The big day is finally here! Today, I start my attempt for the Women’s Supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Collegiate Trail Loop. While this is a goal in and of itself, it’s also the first step in my efforts to prepare for my run across the United States in 2021. Read more >>
Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Collegiate Trail Loop FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.
T-minus four days until I start my Collegiate Trail Loop FKT attempt, and I’m drowning in logistics and unknowns. Will Collegiate West be impassable because of snow? Will I be able to get my Esbit fuel between when I arrive on Sunday and start early Monday morning? How will I get to the trail from my Airbnb Monday morning? How do I set up my InReach to track the attempt?
And then, I have trail worries too. What if I can’t make coffee? What if my tent leaks? What if a bear eats all of my food? What if I fall? What if I fail?
Ah, yes. The real question. What if I fail?
Whew. It’s been a challenging couple of weeks, with even more challenges to come. Travel has been insane and, weather permitting, the Collegiate Trail Loop FKT begins on July 29. That’s less than two weeks away … gulp!
On the planning front I’m still locking down travel logistics. Overall, I just feel really lucky to have the opportunity to spend a week and a half along the Continental Divide raising money for Girls on the Run.
In the past few weeks, since announcing and launching the Run Across the USA for Girls on the Run, one thing I’ve come to realize is that imposter syndrome is real. It goes far beyond what I’d originally thought were the limits of imposter syndrome (e.g., my professional life). I realize that by asking you to believe in me, I’m also requiring me to believe in me.
It is a huge challenge to ask for money to support this endeavor; I don’t want to ask at all, and I wish I didn’t have to. But looming even larger is the fear that people think I can’t do it, shouldn’t do it, and shouldn’t ask for money to do it. I’m still not sure I am comfortable with it, but I do know that I believe this run (and series of runs) is important, and it’s important to me that I use it as an opportunity to raise money for Girls on the Run and hopefully to spread the good word about the benefits of running, endurance athletics, and getting active for all.
Girls on the Run provides every girl interested with a new pair of running shoes and the necessary materials and support to make running possible for girls across America and Canada. They offer their service in many places where the opportunity for girls to run, spend time with peers, and have a safe place to go after school is much needed. As a former (and future) coach, I’ve experienced firsthand that the benefits of coaching for Girls on the Run brings even more rewards; it was the single best coaching experience in all my years of running.
That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help to bring the Girls on the Run experience to as many girls as possible. And hopefully, by doing something that seems impossible, I can inspire some of them to dream big.
- Over the next two years I will be applying for grants and sponsorships. I’ll update here as those progress.
- My focus leading up to the start of each FKT attempt will be on building awareness about the attempt and raising the support I need to make it happen.
- During the actual Run Across the USA attempt my focus will be on raising money for Girls on the Run.
My goal throughout the fundraising process is complete transparency, so please reach out to me if you have questions or concerns.
Things are progressing as planned for my FKT attempt of the Collegiate Trail at the end of July. I had a great trial race at Merrill’s Mile (read the report here), and I am getting in some great runs and hikes as I travel throughout July.
Logistically, my biggest worry for the Collegiate Trail is transportation to and from the trail from the Denver airport and support along the trail itself. If you are in the Denver, Twin Lakes, or Buena Vista area and would like to volunteer to join me for a day (or a week, the entire FKT!), I’d love some support and company.
Otherwise, I need to ensure that I can verify the FKT with a GPS device and get an updated trail map. If you are interested in joining me for a segment of the trail (or meeting me at either end) or have suggestions for affordable ways to get to and from the Denver airport to Twin Lakes, please email me at cilantroruns at gmail (or leave a comment below, and I will reach out to you).
In the meantime I’m spending my time watching Rocky Mountain survival videos and reading books on wilderness survival and navigation, spurring a colleague to recommend that a book about this FKT attempt should be titled “101 Ways to Die on the Collegiate Trail.” I don’t hate it.
What questions can I answer? Are you in Colorado and want to join me? Let me know!
I’ve come to realize that my best pre-race disposition is one of doom and gloom. I go to a dark place, assume that what is coming will to be terrible and painful, and I sulk. I am for sure the person you most want to spend time with before a race. I don’t chat, I don’t make small talk, I just think about how terrible this thing is that I’m about to do. But the second that gun goes off I shift into the very best version of myself. I smile. I’m so happy to be there! I still don’t want to make small talk (I don’t even listen to music during races anymore because I find it too distracting), but I am very happy to be there.
This was the case for Merrill’s Mile, a race that consists of a one-mile loop that you run as many times as possible until your 6, 12, 24, or 48-hour race time expires. I chose to run the 6-hour race, with a goal to PR (original PR was ~30 miles), get in some good training miles, and, depending on who showed up, perhaps add a podium place to my running resume.
