Monday, October 1, 2018

Rockin' Rockwoods 53k Ultra Marathon

“The measure of a person’s strength is not his muscular
power or strength, but it is his flexibility and adaptability.”
~Debasish Mridha

Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I have had a beautiful relationship with one particular race here in St. Louis, MO. The 20k distance of the Rockin’ Rockwoods Ultra Marathon was my very first taste of the ultra world back in 2016. I returned for the shorter distance in 2017, which was increased to a half marathon, and loved it as much as the first year.

It is one of the most challenging races in the area, with an impressive elevation of over 2000ft for the half and over 5000ft for the longer distance, which is the 53k. For many reasons, this is my all time favorite race. It’s challenging and in a beautiful park with gorgeous and tough trails. It has been a dream of mine since 2016 to one day complete the longer 53k distance.

Well, my dream came true and I completed the race this past Saturday! And as should be expected from a super challenging course, completing it was not without its challenges.

I ran the first 6 miles feeling strong. I was averaging about an 11 minute mile, which I knew I could maintain until the steep climbs came after mile 15. Then out of nowhere at 6.5 miles, I began to have some knee pain deep down inside my right knee. I stopped and stretched it out and tried to walk it out. I was able to keep the pain at bay by giving myself frequent walking breaks until about mile 10 or so, then I took some ibuprofen to see if it would allow me to run more and finish the race.

The time between mile 10 and 13 were really rough. I was having some serious doubt that I could finish. I had a long way to go and I knew I could drop at the next station at mile 15 and walk back to the race start. I thought maybe I could cheer everyone on and still feel good about the situation. Maybe my body would do better for my upcoming surgery if I wasn’t recovering from a full race. I cried a little as I realized how hard it would be to go into the surgery shortly after my first DNF. My emotions were all over the place.

I hoped to get some guidance from my friends who I knew were at the 15 mile aid station, but I needed help sooner than that. So I texted N.

When I sent him that first text, I was sure he'd text back that it was okay to stop if I needed to. As soon as I saw his response, which was simply a request for more information, I turned straight to problem solving mode. I had tried to compute the distance but I just couldn't wrap my head around it. He's awesome at math so as soon as I saw that I could walk and still finish in the 10-hour cutoff time, I was golden.

Once I let go of attempting to run I was able to throw down a decent power hiking pace. I averaged about 16-17 minute miles for the rest of the race, with a couple of exceptions at the main aid station at mile 20 and during some of the steepest climbs.

Doing my best to make it look like I was running :)
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I could have dropped. I wanted to drop. I had a lot of pretty valid excuses. I have cancer. I am having major surgery in nine days. My knee is in serious trouble. No one would blame me for dropping. I could cheer on my friends. If I was ever going to DNF, I had plenty of excuses lined up to make it a valid choice.


What if I finished this race despite all of those excuses? How strong would I feel? How good would that be for my psyche? I am forced to rest after the surgery anyway, so I can push my knee beyond what I typically would knowing I'll have extra time to let it heal.

Making the best of not running. Eating while power hiking!
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

The decision was a no-brainer. I pushed on and power hiked and felt pretty good through most of the race. People passed me and checked in on me to see if I was okay. I managed to choose music that I wanted to hear as opposed to music that would pump me up. I spent 9 hours in the woods on a beautiful day, texted with my husband to arrange when I'd finish and thoroughly enjoyed the course of my very favorite race.

 Rock and roll hands as I rocked Rockin' Rockwoods
Photo credit: Janzow Photography

Bee stung, scraped and blistered at the finish line.
Thrilled by the realization that this trail didn't break me.
 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

 09:01:44, two hours past my goal time.
I'll take it over a DNF any day.
 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I am so grateful for this lady and her no bullshit take on the ultra running sport. During her race meeting the morning of the race she said no one should drop on this beautiful day. She said we all had 10 hours to complete this race, and she sure didn't want to have to pick any of our asses up at one of the stations, so no dropping.

Her words echoed in my head as I contemplated dropping. Letting her down would have been letting myself down. She and her crew design these races so we can push ourselves to the brink of failure, hoping that each of us succeed. Shalini and Jerod (Jerod is the mystery hand in the photo) and this moment are very special to me.

 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

These boys. THESE BOYS!! (and N too, he's just hiding) They both have referenced back to this race and the pride they feel in me. I am so happy that I am showing these boys that great things come from refusing to give up, and from being willing to adjust our expectations in the moment. As the quote above says, we must be willing and able to be flexible and adaptable to our experiences.

 Photo credit: Janzow Photography

I told N when I got home that night that his question back to me in that text is what changed the course of my mindset, and he said that he knew I was banking a lot of my strength for the upcoming surgery on my performance in this race. He knew what it meant for me, and he helped me figure out what I needed to do that was best for me, while also giving me an out at the end if I went that way. I sure do love him.

My other thought was when I do this race again, there's no doubt I will set a course PR as long as I can run it. Guess I can't put this race behind me just yet after all :)

Official stats:
53k (33 miles)
27th of 30
9th female of 11

My regular chiropractor is out on paternity leave so I saw his fill-in today. She stretched me out and helped me see and feel how incredibly tight my entire body was. It's unclear if the tightness was in place before the race and contributed to my knee or if the race made me tight all over, but nevertheless, it seems that the stress I've been under likely contributed to my body being "off" leading into the race.

The best part is she doesn't think the knee injury is anything long-term. As long as I can deal with my blistered feet, I'll be able to squeeze a few more runs in before my time off for the surgery.

I feel so lucky to have this life of mine. To be able to run a race like this is more than many people can even imagine. I have so many wonderful things in my life, and I can't wait to see what is up next in this incredible journey. Thanks for reading friends, and for going along with me in this little life.