My Journey to Ultra Running

August 29, 2023

It may come as a surprise to someone stumbling across the title of this blog, but I have never really been much of a runner. In fact, my running journey didn’t even begin until the same year I decided to jump all in and run an ultramarathon. I’ve always had a very sturdy frame, which meant that I gravitated towards sports that fit my body type– I played defense in soccer all growing up before switching over to bodybuilding in my early twenties. Play to your strengths, right?

About halfway through the Mt Tam 50k in 2022

Early in my fitness journey, running was either a form of punishment on the soccer field or a tool used to shed stubborn body fat leading up to a bodybuilding competition. It was never something that I saw as a standalone sport. I have, however, always found a sense of freedom and peace while letting my mind wander during longer running sessions and I also have a deep passion for losing myself on hiking trails, often finding myself taking off running while I’m out adventuring alone in the hills.

I also get super excited about the idea of taking on challenges that I once thought were impossible. So, while I was always more focused on the bodybuilding side of things, I did experiment with smaller endurance events– I completed the HITS Napa olympic distance triathlon while also prepping for my first bodybuilding show back in 2014 and the year before that I tested the waters with the Nike Women’s (half)Marathon, just to see if I could complete the distance. I didn’t do particularly well in either, but I also put no effort into training for them, partially because they were just something I saw as fun side-challenges while I trained to become an NPC bikini competitor and partially because I never saw someone with my body type being able to achieve any real success in the endurance world. Basically, I was getting in my own way mentally because I didn’t believe in myself, so I gave myself the easy out of saying “that’s just not what I’m built for”.

Coming out of the swim in the 2014 HITS Napa Triathlon

Flash forward to the end of 2021, I stumbled across a video of Courney Dewalter crushing the Hardrock 100 race where I witnessed two of the most beautiful activities coming together to form one badass sport (exploring hiking trails + running). I was intrigued and dove headfirst into the Youtube world of Ultra Endurance Running where I found more greats like Sally McRae and Nick Bare who both embrace this awesome idea of being a hybrid athlete. This was the first time it really hit me that I didn’t have to choose between the mental freedom that I get from endurance running and the confidence I feel from strength training. I new immediately that one day I’d have to tackle one of these amazing feats, and so my running journey began. A few months later, in January of 2022, my dog Nyxie and I began going on daily runs. We started slow with a 2 mile loop near my house and we gradually increased up until we were completing at least 5 miles a day by May, with longer 7 to 10 mile runs sprinkled in for fun throughout the week.

Things were going amazingly well! I joined a 2x a week running group of some incredible marathon runners who really pushed my speed-game to improve and on the distance side, I had worked all the way up to completing my very first 30 mile run with almost 5000 feet of elevation in September of 2022. Okay, worked up to that distance is a bit of a stretch, the truth is that I actually dove head first into some pretty long distances and ended up feeling pretty broken for a few days after longer 20 or 30 mile runs. Looking back almost a year later, it’s easy to see that I let my excitement get the better of me and I pushed my body harder than was probably optimal. But after those long runs, my main focus was going farther and seeing what exactly I could do– I knew that I could at least complete an official ultra race so I signed up for the Mt. Tam 50k that November!

The morning of our 30 mile run!

After our big training race in September (the 30 mile route in the above pictures), I felt like I knew what the distance would feel like and I was confident I could repeat it again in November. What I didn’t anticipate was the toll such a big distance would take on my body. After that run, my body felt like it had been hit by a car and come down with a nasty body flu all at the same time. I had been running in shoes that weren’t right for me so I was missing several toe nails and my feet were covered in blisters and I found it hard to sleep because my body just couldn’t find a comfortable position. All in all, I was wrecked.

A few days after the run, I started easing back into running but I noticed that even though I wasn’t feeling any pain, my feet were going completely numb at around the two mile mark of every run and the numbness would spread up through my legs if I didn’t stop. This was something I’d dealt with for years as a result of overtraining throughout my bodybuilding journey. I needed to peel back the miles, really focus on stretching my calves and feet, and take my recovery seriously if I wanted to be able to race in a few months. So I did, and as my miles decreased, I slowly started getting to a point where I could run pain-free and without numbness.

