I’m sitting in front of my computer screen with a million things I’d like to share with you, but it’s hard to decide which to share first.
I am a high energy person negotiating living in a body affected by energy depleted conditions.
Let’s rewind first to 2017 Mountain Masochist. I was registered for the 50 miler, but had been diagnosed with relapse of Epstein Barr Virus, Babesia, and HPA dysfunction. The former spring, I had trained through my treatment and participated in races when... maybe I shouldn’t have. I decided soon into my second treatment (which came with complications from the steroids and anti-malarials and antivirals) that participating in this 50 mile race would be lunacy. At that time, I physically couldn’t run more than 12 miles in a week or run faster than ~11:00 pace without my heart rate soaring to 200 BPM. I’d already pulled out of the West Virginia Trilogy races and now I was emailing Clark Zealand to say I’d like to come to the pre-race dinner (Scott Jurek was speaking), but I couldn’t race.
Here I am in 2021, with a 2nd relapse in 5 months of Epstein Barr Virus, and yet also registered for Terrapin Mountain Half and Promise Land. My doctor is taking my case to her mentor immunologist, as my previous care suggests proper treatment. I’m clearly not healed (there is no cure)! I could take on some IV Myers Cocktails or high dose vitamin C, as those have helped greatly in the past, but I really am traumatized by the needle part of that treatment protocol, and it’s been said that if I require that kind of treatment, maybe I shouldn’t be racing at all. Oof.
August EBV labs:
February EBV labs:
I really did not want to email Clark again to tell him basically “boohoo, I’m sick again”. My racing journey is not a sob story. I have shared my story to build awareness for 4 years, and I am annoyed to be so affected by these conditions that strike whenever my stress level crests above a certain threshold. I have felt victorious, strong, and woman, but in the past month I have felt (more times than I’d like to shared) oppressed, hopeless, and unsafe in (even betrayed by) my body. Maintaining a growth mindset is key in overcoming any challenge, but not one person can say doing so is easy!
Hellgate 100K was a big ask on my body, and I believe I honored it. I rode the high of my race experience and gave my body the space it needed to heal and recover for over a month before even trying to run again. I know that was not the fire to reignite this relapse. While my recovery rate from workouts and various training tends to be longer than typical, I do not believe it’s the training that is causing a relapse. Overtraining in life? Yes, but my threshold is low, at least for now.
As an integrative health coach, I understand that health and wellness isn’t just about movement and nutrition. It’s about joy, spirituality, relationships, career, and more. I think about my joy and creativity. The build up to a race includes strategy consideration, planning fun, adventurous training runs, visualization and manifesting success! The journey to racing brings me joy. I need that in my life. I cannot cut it out and simultaneously say that I am living. I could cut it out and say that I am surviving, though ultimately I think my soul would suffer eventually. I’ll never forget paying a visit to John and Michelle Andersen at Crozet Running in early January 2017, and when I came up to the counter with various fuel sources, they noted that I was making my training runs longer again. It felt so good to be seen, that I was returning.
My hope is that this is my last racing season where I am training under treatment. If you’re tired of reading about Lyme disease, the coinfections, the EBV, and whatnot… please let me assure you I’d love nothing more than to not be experiencing it at all and instead be progressing upwards and onwards. I can’t count the number of posts where I’ve shared it all and then just minutes gone back and hit the backspace button until the bare bones of the post remain. That insecure part of me doesn’t want to appear a whiny, “same sad story” human. I do want to be seen and understood. I do want to shed light on the appearance of high functionality masking the invisible debilitating symptoms that come with chronic disease. I had half a mind (maybe three quarters) to not even share this much.
Enough of that.
A couple weeks prior to the race, Mike and I drove out to run parts of the course. Originally intending to run 16-17, we cut the run down to ~13. On the climb up the mountain, my legs screamed at me. This shouldn't be this difficult, but I was a few days into treatment and the burning fire in my legs had returned (much like in 2017, the 270 days of antibiotics year). I shed some tears, and Mike just listened. I spoke about how even though I think I’m good at racing ultras, maybe it’s time to hang my hat. Maybe it’s just too much on my body. Maybe I needed to take a couple of weeks off running entirely. I was feeling sorry for myself and not really allowing myself to enjoy the new scenery on this warm, beautiful day.
We scrambled to the Terrapin Summit after a wrong turn, and struggled immensely with the technical descent for the next 2-3 miles. I really suck at steep, technical descent. We quickly realized this race did not suit our strengths, at least until the Reed’s creek trail, which ascended, descended, winding around the curvature of the mountain. Give me rolling trails, and my body is magic. We navigated the frigid creek crossing and the rocky bombers back to the finish.
