Monday, September 4, 2017

Dusting the cobwebs off and getting back into it.

Iron Mountain 30 miler

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Damascus, Virginia

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."-John Steinbeck

The Most Rambling Race Report Ever. It does eventually get to the race. Eventually.

When we last left off here, I was in a downward spiral of uncertainty. Knowing I didn't want to give up ultra running or running in general but just a bit too much of self-doubt and perfectionism going on for survival.

It's been a slow moving process, but a half dozen good self-help books and listening to (read:believing in) the kind words of loved ones got me slowly turned around. We had a busy summer, a good summer, but a busy one. I was in pretty decent shape when the walls came tumbling down in February. By the time I got my shit together I was in less decent shape and moving into peak traveling time. I set a few, somewhat reasonable summer goals and let running be less of a priority and more of just who I am, what I do. Not all of me. Just part of me.

June and July were busy with trips to Home-school conventions, Highland Sky, Western States, the beach, Gettysburg, and Busch Gardens. One weekend in 7 I actually got training in, at the TWOT loop, where we were treated to the best weather so I felt more "fit" then I probably really was.

Finally August arrived. Weekends away ended and I returned to something that resembled routine. The goals I had set-forth at the beginning of summer, to be in good shape for Iron Mountain, had faded. I had long accepted that this particular summer was too busy for hard training and lofty goals. When asked a few weeks ago about goals I said 5:30 was my goal for the 30 miler. I have run the 50 at Iron Mountain 3 times but I've never run 'just' the 30, and I really do believe that further is 'my thing'. I don't have conventional 'speed' when it comes to running. I just feel and believe (and maybe is in part why it seems true?) that I can just keep running. I actually considered switching to the 50 just because going further just seems to suit me. But then I didn't really feel so confident in my ability to do 50 any better than 30 on the summer I had (with weekly mileage that looked as follows: 11, 46, 12, 32, 68, 30, 55, 23). Usually summer is a very consistent time for my running, this summer I felt like I was literally all over the place.

I did get a couple good weeks of running in late July and August. While we were busy on the weekends I made a point to try to stay consistent Monday-Thursday and when the weekends finally settled I got a couple good semi-long runs in which included the Lynchburg Half Marathon which was a good time to test out some fueling changes I am working on and to get in a good 'steady' effort run of nearly two hours. I was feeling better about myself, my life, my choices, my running, my relationships.

In general it has been a good time to be running for me. I have been running less (for me) but trying to enjoy the running more.  I have focused on not taking myself so seriously, not putting so much stock in what a race result suggests about me and trying not to worry so much that others have the wrong idea about me. I was so bound to this theory of myself in which I was only as good as a clock suggested, I was only so good if I felt everyone liked me, I was feeling less and less worthy all of the time and basically becoming less and less of what I wanted to be, which was a bright spot in the lives of the people I love. I was moving further and further away from any successes, further and further away from being the inspiring role model I want to be for my children, and further and further away from what I wanted to bring to trail running when I started up the Blue Ridge Trail Runners.

It hasn't been a sharp turn and now it's all on the up and up, it's been a hard focused effort. It's been fighting the voice in me that says I don't deserve, I am not worthy, it's been holding on to the little pieces of love and devotion I trusted and bridging those together to make a foundation to stand up again on.

I didn't know, or really care, what I was going to run time-wise at Iron Mountain. I knew I wanted to have a 'good day', I wanted to be as bright a spot as I could be to the people I love, I knew I wanted to believe in the training I had done and trust in myself the things I have come to believe, that I can be a smart, hard worker when I choose. I wanted to try and keep in check the things I have learned make me suffer most, namely perfectionism and comparison.

Thursday evening was the first time I had sat down and really thought about 'times' for IM. I put together a simple picture in my mind of the race and took out the 50 mile section. I figured I could run the creeper trail in 8:30-9 minute pace, climb at about a 15 minute pace and then run to Skull's Gap in about 3:06, I usually can pick up the second half so I figured I could run the return in about 2:23 as it was shorter. I had my mind set on a realistic, doable 5:29 with the hopes of picking up time if I felt good.

