Runholes bust myths. It’s what we do. Part of being a Runhole is not allowing imagined limitations to guide your running life. Here’s my story.
Running and I were not always good friends. In fact, a little over a year ago, I believed running long distances was not a good idea. That changed one day when I tried unsuccessfully to button my favorite pair of jeans. Wait, had a pair of my daughter’s size 4 jeans made their way into my closet? Please let that be the mistake. It wasn’t. I was suddenly hit with the reality that I was 44 years old and could not continue to eat as I had been. This was devastating for me. I love to eat! I’m good at it! I knew I needed to start exercising, but knew I just didn’t have the time. I had to juggle a full-time job, two not-yet-driving daughters, feeding my family, and keeping my home semi-livable. Absolutely no time for exercising.
It was settled. I would diet instead. Yes. I just needed to cut back on my calories and clean up my food choices. Simple.
That plan lasted about a minute.
My solution: I chose to ignore the situation and wear longer, baggy shirts and lots of cardigans.
In June I put on my bathing suit. I found a problem with my solution. I couldn’t wear a cardigan with my bathing suit.
I made myself a deal. I would run one mile every day. I could do a mile. It would be just 15 minutes out of my day. Just 15 minutes. I could do that.
My friend Susan, who also made some exercising goals, and I decided to make each other accountable by emailing each other when we finished our daily runs. That worked. Throughout the summer, I faithfully ran 1 mile every day knowing that Susan was waiting for my “did it” email. Most days I ended up running 2 miles. Magically I found 30 minutes in my schedule instead of 15. Often I found myself sleeping in my running clothes so I could just get up and go; on really tough mornings I didn’t even brush my teeth first. (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)
But it worked.
During this time my husband also started running more. While I was just trying to get my quick run in every day, he was trying to increase his distance. In true Runhole fashion, he started pestering me during my quick runs, trying to get me to go further. I felt as though I had gnats buzzing around me. Didn’t he understand that, as it was, I barely had time for what I was doing? I didn’t need or want to go further. Two miles a day is all anyone needs to stay healthy. I was already doing more than the one mile I promised myself. Wasn’t that enough? Besides, running more than two miles a day couldn’t be healthy. I didn’t want joint replacements and the litany of other “runner’s problems” by the time I was 50. I even recalled hearing something about long distance runners who suddenly keeled over from heart attacks. Only crazy people ran distances longer than 3 miles. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to be able to button my jeans and put on a bathing suit without dread.
So I ignored my husband’s pesky pleading and ran a mile or two every day until we left for vacation in August. I was proud of myself for sticking it out, but once we got back from vacation, I was back to work and taxiing my daughters around, and my “I have no time” attitude resurfaced. I stopped running...and I still couldn’t button my jeans.
“I signed up for a 25K trail race,” my husband announced one day, “and I’d like you to come cheer me on.”
I thought he had lost his mind, but David promised me a nice weekend away without kids, so I gladly agreed to be his cheerleader for the Green Monster Trail Challenge, a rugged 25K race with nearly 5000 feet of climb in the beautiful mountains of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.
The weekend of the big race came and we traveled to a quaint bed and breakfast in Wellsboro, and enjoyed a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep. This was fun!
Saturday morning we left bright and early for the race. It was a nippy 32℉ and the group of runners at the start were enjoying time around a welcoming campfire. The posse that had assembled was so laidback and friendly. It was a completely different vibe from the 5K road races I was familiar with. There was a wide variety of ages, including a few women with hiking poles who appeared to be in their 60s. I was so impressed! If these women could do the trail challenge, maybe it was possible for me too.
David met up with two guys he had connected with on Facebook, and after some nervous fiddling around with his gear, my husband and his two new running amigos lined up at the start. With an uneventful start, the group trotted off. Even the start had a different feel from the shorter races I had attended.
Myth: It’s just as fun to watch a race as it is to participate in it.
Fact: I am a terrible spectator.
I was very fidgety and got a little restless waiting around. I was also delighted to find out they offer complimentary beer at these events for family and friends. This wasn’t like a local 5K at all! As runners began to finish, I hung around listening to them discuss foreign concepts, such as DNFs, 0 drop shoes, Buffs, GUs, body glide, and the amazing Hyner View (what the heck is a Hyner View?!). Four hours and twenty minutes (and a few morning beers) after the race started, I was very relieved to see my husband trot cross the finish line. He made it and was actually still standing, and better yet, smiling. In that very moment, I decided I was never going to wait around at the finish line drinking morning beers again. I decided I would sign up for the revered Hyner View 25K trail challenge in April.
It was that decision that began my Runhole journey.