As a part of training for my Run Across America FKT attempt summer 2021, I’m planning several mini-challenges for training and to attract some attention prior to my main attempt. For the first mini-challenge, starting on July 29, 2019, I’ll attempt to set a competitive women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Collegiate Trail Loop and raise money for Girls on the Run. This loop consists of the East and West branches of the Collegiate Trail. The East trail is the original Continental Divide Trail through Colorado, which has been re-routed to include more peaks and less roads, and joins with what is now called the Collegiate West Trail. Each is around 80 miles, making the total distance a little over 160 miles. I’ll be attempting to complete the loop in five days, but have built in 10 days in case I need extra time, and to allow for bad weather, altitude adjustment, and—hopefully—some fun.
My flight is booked, so next I’m focusing on the details to make sure I’m ready to go. My first priority is ensuring I can complete the trek safely and with the right gear: Read more >>
If you have been reading Salty Running since the early days, you might remember posts about my goal of a Trans-America crossing and record attempt. Unfortunately, in 2015 I had to pull out of my dream. At the time I was entering the final year of my doctoral program, and health problems first landed me in the hospital, then at the Mayo Clinic. It was devastating, to say the least, but I salvaged what I could of the process and the training by donating the funds I’d raised to RAINN and running my first 100-mile race.
Even as my identity as a runner changed, I never gave up on that dream. So I’m happy to share that in the summer of 2021, I will attempt the Women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) for a Trans-America crossing.
This time around, I will be running to promote the value of outdoor and endurance sports while raising money for Girls on the Run, an organization that helps bring running, empowerment, and advocacy to girls across the United States. It’s the right cause for this run, the reason I’m running, and an avenue to connect with women across the country.
Even though my first bid didn’t play out the way I’d hoped I still learned a great deal from it. As a result, I’m approaching this attempt much differently.
Dawn came hot and humid; the brief respite from summer for stages one and two was gone. I found that sleep had worked out most of the kinks from the first two days, which was a relief because I’d barely been able to walk when I woke up in the middle of the night for a drink.
I was feeling more than a little anxiety about the race that day because of the heat and because it was billed as the toughest day of the race. In spite of being shorter than day 2, it also had the longest cutoff: 5.5 miles, compared to 4 for day one and 5 for day two. Also weighing on my mind were additional upcoming expenses to fix my car (when I left you yesterday, I was sitting in Pep Boys, waiting to find out if the car was driveable … it was, but not for long). I also was very aware that if I finished the race and within the cutoff, I still had a three and a half hour drive back home. Everything was adding up to a tough day.
But I wasn’t willing to DNF, so I tried to rally as I drove to the start.
Knowing the day would be hot and long I filled my hydration pack to the brim, hoping to make it through without stopping at an aid station. As we gathered for the start the race director explained this would be the slowest and most technical miles we’d ever run in an ultra (which made me remember HURL Elkhorn), and I started to get excited. I love a good rocky climb. Read more >>
I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I woke up the morning of stage two. Because stage one was pretty flat, I hadn’t expected to be too sore, but then I fell. Then I fell again. And then there was that big fall. So I had no way of knowing how the mileage would affect me. Some races, like 100 milers, are so long that I feel like I actually get less sore because the late mileage acts to work out some of the soreness.
Whatever the reason, I woke up having slept well and feeling fine.
Day two was the longest of the three stages, and was described as 22 “moderate” miles, which I interpreted to mean more technical flat sections with a few steep ascents. I wasn’t dreading the ascents, but I was dreading more flats with trip hazards. I worry about falling and permanently hurting myself, and one of the first people I saw when I arrived on Day 2 was a person in a full boot, who had broken her foot on the course the day prior. I resolved the approach the day with my ego in check, start in the back and do what I needed to do to stay safe and avoid catastrophe. Read more >>
When I first moved to Alabama, I had a conversation with a like-minded friend about racing when I knew I couldn’t win. He was of the opinion that one shouldn’t race if she didn’t plan to race to win. At the time I agreed with him, but with the caveat that I thought “winning” should be defined as any goal: a PR, a finish, age group placement, having fun or anything at all.
As I mentioned in my insta-stories the day before the race, I wasn’t in the right kind of mental shape to be competitive. It was an emotionally hard week, with my father in the hospital for surgery and my car refusing to start Wednesday morning. I also didn’t feel like I was in the right kind of physical shape either. I went back and forth about whether I should defer, DNS, fake an injury (kidding), but ultimately I decided to do it. It’s good for me to run on the trails to get more technical confidence, and I needed the consecutive supported run as a part of training for my FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt of the Collegiate Trail Loop in August.
Thursday afternoon I found myself driving to Chattanooga, embarrassingly unfamiliar enough with the geography of Georgia that I didn’t realize how close to Georgia it is. On arrival, I did a grocery run before attempting to head downtown to pick up my packet, but I turned back in the face of downtown traffic and construction. Back at my hotel, I ate dinner and tucked in for the night, only to be woken up frequently by hotel guests arriving to their rooms. At midnight, there seemed to be a hall party of sorts outside my room, so I turned on Survivorman for some background noise and tried to get back to sleep. Sleeping fitfully, I woke up for good around 3 AM and forced myself to lie there because I knew the resting was good, even if it wasn’t sleep. Read more >>
I had a 50k on the books for this weekend, but after two weeks (and one, two, three events) of hard racing my legs had a lot of accumulated fatigue. I could especially feel the strain in my left foot, and wasn’t sure if I should race the 50k on my training plan or try to fit in the miles on my own. A race has supported aid stations and super nice people, but I get competitive. I didn’t want to push myself too hard and burn out before my target race. Not only that, but panic was starting to onset about the condition of my foot: “Stress fracture?!? Metarsaglia? Plantar fasciitis? All of the above? None of the above?”