Friday morning I packed for the race which gets easier and easier all the time. It seemed to go so smoothly I was worried I had forgotten something big. When Todd got off after lunch we headed to Damascus, Virginia with our oldest, Cooper. Cooper loves the trail community every bit as much as we do and never turns down an opportunity to join us even if all we can promise is rain and a small corner of our camper (really just our old Honda with the seats removed).

We saw the Gilberts and Adcocks upon check-in and then headed over to have dinner with a good size group of the BRTRs who had come down. Sam Price had reserved the deck at the Old Mill Inn just over from the start/finish line. It was a serene location and felt like a family reunion. We stretched the whole length of the deck and there was a sign that said "closed for a private party", I don't like to think of us as a private party, I would rather think of us an open invitation party, but it still felt good to see so many join us in Damascus for a run that has stole my heart. It's fitting the two would find each other.

At first I felt ridiculously, oddly, nervous with so many people there. I have never been or seen myself as popular, never had a lot of friends, and even though it was Sam's thing it felt like Cheers, it felt like everyone knew my name, it felt strange and lovely and like I alone somehow would mess the whole thing up. And then I realized how selfish and big that made me seem, that I alone could wreck this thing suggested I was bigger than it. This couldn't be further than what I really believe, and just like that I felt calmer, more settled. I like these people. I just feel like if I could carry them around with me I could be ok anywhere. I think that's what family is all about.

After dinner we headed over to the camp, we had a few small conversations about the race and a few people asked me how I thought I would do. I told them I wouldn't win, but I wanted to run as well as I could and feel good about that. I thought I would run between 5:18-5:29. I drifted a bit around camp and finally went to our camper at about 10:30. I had a little trouble falling asleep but I slept ok considering once I did fall asleep.

Todd woke me up at about 6:30, I had packed everything I needed and a dead iPod I didn't before leaving town but I hadn't really 'readied' anything the night before. I was kind of a hot mess racing to get everything in order. I can be a little bit of an idiot. I managed to get myself together with the help of some delicious, world changing coffee that a Mr. Wade Stout delivered to me (at my selfish request of course). Only once I was ready to go over to the start from our camp did I realize EVERYONE and their son was already over at the start, kindly Kevin had stayed back to accompany me over.

I had all of about 6 minutes at the start area before we were off and running. I had only had about half of my coffee and a Softee Enteman's Powdered Donut for breakfast. Despite those donuts being, well, soft and delicious, I would have liked to have eaten better/smarter/more. Oh well. We were off and running. I started with Wade and Chelsie but then saw Todd just up ahead. I was kind of hoping (erroneously) that if I could stay with him on the Creeper I would maybe (not) hike up the climb after the first aid station with him.

I wanted to keep at or around an 8:30, my first couple were a little slower than that. My stomach wasn't loving me and I just honestly can feel a little blah starting out. The first 4.7ish of Iron Mountain are on the flat and somewhat monotonous Creeper Trail. Usually I don't mind, but Saturday morning they just felt like more work than fun. I did get a few quick hellos in with Dennis Coan, Tim Spaulding, and Robert Drinkwater. I mostly ran right beside or behind Todd, we chatted a bit and he wasn't loving the Creeper either. He told me to calm down about my stomach, it would be fine in a few miles (which proved true) and he saved me from bees at one point mid-way which kind of freaked me out a bit. Horton rode by us a time or two and told me near the end of the Creeper section that I was 7th female, I thought that way good. I stayed in sight of but behind Andy Rollins the whole way. We had sort of bit of backwards trash talking going into the race (that he may not even remember) about who would be slower on the Creeper. I said I would be, he said he would be, maybe it was a really clever way (because it worked) of keeping me behind him on the Creeper, but it was also the first of several 'games' I played all day.

I had made a target of running the Creeper in 45 minutes. It was a little shorter than I thought but I did it in a little over 42. I stayed with Todd through the first aid station there as you're crossing the road and going into and up the first trail climb, but he immediately pulled away. I was hoping my Tuesday hill repeats would help me, and they did, I felt better on hills than I have in a long while, but the man is a master of steep trail ascents. It's as though his legs were made for just that.

Fortunately, despite his pulling away on the climb, I felt pretty good. I felt like my repeats were paying off a little. I thought that the climb went on for a few miles but I really only felt like a mile and some of it was rolling or not very steep. Other than the first half mile or so there was some very runnable sections.

