Sometimes, you have to return to the scene and take back your lost mojo. In 2014, I tried my first 50km ultra marathon, after moving up from a half to a 25km and then on to a marathon distance. At just over 26 miles in the 2014 Bell Ringer, I dropped out of the race due to back pain. And, I let my fear and anxiety control me. Even though I dropped out of the race, I continued to trail run almost every day, but I never signed up for another race.
This year, 2018, I decided to train all year in preparation for this December 8’s race. I’m also a yoga teacher, and when I met with one of the park rangers in July to discuss a yoga class at Montgomery Bell State Park, I had no thoughts of the Bell Ringer being part of our discussion, but she asked if I would teach a yoga class before the race at the Friday night check-in. I agreed. Without a doubt, I would teach a yoga class and then run the 50km the next day, but my fears threatened to creep into my excitement.
Nonetheless, I created a rigorous training schedule at my home park, about an hour away, Dunbar Cave State Park, where I have been running regularly for just over a decade now. I felt confident when I surpassed 20 miles during a training run at Dunbar about a month before the race was scheduled.
All week leading up to the Bell Ringer, the forecast looked foreboding with high percentages for rain all across the mid-South, and a cold rain was predicted at that. I checked and checked, but the forecast held steady. My husband, Terry, kept reassuring me that it would hold off, and the rain wouldn’t arrive in the area until evening. I was hoping that he was right, but my gear check included a poncho, extra socks, extra shoes for the check-in at 21.6 miles, and more. He had provided me with all of my gear and new cold-weather running clothes the week before the race, so I knew that he had his own doubts about the weather.
The night before the race, I went to check-in, taught yoga to one runner who was brave enough to share a great slow flow stretch-out practice with me. I was proud of us for honoring the need to practice yoga and for not being intimated by the people who checked in behind us. He told me that I helped him with some postures, and he felt relaxed before the race, and that was all reassuring as a teacher. He would be running the 25km, and we wished each other luck as we parted ways.
I spent the night with my parents who live in the same town where the park is located. They prepared a light dinner and encouraged me, reminding me of how hard I’ve trained and how many miles I have run on my own since the last time I attempted the race. I don’t like to overload my gut, so I keep my food intake light and I try to consume several small “meals”, though sometimes that meal is only a pile of broiled shrimp.
I went to bed early, hoping that it wasn’t raining in the morning. I slept soundly until 3 am when I awoke with a feeling of wild excitement, wondering what lay ahead in a few hours. I willed myself back to a surface sleep.
Morning, and I was ready, preparing with my mom in the kitchen. She cooked egg whites and vegetarian sausages. I boiled water and prepared my drink food in the bladder for my pack and in the handheld plastic bottle. I planned for Vitargo to be my primary food during the race. I’ve never been able to eat and run, so I discovered that Vitargo will feed me as a drink and then I don’t have to deal with my moody stomach. This muscle food works for me wonderfully. I feel full and my stomach is happy while I run. This is what I kept telling myself that morning, too, because honestly, I wasn’t sure if that would be the case once I reached over 27 miles. I didn’t know how my gut would behave, and it had been a nemesis through many races.
I got everything ready and looked outside for a moment to see if it was raining. Instead, I saw white flakes illuminating the dark morning.
I yelled for my dad, “It’s snowing!”
He didn’t believe me and looked outside. “That’s better than rain,” he said. I agreed.
In fact, I was eager to go and get started once I had all my gear in place. On the way over to the race, my mom and I kept telling my dad to hurry up and go on, but he was spotting deer and kept slowing to point them out to us. “Yes, you’ll see a lot of deer this morning,” he assured me.
We made it through a couple more deer sightings and arrived at the park hotel where the race begins and ends in the parking area. The energy at the race start line felt on the jumpy-sluggish-eager-positive side. We were all ready to get going so that we wouldn’t be so cold. There were nerves about potential rain. It was cloudy so some of our own sleepyheads kept interrupting our need to run and warm up. We walked in circles, waiting to go, listening to Ranger Megan give us a quick briefing on the race course. Then, they rang the bell and suddenly, we were moving. “We’re all crazy!” someone shouted. I waved to my parents. My smile would not go away as we headed toward the golf course and turned into it.
