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
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