20 miles down…

In preparation for my ultra marathon in two weeks from today, I had to run 20 miles today.  I was fortunate enough to have company for the first 6 miles, and finished them, on the hilly trails, in 1:02, thanks to the group I was running with.  I ran the last 14 solo.  Most of my running friends know that I don’t run with music often, and if I do, it’s to get away from it all- what’s going on in my head, what’s going on in the world, etc. I turn it up so loud that I can’t hear anything but the music. Today, I ran with music from about mile 10 on because my mind just kept going in circles with what I was thinking about. I was coming to no conclusion. I couldn’t shake the thoughts from making fast, crazy circles in my mind, and I wanted a distraction. I put one ear bud in, and turned it up. I wasn’t about to be stupid and run with both in on narrow trails in a state park where I could easily not hear someone and trip them and myself up.

As I covered the first six miles, I only focused on breathing and answering the questions of the other HRR runners who joined me this morning. Two of them are also running the ultra, and have already started their taper weeks. As I hear this, I am mentally kicking myself for getting bronchitis (aka kryptonite) twice in one month’s time. Then I quickly remind myself that it was out of my control, and I am out here today to run 20 miles. I could still be down and out, but I’m not. I’m healthy again.

Their pace matched my emotions this morning. I have had so many stressors affecting me this week, and I woke up angry. Most of my friends and family know that I don’t anger easily. I’m actually pretty laid back. But this morning, anger was on the ticket, and I ran angry. Another rule of thumb for me- NEVER run angry. Why? you might ask.. because I ALWAYS get hurt. I run too hard. I push too hard. I am relentless. Today, I think I ran the anger out of me. I pushed up over those hills in the side trails in the first 6 miles like they were small steps instead of steep inclines. I grinned slightly knowing I just kicked their ass when I reached the top. My determination propelled me over every tree root and loose branch, keeping me from rolling my ankle again like I did last weekend on the windiest, hilliest trail in the park. I was NOT doing it again today. I was NOT going to get hurt. And I didn’t. We maneuvered through the trail and reached the main trail with no set backs. As we made our way to the other side of the park on the main trail, I felt sad knowing that soon enough, I would be alone on my run to complete the remaining 14 miles.

Sadness hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s an emotion that has been hanging onto my every breath, thought, and body part this entire week. It’s an emotion that has wreaked havoc on my sleep and eating. It’s an emotion, that at this exact moment made my stomach be hateful. All I had to eat before I started the run was a buttered English muffin. I knew better than to try anything I usually do with what little I’ve been able to eat all week. My stomach chose to cramp, and sour, and make me miserable until I could reach the porta-potty. And then, guess what? It stopped as soon as I got there. Like it was saying, ” Ha! I got you to feel miserable! Now what are you going to do?”

I bid my new HRR friends goodbye and hit the Narrows trail. “Take this stomach,” I hissed as I pushed to reach the end of the narrows, so much so that by the time I got there, my stomach only had time to propel air in and out of my body. I love the Narrows; for many reasons.  I love that I literally am inches from the water’s edge at any given moment. I love that I can see a perfect reflection of the treeline across the ocean water from where I run. I love that the trees let in just enough sunlight so that it’s not freezing on the trail despite the 33 degree weather I started in. I love that it has hills, sand, water crossing the path, wood, and bridges that make it difficult for me to run. And I love that each time I run the whole path down and back I feel triumphant.

At this point, I realized the weather was starting to warm up, and I realized how soaked I was already. I knew that this would lead to issues where the seam of my trusty Sauconys rubbed against the outer edge of the ball of my feet. The warmer it got, the more I felt it rubbing. Definitely need to remember to put vaseline on it before the ultra to help prevent that.

As I made my way back onto the main trail, I realized that my anger had turned to frustration because all in my world is still not right, and my usual “mind dump” during my run was not happening. This is where I put in my earbud, and turned up the music. I made my way back to the trail I had traveled with my HRR buddies, wondering how I would feel about attacking it backwards. Believe it or not, I think that is the fastest I have ever run that trail, and I was not the least bit winded, tired, nor did my legs feel heavy or painful. I felt like I was flying. Like nothing could touch me as I sprinted through those woods, all alone. Not a soul was on that trail, and I felt invincible and invisible all in the same moment. I felt so tiny that no one would even notice that I was there, had been there, or may be there again. I felt invincible because as I moved forward, my body was the engine that was propelling me… and I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to run until I could run no more. The hills seemed so tiny coming the back way into this trail. I felt like I wasn’t even trying as I made my way up those steep inclines. (Maybe all those hill workouts are paying off is what I was thinking at this point!)