So. A 50k on the plan, and what to do? The race was the most logical option to keep me motivated to run all morning. And while I wasn’t fresh enough to go out and race it, I felt like a little motivation from competition wouldn’t hurt me. Plus I really want to run those races that are geographically close to me. It makes financial sense since I don’t have to travel, but more importantly I want these races to stick around and be here for a while. For that to happen, people need to register, pay, and show up.
Now of course my dithering about whether to run or not meant that I missed online registration. Once I finally got a signal of good health I emailed the race director to see if it was even possible to sign up late (I am every race director’s worst nightmare). She said yes, I said yay, and I prepared to do the damn thing.
As I drove up the tiny hill that led to the race, I started to see indications of the type of trail I’d be running. In contrast to last week’s trail marathon, this course did not play to my strengths. The Chewacla trail is single-track, mostly flat, and covered in roots and rocks and other trippable things. My heart sank as my dream of another competitive performance started to diminish.
When I arrived, around 30 minutes before the start time, my hopes were further dashed as saw that the turnout was good for a race in its second year. Competition would be steep, with some strong local (and non-local) runners in the 20k distance. I didn’t know how I’d do, but I resolved to stick to my race plan: start at a steady pace and maintain it until the last three miles, then push hard if I was feeling up to it and circumstances demanded.
After the fantastically tough marathon at H9 Dragon’s Spine I wasn’t sure how quickly I was going to recover from the epic ascents and descents. There was a 5k the next Saturday I had my eye on, but I didn’t register right away. Sunday’s shakeout run following H9 was a bit of a slog, but I wasn’t prohibitively sore and had full range of motion. By Tuesday I resumed my training plan, and I even got in a great speed session on Thursday with only a little lingering quad soreness and no hamstring pain.
So it seemed there was no excuse not to run the I Run Opelika 5k—except that 5ks are miserable, terrible things. And I’d already registered for the XTERRA Auburn Trail 20k on that Sunday, and I couldn’t take that back.
It still took me until Friday afternoon to enter my credit card information on the registration site. If I had it my way I’d never have to register for any race until the night before. I like to make sure I’m really, really ready to go.
Once I hit the button I immediately started dreading it. 5k’s are hard.
The day dawned, cool and fresh and … early. I had been in Atlanta since Tuesday, so luckily the 4 AM wake-up call wasn’t as shocking to my system as it could have been (3 AM my time), but I still wasn’t delighted to be awake and racing. In my journal entry that morning, I cursed at myself for registering to race on my only vacation in over a year. Seriously, what was I thinking?
But not only had I signed up voluntarily for this, but I had specially asked to be added to the race and my request was accommodated. I had no choice but to show up.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have chosen an easier race, but this wasn’t exactly a mindful choice. On the Tuesday before race day (Saturday), I woke up and knew I needed to get away. To stay at home meant I’d continue to work and I needed to stop working. I packed up a suitcase, grabbed my hydration pack and a few pairs of running shoes, and I hit the road. I arrived that afternoon in Atlanta, immediately checked out Ultrasignup to see what races were in the area and found the H9 Dragon’s Spine with 99, 50, and 26.2 mile options. From the race description it seemed hard, which never really deters an ultrarunner. When I clicked to register button it looked to be sold out, which was just an additional carrot.
Somewhat relieved, I emailed the race director to see if there was a waitlist. He emailed back within the hour, saying someone had just dropped and the space was mine if I wanted it. I wasn’t exactly sure that I did want it, but I emailed back and said I’d take the slot. I watched myself paying the club dues and a race registration fee. Just like that, it seemed I’d signed myself up for a trail marathon. I mean, I’m not crazy – I did have a four-hour training run on the plan for the weekend, and 26.2 training run is about four-hours for me, so my logic was sound. But 26.2 is about a four-hour training run on pavement or a treadmill. This was 26.2 miles in the trails.
Cilantro here! Today, I’m excited to catch up with Sassafras, one of the first Saltines to join Salty Running, and a longtime contributor and reader!
You invited me to apply to join the Salty Team around 2010. First, thank you for introducing me to this amazing group of women! Second, remind all of us how you initially connected with Salty Running and why you decided to get involved.
Yes! So glad you’re here! I first found SR in the spring of 2012 due to a post about the Cleveland Marathon. I had just run the half so I did that thing where you read other’s reviews and race reports. I then connected it with the fact that I had actually read Salty’s personal blog before that because we’d both been active on the Weddingbee forums around the same time.
As for your second question, I went in the wayback email archive to find out what I’d said when I applied that summer. “I like to talk about running!” Ha. Pretty straightforward stuff. I think I was just happy to have a place to nerd out about it. Read more >>
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