This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of running for a charitable organization for the first time ever. In all my years of running, I had never signed up to run a race for any other reason than I personally wanted to run it.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am an ambassador for Still I Run. This is a community that raises awareness for mental health and aims to reduce the stigma around it. As an ambassador, I got to run the Fifth Third Riverbank 25k in Grand Rapids as part of the Still I Run team. The requirements for the team were minimal, each member simply had to raise $100 for Pine Rest‘s Mental Health Services. Since I had never run as part of a team for a charitable organization, I had obviously never fund-raised for one either. That turned out to be a blast! I loved talking to people about Mental Health (good thing I’m a therapist, eh?) and continuing to raise awareness about it. And here I thought fundraising would be the challenging part!
At a past job, I had a boss that used to tell me I should run for charity. She said I was “running for no reason” and that I should “put those miles to good use.” Naturally, the rebel in me violently opposed running for charity as a direct result of this conversation. Running for no reason?! B, please. I run for me, my mental health, and my physical health. As you might expect, this woman was not a runner. Nor did she have any good self-care techniques. Fortunately, I did not let that conversation steer me away from charitable running forever.
The best part is that Still I Run supports and raises awareness for the exact reasons I run in the first place. My mental health is largely dependent on running and I am proud to represent Still I Run. You’ll be seeing me running for charity much more often. As for the Riverbank Run itself? Incredible race. It was extremely well organized, had tremendous crowd support, and was a beautiful course. The only negative thing I can say about this race is that we ran by a very aromatic Burger King at about mile 14. Nothing smells worse than BK at mile 14, but what can you do? Oh, and each runner gets a free beer after the race. Win win win win win win win win.
Wooop! Here I am, on the other side of my first ultra. The Traverse City Trail Running Festival was everything I thought it would be and much more (and by more, I mean more miles. AHEM).
Want to know what I was thinking before and during the race? Then keep reading to enjoy my ultra recap.
2 Days Before the Race
As anyone who has spent time in Northern Michigan this spring knows, we had a ridiculous blizzard in the middle of April that brought feet, literally FEET, of snow. Therefore, I had been slightly nervous about trail conditions. So when I received an email on Thursday that the course had to be revised due to excessive amounts of snow, I was not surprised.
Originally, the course was a 4-loop deal, which each loop coming in at 7.75 miles to complete the 31. Thursday’s email indicated that the loop would be cut down significantly – in fact, it was shortened to become a 5k loop. That meant 10 laps.
“How in the world am I going to keep track of 10 laps?! I’m going to get dizzy!”
The Day Before the Race
Another email arrived. This one was a mix of good and bad news. The snow had melted more than anticipated, and another adjustment was made to the course. Now the course was a 6.7 mile loop, and 50k runners would complete 5 loops. Now for all you mathematicians out there, you’ll notice that 5 loops x 6.7 miles each = 33.5 miles. YUP. That’s longer than a 50k, yo! I only signed up to run 31 miles! I panicked slightly but then got over it. What could I do?
*Insert silent weeping*
I arrived onsite about an hour early. Standard me. It was about 30 degrees with a decent wind. I was cold and anxious to start. Finally, the 50k runners lined up at the start. There were only 10 of us total, and two females including myself.
“Hey, at least I’m guaranteed to place within my age group.”
Lap One: Miles 0-7
I took this lap quite slow. I didn’t know what to expect or if I needed to save excessive energy for any crazy hills. There were flags marking the course, but that didn’t stop me from getting lost at least 2.5 times. Pro tip: Don’t blindly follow the guy in front of you, he may not know where he is going either.
While large chunks of the trail were hard-packed dirt and decent, many areas were not. Sheets of ice and snow covered long stretches and it was nearly impossible to run those sections. I developed a rather attractive “shuffle-slide” to get through them. I’d be happy to demonstrate this technique for you.
Towards the end of the loop, I glanced down at my watch. We had already crossed the 6.7 mile mark and I hadn’t begun lap 2 yet. In fact, the start of lap 2 was at least 1/4 mile away. As I crossed over into lap 2, my watch read 7.03.
“What the hell, man!”
Lap 2: Miles 8-14
I spent quality time on this lap hoping that the GPS on my watch had been off, and this lap would come in at an appropriate 6.7 miles. It did not. I finished lap 2 at 14.06 miles. Shit. This is going to be a 35 mile race.
“I will die. Death is inevitable.”
Lap 3: Miles 15-21
“When I’m halfway through this lap, I’ll be halfway done with this race.”
