The plan was to head up to the mountains for a restorative weekend. What actually happened was not any less restorative, but perhaps less restful – an 8 hour race in North Georgia. Read more >>
Prior to the Collegiate Trail Loop (CTL) FKT, I’d hesitated to set any future FKT attempts in stone. I didn’t know how the CTL attempt would go – could I really could do this FKT thing? – and I didn’t want to keep writing checks if my body couldn’t cash them. I also knew that post-event depression would be real, so planning the next big thing would be the best way for me to channel some of my restless energy. Despite my fears, even during the attempt, I knew that I wanted to attempt to set another speed record, so my focus was on finding the right trail in the right place. My next academic break came in December, so I needed to find a trail located in temperate climate. I also didn’t want to go much further in distance than the CTL (161 miles), and I wanted the established record to seem beatable but pose a significant challenge. I don’t have the time over break to travel overseas, recover from jet lag, and then attempt a speed record, so I wanted it to be located in the Americas.
With those conditions in mind, it was less than a week after I finished the Collegiate Trail Loop FKT that I texted Kris, “I think I know what I want my next FKT to be – El Camino de Costa Rica. And with that decided, I’m going to bed.” Read more >>
This post has been a long-time coming, but it’s felt really hard to write, which is why you’re reading it almost four weeks after the Collegiate Loop Trail FKT. I’m not sure why this has been so hard to write, exactly, but I suspect it has a little to do with the fact that I’m still processing it all. While I have been recovering physically, because this is my first endeavor like this, I haven’t known if what I am going through is normal or indicative of an injury. Not unexpectedly, the Collegiate Loop FKT had a profound impact on my life, on my perception of self and what I was capable of, but also on what I wanted out of life. I’m only starting to understand the extent of what it means for my identity and my future.
But let’s start with the easy stuff to talk about – my physical recovery. The night I finished the attempt, I felt like I could not take one more step. I felt strongly, however, that I needed to get my rental car from where it was parked at my Sunday night AirBnB, so Kris took me to get my car and then headed to the hotel in Buena Vista he had reserved for the night. I had planned nothing logistics-wise post-FKT – I had no idea when I’d finish or if I’d finish, so I’d only planned to up to the start of the FKT. When we got to the hotel, I just wanted to lay down, but I was covered in mud and two days of camping (I got a shower on night two), so I hobbled to the shower and started to clean up. Standing felt too hard, so at a certain point, I just sat on the floor of the bathtub with the shower on, and tried to scrub off the dirt that was caked on my legs. I got most of it off except for an oddly persistent black stain on the inside of both ankles. Giving up, I hobbled to the bedroom, and settled on to my bed to search for a pizza company open this late (it was around 11 p.m.). Earlier that day, I had been debating what I wanted to eat when I finished, and pizza had won over my heart and mind. While Buena Vista does not have many food chains, they did have a Domino’s Pizza, which has a gluten-free crust. They were open, so I placed a delivery order for a veggie gluten-free pizza and sat down to wait for it to arrive.
Already, my legs were feeling the effects of the last four days. They felt red and raw and too big for my skin. While my upper body was mostly fine, just a little sore from carrying a pack and using the hiking poles, my legs (and especially my lower legs), felt like they had been run over with a cheese grater. Although I didn’t fall once, I had scratches from plants along the trail, and the insides of my ankles were bleeding from how often I kicked the inside of them as I got tired. As well, both of my heels were raw and bleeding, having rubbed on the back of my running shoes for hours every day. I didn’t, however, feel any type of acute pain – pain was, for the most part, diffuse across my legs. I was equally hobbled.
That night, I didn’t sleep well, which wasn’t unexpected — I never sleep well after a race. My legs were throbbing, and while I felt a little better the morning after, it wasn’t by much. In the light of day, I realized that the “stains” I couldn’t clean off of my ankles was actually bruising, bleeding, and chafing from the multiple times my foot had grazed the opposite leg as fatigue had set in.
For the first time ever since I started running, I felt completely and totally okay with a rest day. I couldn’t have run if I tried. I resolved to refuel and rest, and after coffee, got on task. Breakfast was a huge sweet potato scramble, lunch a giant curry bowl at my favorite Buena Vista restaurant, House Rock; lunch was followed by two giant scoops of salted caramel ice cream. Enjoyment of this indulgence was diminished by the fact that I wasn’t actually hungry, but the food tasted good, and I never felt stuffed. More concerning, however, was the size of my lower legs, particularly my right one. While it was swollen when I woke up, the edema increased throughout the day, exacerbated when I stayed in one place, and now my ankles were cankles. There was no division between my calf and foot, and my feet and calves were huge. The edema was so serious that it started leaking out of the cuts on my legs, and I was seriously concerned. That afternoon, feeling out of sorts and restless, I left for Denver. I didn’t want to leave Buena Vista (BV), but I felt like I needed to put some geographic distance between me and everything that had just happened. In Fairplay, 30 or so minutes away from BV, I almost turned around and went back, but I kept driving. I felt like I needed to create physical space to get some clarity.
