So it has been quite some time since CCC and I have been procrastinating finishing up this post. I think I have been struggling with how to possibly capture not only what 15 hours of racing in the Alps is like, but also the months of preparation that went into being able to toe the line at this race. How can I accurately describe the duality of feeling both extremely proud and extremely disappointed? In the end, I have decided to skip the play by play. If you want to hear about what happened on race day, check out a podcast discussion I had with Rob over at Training for Ultra. The short version is that I got to the start line with no idea how the day was going to go. I survived the first climb, but didn’t feel good until about a third of the way up the second climb. I struggled with nutrition which left me fighting to stay in the top ten instead of fighting to break into the top 5. I did hit my B goals right on the head: Top 10 and finishing in the same day. Since I am starting a new training block it is time to look forward and not back, so here are some key lessons from my first 100K that I take with me into my next training cycle.
- Feelings don’t dictate outcomes. That was the mantra for my first 100k. After a few disappointing race results and a confidence shattering iron deficiency late in the build up, this was exactly the message I needed to not only hear, but fully believe before taking on my most challenging trail running pursuit to date. I did not feel good for a significant portion of the race, but refused to let that dictate how hard I was pushing.
- Listen to your body. I have been working towards this finish for a long time and put in a very solid training block in June and July, running more miles and more vert than ever before. Smack in the middle of what was supposed to be peak week I started feeling really terrible on runs: Any small climb felt like I was climbing Mount Everest, and even flat easy runs were significantly slower than normal. Instead of trying to push through and complete the training as planned, I consulted coach and we scaled way back. Thankfully, I have the support of some great people – my coach Mario and the Insidetracker team – who recognized the symptoms and helped get the issue diagnosed as quickly as possible: Iron deficiency. We came up with a two-pronged plan to get my energy levels as high as possible by race day: Reduce training volume and intensity to allow the body to build up iron stores, and a nutrition and supplementation plan to help my body absorb the iron I was taking in. If I’m being honest, this setback was a huge blow to my confidence and emotional state, but if I had ignored the signs and pushed through the training, I doubt I would have finished.
- Ride the highs, survive the lows. The other lesson coach wanted me to take into the race was “push when you can, endure when you have to”. It sounds obvious, but coming from a track and road background, I forget (and frankly am still learning) that endurance races are just that – enduring. In a 13-15 hour race, it is unlikely that anyone can push the entire time. We all go through waves of physical and mental highs and lows and the biggest trick to success is to ride out the lows knowing you will have another high in the near future. A few highs for me were the almost 10 mile descent from Gran Col Ferret to La Fouly and arriving at the first crew station at 56 kms to the theme song from Last of the Mohicans. The lows included the most technical descent of my entire life at about mile 55, in the dark, wet, fog only to have to climb again after and getting passed in the final km into Vallorcine because I had not taken my headlamp out and it was just getting dark.
- Nutrition is Key. I thought I had my nutrition plan figured out, but one thing I learned (and frankly should have realized I had already learned at Worlds in May) is that a 15 hour race is a totally different animal than a 7 hour race. From now on, I will be separating my hydration from my nutrition and experimenting with actual, solid foods for anything over 10 hours. Never base your plan on what works for other people.
- Variety is not only the spice of life but is good for you too. As I completely switch gears from a mountainous 100K to a road marathon, I have never felt more strongly about the importance of switching things up. I loved training for CCC. I loved the challenge of trying to improve a skill I wasn’t very good at (power hiking). After a slightly disappointing race, I am super inspired to go back and give it another go. But my mind and body are also ready for something different. The structured intensity of road marathon training with a big group is exactly the change I need after months of mostly solo, long mountain slogs. Listening to the mind and the heart is just as important as listening to the body for longevity in this sport. Do the things that fulfill you and make you happy even if they don’t align with what you think you “should” be doing.
I had an extremely fulfilling experience at CCC. From spending time with the husband and some local Marin friends on mind blowing trails, to making new friends, to pushing my limits, to letting myself down and then pulling myself back up, it was everything I could have hoped for. Sure, I didn’t quite execute the race I wanted, but all of the other amazing experiences more than made up for it, and that is the main takeaway here: Make sure you enjoy the process, the grind, the little day to day moments that make you feel good because ultimately, that is what adds up to a lifetime of experiences and Joy. Any race that goes right or a result that surprises you is just icing on the cake.
As always, a huge thank you to my coach Mario Fraioli and my crew and cheerleader Braden Engel. I especially appreciated the surprise, on course cheers from Jason Koop, Corrine Malcom, Kelly Wolfe and Celia Santi. The support of my sponsors Gu Energy Labs, Sufferfest Beer, InsideTracker and Salomon made this entire training process and trip so much easier and I am super grateful for their support.