Infinitus 888k Goshen, Vermont May 23, 2018 – June 3, 2018
It has been one week since I returned from the Infinitus 888k trail race. I have so many thoughts, feelings, stories (most of them are dumb inside jokes that still have me laughing), and pictures of my experiences. The tag line under the registration for the 888k race sign up is, “you will regret this.” I can assure you, I do NOT regret it. I cherish this experience and this does include the laughs and the smiles, but I also hold tight to the tears, anger, and opportunity for intense introspection.
I initially signed up for the race in 2017. However, I withdrew from the race about 1 week prior. I had a cycling crash that almost killed me in the summer of 2016 and my injuries had not fully healed. This race felt like it was a long time coming.
I had a plan going into this race. I had a lot of organization and preparation going into the race. However, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Infinitus punched me in the mouth.
I had to make peace with the concept of “failure.” I realized roughly 3 days in that I was not going to be able to cover the entire distance of 888k (252 miles) in 10 days. Did this make me a failure? Was this race a waste of time? Why work so hard only to know that in the end there would be a DNF (did not finish) next to my name? Lots of time in the woods allowed me to think about this and really feel it. I do not label my 888 as a failure. I made the commitment to run as many miles as I could every day, and I did exactly that. Never once, not for a split second, did I consider quitting.
I stayed on plan for the first 1-2 days. But it became clear that if I was going to safely cover the miles I needed to cover, I’d have to sleep. I also did the initial 100 miles pretty much by myself. I have no problem being in the woods alone. Heck, this is my life. However, I got tired, lonely, achy, whatever…… it got ugly. My worst emotional moments were on a 20 mile (aka long loop.) The route took me close to 8 hours, maybe it was 7:45. It was a long time. I finished close to 3a. If you really want to get to know yourself spend long slow hours in the woods climbing. Every demon that I had came out to chat with me. I was ashamed at the time for feeling sad and angry. I am above this! I know how to be alone. HA! The only solution was to put one foot in front of the other and know that the demons were traveling with me. Feelings won’t kill you but they hurt. And on top of the physical pain of the miles I had done…. Well…. it was a long night.
The next day was very rough physically. I still hadn’t accepted that I needed to sleep, even though multiple people were telling me this very thing. I was blessed to catch up with a group of friends. One was running the 888k, and 2 other new friends were running the deca-marathon. When I am in the woods like this, all boundaries disappear. My friends yelled out to me and I stopped and waited. I was on the verge of tearing up when asked how I was. I replied, “I’m having a really bad day.” The response was, “We are too. Come with us.”
It is amazing to me as an introvert that likes to spend time alone in the woods to realize I needed companionship. I also needed a bunch of sleep, and I was having major issues with nausea, but finding myself in the company of others who were traveling on the same path, and felt the same way I did was a game changer. My gratitude toward my fellow racers is immense.
It all circles back to our needs as humans. Food, shelter, water, yes, they are all important. However, friendship and kindness is in there too.
I was blessed to have my nausea clear by day 3ish. I was able to eat and I ate as much as I could. I had the normal blisters and soreness that come with multiday races of course. I found peace in the routine. I know how great it is to be able to wake every day and my only job was to cover as many miles as I could.
I took a video every day and summarized what was going on. They aren’t pretty but they are real.
I am beyond grateful to my team that supported me and crewed me. I also appreciate my support system at home, the people that helped me stay strong physically and helped me stay healthy and recover. My heart is huge when I think of my family. My husband and my kids were truly there for me. One evening when I was done my husband was trying to get me into the RV. My body hurt so badly I could barely walk. My 8-year-old daughter was waiting in the RV and watching. Through my pain and my tears, I said to her, “Maeve, you see how I look? I know it looks bad. It’s really ok. This is my passion. This is what it means to love to do something so much that you will push through and do whatever it takes.”
The Lake Waramaug Ultra took place in New Preston, CT. It was a local race and really, that was the selling point for me. It was about an hour away from my house and I had the choice of a 50K, 50 miles, or 100K. I choose the 100k, because, well…. Why not? I was set to run an initial 2.2 mile out and back, and then x7 7.8 mile loops around the lake, and a final 2.2 mile out and back.