I felt good, I was running fairly smooth and comfortable but not easy. I saw glimpses of people I knew a time or two up ahead and just tried to remain in that range of effort. I was going to pay more attention to time and mile splits but I was feeling mentally pretty good and decided I didn't need the inaccuracies of Garmin to make me feel like less. I  was passed by a few runners and I passed a few runners but then fell in step with Holly Knight. She has such a sweet voice and is always so kind and friendly. We were running through a really lovely, rolling section of trail when we came to the first of the road crossings. I thought maybe that was where the aid station should be but she had run IM 30 last year and knew all too well where we were as she had mistakenly made a wrong turn there on the return trip in last year that cost her time and gave her extra 'bonus' miles.

We ran along until we did come, not much further along, to Tammy's aid station. Iron Mountain 50 2013 and Tammy will always hold a place in my heart. I got a quick hug and a cup of Mountain Dew and was out. There is a little climbing in both directions coming into and out of this aid station. but I really love the solid single track that is the Iron Mountain Trail. It's rocky in a few spots but most of it is just perfect trail running. I caught up with a few 50 milers and Dru Sexton told me that Todd was just up ahead. And just as I caught site of his Hawaiian shirt he was gone.

I suppose that was a little like a game.  I figured he heard Dru and had run off away from me. He tends to do that and I don't tend to mind. It's a way for him to pull me along. I ran from here pretty well, especially on some rocky downs, until I caught up with him. He said he was in the throws of outrunning his current fitness but he felt pretty good overall. About this time we started seeing 30 milers on their return trip. We were commenting on where Josh Gilbert would be when the first female and right behind her, Krista Offield. I wasn't surprised that Krista was right behind or with the leading female as I expected her to be up front and most likely win, but she was in fourth place overall and looking strong!

We still had a ways to go but it was fun to see where everyone was and a lot of this section is on downhill or rolling to even flat terrain. Todd and I made it to Skull's Gap together, I looked down and was delighted to see that I was 21 minutes ahead of schedule!! Running with Todd and not paying attention to a watch had paid off. I came in to the aid station, swapped bottles with Kevin who was crewing and took a few swigs of a Mountain Dew and was off with a half-hug from Cooper.

I left feeling good. They had said I was fifth female and I was feeling happy about being up on my time guesses. But then I was alone as Todd had hung back at the aid station. It was still fun to see the outbound runners and cheer them on, but now I was moving uphill and I didn't feel anywhere near as strong as the inbound runners had looked just a few miles before on this very same section. I walked more than I liked but I was still feeling pretty good overall.  Thankfully much of the climbing in the second half is over after a mile or two and the trail becomes more rolling once again.

Then I started playing leap frog with another runner. He stopped for a cramp then caught up and passed. He stopped to take off his shoe and then caught up and passed. He finally commented to me, just as I was going to joke with him, that he wasn't intentionally playing leap-frog. Fortunately for me, I like games, so it helped to pass the time. We leap-frogged a time or two more before he was done due to quad cramps.

Then I saw Doug up ahead, still climbing well. At this point I was beginning to assess my day. I felt good but not great, I thought I would likely run about 5:20 and thought I could maybe hold my 5th female spot that way. I felt I was fueling well on Tailwind and GU and figured it would be a good if not great day. I was completely contented in that. I wouldn't even turn on my iPod.

Doug and I came into Tammy's aid station at about the same time but I ran through. I had half a bottle left and figured I would be good to go. I saw Laura Duffy up ahead but I didn't really feel like I needed to race. Doug commented about me catching her and I told him that I wasn't sure that I wanted to get into a race.

But then a few things happened. Just as I was succumbing to this day I figured had been planned for me I slipped on some mud. Up until this point I felt pretty good. It was rainy and cool and didn't even seem as humid as the earlier miles had. But that slip in the mud instantly pulled or strained a muscle in my right calf. And it hurt. It hurt bad. It hurt to walk or to run. I started quickly to re-assess the day. Was I going to finish? Could I run 6 miles on this kind of pain? Was I going to half to walk it in I wondered as I pictured myself dragging my painfully limp leg across the last bridge to the finish line. I was sad but then, honestly, kind of angry. Here I had been ok with a good day and now I was in this pain. I took a few ibuprofen and decided that if it hurt to walk and it hurt to run I might as well run until it just became too unbearable to move forward. So I actually picked up the pace with the one focused thought of just getting it done and over with. It was no longer a fun, smooth day, it was now work.