I was suddenly aware of everyone’s music coming through their headphones and the conversations around me. I don’t usually listen to music or use earbuds during my training runs, and I realized that I had forgotten to connect my headphones and set up my music to play when I was ready. It was the one thing that I forgot in my excitement that morning, and for a race, I definitely need music. I’m usually a solo runner, and I’m not used to listening to other runners on the trail, and during a race, there are a lot of other runners who make their own sounds.
Luckily, I found my earbuds in the vest pocket but they were a tangled mess. I ran for 2.5 miles trying to untangle those damn things, and I was already cussing and dropping my glove every half mile. I used a spare pair of gloves (turquoise) to keep the phone warm so that the battery stayed charged for longer. I ran back three times to pick up one of the gloves. Finally, I left it back by a creek somewhere because I couldn’t even see it on the trail.
But the music was on, and I still had three gloves and two hats! Yes, that’s correct, 3 gloves. I wore a pair of red gloves and a red hat. I carried the spare turquoise gloves and a rainbow hat my friend Emily knitted for me for extra luck and warmth. I was good to go and the music was playing.
“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights started me off. I created this playlist of hip hop, electronica/ house and lounge music. My husband was obsessed with it during our twenties, so I knew this music could carry me the distance. It had been our music of choice for all-nighters in Amsterdam and riding the train back the next morning to Zandvoort. I imagined the clubs and people, the djs, the dancing and euphoria. Daydreaming on the trail is good stuff, especially since I am writing a book with that time period and setting in part of it. I planned to daydream when needed during the race.
Dreamy moments began early, once the music was in place, but then 25km runners began passing us. They had started 30 min later than us 50k runners, and they jolted me back into the present moment, descending a ditchy hill with big chunky rocks.
By then, my playlist rattled and “Down” by Marian Hill kept me going by the cabin and through the ore pits. Everyone was spread out with enough space around us, and the courtesy was unmatched. Everyone moved over to let other runners pass who were faster. It was easy going and pleasant running all the way to the park office. Passing by, I said hello to my parents and stopped at the aid station for a bathroom break.
I was a little choked up as I crossed under the bridge over to the other side of the park to run the mountain bike trails. “Waiting Too Long” by Hippie Sabotage played, and I felt that I had indeed waited too long to run the race again. To run any race. I realized that the Bell Ringer of 2014 was the last race I had run and I’d dropped out so close to finishing that it surprised me to realize that I had unintentionally stopped signing up for races at that point, even though I started running 100 mile weeks, and put in over 1800 miles year after year.
All of those thoughts weighed me down over on the twists and turns and ups and downs, round and round, of the mountain bike area. “Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet was there just in time to remind me that I needed to tell my own sabotaging self that very thing. It was a song for grinding and I had placed it perfectly.
While 25k runners knuckle-bumped me and sped on their way, including the yoga student from the night before, I was battling that area and myself. It was too early in the run to struggle, I thought, but every time I tried to resurge, I felt weighed down.
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses was truth about the trail at that moment. I was in awe of the beauty—the snow covering the short pines, the creeks sparkling between snow-powdered stones, the cold white blankets lining the tree branches, the deep green of the ferns, the comforting squish of the trail underfoot, textures of bark above and below, and I reminded myself how in love I am with the trail. I snuck in a few Jimi songs to bring me comfort right when I would probably be needing them. “Little Wing” was what I needed to lead me out of that side. I stopped at the aid station again and passed my family.
“I’m so fatigued,” I told them. My trot was slow, and I waited for the group of runners ahead of me to take off on the single track that I knew was taking us to the stairs and then the halfway point of the 50km. “Just walk and hydrate for a few minutes,” my husband said.
