Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This past weekend brought me back to some of the final miles of Vermont 50 last year. It was Aliza and I on the trail. I had thrown in the towel. I had gone off course. I just wanted to finish. I didn’t fight to the end. I just got there. She was incredible in her patience, but I just wasn’t the person and runner I know I am. As I was talking to Paul Monday night I said, amongst other things, I am so proud that I fought all the way on Saturday.

I was so looking forward to Mountain Masochist. Fall colors and time with folks I hadn’t seen in years. My last trip to the race was actually on my birthday a few years ago, and Amy, who I had just met at the pre-race meeting, made signs wishing me happy birthday at the aid stations and folks all over the course wished me happy birthday. It was an awesome way to spend my birthday. That being said, I was a different runner then. I had no honest experience in the mountains and so each climb was so very hard. But, I knew this time would be different, even with a forecast of snow on raceday. Fortunately, I have a great friend who has already been running in the snow and had the best advice about layers. Spot on!!

I am so spoiled in my travels. I typically can leave for California on Friday morning for a Saturday race with no issue. Well, heading to Lynchburg was quite the opposite experience. Paul took me to the airport at 5:30 on Friday. At about 6:45 we were informed that there were “mechanical” issues. I immediately got up and had them schedule me on the next flight. This was a smart move because 20 minutes later the flight was cancelled. My first flight was now going to leave at 11:50. I put my compression socks on, elevated my feet, and chatted with others having my fun day. I actually met a very nice person who works for Livestrong, and it made the time pass. Fast forward to 5:30 Friday evening and I finally arrive in Lynchburg. I had been talking to Henry who was driving from DC to the race, and we decided that when I landed I would call in and pick up dinner for us and meet him at the host hotel. I was mentally and physically wiped out from the day. In fact, when I landed the only thing I said to Paul was that I just wanted to turn around and go home. In his firm loving way, he told me that this is a good test to run when I am tired, and to appreciate that I get to be there. Basically, suck it up!!

Pre-race dinner at 7pm, which is about 3 hours after my usual pre-race dinner time. My appetite was non-existent and I ate about ½ my food. Oh well, I wasn’t going to force it. I packed up my drop bag, and laid out my clothes for the 3:45 (2:45 Central) wake-up. After the race meeting, Sophie came to the room. It was so wonderful to see her and to catch up with her in person. We had met at my last trip to the race and had kept in touch since. This is the gift of the ultra-community and what I cherish about the people I have met through my travels. She entered the room with a heavy heart. Her friend, Mike, had passed away Friday morning. They had done a tribute to him at the pre-race meeting and it was just so tough. She was going to run to honor him and their friendship!

Barely a moment after we put our heads down to sleep, it was time to rally and go. From the moment I woke up, the best word to describe the mood was sleepy. I am normally so excited to race, and so excited to see what a day will bring. All I could think Saturday morning was how much I wanted to crawl back into bed. Ugg, what was I going to do? Well, no choice…lace my shoes up and go for a 54 mile run.

I slept on the bus ride to the start, sucked down a soda, and just prayed it would kick in before “Go” hit. The start was supposed to be in the mid 20’s. I stepped out to go to the restroom and realized that it just wasn’t that cold, so I stripped off a layer. It was the best call I could have made. I was in capris, a long tank, short sleeves, arm warmers, and gloves.

5 min before the start we got off the buses, I wished good luck to Sophie (who was planning to start very conservative) and Henry and lined up for the start. At exactly 6:30 after a short prayer we were off.

Right from the beginning on the road I felt nice and comfortable. We headed out for 1.5 miles and then turned around. I was so surprised to see so many folks behind me. I ran with two guys for a while, and was very entertained by their conversation. “I always have such a slow back end to this race.” “I suffer so much in the final miles of this race.” Blah, blah, blah. Basically, they were lamenting that they go out too fast every year. All I kept thinking was, “then, SLOW DOWN moron.” I slowed up a little to be smart, and let them go for a little while. As I continued down the road, I started thinking to myself, “just get to the finish line today and you can take the week off and sleep in.” I was angry with myself for having these thoughts but I just wanted the race to be over…and it had barely started. Fortunately, Jill and I started running together at this point. She said that she didn’t want to talk to me in case I was focused, and I explained to her that I welcomed the conversation because I was just hanging on to stay awake and get to the finish line, again at mile 5.

Pretty quickly we hit the trail, 53 min, and because it was still a little dark I had to back off because I couldn’t see. After a few moments I latched onto a guy with a light and followed him up the trail. I was very thankful for his bright light. I thought maybe I would perk up when the sun started coming up. It was a crisp morning, lots of leaves on the ground, and I was surrounded by beautiful colors. I just kept waiting for it to soak in and revive me.