“Am I fueling frequently enough?”
“Why am I STILL cold??”
Lap 3 was tiresome. I was approaching the 20+ mile mark and still had two laps to go. However, I was loving running on trails for this amount of time. And just as I was thinking about how peaceful the woods were, BOOM. I tripped over a root covered in leaves and fell face first into the dirt. Thankfully, not a human was around to hear the noises that escaped my mouth.
Lap 4: Miles 22-28
“Well I’ve run 22 miles and I still have a half marathon left to go.”
That thought was humbling. Lap 4 brought a bit of mental fatigue. I heard someone in the distance shooting guns for target practice and couldn’t help but think, “It wouldn’t be the worst thing if I got grazed by a bullet right now and didn’t have to finish this race.”
My mental fatigue also had me thinking about not completing lap 5. Lap 4 would bring me to 28 miles. That would be the furthest distance I had ever run and technically, I could still consider that running an ultra marathon since is was longer than 26.2. This thought was fleeting, though. Fortunately, my obsessive need for accomplishment would never let me have a DNF after coming this far.
Lap 5: Miles 29-35
“One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap. One.Last.Lap.”
“If I finish this race, I never have to run again.” (LIES, Jennifer, LIES)
Running the last mile of this race, I laughed out loud to myself. “Holy shit, I’m completing a 35-mile trail race on some ridiculously rough trails.” Everything ached and I was exhausted. I had no idea how many people finished ahead of me or how many were still behind me out on the course. I was sweaty but chilled, which is always an uncomfortable sensation, but one any winter runner is familiar with.
I did it. I finished. I ran 35 miles. I am an ultra-marathoner. I need a nap.
To conclude, I loved my first ultra. The horrible trail conditions just added to the badassery of my accomplishment. Will I do another in the future? You betcha.
In all my years of running, I have never completed a run streak. It’s never had an appeal to me. Hell, I hate to admit it, but I like rest day. So no rest days for xxx amount of days/months/years?! WHY.
I’ve read stories where people have streaks going for decades. Literally, running at least one mile every day for more than 30 years. They have great stories about how they are forced to creatively get those miles in. One guy reported that he ran 2 miles in a row; the first mile started at 11:50PM and the second mile ended at 12:10AM. And just like that, two days are knocked out in the span of 20 minutes. Genius.
Of course, I’m not one to stay up until midnight. I prefer to be in bed by 8:30. Well here I am, about to step outside of my comfort zone and run everyday for a month. As an Ambassador for the incredible organization, Still I Run – Runners for Mental Health Awareness, I am joining their challenge to streak for the entire month of May. Now, this particular challenge states that individuals can either walk or run at least one mile daily. Due to the nature of my job, though, I walk several miles daily. I will not be counting those miles, as that does not seem fair (hence this being a challenge).
I’m hoping that none of my runs take place after my usual bedtime, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice for a month. The challenge has three different participation levels; ‘free,’ ‘regular,’ and ‘bonus.’ The free challenge invites runners to join the Facebook group and post about their daily mileage. The regular challenge costs $10, and participants receive a Still I Run bracelet and custom ‘Mental Health Road Warrior’ race bib. The bonus challenge is $25 and participants receive the items from the ‘regular challenge’ in addition to custom BibBoard Fasteners.
Money raised through the challenge goes back to Still I Run to fund events, other challenges, and mental health awareness educational material. Win win! So clearly, you all need to join me on this challenge and run or walk one mile everyday in May! (And hey, the weather is bound to be better than it was in April, am I right?)
For real. Even before becoming a long-distance runner, I’ve loved the salty things in life. I’m the person who adds salt to already salted popcorn and soup. Heck, I salt my steamed vegetables.
My love of salt is relevant to running because I experienced symptoms of hyponatremia during two of my marathons. If you don’t know, hyponatremia occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. This commonly happens to endurance athletes who consume water while exercising, but not enough electrolytes. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and confusion. If hyponatremia persists for too long without treatment, it can cause long-term damage or even death (please note I am not a doctor – source credit; the ever favorable WebMD). Warm and humid weather can make people more susceptible to hyponatremia, as it causes them to sweat more (thus losing more sodium/electrolytes).
It was during my first and third marathons that I had symptoms of hyponatremia. The first one because I had no idea what hyponatremia was and I didn’t know how to fuel/hydrate during that initial 26.2. After I finished, my family and I went to a restaurant to celebrate. I remember sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall (yuuuuuuuck), thinking I was going to die. When I finally ate my sandwich, I was blown away by how quickly I started feeling better.