I walked up the trail and in the direction of the stairs and drank, drank, drank. I found “River” by Bishop Briggs and that picked up my pace again. Moving me down by the creek and then up by the lake, where I passed a group of Boy Scouts with huge packs.
I was happy to be alone as a runner on the trail. I could see the group ahead of me when I needed to, and I didn’t see a soul behind me. I was in my solo run place and “Just Jammin’” by Gramatik by then. My feet were finally happy, my legs were happy, and my whole body decided to be happy around the lake, jumping creeks, and past another group of hikers to cover a section of the trail that we had ran earlier in the morning. This time, I was slower and stepped with care into the gulleys.
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance lifted me across the road, where I told a volunteer at the aid station how happy I was feeling to be over the halfway mark. “Halfway home. Halfway there” DJ Shadow spun through my speakers.
I was dancing down the trails and drinking a lot of food. I love the part of the trail that comes next. Through the pines, across the creeks and bridges, Moss-lined trails sparkling with icy snow, another view of the lake, and everything was “Gold” by Chet Faker as I rambled alongside the lake on the single track, slippery, beauty of a trail with gorgeous roots from the trees decorating it. I admired the trail’s variety and movement, its ever-changing textures.
When I rose up over the Spillway trail, I was in the place of “Feeling Good,” the Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone’s classic. When we were dating twenty years ago, my husband and I would meet at the Spillway in the evenings. He and I would run the Spillway trail to the church road, and that was the exact route of the race.
Passing through the aid station at just over 19 miles, I felt great and picked up a little speed. I was in time with “Lovin’ It” by Marian Hill, and crossed the roads and back up the ore pits, this time in the opposite direction from earlier in the morning.
Again, I had trouble with my gloves as I tried to text, take photos, and change my music. “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, and I backtracked for the glove again and again, until finally losing another one. I stopped looking and kept going. But then, I couldn’t find one of the unmatched gloves, and was aggravated because it was somewhere in my vest, I thought (turns out, one of the turquoise gloves was in my parents’ car the whole time, so I only had 3 gloves with me at the start). At that moment in the race, I assessed that I had one red glove on my left hand, one red hat on my head, the lucky Emily hat in my pocket, and one turquoise glove lost in my vest (but it wasn’t); the other red glove was lost somewhere in the half mile behind me, and one turquoise glove was lost between miles 3 and 4 at the start. “Errrrr!” I growled. Then, I put the lucky Emily hat on my hand that didn’t have a glove. It worked out.
I bounded down a big hill and met up with a fellow runner whom I had seen back at the beginning of the race and again at one of the aid stations. Someone had asked him if he was in the 101st, which would have meant that he was from Ft. Campbell, my neck of the woods. I asked him about it because I hadn’t heard his exact answer, just that he wasn’t in the 101st, but that he had been a soldier. We talked about where he had been stationed while he was in the Army.
He and I ran together past the cabin and alongside the creek back up to the cemetery. I was listening to “Sure Thing” by St. Germain as we talked about running, yoga, life. Turned out, he was a yoga teacher, too. Having the company was great, and making it to the next aid station felt like a breeze compared to my struggle with picking up the gloves.
My new running friend stopped to eat at the aid station. My husband caught up to me there and refilled my Vitargo, and I took off again. I was cruising around the outback area toward the fire tower road. I knew the out and back was coming up, and that part was challenging for me in 2014. I told myself to get rid of the negative thoughts.
About the time I was listening to “Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance, I saw signs attached to the trees. Dirtbaggers were waiting, I realized, and then heard a loud scream ahead, followed by cheers and more screaming. In the distance, I saw a large human-sized panda bear screaming her head off at me. Cheering for me. She opened her arms up and I opened my arms wide and ran toward her. We met and embraced, and she screamed more. High fives with my fellow dirtbags, noticing that they had quite a spread laid out for those who could eat and run, and I was scooting down the gravel road. I told myself to keep running through the out and back and then I’d walk. I was getting tired again and needed to drink more of my food.
At the turnaround, a volunteer had stocked the back of his truck with every kind of snack you can imagine. It was like a convenience store. “Grab some calories,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said, “but I’m okay. I’ve got juice.” I took a big drink and kept moving.