When the morning of November 12th, 2022 rolled in, I woke up excited and a bit anxious about not having ran further than five miles since our monster run two months earlier but I made a commitment to myself and I was determined to see it through. I filled my hydration pack with fuel and water, suited up, and was out the door by 4:30am.

Race morning

Once it hit 7am, we had lined up at the starting line and were off! The feeling of taking off with such an awesome group of people is something I’ll never be able to properly describe but it is an incredible moment. In all the excitement, I took off out of the gate way faster than I should have and trust me, I payed for it later. We started out by heading immediately up a massive climb and just like clockwork, within the first three miles of incline, my feet and calves had started to go completely numb. I remember feeling so panicked and overwhelmed, how am I supposed to run twenty seven more miles if my feet are numb already?! There’s no way I can quit, what would I even tell everyone?! were all the thoughts racing through my mind at that moment.

And then the sweet sweet downhill came, and slowly but surely, the numbness wore off and I knew I would be able to keep on keepin’ on! I’d just have to manage the incline portions, which spanned over 6000 feet of elevation gain… no big deal, right? Remember when I said I took off too early at the get-go? Well that was nothing compared to how I handled my first couple of downhill portions, picture a mountain goat with a ponytail and you basically have a good idea of how it went. I was hopping off rocks and tree stumps having the time of my life, taking the downhills by storm, and loving every second of it (oh, and I still had the shoes that didn’t quite fit me feet right but we’ll get to that later).

Like in every endurance event, there are highs and lows. I have video of me in absolute bliss, feeling so appreciative that I live in a body that allowed me to do these crazy things, excited about how pleasant the weather was, and enjoying the heck out of myself. There were also moments of extreme self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and feeling like this dang race would never end. But the awesome thing about these moments is that the lows are always followed by highs and I always knew a better moment was just around the corner. I just had to keep moving.

I honestly felt pretty great until about mile 28, I had taken a wrong turn which added a little under five extra miles onto my distance and I was feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I was hiking up the last big climb before venturing back down the initial super steep path back to the start/finish line. I hadn’t seen another runner in what felt like forever and I was beyond terrified that I wouldn’t finish in the 8 hour time limit. I was right in the middle of this low state of mind when another runner came up behind me and said “hey, keep it up, you’re crushing it”. WOW, let me tell you, that tiny little bit of encouragement completely shifted my perspective. All of a sudden I went from full spiral to heck yeah! We’ve come this freaking far, let’s do this!

Okay, so I talked before about loving the downhills and tackling them with all the ease of a mountain goat? Yeah, that totally backfired on me as I entered the final steep descent. The trail back down the mountain was basically a set of very steep stairs that snaked back and forth until we reached the road. After pounding my legs into the ground prancing down the hills earlier, my legs were toast and each step felt like my femur might genuinely shatter into a million pieces while my toes which had been repeatedly slammed into the front of my shoes each had their own little blood blister just begging to explode. Lesson learned.

After what felt like the longest descent in the history of descents, I finally made it to flat land and saw the line of finishers and spectators cheering in all the runners with the most genuine smiles and enthusiasm! Talk about motivation, this community really is the absolute best. In the wake of the absolute bliss that came from crossing the finish line, making the rounds celebrating and congratulating the other runners on absolutely crushing their race, I was beyond ready to climb into my car and head home. After fully wondering if my feet would be up to the task of driving.

I think I mentally blocked out the drive home but I remember opening the door to my house, collapsing on my bed, and enduring one of those terrible sleeps that I’ve come to associate with long distance running. Even with the exhaustion and discomfort, I wouldn’t change a single thing and by the next morning I was already itching to sign up for my next races– a half iron-man triathlon the following April and a 50 mile ultra in July.

Finisher medal and t-shirt– we did it!!

That was, to this day, one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I am so excited to continue my ultra-running journey very soon! There really is no other sport with such a warm, welcoming, and encouraging community of people…and the trails are pretty fun too!

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