And honestly at this moment, I had some good but hard thoughts. I thought about this same section of trail in 2013 wearing me nearly to the core and yet I overcame. I thought about who I want to think I am. A smart, hard worker. I don't know that it was smart per se to pick it up, but it was hard work and I felt good doing it. I pulled my iPod out and focused on making it to Damascus. I got a little worked up, in a teary but good way about being stubborn and being a fighter.

And quite honestly, it felt good to push through. It felt good to run hard. It felt good to feel like I was racing. It felt good to feel like I was flying down a trail, moving well. It felt good to be me. I caught up with Dennis and he said that third female was just ahead. I said I wasn't sure, and he said "You're the closer" and I thought, I like that name Sophie gave me, I want to be that person. And I asked Dennis is I could pass him and he said "of course" and there was just something so perfect about it that I can't really put into any better words. It just felt like a thing coming back that was gone and you didn't even realize how much you missed it.

I got a little worried about the calf getting worse and taking me down. But more than that fear was the want to try and see if I could maintain the momentum to the finish line. I caught third female and Andy Rollins and I got so excited when the trees began to thin and I knew the town was coming.

On the roads of Damascus I was caught between wanting to push harder and fearing my leg would just give out. But thankfully the legs cooperated through the town and on the short section of Creeper trail back to the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised that the clock said 5:07 running across the field. I was even happier that Cooper ran along the grass with me to the finish. I was done.

It's still in there, all the thoughts of this weekend. And I will likely be mulling them over for some time. I can tell you about the time before and the actual race but those last few miles were something else. I had forgotten what it felt like to really hurt and to really work and to want something. There is  clearly still some work to be done, like I suffer with the worry that it is selfish to want to be good if ultimately I want to be just a bright spot to the trail community. But I am working on that. I know that I want to be a good mother but part of that is having something for me, whether it seems selfish or not. That thing for me, my running, hopefully ultimately makes me better for them. I like to think that this is similar. I want to be the best that I can be for my loved ones, but part of that is realizing the best that I can be for me.

All in all, it was a really good, much needed weekend. So many friends had good days despite a few who didn't have very good days. Running the 30 allowed me more time to socialize with my tribe on Saturday even though it was rainy.I like these people, I like laughing and joking with them, I like playing games with them. I like that they take each other in and accept one another. And I really like that I have friends who bring me coffee :-)

-Alexis

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Desperate for a Deep Breathe: Holiday Lake 2017 Race Report

Holiday Lake 50k++

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Appomattox, Virginia

"And the darkness can come quick, the dangers in the anger and in the holding onto it"
-Alternate Routes

Let's jump right to it. I'm a head case, a basket case, a nut job, call it what you will. I am a dynamic disaster. I am my own worst enemy. I am responsible for my actions and my choices. My race at Holiday Lake was one of my worst thanks to a downward spiral of overwhelmingly negative self talk. That's the gist of it. For the more in depth side of it, keep reading.

Back in December, after Hellgate, I started getting asked what was next. Inspired by Alissa Keith and her performance at Hellgate I wanted to jump into training, give my all, work hard and improve. I chose Holiday Lake and decided that I wouldn't ever break the 4:50 time barrier if I didn't want it and go for it. I set my sights on a 5 minute personal best and told those who asked the plan.

I did a few tempo runs with Todd, Krista, Alissa and Kevin. I did track Tuesday with people who don't seem to mind that the weather is less than my age. I pushed hard a Wednesday evening or two. I didn't put too much emphasis on long runs, I focused on faster turnover and a bit more flat running. I enjoyed myself. I didn't hit more than 45 miles in any week after Hellgate and many were in the 30s but I didn't dwell on that. We got out only a couple of times to the course to run a loop and I didn't let it get to me that I didn't run faster than 2:23 for a loop. I had faster times, I could still hit my goal, or so (I thought) I thought.

