Thursday, January 9, 2014

Confession Time, a Review of 2013 and Owning TRT100

Last year was a breakthrough year for me in my progress as an ultrarunner. I had some races where my performances surprised and delighted me. Little did I know where it would lead me in 2014. So I'm fessing up and owning what's next for me. The journey that leads up to my confession is my 2013 running story:  brieflly for each race, but long for this post, and a poor substitute for race reporting which I rarely have the patience to write about. (One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more frequently though, so I'm going to get better at writing race reports.)

There was the American River 50 Mile race on April 6; a relatively easy 50 miles that takes runners along the American River bike trail in Sacramento for the first 28 miles until it begins to climb out of the Folsom Lake area and up to the Auburn Overlook Dam on beautiful single track trail. The last 3 miles is a brutal up hill climb out of the American River canyon to the finish. At mile 42 I knew I could beat 11 hours and I did, qualifying me for the Western States 100 mile race. I PR’ed the course by a full hour and felt strong and comfortable at the finish. It was a brilliant running day for me, the day before my birthday!
single track trail next to the American River
The Miwok 100K race was four weeks later in May. The race was shortened at the last minute to 60K due to severely dry weather and a high risk of fire in the hills above San Francisco. The start of the race was delayed 3 hours. I had a very tough day and was thankful that I was only running 60K! It felt like a 50 mile race and my finish was dismal and uncomfortable. I attributed the difficult experience to a lack of adequate recovery from American River and too much mileage between the two races. Lessons learned.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Miwok 60K (100K) trail

June was ushered in with big training weeks of 45 to 70 miles depending on when we did our long runs. The Tahoe Rim Trail training runs on Father’s Day weekend were finished well and the anticipation of a strong finish at the July TRT 50 Mile race was beginning to build.
The Tahoe Rim Trail endurance Races (50K, 50Mile and 100Mile) started on a Saturday morning in late July with comfortable temps before dawn at 7600 feet in the Sierras – an ominous warning of the record highs all the runners would endure that day. Ron, my training partner, and I cruised through the first 13 miles at an alarmingly fast pace, yet we felt comfortable and within our abilities; we knew that the potential for a great race was within our reach that day. Without going into too much detail, Ron and I got separated very early on and I ran most of the race alone. As unexpected as that was, I dug deep into my own mental and emotional strengths and finished strong, once again taking more than an hour off my previous year’s finishing time and winning my age group. Another lesson learned – I can drive my performance with my mental strength and confidence.

Marlette Lake from Marlette Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail
with Lake Tahoe in the background

At the finish, my exhaustion was profound. As I tried to eat a little chicken noodle soup at the aid station, and relax into the realization that I didn’t have to run anymore and what I had accomplished, I watched the 100 milers coming in and then leaving again to run their second 50 miles. I tried to read their faces – some showed exhaustion, but would light up as friends and supporters tended to their needs and acted as if finishing the first 50 miles of one of the most difficult 100 mile races around was a normal thing for a human being to do. Others sat huddled under blankets trying to get warm and get some food in. Pacers and family whispered worriedly about the conditions of runners – dehydrated, cold, hungry, weak, mentally spent and begging to quit at 50 miles. Some did. Cajoled and coaxed by their pacers, others trudged out of the aid station to embark on the long night ahead with only their thoughts and pacers to keep them motivated.
I remember talking with George Ruiz, the Race Director for the TRTs, while he watched the runners come into the aid station that night with a trained eye. His concern for every runner is evident in every detail of the race. You can feel it when you talk with him and watch him observing and anticipating. His comments to me about finishing 100 miles on this course have stayed with me to this day. But more on that later.
As I recovered at the finish, I called my friend Mary, a Master ChiRunning Instructor, my good friend and mentor. I always call her when I finish an ultra because she gives me such great kudos for finishing and makes me feel like a champion. It’s good to have people like that in your life! She congratulated me on my finish as usual. I told her how hard it was, but how strong I felt over the last miles. I also told her how I had been watching the 100 milers coming in to the aid station and how difficult it must be to realize that they had to go out into the night to start a second 50 mile loop!
And then I made her promise that she would remind me how I felt at this moment so that I would never ever ever consider signing up for the TRT 100. She promised.

August arrived and I was recovering nicely. The Run on the Sly 50K near Placerville, CA, is a fun and hilly trail run with a lot of single track and the usual warm temps. Smoke from the Rim Fire hovered in the trees and the woods were silent - the birds were as unhappy breathing the stuff as we were. Ron and I ran well although I kind of tanked in the last 8 miles or so maybe because I fell twice and the second time scraped myself up pretty good. Ron had a good day and finished a few minutes ahead of me.

18 miles into Run on the Sly 50K, I crashed.
Then it was September, I think, when, on some training run high on the beautiful Tahoe Rim Trail near Marlette Lake, Ron and I were trotting along enjoying the perfection of the running day, when he suddenly said, out of the blue, “I’m going to make a commitment.” 
“Ok, I said”, thinking, this should be interesting. I wonder what he’s going to say.
“I’m going to do the TRT 100 next July,” he said.
“Oh, really?” I said. He went on to say that he wasn’t expecting me to make a decision about it and he would be happy to have me as a pacer again, or not because he knew I’d probably want to do the 50 miler again. I reminded him how I promised myself I would not do the TRT100…. Too too big and scary. I must have gone on about it for a while as we trotted down my favorite part of the TRT, from Snow Valley Peak into Spooner. But I have to admit I was thinking again about it. A little. I was certain that I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles on the TRT. Ron just listened to me jabber away. Or maybe not. His ear buds were in.