I wasn’t nervous about this race. I was rather calm. This is a blessing for me. I don’t like pressure and I don’t typically perform well under stress. Anything can happen in an ultra. My intention was to go out there and give it my best.
A few little things went wrong initially. I forgot some needed supplies and couldn’t find some things. I was genuinely OK. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok. I’ll adapt.”
I was at the race about 1.5 hours before race time. I had plenty of time to check in and register. However, as many of us were still at our cars we saw the runners take off and start. OH MY. Well, I took off and did this without my race number and its timing chip. We were all a bit frustrated at this weird lack of start. But again, OH WELL. I had to check in with race staff at the end the initial 4.2 miles and get my time in their computer. This took up some time that I was not happy about, but really what am I gonna do? So, I continued to run.
Bottom line, NOT OK to start a race without any announcement or notice whatsoever. This also happened with the 50k start and they also started 10 minutes early, again with no announcement.
While this is a very beautiful lake and course the beauty of a place starts to fade when you hurt. I had a decent pace and met some other runners. However, the pitch of the road quickly became VERY painful. We were running on the left side of the road and there was a steep drop causing my left foot to land significantly lower than my right. This caused feet issues and hip issues.
Now, those hip issues…. Ultras hurt. This is not up for debate. I may not be the fastest, but I am tough and I don’t give up. I wasn’t going to give up here. I’m used to “ultra pain.” However, I started having pain that was related to my bicycle crash in June 2017. In this crash, I had multiple pelvis and back fractures, among other things. The bone breaks are healed, but I could feel 4 of the bone breaks. It was a scary feeling. I don’t think my pelvis and back bones were able to absorb the shock of running these sloped miles on pavement. The impact of each step was sickening. The pain was scary. Because my bones couldn’t take the impact my feet and lower legs did.
I run these distances because I can. I run for those that can’t. I run for my loved ones. I run because I’m tougher than any crap life will ever throw at me. I run and know that whatever pain I feel it will never even come close to the hurt I’ve felt in this life. I WAS FINISHING THIS RACE.
Here’s where there were more problems with this race. I like rules. I think they keep us in check and they provide stability, at least for me. Many people started dropping out of the race. I can’t say how many because most people just dropped to a lower distance. They were not given a “DNF” or Did Not Finish. They let people drop by lowering their distance. This is a race directors choice. Fine. But, I don’t like this policy. Oh well. Not my business. I’m finishing 100k.
At this point my bone pain is SEVERE. I do not complain out loud and I try to shut down the voices in my head. I avoid people that complain. I won’t feed into that energy. Fortunately, I crossed paths with my friends Natalie and Mary on lap 3. They were registered for the 50k. I could run 2 more laps with them and I am so grateful for this. They changed my mood. It was getting way too serious and sour. They allowed me to laugh, tell stories, listen, we had a great pace going, and we even stopped to take pictures.
When I got to lap 6, I was running solo, and only very few runners were even left. I had a 13 hour cutoff. It was going to be close. The cutoffs for the 50k, 50 miles, and 100k were all 13 hours. By the time I finished lap 7 I knew I needed to complete the last 4.4 miles in less than 40 minutes. I was running a 10:30 min/mile pace and walking at 15:00 min/mile pace. I knew I wasn’t going to make it.
I asked a race volunteer how strict the cutoff was. I had noticed that some race aid stations and some equipment were being taken down over 2-3 hours earlier! NOT OK!!! I was told that I could continue. I was also told that no one might be there when I returned, so I could send them my GPS recorded time at finish. I was the only one left out on the course. My husband and 3 of my 4 children were at the race, but had to leave for school bedtime. My buddy and longtime crew Chris stayed with me. I’m sure she was worried sick. The race staff just told me to end them my finish time for their record. This was a USATF certified course. REALLY?!
I finished in the dark, alone to the single cheers of my friend Chris. It’s all I needed. I don’t do this for accolades and fame. I NEEDED to finish. And I did. I had mixed feelings about being what we call “DFL” aka Dead Flipping Last. But I know there is more heart in DFL finish than exists anywhere else. So, I didn’t care. I won my last race, now I am last place.