Myth: You need to get into shape before signing up for a race.
Fact: Signing up for a race is a great motivator!
The Hyner View 25K is similar to the Green Monster, but word on the trail is that it is the toughest trail challenge around. The excitement and challenge of signing up for the Hyner View 25K completely changed my two mile mentality. In order to get my training in, I started running when I took my daughters to their activities. My younger daughter had soccer practice three times a week, so while she was at practice, I would thoroughly embarrass her by running about the soccer fields in my oh-so-cool running attire. And on the non-soccer days, I’d run right after work before picking up my other daughter from cross country practice. I quickly realized the first mile is always the toughest. I started running for time, not distance. Instead of limiting myself to a 3 mile run, I would set a goal of one hour of running. In this way, I started increasing my runs to 4, 5, and even 6 miles.
Myth: Running in cold weather is unhealthy.
Fact: Running in the winter actually has its perks.
Besides the “signing up for a race” myth, I also dispelled my “I hate running in the cold” myth. I always thought that running in the cold was unhealthy. It’s hard to breath and it’s bad for your lungs, right? It has to be bad for your lungs. Lungs are sensitive. They will freeze up and I won’t be able to breathe, and I will develop asthma.
Once my daughters’ fall sports seasons were over, I scheduled my running right after work, before going home. I learned very quickly that I had to build running into my schedule. It never worked to just wait until I got home to run.
Once I got home, I’d sit down and the day was over.
As the days got colder, I also learned the importance of drinking water while running. Surprisingly, my lungs did not collapse, and I did not have trouble breathing. It really helped to sip water the whole time I ran, so I bought a Camelbak hydration pack.
My husband and I would go on longer runs on the weekends and I found I really enjoyed running in the winter! It was so peaceful and it felt good to get out in the fresh air. I never got over-heated like I did in the summer. I will admit, sometimes it’s hard to get out the door when it’s cold, but once I’m out, I’m good to go.
For continued motivation, my husband and I signed up for two winter trail races put on by Pretzel City Sports. In January we ran the Chilly Cheeks 10k and in February we participated in the Ugly Mudder 10k - both at Mount Penn near Reading, Pennsylvania. We bought Kahtoola NANOspikes for our sneakers, so the snow packed trails were a lot of fun, and, along with water, they had beer and shots at the aid stations (my kind of race!). And at the end of the race, huge boxes of candy were provided, along with other snacks and drinks. There was a fire pit and a bar in the German Club on site, along with a pancake breakfast served inside the club. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Myth: In order to run a 20 mile race, you need to run 20 mile training runs.
Fact: The adrenaline and excitement of a race will get me through, as long as I’m in decent shape. Caffeine helps too.
The Hyner View 25K was rapidly approaching and I still wasn’t sure I could actually run 25K (17 miles). My longest run was about 11 miles and that was on flat terrain in balmy 70° Florida weather. So in March David and I decided to do the Naked Bavarian, at Blue Marsh Lake in Leesport, Pennsylvania, as a training run because it offered a 20 mile, 27 mile, and 40 mile course for a very reasonable price. They boast “Less swag, less dollars, more fun,” hence the term “naked.” Yes, we actually wore clothes, just the race swag was stripped down. I did the 20 miler and David did the 27 miler along with his fellow Runhole, Jon. I figured I’d run what I could and hike the rest.
Well, I ran the whole race and felt great, even though I’d never been close to that distance before. Initially, I dreaded running so long by myself, but I listened to an audiobook and really enjoyed my time on the trails lost in my own thoughts. It was also my first time experimenting with gels at the aid stations, and I found the GU espresso gel with a double shot of caffeine was my new, gooey friend. If I had known running food tasted like ice cream toppings, I might have started running a long time ago! In this way I confirmed that I could, in fact, run at least 17 miles.
Myth: Running long distances is unhealthy.
Fact: Running long distances over time has strengthened my body.
I will admit, when I first started running longer distances on trails, my ankles would get sore and my darn hip kept giving me a hard time, and I was a little anxious. I kept imagining myself with a walker and slippers, showing off my new hip replacement. To my relief though, my ankle and hip pain has dissipated. Over time, running has strengthened my muscles and joints, and I no longer have issues. Luckily I have not been plagued with any injuries, but I do listen to my body. I don’t push myself if I’m sore.
After six months of training, I completed the Hyner View Trail Challenge 25K with no problems, except my interior shoe sole collapsed and crinkled up after multiple stream crossings, but that’s another story. David graciously stayed with me for the whole race and we enjoyed the amazing views. It was the hardest thing I had ever done physically, but also very rewarding.
David & me at the Hyner View 25K finish...
