Encouraged by strangers.
Runners get encouragement in the most unlikely and unexpected of places. Just the other day I was standing in line at the grocery store, checking out, wearing what has become my new everyday ‘slacker’ wardrobe (shirts from races). That day, it was the Seattle 2009 shirt which is in an unmistakeable color of green/blue. The manager literally runs over to me to talk to me about running and encouraged me in attempting my next race. In a small way, we expect those who are close to us to offer support on the challenges we strive to overcome, but there is something electrifying when it comes from someone who does not know you, someone who does not have some sort of ‘social obligation’ to offer kind words.
“Once you’ve ran Mount Si twice, you will be ready for White River 50,” my Scottish friend told me. As someone who was just trying to break back into trail running, this seemed very daunting. For those of you who may not be familiar with Mount Si, it is a heavily hiked mountain in the Cascades in Western Washington. About 30 miles from Seattle, it is perfect for hikers and runners who want to get out of the city for a few hours. Mount Si is no easy mountain though. It is 4 miles one way and gains over 4000 ft of elevation. Considering my friend’s training goal, it made sense. Running Mount Si twice would give me roughly 16000 ft elevation change over a 16 mile run. White River 50 is 50 miles and has 17400 ft elevation change. So this would not give me the distance I needed but definitely would get me used to elevation. I knew there were some training runs along the WR50 course 2 and 3 weeks prior to the race, so I set to reach this goal about month before, all the while stretching out my distance on flat terrain.
Two weeks after the marathon in Vancouver BC, I filled my running pack with water, gels, and energy jelly beans (seriously amazing) and set out to tackle Lake Union…5 times. At about 6 miles a lap, plus distance to and from my apartment, I would hit about 31-32 miles. I got home from work, decided to run with my cell phone in case of emergency, and set out so I could be finished by around 10:30pm. I was so excited to really be moving forward, I was about to step into unknown territory. The run was boring at best. I am not a fan of running loops, and multiple times just makes it worse. It was a great time to look at what God had done with me over the past couple of years. Praying for the future and dreaming about where He could be leading me next. Before I knew it, I was almost done. Then after I realized I had passed a marathon length, I noticed that my legs were hurting so badly, I could barely run. I stopped to walk, in hopes it would alleviate some of the pain. Nope. It was 10 times harder to walk. I could not believe that it was actually less painful to run, so I ran on. I recalled reading a quote from ultrarunner Scott Jurek. “When discomfort and fatigue become unbearable I will run because I can,” became my mantra. I began to become thankful just for the ability I have to run. Towards the end I remember thinking “foot.” That was all my mind had the strength for to propel me forward. I did not have the energy to say in my head “one foot at a time,” so it simply just became “foot.”
As I finished the run, and began a short stretch-walk back to my apartment, I realized two things: (1) I was suddenly emotional about this new achievement and (2) I had forgotten to buy ice for an ice bath before I left and did not bring my debit card. I called a few people who lived nearby but got no response. So I called Dave, my biggest supporter and newly acquired crew member. He said he’d be right over with some ice. He showed up with a bag of ice and a rockstar energy drink because I was “a rock star” now. One that had run over 3o miles and had to get up early to go to work the next day. Ice baths are miracles. When you have put your body through this level of trauma, recovery is vital. Immersing yourself in ice water for about 15 minutes constricts blood vessels which flushes out waste products like lactic acid. It also aids in reducing swelling and tissue breakdown. This means your muscles can repair quicker and you feel less sore. Double bonus! (Note: if you try this you will want to take a warm shower afterwards, but resist because it will undo most of what you were trying to achieve)
My next goal on the road to WR50 was to run for about 10 hours on recommendation from a runner at the local running store. He had completed WR50 a few times and suggested that I needed to get my body used to working for 10 hours or so. The day I chose to run happened to be the day of the US v England match in the World Cup so trying to get help was difficult. I had heard about Hammer Perpeteum and gave it a try. Amazing stuff! It is a protein:carb powder that allows you to be sustained without having to eat solid foods. At about 2 hours into my run, Dave met up with me and rode a bike alongside for about 2 hours. It was incredible to have someone to talk to. That day was the first time the reality sank in about how crazy attempting 50 miles really is. I ended up completing about 43-44 miles. Great! I knew I could make the distance, but what about that insane elevation?
I went for a run with Rurai, my scottish friend, and gained more insight on trail running. During the alternating weeks of my long runs and some afternoons after work, I had been running Mount Si at least once and peaking at 1.5 times. I knew what I had to do and I was determined to run this mountain twice. Thankfully the parking lot is at the start of the trail, so I did not have to run with a pack, just my hand bottles that I could refill after one time. I was the only runner on the mountain that day. When I first started passing people on the way up, I would hear them encouraging me over my headphones. There is something about attempting it twice that sets you on completely different level. When I started seeing people on my second time, they had to stop to talk to me, something I did not have the time, breath, or energy to do but did anyway. People would shake their heads in disbelief that I was running this mountain twice. Upon finding out what I was training for everyone kept saying “well you look ready, you look great!” I even heard “it doesn’t even look like this is hard for you!” Whew. That was good to hear because I felt like I was about to crumble. At about mile 3 the second time I was ascending, everything hurt. Some older gentleman stopped to talk to me about how he used to run this mountain when he was training for marathons. He had never tried to run it twice and wished me all the best on WR50. As I rounded a corner, there seemed to be more people than normal. I just wanted to quietly make my way by, but there was no escaping. These people all started cheering and clapping. I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was, just doing what I knew I needed to and these people were all on board to support me.
As I returned to my car, totally spent, I sat on the trunk to rest, hydrate, and eat a protein bar. Some jocks stopped by to tell me how badass they thought I was. Then more people started pouring over to my car. I was shocked. One lady and her husband had to tell me how inspiring what I had done was to them. The guy wanted to start training to attempt to run Mount Si. I was so blessed and encouraged that day by complete strangers. At this point I began to realize the similarities of running and a church community. How amazing a gift we have to encourage people in their journey!