I'm on the far right. You can pretty much see the horror on my face. (Thanks Sachin for the photo!)
"Crista, with a C!" He called out. I stood motionless. There is a reason I'm a runner and don't play sports. I lack a special coordination that is meant for any foot and ball accuracy. I slowly walked towards the starting line, facing my sudden wave of impending doom.
"You look so embarrassed," Chris teased over the loud speaker. I smiled, because unbeknownst to him, I knew what the actual chances were for me to suddenly develop a skill with a grapefruit sized ball was. I'd have better chances carrying a live chicken in a 100 yard dash (Luis Escobar teased us with that idea).
Nevertheless, I still tried to summon within myself a divine kind of request, you know, to the Big Guy Up There. It went something like this:
Come on, please? Just let me do something awesome, blow everyone away or something respectable like that? Or even, just let me finish. Please please pleaaaaaaaasseee.
Within seconds after the race started, my left foot managed to shoot the ball directly under a nearby van. My two other competitors whizzed past me, and I felt a ball of anxiety shove itself into my stomach. I threw myself to the ground in pursuit of my elusive Tarahumara racing ball, and lowered myself under the van. Foxtails jammed into my knees and hands while I searched under the side of the van. Patrick Sweeney appeared on the opposite side (to my rescue!), and yanked the ball out from, I swear , a magical blind spot where I had just been looking.
"You suck at ball racing," Luis Escobar joked with me as I went off to finish. A mini crowd had formed around the van, obviously noticing that this girl needed a little extra help with this, uh, big challenge. I finished the second half of the 100 yard sprint (I could have run a mile faster with just my own two feet). "This is why I can't play soccer," I laughed as I kicked the ball, carefully, towards the finish line.
Photo is courtesy of Patrick Sweeney, who talked me into re-deeming myself a second time at ball-racing. I finished, and it was a close race! ;-)
I managed to kick the ball into that pole. Took a few tries to get it back on course.
It was neck and neck! Sadly...I lost. But at least I finished this time without kicking the ball under the van! :)
I discovered a new breed of running shoe this weekend, and it radically changed the way I looked at long distance running. The Hoka, a maximalist shoe, was donned by literally every other long distance runner I encountered. They look like platforms, really. When I asked someone about their balance in them,one person replied that she "had never fallen" in them, and "they really made it easier" on her feet during the bigger digit races. Some compared them to walking on clouds.
All I could think to myself was, this directly goes against the recent trends in running shoes.
To add to the confusion in my already commercially-induced shoe-buying obsession, the creators of Luna Sandals also ran in the race. Watching runners bust out 62-Milers like a breeze in a pair of strappy sandals will definitely send anyone into a spiraling confusion of what your foot actually needs. Is it a soft, cushioned ride? Or bare essential, gait-perfecting strappy badassery?
I'll let the words of the late Micah True answer this one: it doesn't matter what type of shoe you wear. Just run happy, enjoy yourself, enjoy the scenery.
Whatever works for you, do it.
Lesson #3 - Mariachi music is the last thing you'd expect to wake up to, the morning of your race.
I obviously don't know the specific songs that were played, but this is a close representation of what we heard :)
Somewhere between Dreamland and the feeling of the hard ground digging into my side, I was awakened by a sound I never imagined to be our wake up call.
"I wonder if I should set my alarm," I had said earlier in the day. A fellow runner laughed at this, obviously remembering the events from the previous year, and said quite slyly, "Oh, I have a feeling you won't be needing an alarm. You won't sleep through the wake up call."
This is my expression after getting woken up to Mariachi music. Not so ecstatic, but I'm awake!
My neighbors actually made me laugh pretty hard as I was pulling on my running clothes (shivering madly-- it was still very dark out and freezing!) because they were singing along to the songs. Trumpets, classical guitars, and smooth singing-- what a way to start our day!
Aye yi yiiiii, Mi amooorreeeeee....
Lesson #4 - Stories of dead cows giving birth to also-dead calves in the middle of the trail (while simultaneously getting their eyes pecked out by vultures) may create enough mental imagery to never remove the scene from your mind. Even if you never had the uh, pleasure (?) of seeing it with your own two eyes.
Here is the first photo I have seen of the cow.
Photo, uh, courtesy (?) of Michael Miller. Now I've seen it all.
I literally heard so many different takes on this ridiculous event that I feel like I will never be able to wipe my memory clean. I didn't even see it and I can picture it almost horrifyingly well in my mind . "I thought someone dragged it out there as a joke," A runner told Luis Escobar, while sitting in front of the fire later on in the evening. He laughed, "I couldn't have even made that up. That would be one pretty sick joke."
