“It feels like it’s always a battle with me. Why?!”
My eyes filled with tears as I looked wearily at Colin…I had just crossed the Finish line. Colin, who has paced me the last 20 miles in all three of my Western States races, sat on the cot across from me.
I was drained, broken, and ashamed; that’s exactly what I felt after crossing the Finish line; in truthfulness, that’s it.
It was the realization that I had not accomplished any of my race goals.
It was looking at all my training; all I had sacrificed; all those weekends I drove seven hours North to run on the course; the time away from my family; the financial investments; the time…the time…the time- only to fail.
My worst Western States performance to date.
Yes. That’s what swirled through my mind in those immediate moments.
It was honest and it hurt.
Fast forward to today, four days after crossing the Finish line.
This is my fifth attempt at writing this post.
I have more than a dozen different intros and several pages worth of notes.
But each time I start to explain the race, I stop.
The words I’m hoping to describe my feelings don’t exist; and I, lamely, can’t stop crying. (Don’t worry, I will be fine in a day; I like to allow myself to feel my true feelings.)
So instead of a traditional race report; I’m simply going to answer the questions I’ve been asked (at least a thousand times) about my race. I’m going to be up front and honest with you; but before I do, please understand how much this race meant to me. I poured every ounce of my energy, attention, and heart into the training. I took chances and pushed myself in ways I hadn’t in the past. I stepped up to that Start line feeling prepared and ready, sheepishly feeling that just maybe the stars would align for me.
Sharing my heart in this way is not easy; as I know regardless of how I put my words, they will be scrutinized and will undoubtedly invite some shallow responses. But I’m okay with that because the message I hope to share is always more valuable than my pride; and if I am to stay true to who I am as a runner and the journey I’m on, then sharing these bits and pieces of my life will always be for the same reason- to encourage YOU.
(Thank you in advance for reading)
1.How were you feeling going into the race?
Strong, confident, fit, and ready to race. I trained hard and I was genuinely excited to see how well I could perform on race day. The only small apprehension I had were all the symptoms that Mother Nature was about to show up…and those awesome symptoms are: Unable to sleep through the night, fatigue and unfortunately water retention, so my legs and belly bloat like a balloon. I’m in no way complaining about this- it is what it is and I’ve learned to deal with it really well over the past few years; it’s just a tad uncomfortable. So aside from that, I had no injuries; no illness- I was very ready to race.
2. Did you go out too fast?
No. I was conservative; per my style of racing. I was naturally a few minutes faster into each of the first few aid stations from last year just because I was a little fitter, but I didn’t feel stressed out. I frog-hopped with my teammates Caroline and Amanda for the first 20 miles, but didn’t stay with them past Duncan Canyon (Mile 23 Aid Station). I ran alone for most of the race.
3. How was your nutrition?
This is what slowly killed me. I drank my nutrition. I drank my salt/electrolytes and I drank my water. I was doing all fluid and very little solid food. And I do very well eating a mix of solid food and liquid nutrition, but this race I chose to do all liquid. By the time I got into Robinson Flat I was a little light headed and dizzy. So I made it a point to grab a piece of banana at each aid station, but it didn’t help much. The other obstacle, I was peeing every 20 minutes; something I’ve never experienced in my life. It bugged me that I had to stop for 10-15 seconds every 20 minutes from miles 15- 100. It slowed me down and packed on time; but I didn’t make a big deal of it. I told my crew at Dusty Corners that I was peeing a ton but no one seemed to think it was a problem especially since I was drinking so well and I wasn’t experiencing any other negative symptoms. It was more of a nuisance.
4. When did you start having problems/hurting?
Climbing out of El Dorado Creek toward the Michigan Bluff aid station (About 50 miles into the race). I was moving really slowly; a little dazed and starting to experience nausea. I had the confidence to run that climb, but was having trouble focusing forward and just moving well, so in an attempt to not overwhelm myself I told myself to take it easy all the way to the aid station and allow myself to regroup. I knew what I was capable of doing the last 38 miles so I tried to stay positive and just focus on getting to Michigan Bluff with a smile. But when I got to my crew I just wanted to sit down; everything was spinning and I didn’t want anything they were offering me. Everything they were saying sounded like noise and before I knew it, I was back on the trail- walking like a sloth. Four women passed me and my heart sank. I walked for almost a mile trying to eat and drink and get my belly happy. It helped a little and I was able to muster up a good jog down into Volcano and then up Bath Road with my daughter. (Which was one of the highlights of my day.)
5. Did the heat bother you?
What heat? Honestly, it was not hot! Warm at best, but I felt more breeze than I did heat. I took advantage of the ice, creeks, and sponges; but looking back, I think it was a waste of my time at the aid stations. I think it was hotter last year and l didn’t think last year was hot either. Kind of funny because I did some really solid heat training.
6. Did you want to drop?
Yes. I thought about dropping at Michigan Bluff then again at Foresthill; then again at Green Gate. Each time I thought about it, I got angry- I hated that the thought even entered my mind…which was also a good indication that I shouldn’t drop! I think anger can be used for energy in a race and it showed me how much I cared; but I was battling a crummy belly- not to mention my pride. I hated how slow I was moving and that I was so far off the lead pack. By the time I got to Foresthill I just started crying. Dave and Colin were so positive and kept reminding me how strong I was, they kept saying, “You know how to crush the last 38…c’mon there’s still a lot of race left …stay tough Sally.”
