Oh boy, that was a tough one.
Nestled in the heart of Issaquah, WA, the Grand Ridge 50K is a beautiful course that saw us 50K runners go up and over Grand Ridge, not once, but twice, with a “fun” five-mile loop at the end. With the day starting out with perfect weather I lined up at the start line ready to crush my previous 50K time and hopefully have fun along the way. My mind, on the other-hand, had different plans for me.
All in all, I am happy with the day, even though I had some real struggles throughout the race. I started the race a little jittery (too much caffeine?) and with cramping in my left calf, which I think was a symptom of my left arch acting up. The first out-and-back half marathon distance was neck-in-neck with the other racers, which pushed me pretty hard and heightened the intensity. After turning around to go on the second lap, I mentally crashed. I’m not sure what triggered it, I was doing the race in goal time, but I just got really deep into the hole. By the time I got back to the finish line at the end of the second lap I was nearly in tears, not because I was sore (I was), but because I was mentally fatigued and drained.
I had perfect weather, a known route, and was making goal time, so why was I so down? Usually, knowing I was set for a PR would have me skipping down the mountain in joy, and yet I was battling negative thoughts for nearly half the race. I’m not going to lie, turning around to do the final 5 mile loop was the hardest thing I have ever done.
It was during the final lap that I had a breakthrough, and I remembered why I was out there pushing my body beyond it’s limits. An ultra-marathon is supposed to be hard, and just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean that you should quit. I’m often told as a runner “to listen to my body”, but let’s be honest, if I did, I would have been snacking at the finish line party after the half marathon mark. Challenges are what shape us, and drive us forward in ultra-running and give us the confidence to face life’s other challenges head on.
Now that a week has passed, and my body has healed, I have the luxury of retrospect. When I wrote to my coaches to tell them of my race, they told me that although it’s great to focus on the wins of the day, it is just as important to remember the struggles. I believe this to be true. Even though I had run other long distances in the past much easier, this race means more to me because I worked for it. I saw the pit, danced on the edge, and managed to pull myself away before I fell in. I felt the pain, accepted the pain, and then made it my strength. Was it an easy day? No. Was it worth it? Yes.
With an unofficial finish time of 8:41, I ran strong through the finish line with a PR in the 50K distance, a first place finish for my age/gender category (there was one other racer in my category, but it still counts), and oh so proud that I proved that I’m not a quitter.