I came into the mile 8ish aid station pretty quickly, and was thrilled to see Mountain Dew. I grabbed two cups and felt like that was going to be my life-line. LOTS of caffeine!! I took off from the aid station and hit the first solid downhill shortly after. I love running downhill, so I took off and got in my groove, even if a sleepy one. Then, bam! I flew in the air and hit the ground hard. Every place I made contact with the ground had to be on a rock. My knees, left quad, chest, and rib…my hardest fall ever. The funniest moment was as I was getting up I might as well have been road kill, the best description I could think of, because this dude came flying by me. Everything hurt, especially my left knee. Compounded with how I already was feeling I just wanted to quit. I say quit because that is the word that went through my mind. I walked for a moment, wallowed for a moment, and then started to run. I moved slowly down the hill. My left knee was killing, and my head totally left the game.

My immediate thought was that I was just going to make it to the mile 15 aid station because Sophie’s friends were there and I could quit. Folks were running past me, and I didn’t have the will to stay with them. But, as I approached the mile 15 aid station the perfect thing happened. As a guy ran by me, would later learn his name was Joseph, I said, “see ya later.” Not in a mean way, it’s just what came out of my mouth at the moment when he said hi. But, his response fired me up, “No you won’t.” All of a sudden, I thought, “oh yes I will.”

I thought of a number of things as I headed out of the mile 15 aid station: #1: I didn’t come all this way to quit; #2: if I can’t run downhill strong I am just going to have to run uphill strong; #3: I will just take it just 3 hours at a time, and probably the silliest motivator was #4 there wasn’t any blood coming out from my capris so that fall couldn’t be that bad.. I also thought about the necklace Nicole had given me for my birthday. It was a replica of the card Paul gave me the morning of Western States, “Never, never, never give up.” How could I wear that necklace if I can’t finish this race?

The pain continued, but I fought on. I ran with a guy from Wisconson for a while, but he backed off as we climbed toward the ½ way point. As I ran along I passed a young guy. And, in the true spirit of the race he came running up next to me. He was one of Horton’s students. David Horton, in my eyes, is the true heart of ultra-running to me. He inspires others. He loves this sport, and while I am sure it exists, in my 3 trips to this race I have never heard a negative word spoken in reference to him. On top of that, he encourages, I am sure there are other words used to describe this act, his students to run ultras. There is nothing quite like running along during a race and be running beside someone in their early 20’s enjoying the same race as a typical college activity. I so wish I had someone who could have given me the same light when I was in college. And, the coolest thing is that every one of these kids knows exactly what a gift Horton has given them…just talk to one for 5 minutes and you will see. Anyway, I digress.

He and I ran into the ½ way point (almost 27 miles in this “Horton Miles” 50 miler). I came through in 4:41. If I even split the race I would finish in 9:22, but the biggest and bulk of the climbing was in the second half of the race….

As I grabbed my new bottle out of my drop bag, Bob C came running over to see if I needed help. He is a former Austinite and a friend of Sophie’s..wonderful small world and a gift of positive spirit. I didn’t mention my fall, and just thanked him and started the climb up Buck Mountain.

It was much easier than I had remembered in the past. I was able to run almost all the way up, not fast but I got in a good groove and just moved up toward the Rocky Music. They have The Rocky Soundtrack Booming from the top of the mountain. Also on the climb was snowfall everywhere. We were hitting the higher points of the course, and the snow from the night before had stuck. I had never seen a first snow of a season, so it was quite spectatular.

Up and over the top and off I went to the loop section. Mentally this was really my marking point. For some reason I kept telling myself that I just needed to make it to the loop and then I could make my final decision about quitting. Looking back, today, it is hard to believe that I was still pondering quitting a race that I was quite successfully running. I had been able to run the climbs strong, and while I couldn’t run the downhills as fast as I normally do I was able to get in a decent rythmn and mostly block out the pain in my left leg.

Off the trail, we hit a good jeep road section, which turned out to be my favorites of the race because I didn’t have pay attention to my footing at all and could run unafraid of falling. I headed back on the trail and toward the aid station of the “loop.” It was here I had one of my favorite moments of the race…I caught Joseph!! The guy who I wasn’t supposed to see later. As we headed into the loop together I told him the story of what he had said to me so many hours before. We had a good laugh and took off. Again, I was surprised that the loop section was much easier than I had thought from previous years. The only challenge was some of the ground being very slippery from the snow, leaves, and rocks. I was just too afraid to fall, again, so took my time when it was technical. Less than an hour later I was heading out of the loop with the same 3 guys I started with…we were working well together, not visiting, but just keeping eachother cruising along. They would push me on the ups, were really sweet so I would fall on the slippery sections, and let me get in front of them on the smoother downhills. It was very motivating. I came out of the loop, saw Bob, got a quick update on Sophie and headed out for my final 12ish miles.