After I made it through the turn, I stopped and slurped down as much food as possible. About that time, the running friend I made earlier had caught up to me. We chatted a little but he was in the zone. I told him to go ahead, and we’d see each other later if we were meant to.
I started to trot again but I was feeling “Faded” (by Zhu) and it was playing. I ran through the Dirtbag station again and up the hill. I didn’t see my running friend at all. I was guessing that he had paired up with the two guys who had been running about a tenth of a mile in front of me for a while. I lost track of them somewhere around the Dirtbag station.
After I made it up the hill, I struggled a lot. There was a stalled train on the tracks that ran alongside the road. The train sat there beside me, unmoved. “Brighter” by Rufus du Sol reminded me of how low I was right then. I argued with myself about being too cold and too hot, being hungry, getting stuck at the same place in the race. My positive thoughts fought to win out. “Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd was this moment. I heard a runner approaching behind me. I moved over to the right side.
“Hey,” my runner friend said from beside me and began to walk with me.
“Oh, I thought you were long gone,” I said. “Did you stop back there?”
He had and eaten some potatoes. I was relieved to see him. I told him that I was struggling. He told me that my husband had stopped as he was leaving the aid station back at mile 21.6, and my husband told him to watch out for me. He said, “I don’t know if he meant that he wanted me to look after you or to watch out because you might beat me.”
We both laughed. I said that it was because Terry knew that was the toughest part of the race for me and he was asking him to look out for me. We walked. He tried cracking a few jokes, but I missed them. My brain wasn’t firing on time, and it took me a few minutes to catch up mentally as well as physically. I drank more, knowing I needed more fuel. I felt so bad that he was walking but he assured me that he needed to slow down for a little bit. We talked about life again, yoga, running. I drank a lot of food and begged my brain to release an endorphin. About that time, my second Jimi song played, “Hear My Train A-Comin'” and I had to laugh at the irony. My new friend talked about 100 mile and 50 mile races. I said that those were crazy. He reminded me of the potential in the human body, the ability for endurance and strength. We talked about injuries and how yoga can help. My husband broke his leg/ankle this year, so we discussed that. We walked. Finally, he said, “Do you think you can shuffle run up to that tree right up there?”
“I’ll try,” I said. We did the shuffle run and kept going. We alternated between running and walking. We neared another road crossing at the back of the park, and my friend told me that he had never ran a full marathon yet. I checked my timer to see where we were in our mileage. We were over 26 miles, and the two of us did a high five in honor of his first marathon!
Finally, once we crossed the 27 mile mark, I was relieved completely. I had made it past my old stopping place from 2014. “Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker played somewhere in this time, and I was at the approaching sunset with a friend, but it was so fitting in melody. We had made it past the final cutoff an hour and a half ahead of the time. Everything in my body woke up at that moment. All my anxiety dissipated. I was excited, relaxed, and feeling strong. I wondered if my running friend was an angel, and told him thank you for helping me through the terrible slump I had hit back there. He said that he just wanted to cross the finish line and feel good at the end. I agreed. “Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker coincided. I had experienced enough races when I couldn’t drive myself afterward and felt so terrible that I could barely make it to the end.
We rambled down the hillside and crossed a bunch of creeks again, talking along the way, feeling good. “Telemetron” by Hexstatic and a couple more from the Listen and Learn album propelled me with beats. My excitement grew as we neared the final aid station. I heard the highway as we ran atop the hillside. The hotel was through the trees in the distance. I pointed it out to him. We would run the hillside down to the front entrance of the park and then hook back toward the hotel. Both of us were eager to make it down the hill and across the road to the final length of trail. Shirley Bassey’s “Easy Thing To Do” remix by Nightmares on Wax was like a lullaby giving me a lilt in my run.
My family was waiting for us at the final aid station and cheered us on. My dad said that he would run with us if we needed a pacer to the end, but we were okay and ready to make it.