Then race week came, and you may be surprised to hear that taper madness didn't come with it. There were pressing matters much more important. Like why do I hold in all of this anger, why am I not always honest about how I feel, why can't we just get along. Todd and I have had a rough year, a roller coaster of highs and lows but the week before Holiday Lake was about rock bottom. Fortunately a good kick in the butt by a few loved ones and we were finally climbing back out together, stronger. But that left little time for Holiday Lake worries.

Friday evening we went out to the pre-race meeting and dinner. Note to self, when you have done this once you have honestly done it enough. I couldn't eat, everything made me antsy, I wasn't good company. However, at one point Frank Gonzales walked over and we were just standing there, facing the rear of the assembled crowd and this happiness and calmness overcame me, but just for a moment.

I didn't prep for the race until 10 pm Friday and I felt like it took four minutes. Being my fifth Holiday Lake and a short (~5 hours) race it just seemed like there wasn't that much to prep. The weather forecast also looked favorably so there was less clothing and gear to worry about. I went to bed before 11 and was cautiously but optimistically awaiting the race.

Saturday morning I woke at 4:15 am, Todd got up and made me coffee and sent me on my way. He was very encouraging. I met Kevin and we rode to the camp in Appomattox together. He knew I was worried about my goal and he tried to reassure me that it didn't matter what I ran, only that I enjoyed it. We got to the camp and said a few hellos. I was nervous enough that I couldn't eat, I ate maybe three bites of oatmeal and about the same portion of a donut. My stomach was rocky.

 I headed over to the bathroom and waited in the long line to be only disappointed when my turn came. Waiting in line I had a chat with Krista about the race, I told her that she was going to do great but she maintained that she was under-trained. I told her that we always see each the other person better than we think when she tried to assure me that my track and tempo runs were going to pay off for me. I reminded her that she was right there with me on tempo Thursday and the previous Wednesday but she just brushed me off.

I was nervous, I had run track and tempo runs, pushed a few Wednesdays, all in the hopes of a few minute personal best. I know who I am (sometimes) I am not "fast". I know that fast is relative, especially at ultras, but Holiday Lake is not my strong suit unless it is covered in snow. I don't have natural speed, I have, if anything, a stubborn streak and endurance. I had a lot of friends saying encouraging things but I had, as it turned out, a lot more self doubt than confidence regardless of what my training log suggests.

For the first time ever I started near the front of the pack, I wanted good trail position, I wanted a good day. I wanted to run with Annie Stanley and found her in the pack but she ducked out of the group just before the race started when she realized she hadn't grabbed her water bottle. Instead I started out with Kevin, Marc and Justin. We were running too hard for me probably but it didn't feel too hard and so I hung. Mile one and two were good. I heard Justin talking about who would win and I wanted to speak up and tell him about a fellow Blue Ridge Trail Runner, Nick Reed, and how he was going to be a contender. Instead I kept quiet, it will be either way and speaking up wouldn't change that I decided.

I was moving along, happy to be running with Kevin and wondering how long I would stay with him when I realized my shoe, my double knotted shoe lace even, had come undone. I stopped just past the bridge as you enter the state park to tie it and Krista ran right by. I don't know why that bummed me out so bad, but her insistence that it was going to be just a run, that she was under trained and would under perform, surprised me to see her right behind me when I felt like I was pushing. But it was a race after all, we had bibs on, I tied my shoe, cursed my inability to tie them from the get go better and got moving again.

I saw Krista, Kevin, Marc and Jeremy just up ahead and worked to catch back up with them. However, on the other side of the state park Krista made a move to pass that big group of guys and I accepted defeat. I backed off, sure that I couldn't keep up the pace that group was keeping and let them pull away. I settled in to a slightly slower pace and watched them pull away.

Headed up to aid one I walked, I berated myself a little but I was torn between pushing harder and not blowing up. I realized that I may have done some harder runs, but short harder runs, I wasn't confident in my ability to push hard for 30+ miles. Todd had told me to believe in myself. I repeated that to myself and kept moving. My headlamp kept slipping so I pulled it off just before the aid stop.

At aid station one Todd was there to give me my sunglasses and hat and take my buff and headlamp. I told him I didn't want either and he insisted that I stick to the plan. In some ways my race had been over since the bridge but he tried to jump-start it. He told me Kevin and Krista were just ahead and told me get going. I left but truly didn't want the hat so I dropped it just a few hundred feet from the aid station.

