"How arrogant am I to think I can just bust out a trail marathon on a whim?!"
"I can't even keep up with myself."
"Who do I think I am? I'm not some special specimen."
"I can't escape my own head."
"Does this even count as running?"
These were all recurring thoughts during a VERY unsuccessful solo attempt at a trail marathon virtual race just 3 days after my 30k virtual race. I could say that just about everything went wrong with this race attempt, but that wouldn't be accurate either. Things could have been a lot worse. I didn't break an ankle or get a deep and infected cut from a fall. I didn't overheat or have GI distress. I wasn't on my period and nothing was even on the verge of injury. Sure, my broken toe from a month ago was still swollen and tender, but slowly on the mend and wouldn't impede my performance. If I have learned anything, a toe is just a toe, is just a toe. And while they are critical to running, most toe pain I can just run through and not make worse. Needless to say, I broke. Completely.
After the 30k race and completion of the Rogue Trail Series, I began to look at the Tejas Trails races I had registered for just after Bandera 100k. One race at a time. I had 1 week to complete a trail marathon out at Reveille Ranch (or anywhere) to participate in the Pandora's Box of Rox race. I then looked at the weather forecast, my work schedule and conferred with my coach, Chris McClung, to determine if I should attempt it or not and when. Thursday morning had the nicest weather window (59 degrees in the morning), so Chris nudged for me to go for it because doesn't a Thursday marathon sound "fun?" I asked a few fellow runners if they could join me but Thursday was ultimately a no go. (Although thanks Moose & Nick for being so willing to just jump into a trail half marathon loop with me so last minute! Next time!). I was on the fence at best but had mostly decided I wasn't going to go for it because I just wasn't ready.
Wednesday night at 11:00 pm I decided to go for it. I needed to get out of Austin, have a change of scenery, and thought that running was certainly the answer to my emotionally tangled head space. I prepped some gear and nutrition and got on the race website to read a little bit about the course and changed my registration to participate in the virtual event. I tried to get some sleep before my 5:00 am alarm but I had a very restless night. I woke up at 4:00 am and couldn't fall back asleep. I packed up and headed out to Reveille at about 5:30 am.
I knew I wasn't recovered from the 30k, so I expected to be physically tired and to have some toe pain. I was completely fine with starting in a fragile place physically and had my eyes wide open to that. What I totally underestimated was how being so physically fragile led so quickly to being so emotionally and mentally fragile as well.
I went to cache water at mile 8 on the 13 mile loop before I started, but misread the instructions on the website and cached it in the wrong place. I finally figured that out and was able to correct it. This involved hopping a fence and ducking through some barbed wire at both the wrong spot and the correct spot. Red flag number one that I didn't pay attention to. I was just mostly mad at myself for not being focused enough to figure out the water cache and ended up wasting precious cool morning minutes and started about 35 minutes later than I had planned.
About 2 miles in, I arrived at a very tall gate (like double or triple height that of a normal fence). I stopped and investigated and ultimately determined that the race course markings went through the gate and decided that someone probably forgot to open the gate this morning for the runner(s). I climbed over the fence and proceeded with some hesitation. Red flag number two that I definitely should have paid attention to. Climbing fences out on a rural Texas ranch/private property when you're completely by yourself with no phone is just a bad idea.
About 30 minutes into the run I was quite hungry. This was way too early and I didn't have enough food to be eating just yet and I thought maybe it would pass. It did not. So I took a maple syrup gel at about 45 minutes (usually I don't start gelling until about 60-75 mins in for a long trail race). By the time I ate/drank the syrup it began to really warm up. I was running around on the giant dome out there and there was NO SHADE at all. It was just hot and desolate but beautiful and magical as well. I shared some special moments with some antelope type animals out there. The deep red fire wheel wildflowers mixed with little white flower puffs painted a landscape that was truly stunning. The butterflies were everywhere and the lizards were lounging on the rocks and I realized why Tejas Trails has the lizard as their logo. My senses were soaking up the wild Texas beauty that surrounded me. But mentally, I was tuning in and out like a far away radio station having a hard time connecting to my center and focus. The signal began to weaken with each step and each mile and I drifted further and further out of range into the land of pure static.
My running was not improving. At first I thought I maybe just needed to warm up and things would turn around, but I was tripping and being clumsy and slammed my shin into a tree branch so HARD it caused me to stop and shed a tear. I could tell my heart rate was much higher than it should have been considering my effort and output, and I knew this race was a wash early on. My mental state was so fragile and my self talk became unfocused and cyclical. By mile 6 I knew I would be done after the first lap. If I could have quit then I would have. I had nothing left. By making that decision, I intentionally gave up on my nutrition because I didn't want to upset my stomach unnecessarily or waste my gels on a clumsy and slow half marathon effort (this almost certainly contributed to my emotional breaking point later on). I could think of countless half marathons I had run in the last few months just on a random week-day morning without any nutrition and felt fine. What could go wrong? I could finish this lap practically in my sleep and just go home.