I found out later that only TWO WOMEN EVEN FINISHED THE 100K! EVERYONE ELSE DROPPED! A handful of men finished too. I take pride in this.
Ask me if I’d do this race again and the resounding answer is HELL NO. Here’s why…. the sloped pavement course sucked. Ouch. Big OUCH. My issues are with the race. Both the 100k start was lame and missed by many, and I learned the same happened with the 50k as it started 6 minutes early. As a race director, if you still have racer(s) out on the course, you don’t leave. This is a dangerous thing to do in a litigious society. I take full responsibility for continuing. However, if I was told I had to stop because I missed a 13-hour cutoff I would have stopped. Not only is it a dangerous thing for a runner to be out on a course solo, it is a very lonely way to finish. Bad policy, but I made the best of it. I made the choice. And with that said, the aid station volunteers that supported us were amazing. I am grateful for their time and kindness. But I’m still not doing this race again.
It was another racing experience that I will learn from!
Whispering Pines 12 hour race report
This race report is for sure long over due! Since my return from this race my life is solely focused on my athletes, my family, and my training…. Not necesarrily in that order ;-)
The appeal of this 12 hour timed event ultra was that it was VERY “old school.” There was no registration fee. The race director asked that we donate what we could to the park in Inverness. Race registrations were also only taken via the mail, like snail mail letters. This race was not on ultra sign up. No bells and whistles. I LOVE IT.
The race was in Inverness, Florida. The loops were 4.8ish miles each on Florida trails. The weather was in the 70-80s and really pleasant. FYI: a “timed event Ultramaraton” is when the race has no specified distance. You run for the designated time and see how far you can get.
I flew into Tampa and got settled. One of the best parts about this trip was I was able to connect with 2 of my favorite athletes. I coach many athletes that are not local. I have been working with John and Jen for 3+ years and we had never met in person. I was also able to meet an endurance athlete long time friend Dave. John was running the race too. But, being able to see John and Dave on the course and at aid stations warmed my soul. There is nothing like a friendly race when you start to hurt. And in ultras pain is always present in some form.
This course was beautiful but a bit confusing. I am not the best navigator…. Yeah. I’m not ashamed to say a few times I got turned around and had to correct course. It was a bit validating that I was not alone in this, and had company with my fellow ultra runners.
This was the first race back since my cycling crash in June of 2017. This was not lost on me. When I was stuck in the hospital bed healing for months I would stare out the sindow and imagine myself running on trails again. I truly did not care about my performance in this race. I just wanted to give it what I had. And I did just that. I was the 2nd woman overall and 7th overall runner.
I finished with severe shoulder pain that stems from severe impingment issues from the crash. I did not speak of this pain until I finished. Fortuantely, one of the runners I had met on the course was a massage therapist. He massaged my shoulder and back and I had some relief.
Another highlight, after the race John, Dave, and I all went to dinner. I am a very picky and healthy eater in “real life.” However, post race I always have a chocolate shake and French fries. Dave and John told me they didn’t believe it until they actually saw me consume this.
I loved this race. The race director and volunteers were amazing! Some weird/cool experiences that I must share:
Head to the starting line of your next marathon, half-marathon, or ultra totally prepared for success with these tips for before, during, and after.
By Cherie Yanek
BEFORE THE RACE
Last minute tapering...
Breakfast and Coffee
AFTER THE RACE
A few years ago, a group that I was training decided to honor Connecticut Fallen Heroes. We each ran our long run that day (I believe it was 25+ trail miles) with a picture and a few paragraphs that described a member of the military that was killed in combat. We all got our hero the night before. Learned a bit about him, and thought and talked about them on our run.