As I came to the end of the trail and saw the gate that would allow me back on the main path, I thought, “That’s all you’ve got trail? Bring it on!” I made my way back to the opposite side of the park on 64th St. again, where I knew I would turn around and make my way back to the other entrance where I originally came in.  As I ran along, I listened to how my body felt and was reacting to all these miles I was putting in today, and was pleasantly surprised that the only thing I really felt was the rubbing against the edge of the ball of one foot from the seam of one shoe. My knees were a little tight, but nothing a little stretching at the 64th St. entrance couldn’t help.

As I reached the 64th St. entrance, and turned around to head back out to the other side of the park again, I got really dizzy and lightheaded. I realized that I had been so focused on my thoughts, and running that I hadn’t refueled at all, and was already at about 14 or 15 miles into the run. While I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t feel tight or fatigued, my body gave the same signs I had during my long run last Saturday that I needed to refuel or risk passing out from depletion of energy, salt, and sugars needed to keep going. As much as I love being a runner, I often think it makes me truly invincible… too everything. Clearly, this is not the case, and I have to be serious about refueling. The only “fuel” I was really good about today was water. I passed 64th St. 3 times and filled up my bottle to the brim each time. I drank nearly 64 ounces of water on my run today. I bet I sweat most of it out though because my gear was soaked through- sports bra, long sleeve compression top, wick away long sleeve shirt, and my windbreaker. But I digress.

On the way back down the main trail to the entrance where I originally entered the park, I was focusing on form because a friend noticed I tend to cross my body with my arms when I get tired. I wasn’t really tired, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing it. I concentrated so hard that I barely noticed the other sporadic runners I passed on the way back out. My legs just kept moving me forward, and I was getting anxious to finish at this point. Why is it that we do that with runs? As a runner, I am always excited to go out and run, but always anxious to finish when I know I am getting close. I think this is one of the reasons I originally ran without a watch. I had no idea the time. I just knew where I was going. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush I know I will have at the end… not really sure.

I was focused so much on form, not rolling my ankle, and skipping songs on my mp3 player that I knew would only bring on unwanted emotions that I nearly missed the most amazing part of my run today. I had about 4 miles left to go, and just as I took another stride, I just happened to look up and gasped. A gorgeous red fox was standing within a very few feet in front of me and was looking right at me. He didn’t really scare me, but looked right at me, as if he was reading my face to see what I was going to do. Surprisingly, I didn’t stop. I didn’t take a picture, I just watched him as I moved forward, and he slowly walked to my left and sat, with his tail curled around his legs as I ran past. When I looked back, he was still watching me… and he was so peaceful and calm. It was one of those moments that really felt like a wake-up call. He could have chosen to scamper off into the woods or come after me or howl, but he did none of those things. He chose to let me pass, and looked, what seemed like right through me.

As I have been writing, I had to look up what it could possibly mean to have a fox cross your path. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe things happen for a reason, and fate often has a hand in that. The more I read, the more I realized that this fox was a symbol of peace yet to come. And a symbol of a successful conclusion with strength, determination, and focus involved. It just gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace seeing that fox today. I won’t lie about my feeling like I have hit rock bottom with a rock stuck on top of me this week. This is just one of those moments that I feel was meant to happen and I was meant to see it. Believe what you want to believe, but that’s how I feel.

After seeing the fox, any ounce of tired went away, and I booked it to the other entrance and out of the park. I finished 20 miles in 3:26:03 for a 10:18 per mile pace today. This is honestly even better shape than I was in when I was training for my marathon last year. And I feel GOOD. I couldn’t say that last weekend, but today, it’s the truth. At some point, the clouds have to break, and the sun has to shine through. Please let this be my moment.

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2 Responses to 20 miles down…

  1. Greg Ritchie says:

    Wow. What a story, what a read. That was truly enjoyable. I like the way you write, I like the way you observe, I like the way you process. As for that fox, honestly the first thought that went through my mind as I read that was, “That happened for a reason, I wonder what it is?”. I laughed when you followed up with saying you looked into the matter for that very reason. lolol That was a truly enjoyable read, Erica. And like a window into your soul. I appreciate your genuineness. I’m sorry to hear that life’s seas are so tumultuous as of late, but you’re nothing if not a fighter and I’m sure you’ll soon see smooth waters again. Keep fighting, keep running, keep smiling, keep writing. Cheers –

  2. dr1v3n says:

    Thank you, Greg. Sometimes, I have to just let it all out here, especially if I can’t clear my head while I’m running. Trying to look for the silver linings in things…. Again, thanks for the constants of support, encouragement, and caring!

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