I suffered from symptoms of hyponatremia during my third marathon while still on the course. It was humid and I was pushing myself for a time goal. I was dangerously close to not meeting that goal and had no seconds to spare in grabbing any fuel for the last few miles. Literally at mile 26, I started to get tunnel vision, my face was numb, and I had chills pinging throughout all of my limbs. Lesson learned – time goals are not worth putting my health in danger.
I brought these occurrences up to my doctor. He educated me on hyponatremia and you know what? He encouraged me to consume more salt! What a glorious man. Perhaps I have taken his suggestion too far, as the amount of salt I put on popcorn now makes my husband choke and cough. But in all seriousness, I am diligent at consuming electrolytes with my water while running, and I usually have a salt tablet in my mouth during long runs. I don’t know about you guys, but after a very long run, I typically have salt caked up behind my ears and all over me from the sweat (TMI? Ah, well). So clearly, that needs to be replenished as I’m moving.
To me, the most important thing about endurance training is finding an appropriate fueling strategy. I love learning about other peoples’ fueling – what, how often, what works, what has failed, etc. Drop me a line to let me know!
Self-improvement, we’re all striving for it, right? I’m constantly absorbing material through media, literature, and podcasts that include ‘life hacks.’ One of my favorite authors and podcast hosts is Gretchen Rubin. I first learned about her after she wrote The Happiness Project. Years later when I stumbled upon her podcast, I was thrilled.
Gretchen Rubin has a theory that people largely respond to expectations in four different ways. How you individually respond to expectations helps to identify ways to set goals and actually stick with them. Rubin describes these as the “Four Tendencies.” She has a full book on the four tendencies, but you can take her online quiz to discover your individual tendency and learn more about each one.
Naturally, I took this quiz and learned that I am an ‘upholder.’ Being an upholder means I readily meet inner and outer expectations. Accurate. If I set goals for myself, I generally meet them. If others expect something of me, I have no problem accomplishing it. Naturally, not everyone falls into this ‘upholder’ tendency. The other tendencies include the obliger, questioner, and rebel. Check out Rubin’s work to get a full description of these other tendencies.
So what does being an upholder look like for me as a runner? Well, I find it pretty easy to stick to my training schedule. I don’t need a running buddy to get me out of bed for early runs. But it also means I like to be in control of everything. If something unexpected comes up that forces me to skip a run, I get irritable, anxious, and agitated. I am not the most flexible person and rarely do I like surprises. I like to know exactly what is happening at all times. Obviously, these are things I’m working on improving.
Part of the reason I am an upholder is because I have anxiety. Running really helps me keep my mental health in check. I know I need to get better at being flexible, because life happens and runs will be missed. I used to run in the morning before too much ‘life’ had a chance to happen, but my current work schedule already gets me out of bed around 4am. I’m not about to get up before 2am to run. Now I exercise after work, which can be a problem when unexpected situations occur.
I enjoyed learning about my ‘tendency’ as it helps me understand the best way to approach goals I set for myself. Take the quiz and let me know your results! I’d love to know how many runners out there are fellow upholders or if a different tendency is more common for runners.
“It’s not 26.2 miles, it’s 6.55 x4,” I told myself going into Sunday’s long run. My training schedule called for a 26-miler, but what kind of distance runner stops at 26 and leaves the .2 hanging? Seems like bad luck.
Last week was “Peak Week” in my 18-week ultra training plan. This plan has me maxing out at 26 miles in preparation for the 50k. I suppose this makes sense, as most marathon training plans I have completed max out around 16-20 miles. (Though before my first marathon, I ran 26.2 two times to make sure I could do it. I’m not obsessive or anything…)
So now? I taper. At the time I’m writing this, I ran the 26.2 yesterday. That means I’m prettyyyyy excited to taper since I feel a bit fatigued. I ran 3.5 recovery miles this morning. And by ‘ran,’ I mean hobbled. But I know as soon as the tightness of my muscles fades away, this taper will make me antsy. But hey, isn’t that the point? Isn’t the taper supposed to get me so eager to run that I’m ecstatic when race day comes?
I still have a couple of 10-13 milers left, so I won’t be completely deprived of long runs. I’m hoping I can complete more of my mileage on trails in these remaining weeks. My ultra is a trail race and I am sad to say I did not spend as much time training on the trails as I would have liked. The snow and ice really deterred that. Sometimes I couldn’t figure out where the trail was and got hopelessly lost. Other times the snow was deeper than my knees to a point where I didn’t feel like that would be quality running. And lately, the snow has been hard-packed into ridges where it’s too dangerous to try and run on it. So, this trail ultra will likely completely kick my ass.