I settled in behind Marc Griffin and went to my music. We ran steady through the trail section just after aid one but when we crossed the road around mile 6 I got passed by a few females when I slowed up to take GU #1 of the day. I had been 5th at aid one but quickly slipped to 9th in the following few miles. That was a hit that I didn't enjoy taking as I felt like I was already running too hard. I don't like to start out ahead and push and I don't like to be passed, I would rather be chasing. I was in a bad place and slipping when I remembered that Todd said I had to believe. I picked it up and told myself that I could do it and worked hard to pass back two females.

Coming into aid station two I felt like I was working harder than I needed to for a 50k. I wasn't enjoying anything but I told myself to just keep pushing. I would work hard to catch a female runner and then a few minutes later they would pass me back. Leapfrogging back and forth from aid two to aid three. Don Don was there at aid three and offered help and encouragement but I wasn't in any mood to accept either, I was trying to hold the day together and that was already taking it's toll.

Then Annie Stanley passed me and I went into 10th spot. I thought this was OK, I would just hang with Annie, she is a great, steady runner and has done exactly what I wanted to do at Holiday Lake. But then she just flew through the trail section. She came up and was gone in a blink. I focused on the front runners who would soon be approaching. I was wondering when I would start to see them and hoped that Nick would be leading.

Nick didn't disappoint. he appeared out of nowhere, moving like water and looking good with no one in sight behind him. I screamed and cheered and basked in his apparent good day. It was awesome. I was confident in his win at that moment. Then other runners started to appear and pass by me, I offered them all a "Good job" or "Great job". I allowed their presence as distraction as I waited for the turn around.

Near the dam I realized that my legs felt heavy. I hadn't been looking at time, didn't know what time it was or how I was doing. I hoped that I was running well but I feared that I was not. I thought about the very hard start to the week that we had had. "Life stress is body stress," I told myself. But it didn't make me feel better even when I repeated it. I felt like my legs were each twenty pounds heavier than usual. I ate a second GU.

I set my sights on seeing Kevin on the out and back, just after the dam I saw him, he literally stopped and cheered me on for a moment. I kept on running. He's a better person than I am I thought, I didn't stop and move aside and he's in the faster pack. Then I started wondering about what time I would make it to the turn around. I was still slightly optimistic that I had run loop one well.

Then I came in to the turn around and saw the clock. It said 2:22:40 as I approached the aid station table where I had my bottle refilled for the fist time and drank two small cups of Mountain Dew. Alissa, Dennis and Frankie were there and they said "Good job, Alexis." I said something about this not being my kind of race.

I left out of the aid station at 2:24ish. And I was confident in one thing. I wasn't running 2:24 or better on loop two. PR hopes dashed. Feeling rotten that I hadn't been faster, that I could run faster on a training run than I just had. Feeling like my legs were a million pounds each. Feeling done, done. done.

Only I wasn't done. I had 16 miles left to run. And then I had the true race ending thought of the day.

I thought about Todd, his encouraging texts that very morning, the talks about how negative I am and how that is bringing us down. I thought about my race and that I just COULD NOT believe that I was any good and certainly not that I could be better than I have been, and I thought, "You are such a disappointment. Todd is going to be so disappointed that you let this happen." And then there was blackness. Such an overwhelming feeling that it was all true. That I am a disappointment. I thought about what Todd said, that so many people believe in me. That isn't a comfort, it is a weight.  To feel that people believe in you when you know who are really are is hard. I know who I really am, I am not good. I am a first class letdown. That even if I could be good I won't be good because I don't know how to be good, I don't know how to get out of my own way, I don't know how to be positive, or try, or believe. I want to quit before trying because I can't stand the fact that I could try and fail. I would rather fail and wonder if I could have been better.  And then I started to cry. And then my throat started to close up and I realized that my heart was racing even though my pace had slowed to the point that I couldn't catch Jeremy walking right ahead of me. Then I realized that right in the middle of a race I was entering a panic attack.

I started to get even more upset when my throat felt like it was closing and I started saying "take a slow deep breath" over and over. I knew I was not helping anything and was causing my own breakdown. I knew I was responsible for the negativity and I just needed to shake it, but knowing a thing and doing a thing are not interchangeable.