I choose Specialist Wilfredo Perez, Jr. I didn’t know this young man. I only know the information in the picture. He stays with me. The paper in a Ziploc bag and in spirit. I think about him a lot. I wonder if his family called him Wilfredo or did he have a nickname? His mom called him “Junior” in a newspaper article. I wonder what exactly was happening at the Children’s Hospital when he died. I think and wonder a lot. I wonder about his family. Does the grief subside? Are they OK? Do they know they are special to me? I hope they know that their sacrifice, their son’s life, was not in vain. He is special to me and he is a total stranger.
What I do know is that this young man is that he is a hero. When life gets tough I think about his picture and article in my pack. He’s been to all of my races after all. Running an ultramarathon is NOT suffering. Running is a CHOICE. Suffering is losing your child in a war. Suffering is not a choice. I try to channel strength. If this young man can offer his life, the ultimate sacrifice, I can run a few miles and be strong. All sorts of strength comes from this young man. He tells me to suck it up a lot.
I find that many think that our veterans and active duty are “broken.” Trauma both physical and mental is very real. However, they are NOT broken. They are strong. They are honorable. Some may be healing. But these people that have chosen to protect our country are NOT BROKEN.
I will keep running with Wilfredo in my pack. I will wonder and think. I will draw upon his strength. And I wish the utmost of peace, love, and respect to his family and friends.
Think about a time in your life when you were REALLY afraid. Not everyone has these moments. But, if you do you know it. There is no doubt. Fear is pain. This pain can be physical or emotional. I have experienced both emotional and physical pain and fear in my life. For the purposes of today’s blog I am going to focus on the physical pain and fear from that.
The times in my life I’ve been in real pain: kidney stones, childbirth (including miscarriages), and my recent cycling crash. Now, I’m going to say that childbirth was different for me. Not really the kind of pain that I am writing about today. Not because it didn’t hurt, or wasn’t hard as hell, I’m crossing it off because it was a choice I made. I chose to be pregnant. While I didn’t choose the miscarriages, they were part of a bigger picture. During the birth of my children I was also safe and taken care of. Totally worth it. So, I’m going to call this a DIFFERENT kind of pain, for me.
Kidney Stones…. Well these totally suck. Yeah, it’s bad. I don’t like when people compare them to childbirth. Totally different category. I had a backache for a week or so. Then the next thing I knew I dropped. I feel on the bathroom floor and as a grown up my parents drove me to the emergency room while I was curled up in the fetal position in their back seat. It was weird because the kidney stones move in your body. As they move the pain will intensify at one moment and disappear. The first time I really asked, “is this real?”
My cycling crash… that hurt. It hurt so bad that I now actually understand PTSD. I wish I didn’t. When I was crashing I thought, “Well I’ve never had a road cycling crash. I guess this is my time.” After my head (in a helmet before you ask!) bounced like a basketball as I slid down the road I don’t remember how I fell. I have put together an idea based on the broken helmet and damage to my bike and gear. Survival instinct- this was a first. With a broken pelvis and back I low crawled to the side of the road with my forearms and left leg to avoid getting hit by a car. First time I really wondered if I would die. I could feel my bones move as I breathed. I was triaged on the side of the road. I did not know at that time if I would survive.
So, onto fear. During 12-ish hours I was moved, poked, prodded, treated while screaming. At one point, I was so drugged and medicated I had no idea who I was or where I was. This was all while constantly tugging on the neck stabilizer and trying to get it off.
Fear makes us do really dumb things in the name of surviving. Fear makes you question life and death. Fear puts you in the moment. Like REALLY in the moment. Every second matters. Perception of time is gone.
Emotional pain works like this too. I think that’s why most who suffer from severe emotional pain are likely to develop addictions. Anything to make it stop.
Fear also exists in non-life threatening situations. While I rationally know my body is healing, I still get afraid. While most of my cuts and bruises are healed, looking at my damaged body is scary. Looking at my torn stomach muscles is scary. Ugh.
Today was a good day. 3 months after a cycling crash that almost killed me, I was told by my hip and back specialist that my bones are healed. When I was in his office last month I was still using a walker. Over the last month, there has been tremendous bone growth in all directions. The MD was a bit surprised and I didn’t know if that was good or bad. He said it was very very good.
I am now clear to do what I want and can. I still have significant pain. Bones heal much quicker than soft tissue. I also have a head injury and some potential nerve damage in my arm and shoulder.
