“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.”

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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!

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With teammates David Laney, Me, Amanda Basham, and Zach Miller at the Awards Ceremony. We’re all headed to UTMB in August!

 

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.

Much love,

Sally

Author Sally McRae

More posts by Sally McRae
  • Laura Langerwerf

    Sally, your determination and talent is so inspiring no matter how you run a race. It was so exciting to see you and follow you all day at States. No matter what you were dealing with you were still determined to do your best and leave it all out there, and that’s what you did. Congratulations on a great race. We are all so proud of you and hope you visit us back at WSER soon. Much love

    • Jim Kiniris

      I just remembered that you and I talked about how awesome we both think Sally is…

  • MJruns

    Hugs to you, and thank you for choosing to share. Hard enough to talk about it as a regular person when things don’t go to plan, but as an elite, with the pressures, responsibilities and so many eyes on you, tougher.

    Those symptoms of Mother Nature ugh, what timing. As a belly & other stuff sufferer myself (including peeing ridiculously often), I sympathize. A drain too. And tummy troubles on top of it! Frustrating when it seems there’s no well of energy to dip into.

    Proud of you for gutting it out (no pun intended) and pushing through to the finish, though worried reading about your calf during race, not worth pushing too far into injury! Glad it seems to be ok so far.

    I think you’re bouncing back very quickly, and wise to let yourself feel whatever you feel, but your wise perspective will help you move forward. (I’m feeling a little knocked down lately, and a bit tired of the effort to keep figuring things out, trudging and fighting, sucking the joy out of life a bit, so thanks for the nudge to get back up.)

    Not sure if Devon Yanko has run UTCT but she loves CT and has run other stuff there, might be a good resource for training (and CT info).

    Look forward to seeing what you do next!

  • CrisFrancisco

    Hey Sally, thanks for sharing your post-race thoughts and your in-race struggles. I couldn’t help but see the parallels between your race and my experience at SD100 this year. We should get on a run and share battle stories. Take care and be patient on the recovery. Looking forward to seeing you out on the trails.

  • Jim Kiniris

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts…I love following your adventures in racing and enjoy seeing the footage through Billy Yang’s lens. I’m sorry about your race, and although not the same circumstances, I have felt the same way when I tested for my credentials. I put all this time in to study, time away from my family, then on test day, I blow it. I really think you’re a great example with your positive attitude and your never say die mindset. I look forward to your continued training posts and races.

  • Runner1967

    TY for this. You’ll be back with a bang.

  • Bob Shebest

    Rock on Sally, thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience out there. The plan was going so well… until the race punched me in the face. Dammit! On to the next one. Best of luck at UTMB. Make it your masterpiece!!

  • Ryan Cave

    Sally, I follow your career closely because frankly I am inspired by your worldview and work ethic. Even though this race did not go as planned it is far from a failure and your training is far from worthless. Remember that God does not care who wins Western States. People always pray for those kinds of things but truly he doesn’t care about that. What he cares about is his Glory and that you worked to the best of your abilities. In both of those areas you win huge marks. You are an inspiration to many people and mostly it’s because you are an awesome mother and loving person who also happens to run ultra-marathons. No matter how any race in the future goes, hold your head high. In this crazy world, you know the God that loves you, you are an amazing mother, you have health and a work ethic that allows you to crush ultra marathons and you are a loving person who has rich friendships. You Sally McRae are a success in every definition of the word. God bless in your future races, I wish you nothing but success.

  • Kaci Lickteig

    This post is so beautifully written. I was in tears reading it…then you come out fired and ready for new challenges. THAT is who you are Sally…a FIGHTER who NEVER gives up. That is bold, beautiful, and a rarity to find. You are such a strong woman inside and out. I know you will grow even stronger from this race and that should light fear in your competition. Continue to be a wonderful inspiration for us. I hope your recovery goes quickly and that you are back on the trails where you belong. Much love to you, Sally! Your friend and teammate, Kaci. xoxo

  • Saires Saires

    I’m so glad I read this post 2 days before my first road marathon. I’m in training for my first 50km ultra and have been following your WS training. From your instagram exercises (damn side plank with hip dips still gets me!) to your pics on mountain tops. Knowing that you can push your body and not give into stopping, and sucking it up is something I’ll be trying to do on Sunday. Thanks again for honesty in sharing your journey. even if you didn’t get your desired outcome it’s still inspiring!

  • WolfofMainStreet

    I enjoy following you and your running career. It’s been nice experiencing the highs and lows of such a humble and hard working ultra runner. I hope you get back to WS. I think it will be good for you to keep plugging away at getting exactly what you want from that race. What ever you decide God bless you amd good luck.

  • Shay

    You know what? I think this made you even more inspirational to me. Keep your chin up- you’ve got more amazing things to come.

  • Andrew Cowell

    A while ago I made a comment on your Facebook post saying that “you’re amazing Sally”. After reading this all I can say is “You’re amazing Sally!” What an inspiration 👍😎

  • Daisy Baggs

    Thank you Sally this is beautifully and brutally honest and must have taken a lot of courage to write. It’s good to know that despite being an athlete and all round legend, you are also human. Congratulations on completing, and pushing through.

