Let me tell you a story about the picture above, taken right after leaving the mile 8 aid station at the Black Canyon 100K.
What may not be apparent to the naked eye is that I felt awful. In fact, I’d been feeling awful since the first few steps at the start of the race. If I had to describe it I would tell you that absolutely nothing hurt, but everything felt absolutely much harder than it should. It would be like if you pressed your foot all the way down on the gas pedal in your car but couldn’t make it out of first gear. I’ve had it randomly happen a handful of times before, most recently at the Overlook 50-miler last September. It lead to my first DNF at my first 50-miler, the race that was supposed to be a litmus test for if my body would ever be able to do the “longer ultra distances.” From a results standpoint, that test was not exactly auspicious for my success at Black Canyon 100K and beyond.
Mentally, feeling abnormally drained and depleted at mile 8 of a 62 mile race is incredibly overwhelming and discouraging. At Overlook 50-miler, I let that overwhelmed feeling gnaw and grow until by mile 37 I had myself fully convinced that there was no way I could possibly struggle through the remaining 13 miles. So I quit, and over the following weeks I came to regret giving up on myself and my dream of a 50-mile finish, thereby throwing an entire summer’s worth of training down the drain.
The mind is pretty powerful. If you believe in something enough, you will turn that something into your own reality. You can also believe you cannot possibly take another step, and it will become true. That’s why experienced ultrarunners always preach the power of a positive attitude and believing that you CAN. You have to be unwavering in this belief, because while it’s easy to believe in yourself when you feel fresh, as fatigue sets in, the line between believing and not believing becomes paper thin and tenuous.
Another thing experienced ultrarunners always say, is that no matter how many miles you have already run, no matter how dark and deep into the struggle you find yourself, if you just keep going, eventually your day will turn around and you will find yourself running stronger than you could have ever imagined just hours before. It’s incomprehensible and it defies everything you thought you knew about fatigue being a linear progression of continuous decline, but it’s true.
So when I found myself running Black Canyon 100K, 8 miles into a 62 mile day, having been dealt another one of “those days,” I thought of all the reasons why I COULD. I thought of the consistent training I had done all winter and the strength I knew I had shown on long days in the mountains leading up to race day. I recognized my inexplicable fatigue as an inaccurate reflection of my fitness level and I set about doing all the things I knew I had to do to get myself to the finish line even if it meant struggling and fighting for every step. I diligently ran every flat and downhill section at a steady, sustainable pace that I had predetermined in my race plan. I power-hiked every single uphill. I ingested 100-150 calories every 30 minutes like clockwork even though I didn’t feel hungry because I knew getting ahead of the calorie deficit would pay dividends later. I drank water in small sips during every walk break and I took my electrolytes. I drew on the strength and positivity found in the ultrarunning community by thanking the volunteers and sharing words of encouragement with the runners around me.
And it happened, the incomprehensible. By mile 20, I began noticing that I was running longer and longer sections without thinking about the effort. By mile 37, I was running stronger than I had all day. With every new “longest distance I’ve ever run” milestone that I hit from mile 37 through mile 62, the knowledge that I COULD and I WOULD finish my first 100K grew and grew. Even when my body made aches and pains increasingly hard to ignore at mile 50, I still KNEW that as long as I kept moving there was absolutely nothing that could stop me from getting to that finish line.
I saw a t-shirt from Semi-Rad once that read “Anything can be a taco if you have a tortilla and you believe in yourself.” It was silly and fun, but I loved it because it spoke to the incredible power of believing in yourself. As I crossed the finish line of my first 100K, with tears streaming down my dirty face, I was the proof. I was proof that a non-athletic little girl who never liked running and was never more than mediocre at any sport growing up, could work hard and believe in herself and accomplish something extraordinary.
Two years ago, sitting on beach in Cancun, when I decided I wanted to become an ultrarunner without ever having voluntarily run a single mile in my entire life, finishing a 100K could have seemed like a pipe dream. It easily could have been, had I not decided to believe in myself. The journey from that girl two years ago to the girl who ran herself 62 miles through the desert to get to that finish line has been a testament to the power of belief in oneself. If I could gift a part of my journey to you, dear reader, it would be the knowledge that whatever it is you want to achieve, you CAN by putting in the hard work and believing in the power of YOU. As the t-shirt version of this story would say, go forth, pack the tortillas, and make a taco out of those audacious dreams.