Here are some other commentaries I heard throughout the day:
"I felt bad for the ladies," One runner said. "I wanted to run back and stop them from seeing it!"
"I didn't even know it was dead at first. I just thought it was sleeping on the trail. 'I thought, Cool, just have to run around it, and then I saw the vultures."
"They finally dragged it off the trail, and now it's just off to the side with it's legs in the air!"
"How does that even happen?"
"Did you see the dead cow?" One runner asked another, while sitting around the fire.
The expression on the man's face was priceless. I knew it must have been a good sight just from seeing the reaction out of the men. If a man is disgusted, you know it's bad.
I waited for these words all day: Anyone want beef or veal tonight?. But alas, there was no Filet Mignon. I had my A1 sauce ready, I can admit it! ;-) Survival of the fittest, AmIRight?!
Lesson #4 : "You had me at the words tattooing at the Born To Run Ultramarathon."
I knew that there would be tattooing at the Born To Run Ultramarathon. I had the mental preparation. Sort of.
The majority of the people got running-themed tattoos. Such as, "Born To Run", "Run Free", and the coveted, "Mas Locos" title earned by running in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. Because I have yet to truly enter the world of Ultrarunning, I knew that getting such a tattoo would not be nearly as meaningful for me (yet).
I talked to the tattoo artist, Mike Rose (who flew out all the way from Florida for this event!) about some of my ideas. Thankfully, he steered me away from some cliche' tattoos I had tossed around in my head. And then an idea hit me -- a dreamcatcher.
Many of my tattoos symbolize what they are-- hearts on my wrist, well, are just hearts on my wrist. The Buddhist sanscrit Om Mani Padme Hume on my back says exactly what it means.
As I was running a shockingly effortless 10-Miles in the morning, a thought came to my mind: Running is my safe-haven. Where I go to release my demons. Center myself. Battle my fears.
When I was a child, I was given a dreamcatcher. I was told it would take all of my bad dreams away and hold them. Unfortunately, this did little to calm my overly-active mind.
Running was my true dreamcatcher. So I decided to get one tattooed on me, while at this race to always remind myself of the cathartic experiences I have while running through the trails.
"You know what they symbolize, right?" Maria Walton told me, as she was getting her own beautiful ink tribute to Micah True. "They hold on to your greatest fears, save you from them."
I told her about running being my dreamcatcher for me, and how I want to always have a reminder of that and this experience.
And here is the BEAUTIFUL tattoo that Maria Walton got to remember her love with Micah True. So blessed to get to sit next to her and chat during the process!
Lesson # 5 - Drinking beer at 7:55 AM will render you catatonic by 1:00 PM. But also, drinking beer at a race may be the best thing, EVER.
I made my friend Adrianne take a picture of the time, proof to show that I literally had a beer in my hands within minutes of finishing my race.
Around 4:30 PM in the afternoon on Saturday, I dragged myself out of the bed of my friends car, and rubbed my eyes. Whaaaa hooo peeeennn. The words were slurred even inside my own head. Being a Champion Lightweight, I did the mental math and regretfully admitted to myself that all I needed were five beers to knock me out cold. At the beginning of my tattooing, I was completely sober. By the end (which took around three and a half hours) I was a buzzed, happy, and tattooed mess. Couldn't ask for a better combination, while in the safety of a camping/ Ultramarathon-running environment.
Beer at 7:55 AM has never tasted better.
Note to self for next year: bring a cooler entirely of beer. I'm already planning on picking out a pack of IPA's especially for Caleb Wilson, who graciously loaned me a dollar for the ball-racing (if I had any idea that's what it was for...) and I promised to buy a beer later on.
Did I mention there were cases and cases of free beer, and sodas cost a dollar? Talk about obvious choices!
Lesson # 6 - Learn to poop in the port-a-potties. The alternatives are just not worth it.
I am not a fan of port-a-potties. I never have been. Never will. Then again, I don't know if it's humanly possible to be OK with shitting on top a pile of other people's shit (among other disgusting novelties).
Now, excuse me for being absolutely disgusting with this part, but it's a fact of life, folks. You have to poop. Especially, if you are cramming enough food in your body to feed an entire 100-Miler journey (I only ran 10 miles initially, I had no excuse).
Camping is one great excuse to eat whatever you want. Hell, you're out in the middle of nowhere, sleeping on (sometimes) the most uncomfortable of surfaces (Thermarest, you help, but in no way compare to my memory foam mattress) so the natural way to make it all better is FOOD!