My Sunday marathon felt pretty darn good though, which surprised me. I recently discovered Spring Energy and it’s an incredible fuel. I have the sampler pack, so I was stocked with on-the-go fuel and electrolytes. I continue to use Generation UCAN as well, so the combination of both of those with some salt tablets helped me stay energized throughout my run. The most important thing I have learned with distance running is the importance of fueling before you feel like you need to. I take a swig of UCAN or half a packet of Spring Energy every three miles. It may seem excessive, but it’s what works for me.
I finished the long run in 4:04:46. Given that my marathon PR in a race is 3:58, I was quite impressed with my time. I ran the majority of this on hard-packed dirt roads – it was as trail-like as the conditions would allow for the day. So do I feel ready for this ultra? Kind-of. But I feel that way going into every big race. Like they say, trust your training and just have fun. And most importantly, it’s not 31 miles, it’s 7.75 x4.
Persistence versus talent; there is a big difference between the two. Many runners today are extremely talented and have known nothing but their wild talent. I have a friend who recently started running. He’s in his early 30’s and has been admiring race photos and running from afar. One day he decided to go out for a run. Out of nowhere, this guy is crushing half marathons at a pace less than 7 minutes a mile. There has been no training, no weeks of progressive improvement; just out the door, running 13.1 miles in less than 1.5 hours.
I am not a talented runner. Genetics did little for me athletically and I am not, by nature, fast. During my 7th grade cross country season I always finished last. Literally last, at every.single.race. My first 10k and half marathon were desperate attempts to make it to the finish line without crying (or dying). I kept working at it, though. Not necessarily to get better, but because I enjoyed it so much.
For awhile, I developed a competitive side and worked really hard to increase my speed. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy!) placing in my age group. However, I’m definitely much slower than I was in my early 20’s. Heck, I’m much slower than I was just 3-5 years ago. Perhaps it’s the ongoing issue I have in my left hamstring, perhaps it’s the natural aging process, or perhaps it’s because I never turn down the opportunity to indulge in pizza and beer (hey, you gotta live, ya know?) And though I may be slower, I still head out for every run and complete the mileage requirements on my training plan (including last Saturday’s lengthy 24-miler. Bah!)
The people I admire the most are the athletes that have to work really hard to be elite. I love the ones who embrace their lack of talent and acknowledge their unending persistence. (Of course I love watching the ones with raw talent compete as well – it’s incredible. And I’m not suggesting that those who are extremely talented don’t have to work hard.) Perhaps it’s because I can identify more with the persistent ones or maybe it’s because it gives them a personable side to their fame. Whatever the reason, they’re my favorite athletes in the field to follow. They are the ones who do it for the love of the sport.
We are all well versed with the life metaphors that running creates for us and persistence is no exception to that. Most things in my life are a result of me being persistent and finding ways to accomplish things when they were seemingly impossible. My husband and I own our home because of persistence. I have my master’s and a wonderful job because of persistence. I continue to run marathons because I am persistent.
Strangely enough, people have a tendency to give up when they are the closest they’ve ever been to achieving a goal. It’s usually that last bit at the end that is the hardest. The last year of my master’s program was the hardest; I had to work full-time, intern 24 hours per week, and handle a class load. I considered taking the year off to give myself a break, but I didn’t. I powered through, painfully and full of complaints (just ask my husband). Similarly, the last bit of a marathon training plan is the hardest. You’re running 20+ mile long runs and often more than 45 miles per week. It’s exhausting, time consuming, and can be downright annoying to spend all your free time running. However, I personally believe there is no feeling quite like crossing the finish line of a marathon.
During my first marathon I panicked at mile 18. My legs felt like they weighed 80 pounds each and I was drained of energy. At this stage of my marathon running, I had no idea how to fuel for a distance that long. At that point I remember desperately hoping I would get hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to keep running. Somehow, I continued to place one foot in front of the other. My panic and feelings of despair lasted for four miles. Then suddenly at mile 22, I got a second wind. I came to the realization that I was actually going to finish. I clearly remember thinking, “Holy shit. I’m going to be a marathoner. I’m going to do this.” And I did. Finishing something that hard when I wanted nothing more than to stop has made all the difference in everything else in my life. The greatest lesson I have learned from marathon running is to be excessively persistent.