  • designfly

    “the best is yet to come” for you Sally…thanks for sharing your story

  • Jaclyn Applegate

    Thanks for sharing Sally! I’ve been following your adventures for a few years now. I follow along because I love your spirit is contagious, and you never stop shining and fighting. You stayed true to who you are in the face of adversity, if that’s not a champion I don’t know what is. Cheers to you Sally!

    ps. I added a few of your mobility drills you showed on Instagram to my warm up routine about 6 months ago. I’m running stronger than ever. Thanks coach. 🙂

  • Dinaba Dubon

    Wow! Truly like you said headache is headache, thank you for your raw honesty! And like you said the best is yet to come, for us all!

  • Stewart

    In the end what matters is your kids look up to you and you’re setting a fine example. Way to tough it out girl, 100 miles is a long way! Happy recovery!

  • Michael B Welch

    Congrats on finishing. I always wonder if you would be happier setting a course record vs. finishing a horrible day. I have a race that I look forward to every year, and I have never beaten the first time I ran it. The most memorable (and effort I am most proud of) is my slowest time. I thought I would die that day for sure. Someday I may improve, but I will never beat that day. Keep up the good running. And I love to hear your adventures on TRN.

  • Mauricio Bahia

    Sally, we never fail. We learn. Please, it was a sign you are maybe now ready to WS100 because you crossed the border of pain and sadness making you even stronger than yesteday and the story your are telling me sounds just like the begginning of a new morning. The moment you are ready to quit is just before a micrale happens! Thanks for sharing and spiring só meny people around. Take a ride on your yellow submarine and go with the flow! 💛 Cheers from Brazil – Rio

  • Isaac R. Medrano

    Thank you for sharing your story day in and day out! The anger you expressed at the thought of dropping is something I could relate to from this years Black Canyons 100k. The energy you bring, the passion you share, the authenticity you exemplify inspires, motivates me, educates me. The good Lord never gives us more than we can handle. Thank you for all your energy and all your smiles. “Float like a butterfly, sting like bee.”

  • William Read

    I want to congratulate you on your effort at WSER. I am so impressed by people like you that can perform athletically at the highest levels. I am also inspired by your athleticism. To perform at that level would be a dream fo me. From one of your IG posts I saw you putting your shoes on while balancing on one leg. I do this now but because of my poor balance and I also have autism, it is a real struggle to do it. But the inspiration and idea came from you. Thanks. Here is to better races ahead.

  • Colin Chapell

    Thank you, Sally, for your honesty and willingness to be raw and open with us – perfect strangers! That strength, grit, and grace is why so many of us are inspired by you.

  • Sue Cox

    Felt your pain and disappointment but you are such an inspiration. I know many great races are in your future.

  • Sina Nordby

    You are the kind of athlete who inspires me to keep pushing forward, and never to give up. I think you are amazing no matter what, and it is truly honorable the way you share your whole jurney, even though you didn’t get the result you were hoping for. I understand your disappointment, but luckily there are many more races to come. I wish you the best. Hugs from Norway 💛

  • Scott

    Thanks for sharing Sally, you’ve been such a inspiration since I first started following your running exploits from the other side of the pond (you can thank TGR for that). Wish you all the best at UTMB and for the rest of year!

  • Ignacio Castillo

    Yes, yes, and yes… Sally, you’re awesome and inspiring! I’m a UCan user and would love to hear more about your liquid fueling strategy. Was the plan only to use the powder? Peeing every 20 minutes sounds weird, but it might not be connected to the powder. Really curious to know a few of the details. Your best is yet to come!!!

  • Your grace does not go unnoticed! Your best is yet to come and we all can’t wait to see your journey.

  • Sherry Dineen

    Sally, it’s fun and inspiring to watch you work and prepare for your races. It’s not about the result (though obviously it is nice to see you reach your goals) – it’s about sharing in your journey – including the ups and the downs. Never be ashamed of the downs – without them the ups wouldn’t be so awesome. Looking forward to continuing to watch you work and hit it hard at UTMB. Thanks for bringing us along for the ride!

  • Demmaje BF

    Sally, you are a true fighter and I love your dedication to the life of a runner! I read a lot of your stuff and follow you on social media. Inspiration every time!

  • Ann Trason

    Nice job Sally, I am so proud to know you.

  • Michelle Davies

    You truely are an inspiration – both through ups and downs. I recently heard you on the ROO podcast and was so inspired and now to read this post shows me it’s the adventure within each journey! You ROCK Girl! Thank you for your bright light!

  • Saeger Fischer

    I heard your interview with Julia Hanlon and just fell in love with your spirit. Your post truly spoke to my heart as I dedicated every ounce of my being to breaking sub three in Boston, only to get crushed by the weather. We train so hard and put so much stock in one day and when it doesn’t go as planned, it can be devastating. That being said, it truly is a wonderful journey that we runners are all on.. I look forward to following your continued success.

  • Pingback: ROO #212: Sally McRae on Training Your Mind and Racing Against Yourself()

  • Marley Chambers

    I am listening to the podcast you did with Julia Hanlon the night before the WS100, and your beautiful attitude just wowed me. And this blogpost, double wow. Where you say it was all worth it, even though you didn’t get the result you wanted. I love that. So inspiring, thank you. I think you are about to do UTMB – go Stormy and keep inspiring friends and strangers!

  • Dan

    It’s a very inspiring story. Kudos to you Sally! Just keep the fire burning!
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  • Dan

    I’m looking forward for your journey in running for 2017. Best regards and congratulation.
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  • Nice job! I really appreciate your positive vibe – You are eternally inspirational! Peace and light to you!!