Up the hill, we wound our way toward the hotel, down the stairs, across the bridge, and up, up, up stairs at the end. We high-fived as we crossed the bridge. We ran up the stairs side-by-side. Jimi always plays for me near the end, and this was no exception. “Who Knows” his guitar wailed.
In the parking area, about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, my friend said, “You go ahead and run across the finish line. Your family is up there.” His calves were cramping up.
“No way!” I said. “You stayed with me when I was having a hard time, and we’re crossing the finish line together.” We walked.
I said, “Let’s walk around this last corner and then there’s a straightaway, we can do it. We can run it in.”
And, that’s what we did. We ran side-by-side, increasing our pace until we crossed the finish line together. He jumped up in the air just as we crossed the finish line or we would have had the exact same time.
Thrilling. Powerful. Joyful. Emotional. My daughters were watching and cheering. My family hugged me. Terry called me his hero. My parents were proud.
My runner friend rang the bell to signal his completion of the race. I rang the bell, and then rang it again and again. I wanted to make up for 2014 and any race I could have run in between.
I felt wonderful after the race. I was ready to keep going. “I can run a 50-miler,” I told my husband.
In the car, Terry handed me my other red glove. “Another runner gave it to me at one of the aid stations. He picked it up when you dropped it on the trail.” Back at my parents’ house, my mom gave me a turquoise glove, “you left this in the car before the race.” So, I only lost one glove on the trail, a turquoise glove at the beginning.
I set new running goals immediately because everything felt different. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been during my training runs. I was aware of my shortcomings–too much multitasking and too many negative thoughts about my ability. After the 50km, I felt more alert and positive about running races than I had been in years. I was renewed. I set my sights on a 50-mile race in May.
Notes: I could have gotten the order of some things mixed up. After twenty miles, I can’t exactly remember where a thought and/or conversation took place every time, but I try to get close and recount what mattered.
Also, this was my horoscope from Rob Brezsny the Tuesday following the race:
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Danish scientist and poet Piet Hein wrote this melancholy meditation: “Losing one glove is painful, but nothing compared to the pain of losing one, throwing away the other, and finding the first one again.” Let his words serve as a helpful warning to you, Gemini. If you lose one of your gloves, don’t immediately get rid of the second. Rather, be patient and await the eventual reappearance of the first. The same principle applies to other things that might temporarily go missing.
FREE WILL ASTROLOGY
Week beginning December 13
Copyright 2018 by Rob Brezsny
Grammar key: Asterisks equal *italics*
Rob Brezsny is amazing–check him out. His expanded audio horoscopes are even more eerily accurate.
Playlist In-Part (the Highs and Lows):
Warning: Some of these songs obviously contain explicit lyrics, and the videos could be as well if you choose to look them up…
“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights
“Down” by Marian Hill
“Waiting too Long” by Hippie Sabotage
“Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses
“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
“River” by Bishop Briggs
“Just Jammin'” by Gramatik
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance
“Halfway Home” by DJ Shadow
“Gold” by Chet Faker
“Feeling Good” Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone
“Loving It” by Marian Hill
“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo
“Sure Thing” by St. Germain feat. John Lee Hooker
“Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance
“Faded” by Zhu
“Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd
“Brighter” by Rufus Du Sol
“Hear My Train A-Comin'” by Jimi Hendrix
“Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker
“Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker
“Telemetron” by Hexstatic
“Easy Thing to Do” by Shirley Bassey; Nightmares on Wax mix
“Who Knows” by Jimi Hendrix
I am still so proud of you Shana! I loved reading your blog and feeling like I was there with you every step of the way. You are a strong woman, and you can do whatever you set your mind to!
Thank you so much, Jennie! One day, we will run a race again together. Maybe that Avenue of the Giants. I am grateful for your friendship and support, and I am so proud of you, too!
Pingback: Splitting Clouds on a Mountain with the Devil’s Bathtub in the Mix: Cloudsplitter 100km | shanathornton
Pingback: STOP & Bask in the Completion | shanathornton