I normally eat a pretty clean diet. I'm talking carrots, hummus, and spinach galore. Here, on the other hand, I packed the most junk-food I could handle.
All of my favorite things that I don't eat on an every day basis.
Naturally, I found myself avoiding the port-a-potties at all costs. But a girls gotta pee with drinking all that beer! The few moments I slipped into one, it was like being inside a giant, steaming, shit-bath.
I don't know about you guys, but going Numero Dos in one of those guys is not for the faint of heart.
So this is how I found myself, at 3:00 AM, lightly running on the trails with Carolyn Howard (the woman who eventually got first place for the Female 100-Miler) during her last 10 miles, and found myself, finally, needing to use the restroom. I don't know what kind of mind-games I was playing with myself, thinking I could avoid spending an extended period of time in the port-a-potty.
Luis had told us earlier in the day, "And lastly, you guys, please don't shit on the trail. Last year I had to pick up shit and let me tell you, I don't want to do that again." At that moment, it was pretty damn tempting compared to the port-a-shitties,
Luckily for me, we were closing in on Mile 9 of our loop and I could mentally prepare myself for stepping inside one of the hell-boxes.
"The poopers are almost full to their brims," Luis had said earlier in the night, as I was waiting for Carolyn to finish her second to last loop. I laughed, because I thought he was referring to the runners. As in, the ones who tend to drop out are almost reaching their limits. The sick irony and metaphor still stuck with me.
Lookin' forward to more poopers next year.
Lesson # 7 - Geeking out in front of some of your favorite runners is sometimes hard to control.
Maria Walton and I.
I actually mentally prepared myself for this prior to running at this race. Obviously, I read Born To Run and quickly became obsessive about the people involved. I wanted to know more details, how they could possibly be running such long distances, over grueling terrain, while maintaining those shit-eating grins (maybe this pun came too soon after the previous lesson, but I'm using it anyway).
I won't name names, but I found myself continually star-struck by meeting many of my running idols. Sneaking in the lingering questions running through my mind was tricky-- how do I ask these people about themselves without admitting I already knew who they were?
That being said, I was BLOWN AWAY by how friendly everyone was. Nothing like camping over the course of three days to really make you see these people as human beings (humor me here) instead of elite running, gravel-chomping, fast-as-lightening super humans.
I was talking to Lynette McDougal about being blown away at how the Ultrarunners approach running. "I mean, I know that some people, like Tomokazu Ihara (who won the race in under 17 hours) bust out incredible times for Ultras. But more, what I see, is people both running and walking these distances.
"Ultrarunning is all about forward motion," She told me. "It's putting one foot in front of the other. You just keep going, no matter how hard it is."
Maria Walton later added to this growing understanding for me, "Micah would say, 'When I get tired of running, I walk!'"
The fears of not running continually were wiped away clean by the experience of witnessing these individuals running Ultras. Run/walking. Whatever. They completed the distances and that is the only thing that matters.
Oh, and I discovered they are both super-athletes AND normal human beings (who drink beer and dance the SALSA!).
I am in love with these people.
Lesson # 8 - Sometimes you just have to put yourself out of your comfort zone.
Jenna, Adrianna, and myself. Oh, and the awesome Born To Run mascot :)
This is an obvious lesson. And not just for running. It's so obvious, in fact, that it's cliche' to even discuss. But for me, I felt overwhelmed at times with the idea of going solo (I had two friends who met up with me later on) to this huge trip without a co-pilot. It may not seem like it, but I can be incredibly shy when I don't know anyone in a group and especially at this race, feeling like I was the only person who hadn't been at the event the previous year. I tried in vain over the weeks building up to this trip to convince many of my other runner friends into going.
None of them could make it. I knew I was going regardless, but still. I had to remind myself that I have a backbone and throwing myself into the middle of it was the best way to start my journey into Ultrarunning.
So stepping out of my comfort zone meant: Accepting my fate as the first entrant into the ball-racing game, introducing myself over and over again to strangers who may or may not care who I am (I never once got a bad response!), not being afraid to walk up to a group of people and join in on the conversations. Moreso, stepping out of my comfort zone also meant not hiding out in my tent all weekend, terrified at the idea of embarrassing myself, annoying people, and/or saying something stupid. Taking myself less seriously and being positive and upbeat helped me have one of the best experiences of my entire life.
I'm thankful that the two girl friend's that joined me as my cheerleaders were both social butterflies as well. This allowed me to have a safety net to retreat to, the comfort of a supportive team during my race start/finish, and also have the freedom to go off on my own to network with other runners.