"What am I doing out here alone?" "Who do I think I am that I can just come out here and bust out a marathon by myself in such a fragile state?" I am fiercely independent, many times to a fault. But this effort humbled me tremendously. I needed people. I needed support. I needed something. Anything. I was too far gone to be able to just push myself because my body was just fatigued. I even thought that this might be the end of running or racing for me. I reached the breaking point and definition of burn out on the physical, mental and emotional fronts.
Later into the loop as I was looping through negative self talk and trying to quiet my mind to just run (which I think I only accomplished from mile 9 to 10), I heard a gun shot. I stopped and took out my headphones. Then I heard another one. I realized I needed to keep moving because I had no idea where they were coming from or how close I was to them. I shouted and tried to make myself seen/heard, but could tell it was pointless. The gun shots kept getting louder and continued for about 5-10 minutes where I felt like I was very close to them. I heard gunshots on the Appalachian Trail during hunting season, but out there I was wearing blaze orange and wasn't too scared. My headspace out at Reveille was far from rational or focused and I was scared and alone and without a phone so I had no idea where I was.
I finally got back to the tall fence and I hopped over it a second time with about 2 miles left to go. The gun shots were faint at this point and I knew I was heading back towards the lake/pavilion/start/finish area. I played out in my head all the reasons why I was quitting to ensure it was the right decision. I was tired. I was fatigued. I was drained and depleted and just tired. I didn't know how else to describe the immense fatigue I was feeling on all fronts. I was tired of being inside my own head. I day dreamed of rock climbing. I love that sport because it FORCES me out of my head and I have to focus. I haven't climbed since early March and I miss it a lot. It was my meditation and my therapy. It allowed me to moved in controlled and scary ways while getting out my head and just trusting my body. I had to overcome doubt on the wall not by thinking, but by doing and positive self talk.
I got to the finish and started getting mosquito bites so I headed to my car to get some electrolytes. I was met by an older man who came out of his RV and began yelling at me. "Were you on those trails out there?! You could have been SHOT! How did you get past the closed gate?!" umm.... "I just climbed over it? yeah I heard the gunshots and I'm quitting so I wont be out there anymore." He continued yelling at me for being on closed trails while military people were out there shooting the mile and that I could have very easily been shot and killed for being out there. I started to cry. I couldn't even tell you why, but I was just overwhelmed. I tried to tell him that I was in a weird head space and my run wasn't great and I was just tired, thirsty and hungry and I would be on my way. He offered for me to soak in the pool and felt bad for yelling at me because he was just scared for me. I put my legs in the pool to wash off the mosquito bites and cool off, but I was crying and just wanted to leave. Apparently the trails out there are closed Thursday mornings until 11am for these military people to practice shooting and I had no idea as it wasn't posted on any of the Tejas Trails race info. Not only did I DNF, but I couldn't finish unless I waited over an hour for the trails to open back up and I was just too far gone. Running a second half marathon in the heat of the day after taking such a long break seemed beyond impossible and I just didn't have the nutrition to support that (nor would my results make any sense with a giant break in the middle).
I got in my car and cried most of the way home. I was disappointed in myself for being so mentally fragile, disappointed in my running, shaken up from the whole gunshot thing, and just tired and sick of being alone. I've never had a race like this. I will probably never have one again because I don't want to be that last minute about a hard/serious effort. Respect the marathon. It is a distance that humbles me every single time. And I need to learn when to lean on others more. I can't do it all alone.
Writing helps me process and I come out the other side with much less mental clutter and can see myself and the world with more clarity. This isn't some attempt at whining or to evoke any pity, but rather just a sharing of my humanizing and humbling day last week that involved and was spurred by a mediocre/bad run effort. I think sometimes people think my life is decorated with accomplishments. But I am just like anyone else and last week was an example of a REALLY rough day and I want to make sure my online presence reflects the low points too because what is the point of sharing only the high points?
I wasn't able to pull it together. I have done much harder things than shuffle through a trail half marathon by myself. In isolation, it seems laughable that my experience took me to tears and defeat so readily. But within the context of my week and even just the last few months, it was probably just a matter of time before I crashed and burned. I found my breaking point and I broke. I totally fell apart and am trying to find the pieces to put myself back together again. Some pieces wont be found and they have been shed forever (for better or for worse) and have left vacant raw spots in which to build and create new parts of me. Other pieces of myself are wiggling their way back into place slowly but surely.