The MD told me that I can ease back into life and training. I am a coach for a living so I know HOW to do this. On the drive home I was thinking that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I went for a run. I ran 3.5 miles in a run/walk manner. I use pain as my impetus to stop.
I cannot truly express how grateful I am. I attribute my healing to these things:
I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. It is a great Fall day. As I was running today I thought of all of the amazing things in life that I still have the chance to do. I am THRILLED to run. COMPLETELY. But, I realized that if I wasn’t able to run I’d be ok. I’d really be ok.
Live your life the way you want it. So many people have told me to have realistic expectations. They are no longer part of my team. I survived and I am going to do great things with this life. Love and Peace my friends. Walk the Line.
I was walking through the mall today. Not a fan, so this is enough to make me crabby. I saw a sign in a store to remain unnamed advertising “Yoga for Runners.” I am now a bit more crabby.
Most of the Yoga for Athletes crap that is out there is mostly bogus. “Let me show you this stretch for your tight IT Band. Here is how to stretch your hamstrings.” STOP. JUST STOP. Individuals that are involved in sport need to take very specific care of their bodies. NEVER STRETCH SOMETHING THAT HURTS. I cannot be more clear here. If you have an injury, this is injured tissue. You should not tug and pull on injured tissue. That will only cause more damage. As an athlete you will never, ever stretch your way to health. So STOP. And stop now.
What will make you healthy is proper movement, mobility, and appropriate range of motion. You cannot engage in sport if you cannot move appropriately. When we continue to engage is sport without appropriate range of motion, we get injured. This is when most athletes walk in my door. The good news is that you can heal while you train.
I get very protective of my athletes and athletes in general. It is very easy for someone to dress up yoga and claim it is Yoga for Runners, athletes, whatever. NOT TRUE. Also, Yoga for Runners/Athletes is NOT, I repeat is NOT athletic yoga. Athletes need recovery and mobility. Most do not to get “athletic” in a yoga class. And frankly if one is looking for a rigorous form of yoga I would advise a good Ashtanga or Power Yoga practice.
I am going out on a limb here…. And it is a safe sturdy limb when I say this. I am the only one in my area that TRULY teaches an appropriate and specific Mobility & Yoga for Athletes class. I am also trained to teach this class. Check your trainers credentials! It’s a small world, I know the yoga teachers in my area. No one offers what I do. I’d love to be wrong here. There needs to be more teachers that will appropriately address those engaging in sport. Specifically we need mobility, flexibility, and range of motion. This is not to say that there are not yoga classes that will benefit you as an athlete. But, again, I know of only a handful of local individuals that are trained specifically in mobility and yoga that is specific to the athlete.
What you will get in my class:
I have been teaching Mobility and Yoga for Athletes for roughly 10+ years. I learn every day. I did not teach myself. And I will never stop learning, Each one of my teachers has taught me something very specific and I have blended this knowledge into a practice. Please look at the list below for my teachers.*
I teach my weekly class at Fleet Feet West Hartford, Sunday's 5:30p. I am grateful to this local running store for allowing me the space to develop my technique. We have also created a very safe space for our athletes. I encourage talking, questions, and laugher during class. It is interactive. I might have ideas about what I will teach. But the specific mobility work, poses, and sequencing comes from the needs of those that are in class. I teach what is needed.
*My teachers, listed in chronological order:
Barbara Ruzansky, owner of West Hartford Yoga. Barbara’s Power Yoga Teacher Training was my first certification. She taught me about power yoga and flow. The piece that I carry with me every day is alignment. Barb teaches me how to teach my athletes proper alignment. It’s great that you can go so deep into a yoga pose, but when your body is not aligned when you are doing it you are hurting yourself.
Sarah Powers, Yin Yoga. Sarah taught me the power of the balance of the Yin and the Yang of life. I learned how to use longer holds with less intense poses. I have found that athletic bodies respond best to these longer holds.