I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. And I think my two friends who I brought (one a runner, one not) were both blown away by the experience. I have a feeling they will both be back next year as runners :)
Lesson # 9 - Runners are some of the warmest, friendliest, and encouraging breed of people I've ever met.
The race director Mr. Luis Escobar and Myself :)
It's rare in sports to find such an overwhelming amount of bonding, support, and group-motivation. Especially in such an individualistic sport, it blew my mind how (at least, with those at the Born To Run Ultra) many people were encouraging others, offering help, offering to be pacers after their own races, and cheering on their fellow competitors. Even using the word competitors feels wrong in the same sentence as Born To Run Ultra. Of course, there were the winners, but even the losers were winners (thanks again, Luis, for the box of Macadamia-caramel-chocolates after losing my very first ball-race).
Going into this event, I was a little shy and apprehensive to introduce myself and admit to only signing up for a 10-Miler (the lowest distance you could run at the race, and also not an "Ultra").
Seeing my hesitance, many of the Ultra-running badasses quickly washed away my fears with comments like:
"Everyone has to start somewhere."
"You can always run another loop if you want!"
"Next year you can work up to a 50k!"
"....you know we walk sometimes, too, right?"
I spent the majority of the weekend picking anyone's brain that would let me. I asked questions about their shoes, their compression socks, Camelbak vs. Handhelds (handhelds are overwhelmingly more desired) and who knows how many other questions. I wanted to figure out their secrets. Unlock the mystery as to how these people are doing such unbelievable things.
After this weekend, I feel like I am capable of anything. Which brings me to my last, and most important lesson.
Lesson # 10 - You are only capable of what you set your mind to.
Way too early to be this excited to run!
As I was heading to the starting line for my 10-Miler, I was debating whether or not to listen to music during my race. I had spent hours the previous night creating an awesome playlist, but something strong was urging me to not listen to music. Not just because I thought I'd find a running buddy to talk to, but also to just freely experience the entire run. All the sounds, all the chatter. I didn't want to isolate myself in my mind, like I usually do while listening to music during a run. This wasn't the type of run where I needed to lose myself.
I wanted to be completely present. So I ditched the iPod and headed to the starting line.
Here's a picture of the course map.
The first few miles I went along at a steady pace (think of yourself as a rechargeable battery! building up momentum...). Soon, I found myself running next to a woman named Carolyn who was keeping about the same pace as me. We quickly started chatting (I don't even remember what about) and then our conversation blossomed into a full-fledged discussion on children with Asperger's, medical treatments, the gridlock in the insurance companies, and the importance of finding something that gives you an emotional release. Being a Clinical Psychology student, I found myself talking a mile a minute (hahaha, silly pun), and when she checked her Garmin, I was blown away by how much distance we had covered while blabbering away. We had run 7.5 miles, and negative thoughts had not even once crossed my mind. Mental barriers usually crowd my mind during the first few miles of my runs, and it shocked me that I had not even thought once how much my body hurt, how slow I was, or how bad of a runner I am. I know it sounds awful, but these are thoughts that often flood my mind. I'm used to them. And I shoo them away the majority of the time.
Carolyn, and me, taking one of my many pictures during the run.
But talking to her, discussing in detail about our experiences in the mental health field, observing the beautiful scenery...created an environment and atmosphere where I discovered that running is truly a mental experience. I had been plagued with the fears of not being able to run the entire time during my race. None of my fears even slightly existed in this moment for me.
It was also during this run that she told me about her run : she was doing the 100-Miler. Meaning, when I crossed the finish line at 10 miles, she would continue on for the rest of the day.
"What's your projected finish time?" I asked, blown away and well-aware about the difficulty in answering that question.
"Well," she said. "I have an elusive goal of 24 hours. We will see how that goes. I'm thinking I'll be finishing in under 27 hours."
I picked her brain about her training, eating habits, weekly-running distances. Before I finished, however, the finish line quickly approached.
I hugged her and thanked her for such an amazing run. I told her how effortless it felt, and how I felt more energetic than I ever have before after a long run (the longest I'd ever ran...ever!).
Here I am finishing up my 10-Miler at 7:49 AM. She was 1/10th done.
Flash forward a few hours. I had a beer in my hand and was prepping myself mentally for a tattoo, when Carolyn crossed the finish line for her third loop (the course was in the shape of a figure 8, with the center being the starting line, finishing line, and main aid station). I cheered her on, and she approached me, out of breathe.