7. You must have started to feel better- you were passing people.
I actually started to feel worse and worse as the race went on; but my pacers don’t show me any sympathy (per my firm pre-race instruction). Dave and I ran the Cal Loop fairly well, pushing on the downs as hard as we could. I was dry-heaving quite a bit but nothing would come up; I was also still peeing a lot; so I was purely annoyed. Once we got to Cal-2 Dave urged me to push as hard as I possibly could on the long descent; so I did and we passed a few more people; couple women too- which made me think I might have a chance at getting into the top ten. We made it to the river in 3 hours but I was trashed and for the first time in the 3 years I’ve run the race, I struggled just to get across the river. It’s typically refreshing, but I was cold the whole time- I couldn’t wait to get out. I was silent almost the entire time Dave paced me from Foresthill to Green Gate; I was battling quietly, but had it not been for his constant “tough love” and belief in me, I wouldn’t have moved so well. When we finally arrived at Green Gate, my knees ached from the recent push. I let Colin know, and he responded, “Bummer you have to feel that, but it’s not going to get any better, so just deal with it.” And just like Dave, he kept urging me to run harder. We passed a few people and the updates we got made it seem like I was only 15- 20 minutes away from 10th place; so I really started focusing on catching the next woman. With about 12 miles left, my left calf felt like it was injured-not just achy tired, but stabbing pain. My guess was that because my knees were hurting I changed my running gait and then stressed out my calf. Walking hurt, hiking hurt, descending hurt, and running hurt. Once again Colin reminded me, “There’s nothing you can do about it, tell it to shut up!” He was right and we just pushed through it. I knew Caroline and Erika were nearby so I just focused on them. I took my pack off at Highway 49 and without stopping grabbed a bottle and hopped back on the trail. I was determined more than ever to get into the top 10 so we pushed really hard, running almost all the climbs and bombing the downhills. I vommitted a few times as we ran and my left calf yelped with every step, but we were able to catch Caroline right at the No Hands Bridge Aid Station. We didn’t pause, just yelled out, “F7!” to alert the volunteers, then went tearing across the bridge on a hunt for Erika. We were told she was only 5 minutes ahead and we had 3.4 miles to go. There was no doubt in my mind that I could catch her, but we soon learned that she had already finished. As I climbed Robie tears filled my eyes. Dave and Francisco joined me and Colin for the final mile and I just wanted to jump in the bushes.But, just as dear friends do; they encouraged me to run those final meters and finish strong. They found my family on the track and I ran those final steps with Makenzie and Isaiah at my side.
8. How are you recovering? Are you injured?
The first day I was achy and my left calf hurt pretty bad, but I have been tackling my recovery routine fairly well (which includes Addaday massage tools); lots of rest, water, and healthy food and each day I feel better. Thankfully the calf is feeling better with each passing day, but I haven’t run on it yet. I’ll wait a couple more days to run just to make sure. Overall, body feels strong.
9. Will you run Western States next year?
Regardless of the outcome, I had already made the decision (privately) a few months ago to not return to Western States in 2017; however that’s not set in stone. I do have a love for the Western States trails and the race will always hold a very special place in my heart for many reasons, but in staying true to the kind of athlete I am, I will be racing in various places around the world next year. I love new challenges; meeting new people; and seeing the world from as many mountaintops as I can find…I’m genuinely excited for the races I have planned in the coming months and in 2017. Western States is a phenomenal race; a celebration for our amazing trail community, but it does not define me as a runner, hence I don’t feel I need to keep doing it over and over. But don’t get me wrong, my pure love for it will surely have me coming back again…someday.
10. When do you start training again? What’s next for you?
When did I stop? He- he. The recovery is part of the training, but I’ll get back to running this weekend. Easy effort for a few days then slowly build back into my normal training program. I will be heading back to Chamonix, France in August to race the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc then to Cape Town, South Africa for the Ultra Trail Cape Town in December. I have my eye on one or two races in the fall, but haven’t made decisions yet. I’ll keep ya posted!
In closing, I would like to say that through it all, I am hopeful. I am determined; and already looking forward to the hard work ahead. Was all that time and hard work worth it? HECK YEAH IT WAS! It’s all part of the journey- the adventure. And I know I can always improve; I can always learn something new; and there will always, always be another mountain for me to climb. I have battled many things in my life- heck, I’m built like a fighter- I was born to be a conqueror. I didn’t want this to come off as pouty; trust me, I know this letdown pales in comparison to the battles that many people face day in and day out. I too am quite familiar with the heartache that comes from life’s challenges. But what I’ve found to be true is that heartache is heartache and we never know what mountain someone might be battling at any moment. I’d like to think that the thousands of people who have so lovingly reached out to encourage me these past few days, also reach out to those around them in their everyday lives. If so, then trail runners are hands down THE ABSOLUTE BEST people on the planet; and I can’t thank y’all enough for your overwhelming kindness toward me. Let’s keep that ripple effect flowing my friends and should you find yourself knocked down in quest of your dreams, get back up again and again and again and…
Truly, the BEST is yet to come.