The next two miles are a blur of not being able to breathe, crying, telling people who passed "good job" wondering if I sounded like I was crying and four belittling thoughts on repeat. I was thankful that I was wearing those sunglasses I had tried to refuse at aid one, I hoped that they would cover up the puffy eyes. I couldn't shake the tears. At one point I said "good job" to a fellow runner and I thought "You honestly think that everyone out here is doing a good job but you" it was ugly.

I tried to focus on Buster Douglas like Todd told me to at the end of the week. I tried hard to focus on my "why". But it turns out I didn't have one. I couldn't at that moment come up with any reason why I should run hard. I didn't care. I was trying to calm myself down. But if I am honest, which is what I am going for, I think I wanted to fail.

In fact. I'm almost certain of it. I came into the turn around as tenth female and I kept wanting a female to pass me so it could officially be over, my race. I wasn't going to walk it in, though I did consider even that at one point, but I didn't want to be contending for a top spot. Then a female passed me and I was thankful, it was over. But she was only ahead for a minute. I kept expecting her or another female, Amy Albu, Jennifer Anders, Holly Knight, Chelsie, someone, anyone to pass by.

I came into aid five and Sophie cheered me on, that I was in tenth but I was the closer. Tammy cheered me on. But all their words fell on dark ears, I didn't want to be negative so I just didn't respond. I knew I wasn't chasing anyone down because I didn't want to. There was no desire. There was no why. If it sounds ugly, that is because it was.

Up the hill out of aid five I caught Jeremy Peterson. He said "About time, Alexis. I have never been ahead of you this long in a ultra race. I've been wondering when you were going to catch me when I saw you at the turn around." "I was having a mental breakdown." I replied. He kind of laughed and said that he had a little physical breakdown when his stomach revolted just past the start of loop two. I had noticed him up ahead walking but I hadn't seen him get sick. That was the only talking I did in loop two other than to aid station volunteers and "good job" to passing racers.

I had come down from my panic attack but the day stayed dark. I was out there alone and I would stop crying and try to run for a few minutes and then I would fall apart again. I wanted it to be over but even that wouldn't push me to try. I had a few cramps start up and I berated myself more, I hadn't drank well, I hadn't eaten well. Going up to aid six I walked the hill. I drank water and took a fourth GU. I didn't want to see my friends. I didn't want to see the disappointment in their eyes. I was completely aware of the fact that I was wrecking my own day and I just couldn't shake that, and when I thought about it, it made me so damn sad that I would start crying again and have to calm myself back down.

I have had some bad races. I am a bit of head case. But I don't think I have ever been so self-aware of being a head case and not been able to shake it. I started to work on not having a good day but just getting the day I was having over with. Blake filled my bottle at aid six because I knew I didn't want to stop for anything in four miles at Todd's aid station. Blake asked if I wanted anything but he didn't say anything else.

I left and felt confident that I would run those last eight miles and be done soon enough. Then I thought about Mike and Blake and how they didn't even try to encourage or cheer me on. Like they knew me well enough to know that I was done. It may be strange but it was comforting, to know my friends could read me. They offered up their aid but left the other words alone.

I ran on. I kept expecting some women to pass me. I didn't see any runners. I started to think about coming into Todd's aid station. That he was going to be disappointed in me. That they were all going to try and pick me up. I would just run right through without talking to them. They are great but I just couldn't talk to them. I needed to get the race over and start working on not letting it drag me down any longer than it had already.

I gave time to thinking about why I was racing. I love ultra running. I used to be amazed at what I could do, I could run a mile, then five, then thirty and even a hundred. I used to be proud of my body and what it could do. But I wasn't proud of anything I was doing Saturday. I don't like feeling like there is a target on my back right now, I know that my head and my why are all mixed up. I can't explain why they are, but in many ways they are the same things that have been making me a quitter all my life. I thought about quitting running, about quitting ultra running, quitting racing. But that made me sad too. I truly want to get better. And not so that I can PR or win anything. Truly, at the end of the day, I just really want to like me.

And out there on Saturday, I don't know that I have ever liked me less.

I was nervous about coming into aid seven. I didn't want to cry. I wanted to be done crying for the day. I didn't want to be negative. I didn't want to drag my friends down.

