Would you believe me if I told you that running can be fun?
There is a particular joy that can be achieved through a sport that so many dread. It can be a chore, it can be arduous, it can be boring. But running can be fun.
I dove into ultra running headfirst. No, really. Besides Thanksgiving 5ks and the Peachtree Road Race every year for five or six years, I didn’t race until college. I decided to run a 50k my sophomore year and haven’t looked back since. There was a big break in there, though, between junior year and the summer after I graduated, and that break exists because it wasn’t fun anymore. I ran my 50k and had a blast, then I ran another 50k a few months later, then I joined my college cross country team, then I kind of…stopped enjoying it. I got out on the trails maybe once or twice a week and it felt awful. I stopped altogether not long after that.
The next summer is when I decided to give it another go, and just be gentle. Kindness to yourself can go a long ways, and taking a kind and easy approach to running is what helped to rebuild the fire that had dwindled to what felt like a single, smoldering coal. After a summer and fall of rebuilding, I took a leap and signed up for Yeti 100. Is that smart? Maybe not. But it worked. I rebuilt my passion.
After Yeti, I took a break. For a few months all I did was run with my Monday night run club (I host Green Hills Run Club in Nashville) and then one other day a week. I was climbing a lot and just working on other things in my life. It felt good to let my body and mind recover and regroup before tackling the next thing. Training comes in phases and that is okay. I had to learn that-the fact that it’s okay-but now I know it. It’s okay to take time off. Taking time off is important.
I started running again in February. I built my mileage back up and kept at my cross training. I signed up for the 7 hour portion of the Yeti 7/11 back in September, but continued to tell myself that it would be a fun race. Nothing too crazy, just fun. I kept that in mind but as the race approached but also found a little competitive spark somewhere in my heart. I looked at Ultrasignup results and read about the other people registered. It’s a fairly lowkey race but I thought it might be a fun day to go out and try to race. I have never done that before. I grappled with the idea of letting myself run fast and I tried to prepare myself for failure. I said it out loud and I told my close friends: I want to place. I qualified my statements with phrases like “I’m sure it won’t happen…” and “it’s a timed event so I can’t DNF even if I blow up…” and I am still not sure if that was being realistic or selling myself short.
Day of the race, I was still coming up with my plan. I wanted to run 36 or 40 miles on the 4 mile loop, but knew that my furthest distance since the hundred was 18. I knew that I was coming off of my recovery and that I was not as strong as last summer. I had no idea what the course would be like, except for the fact that Jason (RD) said that he added a new downhill to the course and anticipated a lot of fried quads. I placed my drop bag close to the trail so I wouldn’t have to wander through everyone else’s stuff, and I lined up towards the front.
I ran the first few laps with friends from the hundred. I didn’t reveal my goals to them, but they teased me and said if I kept up pace, I’d be top five. I smiled and said something about dreams. They were running the 11 hour race and we split up after the second lap. I implemented their strategy of only stopping at my drop bag every other loop.
On a small loop with two different timed races happening, it can be hard to identify who exactly you’re racing unless you explicitly ask them. Which event are you running? What lap are you on? What lap am I on? How far have you gone? Are these loops really 4 miles? After a while, I settled on running my own race. There were a few tough climbs on the route (the kind where you use your hands) and rewarding downhills. The course was beautiful and trails were dry, the latter being something that Nashville lacked for the past month or so. I was having a blast and running like I hadn’t in a long time. I cheered for other people and kept moving the entire time. The aid station/drop bag area was a huge party, as always, and something to look forward to each lap.
Miles flew by and so did the time. After 8 laps and 6.5 hours, I knew I didn’t have time to go out for another lap. I got in line for a whiskey slushy at the aid station (it was 7/11 theme, after all) and chatted with other runners. I was taking a selfie with someone when Jason came over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Good job kiddo, here you go.” He handed me the 3F award and I was stunned. I’d almost forgotten about my goals and ended up just enjoying the trails. Third female, fifth overall.
I don’t think I have to describe the elation of a first time top 3, but the biggest takeaway from that race was the importance of joy. Happy running is unlike anything else. I know that it can’t happen all the time, and more importantly, I don’t think I would properly enjoy it if it did. Struggle is necessary to grow stronger and the process is not easy. But the results are so, so sweet.
It was an amazing way to kick off my race season. Right now I have a 50 planned for May, and Yeti 100 again in September. My running has a new energy and purpose, and I’m thrilled to see where the year takes me.