Most people I encounter in Northern Michigan enjoy winter. They find ways to embrace it, think the freshly fallen snow is beautiful, and root for a white Christmas. However, come March, many of us sing a different tune. The end of February/beginning of March this year was glorious. There was sunshine and temperatures in the high 50’s. The snow was melting and the Yak Trax were pushed aside.
But then, second winter arrived. Second winter is the season that comes after that lovely, teasing warm-up – usually in March. March is the month of hope. The first day of spring comes and Michiganders warily let themselves feel a tiny bit of excitement for beaches, gardening, and fewer layers. Yet, winter always makes a comeback and we all know it’s going to happen every year. However, knowing it will happen does not necessarily make it more pleasant. Here are some tips I have for surviving second winter:
Continue to embrace it. Get outside, run in it, play in it, hike in it. Remember how excited you were for the first snowfall of the season?
Start planning your spring projects. Start your seedlings inside and map out your garden. My husband and I got chickens for the first time! We just picked up our baby chicks and they are happily hanging out inside under a heat lamp. This is definitely a sign of spring.
Don’t put away your winter gear just yet. It’s very painful to have to dig it back out.
Hold onto hope. Spring and summer will come! They always do.
Sadly, I only have four tips. My enthusiasm for winter is quickly waning now that it is the middle of March. On the bright side, second winter makes the beginning of spring that much sweeter. Since my tips are few and far between, send me yours! I’d love to know how you guys are dealing with the end of winter.
For every hobby, ambition, career, or belief system, there will be a person or group that will want to rain negativity on you for it. I recently had a very unpleasant encounter with a man who was determined to intimidate and contradict me in every way possible.
My husband works for a local brewery. I frequent this brewery to spend time with my bodacious spouse and enjoy the fine craft beers. Saturday night I walked in and spotted a seat at the bar. I asked the couple next to the seat if anyone was sitting there. The man replied, “No, but pretty girls can’t sit there.”
I rolled my eyes and suppressed the urge to vomit. After getting my beverage, this man continued to talk to me. I listened politely as he informed me of everything he purchased that day and that he lived in a wealthy community downstate.
He even went on to say, “I’ve made one million dollars in the past five years. Not many people can say that. Can you?”
However, he also mentioned that he had run six marathons, at which point I quickly brightened.
“Oh really!” I exclaimed, “I’ve run seven!” And our dialogue quickly turned to running. However, this didn’t turn out to be a pleasant change in the conversation. He was quick to inquire about my marathon PR, and squealed with glee as he revealed he had been much faster when he was my age. Bravo, guy, your personality could not be less that of a runner.
This man then informed me that he could no longer run at his age (57) and that I should enjoy running while I can. And then, the following conversation ensued:
Me, “What? Lots of people run at 57 and much older!”
Man, “Of course. But those people don’t start running until they are older. No one starts running at 20 and is able to continue doing it for 30+ years.”
Me, “Of course they do! What are you talking about?”
Man, “Absolutely not. I don’t know anyone who can run for more than 30 years. God gives you a season for running, and it isn’t that long. Enjoy it while you can, you won’t live forever.”
Me, “What about Katherine Switzer? And Meb Keflezoghi? Or Bart Yasso? And those are just a few of the famous ones. What about the everyday people who have been running their whole lives?”
Man, “Nope. There’s no way someone can start running at 20 and keep doing it when they’re 60. I’m a perfect example of that. And you probably hate Trump too, don’t you?!”
Whoa whoa whoa. When did this get political?!
At this point, I had to tell this unstable human that we needed to agree to disagree. Clearly this conversation was unpleasant, irrational, and ridiculous. However, he was unable to stop. He kept trying to prove his point, wildly swinging from Pro-Trump statements to informing me that I won’t be able to run much longer.
I don’t want to know what is going on in this man’s personal life to make him so miserable. I don’t want to know why a middle-aged man felt the need to continuously pick at a 30-year-old female sitting alone at a brewery. It is clear that he needed more attention than he received from the people in his life. Obviously this man was so miserable that he sought pleasure in attempting to pick a fight with anyone who would listen to him speak.
But you know what? The world is filled with people like this man. He was annoying and I’m sure I’ll encounter more like him. The point is, I’m not going to live my life any differently because of this stranger’s opinion. This man clearly lacked control over his life and was attempting to control those around him. He was insecure, rude, and unstable.
Sure, it’s very possible that I won’t be able to run at his age due to an accident, injury, or something else. But assuming I won’t be able to run merely because I am 57? Be serious, clown. I’m going to keep running until I can’t. And I’m going to start wearing a “do not disturb” sign at the brewery.