Sage Rountree, Yoga for Athletes. Sage was my first direct training in teaching athletes yoga. We worked with the University of North Carolina Tarheels football team. I know NOTHING about football. However, Sage taught me how each position calls for a different body type. And teaching a linebacker is going to be totally different from teaching a kicker. I learned how to truly access bodies, injuries, strengths, and personalities.
Jill Miller, Yoga Tune Up. I have not trained directly with Jill however; I have studied her work for years. A friend once referred to Jill’s yoga as “yoga for smart girls.” Jill is a physical therapist. Her yoga is truly targeted at physiological needs of the muscles, skeletal system, fascia, and connective tissue.
Kelly Starrett, MobilityWOD. I have not trained directly with Kelly. I have studied his work extensively. His approach is very similar to Jill Miller’s. We target the fascia and the connective tissue and ensure proper mobility and from this point comes proper movement with alignment.
It has been about 2 months since my bicycling crash. These are the injuries I am recovering from:
Initially, I spent 3 days in the hospital. I was send home and on bed rest until this week. At first I wasn’t able to get out of bed on my own. I then progressed to moving with a walker and talking walks down the sidewalk in front of my house.
I had a follow up appointment with my ortho MD 4 days ago. I had more x-rays. The good news is that I’m healing. The bad news is that I am not fully healed. I was given the OK to weight bear on my right side and I could ditch the walker and use a cane for stability. A few days later I had my first physical therapy appointment. I was told I could walk without the cane. I now walk without the cane at home but I find I still need it in public for stability and safety.
Both the ortho and PT have given me the ok to “Push It.” I REALLY clarified what they meant and what my limits are. I am to avoid sharp pain. And I was told that I’m going to hurt and be really really sore. They were right. The physical therapist also told me I was going to have to learn to walk up and down stairs without the cane. I came home and practiced immediately.
The weird thing about removing some of the movement restrictions is that I have to learn to do certain movements all over again. It took me about a week initial to pick up my leg and take a step up a stair. I would stand at the base of my staircase and try to will my leg to move. The only way I could move it initially was to pick my leg up and move it with my arms. If you’ve seen the movie Kill Bill vol. 2 it reminds me of when Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) is in the truck after her coma willing her big toe to move. www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNg6v-mL_o0
I am about to walk around my neighborhood very slowly. The pace is made even slower because I have to be very deliberate in my body’s movements. I have to keep my feet pointed forward. My feet cannot point out or in as it will irritate my fractures. I have to keep my core engaged to support my back as my muscles are separated. I think about keeping my shoulders back as they want to roll forward. I suppose I could move a bit faster if I didn’t have to walk so intentionally. But, body alignment is crucial. I also have a series of isometric strength exercises from my PT that I am to do 6x a day. I also have mobility work that I do to open my shoulders and restore proper core function.
I do hurt. I am really sore. If one more person tells me to take it slow I might hit them with my cane. I would NEVER deliberately push it. I will not set back my healing. But, at this point I need to move my bones, muscles, fascia, and connective tissues to heal. Yes, some things still really hurt. When I feel this I stop. But, I won’t know what I can’t do until I know right? And those limits change every day.
I have seen and experienced some really odd things while running and hiking. Here are my top 3. All of these occurred while I was living outside of Austin, TX. What have you seen while running, walking, hiking, swimming, cycling, or outside in general?
I lived in a small suburban town outside of Austin, TX. There was a university and a golf course across the street. It was a rather tame place to live. I was running down a street that connecting to my neighborhood and I saw a discarded mattress on the side of the road. On top of this old discarded mattress was a whip. I just kept on running…
Another Texas story… As I was running in my neighborhood I looked down and had to do a massive mid step jump. I was about to step on a giant tarantula that was casually crossing the street.
Maybe this isn’t technically one of the weirdest things I’ve SEEN, but it was a freaky experience. I was running in a thunder and lightening storm. Not the smartest thing I have ever done. And I had just moved to TX. I had never experienced ground strike lightening. A giant lightening bolt landed on the ground maybe 200 meters in front of me. I felt this lightening strike in my soul! It was awful. When I got home, I turned on the news and a University of TX student had been stuck by lightening on campus.