"Hey, just think about this, I know it may scare you," She started, and my mind started spinning wondering what she was about to ask me. "But would you want to run my last 10 Miles with me? I'm not sure when it'll be, but just think about it!"
And then she was off. I sat dumb-founded, staring into the depths of my half-draken beer.
These are the thoughts that ran through my head: Can I do it? What if I injure myself? That would mean I ran 20 miles. ...so what if I injure myself. I can't pass up this opportunity. I will slow her down!
It only took me another few minutes to decide that I would be her pacer for the last 10-Miles of her 100-Miler.
Flash forward to 10:30 PM. Carolyn crosses through the aid station, and began filling up her water bottle and sucking down an energy goo.
I quickly rushed up to her. "I'll do it!" I told her. "What time should I be here for your last lap?"
Because this was no fancy race (thank GOD), there were no timing chips. I had to just have a good idea of when she was going to be at the finish line and then I'd wait for her.
"Around 2:30 AM, I think," She told me. I saw the fear in her eyes when she told me the time. I shrugged it off.
"I'll be waiting by the fire!" I told her. And I set out immediately to lay down for a few hours before running with her. Boy, let me tell you, I sure as hell felt guilty sleeping knowing she was out there, in the middle of nowhere, running on the trails with just a headlamp.
Another runner, Flint, had almost convinced me to run the last two loops with her. "It would totally count as a 50k," He told me, and I immediately felt myself want to jump into it feet first.
It wasn't until I learned that she was currently in first place for the women's 100-Miler that I decided to just do the last 10. I was honestly concerned about slowing her down.
My alarm went off at 2:30 AM after a surprisingly heavy sleep. I quickly rushed down to the campfire and starting line to wait for her. There were a few people huddled around the fire, some who were taking a break from the trails, some who were waiting to cheer on their friends, and others who had dropped out and not-yet made it back to their tents.
At 3:00 AM Carolyn appeared out of the darkness. She was shaken up, visibly crumbling and I knew in this moment that my job was not to pace her, but to help keep her going and be a moral support.
"You regretting this yet?" She hesitantly asked me, with a shaky laugh that said more than her words.
"No way!" I told her, dismissing the idea. "This is an honor!"
Off we went, shuffling into the darkness, headlamps bobbing on our heads.
The trails at night were very different. Never in my life had I ran at night, let alone in the middle of the night, let alone in the middle of the night on a trail out in the middle of nowhere.
"There was a pack of coyotes following me earlier," She told me. I found myself scanning the rows of trees and being reminded of scenes from The Blair Witch Project.
I couldn't believe that she was going at this all night long.
"The nights are long," she told me. "It's nice to have some company out there."
We didn't talk as much as we did during our first ten miles together. But we continued on, and I would remind her throughout the run that this was her last lap, she was so close to finishing, AND she was well ahead of her projected goal time.
"That elusive 24 hours doesn't seem so elusive anymore, does it?" I told her. She cracked a smile. A valuable thing when a runner is approaching 98 miles.
Time, for me at least, seemed to pass quickly. We went through two aid stations where I picked up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I ate along the way.
I tried not to ask her how much further we had, until I was convinced it wasn't much further.
"We are at mile 98," She told me. I started jumping up and down.
"TWO MILES!" I yelled out into the darkness. "You will be done in two miles and there is nobody else behind us for miles. You're gunna win this thing!"
Her disposition changed drastically. You could see relief and happiness flooding her entire body. Within minutes, we had the finish line in our sights and we shuffled towards it.
"I hope you know you're an incredible inspiration to me," I told her as we neared the finish.
She laughed, obviously not taking me seriously, which only added to my admiration of her. She had no idea how mind-blowingly amazing she was, and how she completed a feat that I still struggle with wrapping my mind around.
Before I met Carolyn, I had no idea how people were capable of running more than a marathon (which in and of itself is a scary idea to me, still). After this experience, and meeting all the wonderful people I did, I have a feeling I'm going to be sucked in for life.
Next year, I'm planning on running the 50k (31 miles) and pacing Mike Epler for the last 10 Miles of his 100.
It wasn't until after Carolyn went off to bed that something struck me: I had ran 20 miles in under 24 hours. Although it was not back-to-back miles, it was still the furthest distance I had ever ran in my life. Before this race, I had not even ran 10 miles once. Doing it twice was something I never thought possible.
Here I realized that I am capable of anything I set my mind to do. It's an amazing and empowering feeling. I'll never forget it.
Thank you to everyone who was there at the Born To Run Ultramarathon. It will live on in my memory forever. I cannot wait until next year :)
Here is a video I made from the race: