I planned for my 65K meticulously.
It is race day. On the drive to the starting line,
I recite the mileage between aid stations.
“4.1 miles to Water Station Geai Bleu,”
I recall to Matt and my friend A,
“There I will fill my pack with two liters of water and grab chips.”
They listen attentively
as my study partners.
I continue, “Next, I go uphill 1870 feet,
following a creek. After traveling 9.5 miles,
I eat rice balls at the Coyote aid station;
Then I fill my camelback with two liters of water.
I will drink a cup of broth.”
I had meticulously memorized my snack, water,
and electrolyte intake at every single aid station.
I arrived at this ultramarathon prepared.
My planning had started as soon as I signed up
for the Ultra-Trail Harricana 65K on May 9, 2022.
40 miles and 6000 feet of elevation gain loomed ahead.
After I signed up, I knew what to do:
edge up my running mileage,
and train for hills.
Training for hills, to be clear, meant walking up hills.
I just wanted to get my body used to doing elevation gain again.
I ran/walked the hilly courses of Essex;
I spent my Sundays hiking hill repeats at James Glen Park.
The “hills” of Essex are so tiny
that it took me hours to hit 1500 feet of elevation gain.
Still, I hiked. Up and down. Up and down.
In running, and in hiking,
I would shape my body into Mountain Climber again.
During the winter, I had walked for an hour a day
but had forgone other kinds of exercise.
My muscles had become soft and fleshy.
Then April came;
I decided to become a runner.
Then May came;
I decided to become an ultra-runner.
Then June came.
I decided to become a road biker, and an endurance hiker.
My soft winter body,
which had spent the season contemplating plants and writing,
found itself startled.
I experienced setbacks.
I tweaked my muscles, and had to lay off my running.
Matthew had to pick me up on the road
because my biking muscles protested my sudden spike in activity.
Blisters rejected my hiking choices.
Yet, I persisted.
I persisted because fire filled my body.
My pandemic body had long since emptied of purpose.
I had dried up like a fern scorched by drought.
In the fall of 2021, I wrote,
“My life has not been returned to me.
It is full of emptiness and the loss of things that gave me meaning and joy.”
I was so empty.
Then, suddenly – at last – I blazed.
Intensely. My appetite returned to me.
My life returned to me.
My passion returned to me.
I am not sure what my passion is for except exquisite beauty,
which I find in the outdoors, in the humans I meet,
and in my own soul as I plumb its depths.
All I want is beauty.
All I want is to tell the truth.
The truth when I am rattling around like an empty shell.
The truth when the fire inside of me is so hot I feel scorched.
All I can do is tell you what season of the heart I am in.
Suddenly, I am in the hot season. The burning season.
The season alive with greenery and growth.
Where does all this energy come from?
I have no idea. I just give thanks that it is here.
My passion sparked my decision to run the 65K.
I had watched the Ultra-Trail Harricana 65K video
and immediately wanted to feel the trail beneath my feet.
Can you desire a trail?
I did, so I signed up for the race.
In May, I watched the race video (here) on repeat,
and formulated a plan for success.
My plan unraveled in July.
In June and July, Matt and I ran a succession of races:
Vegan Power 25K and Moosalamoo 14 miler.
I expected to ace the 14 miler,
but my downhill sprints left me hobbling with soreness the next day.
I needed help.
I hired a coach to help me with my downhill running.
She assigned me downhill sprints to train my muscles.
Likewise, I trained the muscles of my mind.
I ran in rain.
I ran with two liters of water on my back.
I ran at night with my new headlamp.
If I ran out of food or water on a run,
I simply told myself, this could happen on race day.
I prepared my mind for every scenario.
In the heat of the summer, I almost ran out of electrolytes.
On my favorite training run of the season,
I enjoy a 22-mile run in Myles Standish Forest on a ninety degree day.
On July 22, I start the hot day at 5:19 a.m.
in a running vest, a sports bra, and running shorts.
Soon, the sunrise awes me.
Spider webs cover my body in sticky threads.
Horse flies eat my body for breakfast, leaving welts the size of quarters.
Hours pass. Under the hot sun, I run into the pine barren,
the third largest pine barren in the world.
Blueberries and shrub oak cover the sandy soil
and pitch pines dot the landscape.
I move through the sandy soil,
as the sun beats down and the sweat drips down.
I down my last salt packet and lick pretzel salt from an empty bag,
scrounging for electrolytes.
Still, thrills of wonder shoot through my hot, tired body.
I run through burned areas of the barren
where blackened pitch pines regenerate in soft green shoots.
I have never seen an ecosystem like this before.
“This is why I run,”
My desire for beauty led me to my 65K.
As one last race preparation,
I talk to my coach on the phone on Wednesday, September 7.
My coach reviews my fueling plan with me –
which I had practiced at a prior 50K –
and gives me practical advice about where to lubricate.
We review my plan to prevent blisters.
Then the conversation turns to mental endurance.
“It is best to think ahead to what will keep you going,”
my coach advises me.
“It is hard to recall that on the trail when you hit a low.
Ask yourself ahead of time, ‘Why do I run?’
and write it on your hand.”
I take that to heart.
“I want to stay present for the whole race,” I explain to her,
“At my last ultra, I ran out of water and food,
it started raining, and there was no one around.
I gave up and started walking.
This time, I want to stay present from start to finish.”
“That is a good goal,” she replies to me,
“You could write present on your hand.”
On September 10, the day of my race,
I write Present on my hand.
I want to be ready for the day’s presents.
I write, I love adventure + beauty.
I have prepared in mind, body, and spirit for my race.
Back in the car,
I finish going over the stats of my race.
Matt drives the car up the mountain road
past the foggy veil of the bay.
I take a deep breath.
The only thing left to do is to race.
Stay tuned for my next blog post in which I tell you about my race!