Coming into aid seven Todd was headed backwards on the trail. I turned my music off. "What is going on?" He asked. I am having a bad day I told him. "Why? What's wrong?" I really didn't want to say. I didn't want to speak at all. "What? What is it?" I told him I had a little breakdown a little panic attack after the turn around. "But why?" He was insistent. I really didn't want to say. "I feared you would be disappointed in me" I finally said in the seconds that were passing like hours. "That's ridiculous. You need to get moving. You are going to have to try like hell now to break 5 hours." I didn't say another word. He didn't get it. I wasn't running for 5 hours. I was running to finish.

Don asked if I needed anything, if I wanted to drop my pack. I said no and ran right on through. I got a little emotional as I left their aid station. I didn't want to let him down even about the 5 hour mark. I picked it up a little and thought that he was good for me. He doesn't let me quit. But then I started to cramp worse. I reeled it back in. The race was nearly over. The day was not. I started focusing on making sure that I didn't spill negativity at the finish line or to Todd later. This is nobodies fault but my own. I had to get over that fact in record time or risk bringing more darkness down upon me.

Then I hit a stump and cramped up. I couldn't get the cramp out and I couldn't walk. "This is fitting" I thought. This is perfect for this day. I just couldn't shake the negativity. I finally got the toes to loosen and work the cramp back out. I had about three miles to go. I just needed to finish. From here I would run easy until I cramped then I would walk until the cramp subsided, I watched roots and stumps carefully and emptied my bottle before the state park. I was amazed and honestly a bit angry that no females had caught me. I was running poorly and felt that I didn't deserve to finish top ten.

I was careful over the rooty sections not to cramp and walked all the uphills and a few flat sections due to cramps. I started to cramp every minute or so it felt, didn't matter how slow I ran I just kept cramping up. I admitted I hadn't done a great job of hydrating and was thankful for the temps staying cooler than had been forewarned. I walked the big hill up to the last section of trail near the end and wanted to run that whole short section of trail but I cramped up twice more. I started just chanting finish line is all that matters to myself. Don't cry at the finish line.

I got out on the road and it was almost done and I was thankful. Then my hamstring cramped at just past a half mile to go. I stopped and was massaging it out when I look up to see a runner approaching. It was Rachel Corrigan. She smiled and waved. I laughed a dark laugh inside, perfect I thought. I started to run again and I told myself not to run too hard. I wondered if I would cramp. I wondered what would happen if she caught me, would I push or let her have it?

She didn't catch me. I don't know if she tried but I was thankful that I didn't have to make those last second decisions. I don't know what I would have done. I finished in 5:04, tenth female. I crossed the finish line and Kevin was there and Tammy said something, I am not even sure what she said but I could feel what she said and I hugged her and even though I bit my lip hard to try to hold it in I started to cry. Tammy and Sophie were on it, they said all the right things, not every day is a PR day, not every day is a good day. I was very thankful for them at that moment.

I shed those few tears but then I set about to turning the day around. It was only lunchtime. I still had friends to cheer in, Candy to pass out and friends to spend time with. The race wasn't a success. I have a lot of work to do. I don't have all of the answers. Maybe I never will. But I have some really great people in my life who care about me. I am lucky even if I don't always see it.

I don't want to be sad. I don't want to be negative. I don't want to be a dark shadow over anyone's day. I want to be better.

I haven't shed a tear since Saturday. Usually in the week following a race I am up and down. I have been ok this week. I think I had all the emotions on Saturday during the race that there isn't anything left to feel. I know what happened. Maybe in a longer race I could have come back, but I don't know, I was feeling pretty done from pretty much mile two. I know what running means to me, and I know how much my self loathing is contributing to not just racing but so much of my everyday life. I have had a bad week but I have also had a good week.

I have accepted that I need help. I know that if I can't fix the negative self talk that I will not escape it, that I can only push it down so much before it will erupt. It isn't in the pushing it down that I need to work on. It's in the getting it out. Turning it away from the beginning.

I used to need to race because I wasn't a runner. If anything positive came out of Saturday it was the confidence that I am a runner. I need to work on my 'why' and I need to work on me. But I love running, and I love the people, my people, and I am proud of them and I want to support them, cheer them on, lift them up. I don't want to walk away from anything. I just want to quiet the voice in my head that says that I can't because I am not good enough. All I want is to be good.

-Alexis