When we finished, I honestly did not want to run the half. I didn’t intend to run it. But as race day approached, I realized that I needed to follow through. Treatment wasn’t fun by any means, and the course was very challenging, but I needed to toughen up and honor my commitment.
On race day, Mike and I woke up around 3:30, left the house by 4:30, and drove to the start. Packet pick up was smooth, but also weird, the climate largely affected by COVID protocols, and so the usual congregating and well-wishing before races just wasn’t happening. It was pretty cold outside, just below freezing, so Mike and I huddled up in the car to wait until it was time for his start.
The start of races at this time require special consideration, like waves, rolling starts, field limitations, etc. It was determined that this race would follow a rolling start or window in which you can start the race, with chip timing so as not to punish those that choose to start later or in a smaller (or no) group. This would prove to pose a challenge strategically for those competing for top spots. Personally, I believe that in this environment, those who are competing for top spots race by gun time, as I find it more advantageous to be chasing people down instead of being chased down.
So, Mike started his race right at 7:00, hoping that his top competition was starting right along with him. Because I wanted at least 16 miles for the day, I began my warm up around the parking area and the initial road section of the race, which was fun because I could cheer on 50K runners as they started. I felt I had fueled myself well with a GF oatmeal bowl plus my usual protein coffee. I took an extra gel before the race and proceeded to the start line. Leg swings and quad stretches and deep squats before standing behind the start line, taking advantage of that final seconds countdown.
The race had begun, and I knew because of the crazy steep technical sections, my best strategy to position myself for a top finish would be to push hard on the flat sections and the initial climb. So far, I hadn’t seen any females, but also what was I doing? I wasn’t racing; I was just out there for the run with no expectations other than not to die coming down the mountain. Ugh, the cognitive dissonance. I wanted to race, but my legs were saying “no, thanks!” One mile into the race, 8:24 split, I felt that was a strong mile, but the devil on my shoulder was goading me to turn back. My legs felt like absolute garbage. They were sore after my 5K shake out run. So annoying … and disappointing. But whatever, not every race is going to be amazing or “my day”, so onward progress. To have those thoughts that early in the race though? That was worrisome.
Regardless, I began utilizing intervals of 100-200 running steps, 50 steps power hiking. Hands went to my hips immediately. I started passing by other runners, both 50K and Half. Around mile 2, there was a creek crossing, and instead of teetering across and attempting to balance on the precarious logs or find the path of least wetness, I just barreled across the stream, leaving around 5 people behind me. That water was freezing, but my body was on fire, so other than my toes, I felt fine.
Parts of this climb were really quite gorgeous on this clear day, because the views through the barren trees showed how much we’d already ascended and more rolling mountains resting in the distance. After a couple more miles, we emerged onto the parkway, and that was very rewarding to reach the first aid station. But the climbing wasn’t over. Another 500 ish feet to the top of Terrapin Mountain Summit: big rock scrambles and hands on knees hiking. I took my first race gel here (Huma chocolate mmmmm) at elapsed 50 minutes and dug deep to finish this nasty climb. I passed more men, but still no women to be seen around me. That was exciting. Okay, so maybe I am racing after all.
After a long ascent, it was time to go down, down, down. I anticipated the frustration and danger of this section. While I dreaded it, I suppose knowing it was coming prevented the whining that came with it a couple weeks prior, and also, I think the practice helped me improve my footing for race day because my splits were faster! At one point, a group of men that I’d passed earlier had gained ground on me, and so I moved aside. There was a gentleman up there taking photos, saying “aren’t your shoulders cold?” and “y’all around 15th place”. I told him my shoulders felt great (I was wearing arm sleeves and a crop tank under my hydration vest) and had he seen any females? I guess he didn’t hear me because he didn’t respond. Oh well, onward. We’d descended 1000 feet in a mile at one point, and it wasn’t long before we were reaching the rock garden and dangerously steep slip ‘n slide that was called a trail. Oh, how I HATED this section. I was sidestepping my way down and grabbing onto trees to prevent myself from butt-sliding the whole way down.
Finally, that trail leveled out (sort of) and the trail proceeded downward of course for another mile into the final aid station. This aid station included a ~.3 mile out and back (downhill, then uphill) and I knew that coming back up might unveil any competition. Sure enough, as I’m doing all I can to look strong and confident (while also taking a gel), one, two, three women come bombing down the hill. And here’s the kicker: I have no idea when they started. And I wasn’t about to ask!
