about 3/4 of a mile ahead and that was too much space for K to make up in the last 3 miles. But it was funny to see the faces of the runners who saw me running in the wrong direction when I headed back to find K and let her know. Bonus, I got in an extra mile which is always welcome!
I will write more in my next post about the hike to Skeleton point that followed but I need to pause and reflect for a minute on how I felt at the end of this race compared to the morning before. The morning before, I was almost in tears trying to convince myself to go on this trip. I was overwhelmed by the very thought of doing something for myself. We finished the race with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips.
When I am feeling down, the best medicine is a run, getting into nature, being with friends and family. These activities are often the hardest for me to motivate myself to do when my depression is at its strongest. With practice, I have learned to let those destructive thoughts flow away. I may not control when my depression flares up, but I control my own choices. My depression does not control me.
It has been a long hard road to be able to persevere when the going gets tough and it is not at all easy. With relentless forward progress, it is only possible where once it was impossible.