The Terrible And Wonderful Story Of How I Won A 50-Mile Race Entry Fee (And Subsequently Decided To Finally Start Training)

By Crista Tappan - February 23, 2015

Mid-training run in Yosemite. So epic! (Photo cred: Peter Brennen).

The last time I really trained for a race was three years ago for my first half-marathon. I religiously followed a training plan that I tore out of Trail Running Magazine and on race day, I felt pretty prepared. I ran within five minutes of my goal time, and I felt great during my entire race. After that, however, my running routine turned into a "I'll Run When I Feel Like It' approach, which for me, ended up being 2-3 times a week. If that.

Most runners can agree that it's pretty hard to build endurance and train for a long-distance race only running a couple times a week. Attempting to squeezing in big miles in those few days can result in injury, feeling overtrained and under prepared.

I felt like I was playing an on-going game with myself of, "How far can I run with little to no training?"

This approach lasted about three years.

I'd managed to run three 50Ks, several half-marathons and slugged through more group runs than I could count on the least amount of training as possible. Although I toyed with the idea of following a plan, I always resolved that if I just ran every day and pushed myself, it would be enough. The Lazy Runner inside of me, however, had different plans. It wanted to take a day off. It wanted to take two days off. It wanted to only run three miles. It wanted comfort, easy runs, and to avoid big climbs. It wanted to cut runs short, turn around early and pretty much always take the easy road.

There is really no other way to say it other than this-- I was giving in completely to my inner Lazy Runner.

If anyone has ever read The Oatmeal (which I highly recommend), I would argue that my inner Lazy Runner is a cousin of the Blerch.

The Blerch and the Lazy Runner do not want to go out for a run. They think it sounds like a nice idea, but in reality, would rather sit back and think about running. They'd rather read stories of other runners. They'd rather live vicariously through their friends. They'd pretty much rather do anything other than running. My inner Lazy Runner had become comfortable inside my mind and settled in for the long haul.

Needless to say, I had been hanging out on a plateau of "I'm A Runner But I Hardly Run" for a long time, and was not exactly thrilled about it. Deep down I wanted to improve, set bigger goals for myself and actually race -- not just focus on finishing. I wanted to get into the flow every day during my runs, feel the wind against my face and break through the walls I had build around myself. I wanted to step up to the starting line of a race, confident in my training.

I watched many of my friends effortlessly run every day, improve over time, sign up for races that they felt prepared for at the time and have no struggle to get in their weekly mileage goals.

My first step in change was accepting that not all runners approach training the same. Some thrive on a lack of structure. Some need it.

What I really needed was a goal and something to hold me accountable. I needed a plan and structure. I needed to know exactly how much I should run each week to effectively prepare. I needed a lot more than, "Just throw on your shoes and run every day!"

Two months ago, I went to a trail running film presentation and entered my name into a raffle for a free race entry into the Leona Divide 50. I'd never ran a 50 before and I'd heard that Leona was a really, really hard race. 10,000ft of elevation gain, unpredictable weather, 15-20 miles further than I'd ever gone before....

Seeing as how there was a large amount of people entering their names into the raffle, I remember thinking to myself, "There is no way I'll win this."

Fate decided to make a mockery of my internal dialogue.

Right before they announced the winner, I turned to my boyfriend Peter and said, "I really hope they don't call my name, because then I'd actually have to train!"

That was the Lazy Runner speaking.

I didn't realize at the time how much it had hard-wired itself into my brain.

I knew deep down that I couldn't use my wing-it approach to training with Leona.

Two seconds later, they called my name over the loud speaker. I saw several familiar faces turn around in the rows in front of me and give me thumbs-up.

I sunk down into my seat and turned to Peter, saying, "Oh shit. Fuck!"....Quickly followed by another series of "Shit! Fuck! Oh. My. God."

