Setting the challenge. (50 Miles, Part 1)

Friday, 5 am. Normally I’d be rolling out of bed in another 15 or 20 minutes. But this day I was already at the trailhead and gearing up to run and to try something I’d never attempted before.

2020 threw wrenches into everyone’s plans. In December 2019, I signed up for my first 50 mile race. I left the training plan to my coach, Kathryn Ross, and it was pushing me in the best ways. I was knocking out 50 and even 60 mile weeks, some tough workouts balanced with lots of easy miles. Then COVID-19 came along. Tiger Claw, a 25-mile big vert multi-loop race just outside Seattle, fell first. About a month later Wy’east Wonder, my 50 mile goal race, was canceled. I took a little time to be bummed—but it wasn’t long before I was thinking about another way to test my endurance limits.

…race day isn’t the point of running. It’s simply a celebration of the training that you’ve been putting in over weeks and months.

Training in Plague Times.

I knew I wanted to give the 50 mile distance a go. I didn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of races. So I decided to create my own solo event. Gene was totally up for being my crew. As I thought through options, I decided to keep it close to home, on familiar trails, in loops so Gene could run an aid station from the car and even join me on the trails for a few miles.

Now you might pick up on some key similarities between my criteria and the Tiger Claw course. I talked it over with Gene on one of our daily walks. The biggest intimidation factor? The vertical gain. I had been selective in my earlier 50 mile course, wanting something that didn’t have crazy vert for my first attempt—and that can be hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest. Wy’east Wonder is a point-to-point with about 7K ft of gain and 10K of loss. A single Tiger Claw has about 8000 ft of gain (and loss). And yet I kept thinking about it.

So I have this idea kicking around that’s probably a no-good, very-bad, terrible idea… that I kinda really want to try and see if I can pull it off.

I laid out my reasoning and potential plan in my training log, wondering what my coach would think.

I LIKE THIS IDEA! … you’ve thought through this solo Double Tiger Claw attempt and it sounds AWESOME! It’s a big challenge but one I believe you are up for. You’ve already thought through the important pieces and I think this checks all the right boxes!

It was on. We kept the training lighter, just 30-40 miles per week. I was able to start hitting trails again for runs and hikes. I picked the date: July 10. I had started engaging more with the Ginger Runner (GR) community, and July 10 would be in the midst of GR Global Run 2020.

I didn’t really talk much online about what I was planning. A thought kept tingling the back of my mind, What if I can’t do it?

A couple of weeks before I had a bad day on the trails—exhausted, mentally not in it, physically fatigued. I had been ready to call it quits after 1.5 mi of a planned 15 mi. Doubt crept in. What if my 50 mile day came and I just didn’t have it? I pushed a little longer, plowing slowly through overgrown trails, getting soaked by the rain clinging to foliage, pricked by stinging nettles, and scratched by berry bushes. Cutting the run short, I went down hard on the way back to the car, picked myself up, and shuffled out to 8.5 mi total. But something in me also I pulled the plug on that run because I could, because I had gotten what I needed to get out of it. When it came time to show up for “race day”, I’d give it all I had. At the very least, it’s what I had to believe.

…as runners (especially trail and ultra runners), we know how to keep moving forward even when the day isn’t necessarily going our way.

Respect. Accept. Adapt.

And so, on Friday, July 10, 2020, I showed up at my own personal start line, in the early morning light, anxious but excited to see what I could do.

To be continued…

Logistics: Prepping for ‘race’ day. (50 Miles, Part 2)