In August, my Runhole friend, Jon, proposed signing up for the Pine Creek 100K, which was in September, and encouraged my husband and me to join him. David was all for it. Me, not so much.
For the love of all things holy, wasn’t 20 miles or a 25K enough? Didn’t I prove that I was beyond the 2-mile-a-day frame of mind? 100K was obviously too far and I truly did not have time to put in the training. After all, I still had those two non-driving, hungry daughters of mine and my full time job. There was no way I was signing up for a 100K.
David signed up for the 100K and I still resisted. Then I recalled how much I hated being a spectator at the Green Monster the year before, and if David was traveling to the race, I wasn’t going to sit home and miss out on all the fun. If I was antsy waiting 4 hours, how painful would it be to wait 12-16 hours for my Runhole amigos to cross the finish?
So, in true Runhole fashion, I signed up.
Myth: You need a lot of time to train for an ultra. It’s impossible with a full time job, home, & family.
Fact: Just go for it.
Geez, what did I get myself into? The reality set in. 100K.
It was a good thing I signed up just a few weeks before the race or I would have been a wreck about training. I had been running pretty faithfully all summer and completed a variety of races, so I had a decent base. I upped my mileage a little bit, running 4-6 miles about 4 times during the work week, and then did a longer run of about 10-15 miles on the weekends, but nothing crazy. The weekend before the race, David and I did a long night run of about 25 miles for a romantic date night. And to think, I struggled not long ago to find the time to run ONE mile!
I decided I was not going to worry about it. I would just do my best. My plan was to walk if I was unable to run any part of it. The goal was to finish. I read everything I could get my hands on with advice for running ultras and made a carefully calculated plan that included my pace, timing goals, nutrition and hydration.
The day of the race I felt fabulous, despite the cooler weather and constant rain. I felt so good that I threw caution to the wind (along with my carefully calculated plan) and started out with a much quicker pace than advised. Everything I read warned me about the pitfalls of the typical ultra rookie mistake of starting out too fast. But I really felt great, so I went for it. During my ultra research before the race, I read a quote that stuck with me: “If it hurts when you walk, and it hurts when you run, you might as well run.” I adapted it to: “If it feels good to run slow, and it feels good to run fast, I might as well run fast.” I kept a strong pace until I met up with my husband at about mile 25. His hip was hurting him, so we ended up running together, which was a tremendous relief for me because I was dreading running alone at night in the dark! And I’m glad he was there to protect me later that night when we came across a stubborn skunk that wouldn’t get out of our way on the trail. Soon after we managed to escape the persistent skunk, we stopped at the the last aid station around 4 miles from the finish. The aid station volunteer, who was nothing short of an angel at that very moment, made me the most amazing grilled cheese I have ever experienced. It was lovingly made to perfection on a Foreman grill and had just the perfect amount of crispiness on its rippled edges. It is also completely possible that at that point I was hallucinating and it was really just a soggy, white bread, white cheese product sandwich, but as I bit into that grilled cheese, I literally moaned (another embarrassing confession). After a moment, my husband and I pulled ourselves from the grilled cheese aid station and headed toward the finish. The last 4 miles were long, but we finished in 15 hours, just around midnight. Even with the traumatic casualty of losing my first toenail, I had a great day!
Exhausted, we traveled back to our cabin at a local campground, got into bed without showers (I know, I can’t believe it either), and fell into a deep sleep. In the morning we gingerly got out of bed and, stiffly rambling about like zombies, got our traumatized limbs to start working again. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast around the campfire, and just before noon we headed back to the finish to pick up our drop bags. As we were pulling in, we looked to the left and couldn’t believe our eyes. Hobbling down the last stretch of the course was the last 100 mile runner. We just stopped and stared, jaws dropped. David and I got a bit emotional. We truly felt for this guy who started at 6:00 a.m. the day before, and had been out running all night and morning, while we slept and enjoyed our breakfast around the campfire. We parked the car and hastily made our way to the finish area. Welling up a bit, we stood at the finish line with the skeleton crew of volunteers who still remained, and cheered in the lone runner as he limped across the finish. We were in awe of this man and his perseverance. David introduced himself and we chatted for a bit with the finisher named Ryan. That moment of cheering Ryan across the finish was the culmination of my 100K experience.
100K. It still seems crazy.
In one year, I ran quite a variety of races, including 5K, 10K, 15K, 25K, 30K, half-marathon, 20 miler, and 100K distances, in a variety of settings, including road races, mountain trails, snowy trails, rails-to-trails, mud runs, obstacle runs, and beer runs. So really, what have I learned going from 0 to 65 miles in a year?
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