I don't know what was more horrifying to me in that moment-- hearing my name over the loud speaker in a room of 200+ ultrarunners, having a large amount of people suddenly turn around and look at me, or the idea of running a brutal 50-mile race coming into reality.

Peter looked elated.

"You're doing it!" He told me flat-out. "Time to start training!"

I stared ahead, visions of climbing up impossibly-large mountains flooding my mind.

I'm fucking running a 50-Mile race.

Up until this point, my inner Lazy Runner had been relaxing on the couch, minding it's own business, when I simply walked up, tipped the couch over and knocked it onto the ground.

It was a rude awakening.

"It's time to fucking get serious!" I told it, prying the copy of Ultrarunning Magazine out of it's hands. "No more couch-potato! No more skipping runs! No more 'just winging it! Opportunities don't last forever, and the time is now."

My inner Lazy Runner looked distraught.

"But! But!" It tried to argue, digging into it's memory banks for quick excuses. "I bet you can still do it without training! You can wing anything! Please, don't make me run every day!"

"Out!" I commanded it, pointing to the front door.

The Lazy Runner inside of me hung its head, and silently walked out the front door.

I wasn't a bit sorry to see it go.

I looked at Peter, eyes wide with a mixture of fear and excitement. "I'm going to fucking train."

* * *

A few years back, a friend once told me that if something both terrifies and excites you, you should probably do it.

Training for the Leona Divide 50 has been exactly that.

The first week or so, I existed in a state of mild shock.

Can I do it? Is 50 miles too far? Am I absolutely crazy?

The only way I could see myself having a fighting chance against the climbs in Leona is to follow a plan that prepares me. Knowing that Peter had written himself several training plans in Excel, I casually asked if he could make one for me, too (yay for dating an Ultrarunner who likes structure and is detail-oriented!).

The next day, I had an eleven week training plan mapped out for me waiting in my inbox.

It has now been six weeks of following a pretty structured plan highlighted with long runs, hill work, tempo runs, recovery weeks and a slow build of weekly mileage. It's been a huge change, but I'm thankful for the support of Peter and a pretty rad community of ultrarunners. I pick their brains on a daily basis and have been learning a lot about myself as a runner, along with my potential (which I had been neglecting for far too long). I had been selling myself short in more ways than I could count. Looking back, I think it was mostly out of fear. As in, what if I train for a race and still do not succeed? In some ways, I felt like holding myself back from training was also holding myself back from letting myself down.

The only thing I was truly letting myself down from was not believing in myself.

I'm not worrying so much about failing anymore. If I fail, at least I know that I put in a lot of hard work and I'm 99.9% closer than I would have been without it.

Now, I'm keeping myself accountable on all levels-- I'm using my Garmin, tracking my runs on Strava and utilizing an amazing thing called a heart-rate monitor.

When I first bought my Garmin a few years back and pulled the heart-rate monitor out of the box, I tossed it aside thinking it was useless and far too much information for me to process while running. It's going to disrupt my flow, I had thought to myself. Yeah, okay.

What really disrupted my flow was my lack of running and giving in to the inner Lazy Runner.

Learning how to train using a heart-rate monitor has been a huge help, and I now know how hard to push myself and when to ease up. I thought I knew my body pretty well, and my heart-rate monitor proved me wrong. It's been an important tool which I'm going to keep using in my training.

I've learned three important things in the last two months: I need structure. I need goals. And most of all, I need to believe in myself.

And get this-- I can actually feel myself getting better. I'm getting stronger. Climbs which felt miserable a few weeks back are getting easier. My heart-rate, although at times still alarmingly high compared to my well-trained friends, is improving.

I'm grateful to have re-learned how much I love running. I now look forward to getting out on my runs every single day. There is no more desire to avoid it. I've become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Leona Divide is less than two months away now (on April 18th).

It seems like in a blink of an eye it will be race morning, and I'll be gearing up to run all day long.

Yes, I'm still a little terrified.

More than anything, though, is I'm really, really fucking excited.

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