Thankfully, my adrenaline kicked in and I knew that if I wanted to place high (as far as I knew, I could still be first female, and until someone passed me, that’s how I was going to behave) I’d have to push and create as much distance/time as possible between myself and them. But I also wanted to be realistic and remind myself that if I was passed, I would not quit trying. Getting passed doesn’t make me a “bad” runner. I would stay in this until the finish. Finally, the section of the trail which was to my benefit: the rolling Reeds creek trail.
While my legs were full of lead, my soul was also on fire. Let’s go!!!!!! Okay, some running up until breathless, and power hiking 50 steps. Don’t look back; look ahead, and look FIERCE. This section would climb up into the mountain and then gently descend and then climb out of the mountain, again and again. I took another gel (not 20 minutes after the last one) as I fell into line with a couple of men, and running behind them helped me stabilize my heart rate and build in some recovery. Finally, I think we all accepted that it was time for me to move on, and with maybe 3-3.5 miles to go, I took off and began flowing on the gently rolling descent.
At one point, I felt like I’d lost control of my legs. My knees were knocking each other and my feet were hitting the ground in places that I didn’t plan for them to. Neurologically, I felt like this could become a problem, and I almost turned back to alert the guys I’d been running with that I might need help. I chugged some NUUN endurance to make sure I had plenty of electrolytes and breathed deeply. That sloppy running has NEVER happened to me before. Luckily, the problem dissipated, so it must have been electrolyte related, who knows? I was pushing, and again, as far as I knew, I was in first!!! These longer trail races, it’s been a long time since I’ve led a women’s race. Maybe 5 or 6 years?!? It felt awesome. I wanted to defend my spot!
Finally, I came upon the creek crossing, which was a fast flowing rapid. I really didn’t want to waste any time here, so I took the most direct path from one streamer to the next. Freezing cold but home free basically! Time to let gravity and turnover take over. This descent is fairly technical with it’s ruts and loose rocks, but FAR more runnable than the descent of Terrapin, and eventually the trail turned into dirt, then gravel, and with just after 1 mile to go, pavement. I remembered pushing this section on our training run and the speed I was able to recruit, and so I did all I could to engage. 7:00 pace, 6:50 pace, 6:45 pace. I can do more. I can push harder. 6:40, 6:30, 6:10, 5:48 pace at one point. I turned right towards the final straight away and there was the annoying bump of a hill. It didn’t last long, and at the top of that, I could see the finish line arch. Hang on! Strong finish, I could be the first chick, and I was so happy to have stayed present and in the game that whole race.
I finished in 2:23 +, and while my watch said 12.75 miles, other half marathoners had around 13.01. So who knows what the actual distance was? The next female (Elisa Rollins) rolled in not long after I’d finished, and I cheered for her because I was grateful to her (and the others) because their presence helped me push myself, regardless of the outcome. Not long after her, another female finished (Allie Zealond). Together, we cheered for her. Then, I took off for another 2 mile slog because I needed a longer run that day.
After I returned from my run, changed and slightly refreshed, I learned that through chip timing, I was 3rd female by around a minute to Elisa. Allie beat Elisa by around 2 minutes. I started my race at 7:30, Elisa started hers at 7:36, and Allie started not long after Elisa! Craziness!
As top finishers, we scored Patagonia top finisher duffels, in addition to the super sweet Terrapin mug and fleece blanket received by all finishers! I love my race swag!
Meanwhile, Mike was out there racing still, and so I set up camp behind the finish line in my fleece blanket, drinking more of my still warm protein coffee. He won his race, and as always, it was a joy to watch him compete! We spent the afternoon socially distanced with fellow ultra running friends, and that was long overdue and very much appreciated.
I am so grateful to have finally finished a Clark Zealand race; this course taught me a lot about how to grapple with weakness. It’s easy to work hard where it suits, but it’s character building to push and carry onward when the course plays directly to my growth areas.
This race taught me the value of competition. While I didn’t win, I can be happy for the women who beat me and simultaneously grateful for the environment their presence created to help me push myself to reach my potential.
The jury is still out on Promise Land. I’ve had a hard time getting my long run mileage up, and my volume and days run/week is lower than usual, due to the effects of treatment. I had big goals for Promise Land before this, and I’m not letting them go, but I also recognize that there are physical limits to my treatment and setting the bar unrealistically high is unfair to myself and even dishonorable to the healing my body is aiming to do on my behalf.
It's still crazy to me that we climbed to the top of this!