It was about 42 miles in (40 “Horton miles”) and my pain had FINALLY gone numb. I was free of the injury that had been haunting me and my head for so many miles. I was free of the thought of quitting as I ran past the loop. I felt like at that moment I had perservered the race that God had set before me…and I was going to win the battle. For one of the first times all day I smiled and ran with the joy I am used to running with. I couldn’t change what the previous 7+ hours had been like, nor would I want to, but I could give my all in these final miles.

At the 3rd to last aid station, I loaded up my bottle with my final fuel powder, grabbed “water” and a mountain dew and headed on. I was feeling great! Then I took a sip from my bottle. Whatever they had filled my mix with was not water. I had a choice: don’t drink and suffer the last miles, or drink my mix + mystery liquid and be fuelled. I could deal with whatever it was for these final miles. I tell folks often and firmly believe that part of ultra success if being able to turn off that part of your brain that wants or doesn’t want the fuel that they have chosen for. It is not about what you “want” but knowing what your body needs and just doing it, and following through the entire race. So, now was my time to live up to my words…

I ran through the 2nd to last aid station, and hit the final climb which happens to be on the Appalachian Trail. It is eery, magical, and a little mean…last climb and the steepest one. But once you crest the first steep section it was actually fairly runnable the rest of the way. But, the ground was covered in leaves and I was careful of the rocks underneath. My mantra at this point was, “you CANNOT fall again.” I didn’t even look at my watch when I hit the last aid station but I knew it was about “3” miles to the finsh. This guy and I take off at full speed down. About a mile later, a girl running up to meet someone says, “2.7 to go.” Gotta love a race when the final 3 miles is actually 4 miles  Honestly, at that point I didn’t mind at all…I felt great! I followed this guy down the leaves and held his line so that I wouldn’t fall and when the trail opened up with less than 2 to go I got in front of him. I thought about all of my recent workouts and got into the same groove I do for those long repeats. I couldn’t believe how much speed and power I had in my legs to close. It was so uplifting to finish this way.

This was for any race that I threw in the towel and just accepted a “finish” as good enough. This is for all of the hard work I put in my training. This was for all of the support I have. This was for Paul who said all of the right things as I struggled on Friday, and who is just so wonderful and tough for me…he doesn’t let me be mediocre. This was because no matter how much I hurt and wanted to quit, I didn’t and I pushed through the day and the pain. It was a celebration to the finish line, and I felt it!!

When I finished Henry, who had to drop because of his achillis, and Bob were there. As Clark and David congratulated me I told them, “Not bad considering I have been trying to convince myself to quit since mile 10.” We all laughed. 6th female 9:25:30 a 35 minute PR from my last visit to Masochist!!

Then I stopped, pulled up my capris and we started to assess the damage…very swollen and bruised knees and shin. I sat down and my angels, Bob and Henry, got me a baggie of ice and I started the damage control.

I got to see Sophie finish 9:34 and a 20sec? PR…she was so happy! I got to see my motivation Joseph finish, and he said that he wanted to make my race report for motivating me…so he did a few times  He comment was truly motivating even though neither one of us meant for it to be.

As soon as I crossed the finishline, I was able to be thankful for what this race gave to me. It showed me how much I can fight, how deep I could dig in my well, how wonderful time and people are that I get to share the trails with.; and truly what my body is capable of…hopefully the next one will be filled with less life lessons and more fast running 

Special thanks to: Sophie for all of her coordinating, conversation, and wonderful spirit; Henry for his wonderful friendship and support…always a yearly adventure!; Bob for his incredible support; Jill for really positive attitude and great conversation…so good to catch-up. And, of course, Paul for everything, and my friends, running partners, and everyone who make this journey so much sweeter!!


Sophie Speidel said...

I loved this! I laughed out loud when Joseph ran by you with that snarky comment, and fired you up! Atta girl!

And I loved the tribute you gave to Horty. He can rub *some* people the wrong way but he has given me, and all his Liberty students, a tremendous gift. He is the MAN!

It was a wonderful, sad, emotional, spiritual, uplifting, joyous day for me. I am so glad we got to spend time together. I look forward to when our trails cross again!


brownie said...

Not to brag, but a CO guy won this.

meredith said...

Sophie - Seriously, he is one of my life heroes!! Hopefully they will cross in Texas someday soon! I am so thankful for this weekend, and wish you best as you heal from the run and continue to remember Mike.

JT - Yes, it was that hard...Scott had to come and win :) What a gracious guy!

olga said...

Meredith, I always found that the more adversity I meet in a race, the better I do - it fuels me to overcome so much more than to have a good boring day. Broken bones and diarrhea are great examples:) That said, I am glad you enjoyed your run and brought so many memories back. Next time crap strikes - you know you'll deal with it piece of cake!

zagbag said...

Way to suck it up Buttercup! Pulling that tire up Ladera Norte must be working! Congrats.

Anonymous said...

Awesome job, Mer! Way to hang tough!