October 12 was Ron’s 64th birthday and we celebrated at the Dick Collins 50 Mile race at Lake Chabot in the southeast Bay area of northern California. With the same elevation gain as the TRT 50 miler of around 9,000 feet, but at a lower elevation, I was pleased with my faster time and strong finish at Dick Collins. Three weeks later we ran the Apple Hill 8.5 mile race near Placerville and I was astonished at the speed in my legs after only 3 weeks of recovery from the Dick Collins 50M.

A much enjoyed beer after finishing the
Dick Collins 50 Mile October 12 2013
November showed up with the anticipation of all the lotteries for ultra races opening up in December. Western States 100 was one of them and I put in my registration knowing that the chances of being pulled were slim, about 7%: some 4,000 entries for less than 300 spots. Relieved when I didn’t get pulled, Ron and I turned to Plan B. If I didn’t get in to WS100, then it would change our training plans with the focus on the TRT races.
And of course, the question rose again, gently from Ron and anxiously and surprisingly from within me – should I sign up for TRT100? Why was I even thinking of considering it?
I struggled with the question. Like a woman who swears she will never get pregnant again because she never wants to experience that pain again, and then forgets about it and decides to have another child, I found that the profound fatigue and exhaustion I had experienced only a few months earlier seemed to have faded from my memory. How could I possibly want to run 100 miles? By running it, I guessed.
I talked with Ron a lot about it. His answers to my persistent questions and expressions of doubt were simple and short – “you know you can do this, you’re ready, you know how to run an ultra.”
And I kept remembering George’s (the TRT RD) comment to me at the aid station that night when I finished my 50 miler. I had asked him how people continue after that first 50. His answer was simple, too. He said something like, “it’s all mental – you have prepared yourself knowing that you will do another 50 and you just do it.”
And I remembered my insistence that Mary promise me that she would talk me out of doing the TRT 100. Oh dear. I didn’t want to talk with her about it. I realized that I didn’t want to get talked out of it!
Two days after the TRT100 miler registration opened in December, I talked with Ron again. What is the one reason why I should do this, I asked him.
Smilin Ron on the TRT
“Because you can. You’re not getting any younger, you never know what will happen next to you and you are ready and able to do this now. Don’t pass up the opportunity that may not happen again.”
That was probably the best reason I’d heard yet. So I registered. And on December 31 Ultrasignup charged my credit card for the registration fee of around $277.
I’m in the TRT100!
While everyone announced their excitement about getting in to TRT on Facebook right before Christmas a few weeks ago, I held back. I’d told a few people, but was reluctant to make it public. I just didn’t feel like I owned my commitment to do the race, yet. I wanted to be fully in because of me not because of something else. I also wanted to feel worthy of such an effort, that I deserved the opportunity and that others would respect my confidence and ambition whether or not they agreed with my decision.
And I hadn’t confessed to one of my best friends, Mary that I was in. I felt badly that I hadn’t included her in my deliberations because I didn’t want her to talk me out of it as I made her promise. A huge loss on my part and something I’ll never ask a good friend to do again. Her input has always been important to me. Silly that I wouldn’t talk with her about it because of my own lack of confidence and commitment; and grateful for Ron’s counsel and friendship without pressure while I journeyed to the decision to finish a 100 mile foot race, I resolved to be joyously and fully in before I told everyone else.
And I did tell Dave, my husband and unconditional supporter. It hardly fazed him. He looked at me like, “Of course you would run 100 miles some day.” Duh.
Yesterday, I finally called Mary and confessed that I had registered for TRT back in December and that I was in. She laughed lightly –who knows, perhaps she even forgot about how I made her promise me to talk me out of it last July. Such a huge commitment on my part, she genuinely congratulated me on my decision and let me know that she knew I could finish it, too.

Me and Mary Lindahl at ChiRunning Instructor Weekend
November 2013
So this morning I awoke to write this story as the final piece to owning my commitment to finishing the TRT100 miler. It’s mine. It comes from my soul, that deep desire to reach for something that seems unreachable. Like leaning from my dantien, my center to increase my running speed effortlessly, my soul is at the finish of the TRT100 celebrating the accomplishment with an “of course” nod to my body that carried it there.
I’ll start on July 19, 2014 at 5 am. My goal is to finish that first 50 miles and get out of that aid station feeling well and confident that I will finish that second 50 the next day without injury, without huge distress and with complete soul satisfaction.
And that’s the end of this story for now. Bring it on 2014!

 "Until you commit your goals to paper, you have intentions that are seeds without soil." - Anonymous


  1. What a great blog post Cheryl! I registered for my first 50K that will be in February..I'm excited yet scared at the same time...your blog relaxed and inspired me ;) what I'm scared of the most is the addiction...I'm already thinking about 50 miles...btw, why do ultra's go from 50K to 50 miles? such a big jump ;) congrats on your decision and looking forward to reading about your progress! (loved the comment from your husband...Greg says the same thing now so at least I'm "training" him well lol)

  2. Fabulous blog! I enjoyed your writing. ❤️