Paul and I had continued our fairly rigorous training schedule in hopes that I could land a qualifying time for the 2011 Western States. We decided it would be a good idea to find a race close to Le Grizz in order to see where we were in terms pace. We set our sites on the Cle Elum Ridge 50k. At ~31.6 miles, it would be a little bit longer than any of our training runs, give decent elevation, and let me know where I stood for my Le Grizz finish. Cle Elum is just a few weeks before Le Grizz, so there is no way to train harder if I was not where I needed to be, but if I was, having that mental edge is very key. In a recent interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Scott Jurek said about ultrarunning, “It’s 90% mental. And the other 10% is mental, too.” I can tell you that when you are going to push yourself further than you have in anything, being able to go in to it with “I know I can do this” will allow your mind to focus on other things, like pressing on through intense physical pain. 🙂
The day of Cle Elum, I got to Paul’s super early and we ate pancakes with almond butter. We headed out on our journey to the Cascades to see how we had progressed with our training post-WR50. Since WR50 we had both acquired Garmin running watches to track our running progress. We were sometimes less than impressed with the mileage readouts, as we would meticulously plan our routes using online services (mapmyrun.com or googlemaps). We had both figured out how much off the watches were and would run accordingly. In general they were off by about (-)0.2 mi per mile. Cle Elum specifies that the race is 30.9 miles (still technically a 50k, but less than the normal 31.6 miles). I began with this knowledge. We had read about ‘the river crossing’ as one of the high points of this race, and we both looking forward to it.
My goal for a finish time was ~7:30-7:45. That would let me know that I could definitely finish Le Grizz in less than 11 hours and set me into the lottery for WS100. In any race, one is likely to hit a wall of some sort. Either the physical pain becomes so noticeable that you have to tell yourself you will keep going, or mentally you just do not have the strength to continue on. The latter described me that day. I started out fine, trekking along well up the hills. The first ~16 or so miles is mainly uphill, making for an extremely difficult start, but a much easier second half. I made it to about mile 20 and was ready to be done. I was not feeling physically fatigued at all; I just wanted to not be running anymore. I told myself that it was almost all downhill and I just needed to keep running, only 11 miles left. About the time I had psyched myself back in to running to finish strong, the river jumped out to greet me. It was a cold day for running, so I came to a quick stop to try to find the shallowest way around. This is THE photo-op of the race, so I had the photographer yelling at me to “just run, splash as much as you can!” I think I said something to the effect of “[Sigh] Whatever…” The water was just at calf-level, and COLD. Emerging, I was back in my mental funk of not wanting to run, and now I had numb toes to run on. A few miles down, the feeling started to come back in to my toes, and the sloshing was almost completely dissipated, I came across a little creek. As I approached it I just kept running. It was too wide to jump, but narrow enough that only foot got wet. And my toes went numb again. Running with both feet cold and wet is annoying. Running with one foot cold and wet is disorienting. It made maintaining a steady balance over loose rocks pretty difficult.
As I approached the last aid station before the finish line, I asked what mile marker is was. 25. It was exactly what my watch showed too. Hmm. The first time it’s accurate. Great. Well I knew I only had 5 miles left, since the race was 30.9. At that point my energy level shot through the roof and I was quickly approaching the finish line. Except it never came. I kept running and still did not see a finish line. I knew at some point I would have to cross the road, but I was still up in the trees. I started wondering if I had somehow gotten off the trail at some point and walked until I could see another runner coming up behind me. I finally saw the road through the trees and knew I was close, so I blasted it. I rounded the crossed the street, rounded the corner and saw the finish line. I looked at my watch and it displayed 31.7 miles…in 6:28. 6:28!! That was over an hour faster than I had thought I would finish. Paul ROCKED his run, finishing in 5:43, claiming 3rd place in his age group and 13th overall. We drove home extremely happy with our results. Tired, but happy.
With a surprising 50k finish stored in my mind, I was all the more ready to tackle Le Grizz in a couple weeks. From this race, I learned the power of continuing. In what felt like one of my worst runs, and one that seemed endless, I was rewarded. I wish I was able to apply this to all areas of my life. Sometimes, the walk of faith becomes so hard it seems like there is no finish line anywhere soon, when indeed it is right around the corner. Patience through perseverance. My life situation was teaching me this, in waiting for the next step not knowing at all where it was going to lead me. Sometimes ‘foot’ is the only thing we need.