I arrived in Denver and immediately felt overwhelmed – the traffic was insane, it was hot, and there were people everywhere. From the second I arrived in Denver, I wanted to be back in BV. So, in the middle of another restless night, I decided to go back to BV first thing in the morning. That resolved, I slept soundly. The next morning, the swelling in my legs had gone down a little, and I did some googling and found out that this seemed to be a pretty normal part of recovery from multi-day ultra endurance events even though I’d never suffered from it before. It still felt gross. On the positive side, my appetite had returned with a vengeance, and I was starving. I ate a huge Starbucks breakfast, made a quick stop at the source of all good things, REI, and headed back to BV, arriving in time for a late lunch at House Rock (again). I took another rest day, which also wasn’t much of a mental struggle – I was too afraid of my swollen legs to try to figure out what might happen if I tried to make them run (or, alternatively, tried to fit them into shoes). Otherwise, however, I felt fine – I was almost insatiably hungry but not sore in any meaningful way.
The next morning, the swelling was even better, and while I didn’t feel like running, I definitely felt like walking, so I convinced Kris that we needed to walk to breakfast instead of drive. I was ready to get this recovery show on the road and really missing the mental space I get from running. What I’d just done, 161 miles in less than 4 days, felt big, yet I didn’t feel like it was a big deal. To me, then, the FKT was a thing I did, it was really really hard, but it was done, over, and now I felt a bit lost. Even though it had just been two or so months of planning, the CTL FKT had occupied the front or back of my mind that entire time, and now that it was done, there was empty space. I needed to figure out what was next, but I didn’t want to rush to do that before I’d processed what had just happened and what it meant for my life. I knew running would help me to process this, too, but I wasn’t willing to jump into running and injure myself for real.
So I took that third day easy again, but I was relieved to see that my coach had put some running on the schedule for the subsequent day. I woke up the next morning ready to run. I didn’t know what to expect as I’d been walking in sandals for days. From the second I put on my trail runners, my right achilles felt painful. That pain wasn’t replicated in my left leg, so this panicked me a bit, but I resolved to take my still swollen legs for a spin. The first few steps were slow and painful, but with the exception of what I thought was pain in my Achilles, everything else felt great. I ran around five miles, and while I was exhausted at the end, it was a good exhausted feeling. My Achilles pain scared me, as Achilles injuries are no joke, but the pain subsided the second I took off my running shoes. My left leg was almost back to its normal size. In contrast, my right leg was closer to normal size in the morning, but by the end of the day, especially if I’d been standing, it would swell again to double its size. The next morning, I ran again, 8 miles, and again, everything felt fine except for my Achilles. I was mystified by the pain that seemed to disappear when I took off my running shoes, and I was also scared of what it might be – was my Achilles torn? Much googling of Achilles injuries later, I was in the throes of an existential injury panic, and my coach suggested that I cross train and rest for a few days until I was back in Alabama.
I stayed in BV until the day before I had to catch my flight back to Alabama, where I’d start work the next day. If I could pick any place in the world to live, it would probably be BV and not just because of my favorite restaurant, House Rock (so, hey, major university, perhaps it’s time to open a campus there?). BV was relaxing, beautiful, and a true vacation. My time there did end, however, and I headed to the Denver airport and into a work crisis, which consumed my last day in Colorado. My left leg had completely returned to its normal size and fitness, but my right was still swollen, perhaps no longer in a way that was noticeable to others. The Achilles still hurt in real shoes, but I’d started to become convinced that I had bursitis (instead of a tear, partial tear, or even tendonitis). There was a bump on my right heel, and my heel area only hurt in shoes that rubbed on it. I was still super scared that it was a real injury, however, and that kept me treating it like glass and refusing to do any strenuous activity that wasn’t running. A little less than two weeks after the completion of the FKT, I had a sports massage, which finally worked out the remaining fluid in my legs, and they returned to normal size. Two weeks to the day after I completed the FKT, I went to the orthopedist who confirmed that I did not have any Achilles injury and even called the bursitis self-diagnosis into question, bringing my attention to my heels where the backs of my trail runners had rubbed them raw. That, the doctor suggested, was the cause of the Achilles pain and the reason it only hurt in shoes – otherwise, he did a full check-up and cleared me to start training in earnest again.
That was a huge relief. Prior to this, I didn’t know if I could run safely (and, I needed running because this is when I process things), so the all-clear from the doctor was also when I started being able to get excited for what was coming next. Time is a great healer, too, as is another big new goal – an FKT attempt of the Camino de Costa Rica.
Physically, I’m recovered and training in earnest again, but mentally and emotionally, I’m still processing the FKT.
I still miss being on the trail, every day. The FKT was hard and terrible at times, but it was also simple and clear. It wasn’t easy to do, but it was easy to know what to do. Life doesn’t offer many opportunities like that. They say that the disjuncture between experiences, say your vacation versus your work life is what helps you to value the vacation, and while I’m not so sure that isn’t just a capitalistic attempt to quell disquiet from an unfulfilled life filled with work, I certainly do miss the simplicity of life during and, to some extent, after the FKT. Everything and everyone felt more real. Stripped of everything that is my armor in my professional life – heels, makeup, sheath dresses – I felt realer too. There is nowhere to hide out there, and that includes hiding from yourself and your thoughts. I didn’t have any grand revelations while running, yet I did realize, with absolute clarity, that this was where I belonged.
As someone who has, for a better part of her life, been trying to find the place where I belong, I can’t shake an almost persistent sadness that I’m not on a trail, somewhere, right now. And that, I think, has been the hardest part of returning from Colorado – now that I found my space, how can I incorporate this fully into every aspect of my life, my scholarship, my world?
I’m still working this part out.
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.
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