Do you ever go to those outdoor enthusiast movies? You know the ones where everyone is in flannel and Patagonia gear? The lights dim and some sick electronic song plays while a person either jumps out of a plane, kayaks a crazy river, skis down a steep uncharted slope, or runs a rocky ridge high above treeline. You think to yourself “WHOA, I want to do that!” You feel inspired, reeling from thoughts of your smiling face being the one in the movie. But then the next day comes and you’re still yourself. You have to go to your boring 9 to 5 job, instead of doing epic adventures for a career and you’re left with just your daydreams. You’ve felt that like right?… Even a little bit? Yeah me too and this is where my story starts.
I’ve never been an athlete or good at sports. Maybe when I was 9 I was a good swimmer, but nothing as an adult. I’m small, clumsy, accident prone, afraid of heights, and afraid of doing anything “fast”. I’m not calling myself a couch potato, I do bike around town on a cruiser and I learned to ski in my late twenties, which I was proficient at. But a stupid mistake wrecked my knee and resulted in surgery. After recovery, I could still ski, however it wasn’t the same… how was I going to be in the cool movie now (haha!)?! I longed for something athletic to do, I had been battling depression and thought why not give running a go. I could do the BolderBoulder, a six mile race around town but I never trained for that. I’d just show up and run or mess around. So, in 2015 I decided I wanted to train for a race, and even better yet I was going to run a marathon! To make a long story short, I did some half marathons before the marathon and burnt myself out. Plus, I was lazy and I really didn’t put enough time into training. The day came and I was doing well until mile 20 or so and I lost whatever I had going on. I still finished but I was so disappointed in myself and how long it took to complete it. For some reason I thought I’d naturally be good at running. Not the case. I again fell into being sad, unfilled with my life, and turned to drinking my problems away. I had a bad holiday season and knew I needed something to turn my life around. That’s when I came up with a crazy idea…to sign up to run an ultra distance. Thirty miles didn’t seem long enough to me since I had already run a marathon. I needed something to really kick my butt in gear, to keep me afloat. I remembered feeling the awe of the athletes I saw or read about and the light bulb went off: I’d put my name in for the Leadville 100 trail race.
I filled out the application and wrote what I thought was a damn good essay about why I wanted in. I stated how unhappy I was with my current self, that I wanted adventure, and how I wanted to be a positive role model in my friends lives, instead of the garbage can I had begun to believe I was. I hit send and never turned back. I didn’t tell a soul about what I had done, not even my fiancé until I let it slip one day. I stated it in the guise I wanted to do something crazy before I turned 30. I told him I didn’t really think I’d get in, I had what a ten percent chance to make it? Why would I get in? But in my heart I had a feeling, a gut feeling that I would get it. I waited anxiously the day the emails were supposed to arrive. The hours passed and soon it was afternoon, no one emails official business in the afternoon! My heart sank a little, and then I checked my phone one last time…BOOM I got in.
I think I screamed close to 24 profanities (at work!) and ran outside to scream more. I was scared, I was excited, I was…holy guacamole I had never really even trail run before! Realization started sinking in, I had 8 months to do this and figure out what exactly to do. I was in trouble. For some reason I thought I could study my way to 100 miles. I went to the library to get books about ultra running, which mind you there are a lot of so it got confusing. I got on the web to look at blogs about the Leadville, and followed running companies or the people whose books I was reading on social media. Then I became obsessed Instagram stalking people. I’d follow someone, peruse their pictures, find a good one and like away! Maybe they were with a group of people and I’d start following them too. I couldn’t stop! I loved looking at whoever it was running around the foothills of Boulder or mountains of the world. I started noticing a trend of hashtags and among them was #rockymountainrunners.
It was still snowing and cold out so I wasn’t really running more than a couple miles here and there. I knew that I couldn’t bury my head in books or my phone anymore. I needed real people for guidance. Who were these Rocky Mountain Runners? They had a website I discovered. So I spent some time reading through their site. Everyone seemed awesome and like they were great runners. They offer group runs throughout the week. A run up Green Mountain on Mondays, a morning sunrise run Wednesdays, Sanitas run on Thursday, and a run in Golden on Fridays. I day dreamt about joining them. I had heard through the grapevine only that they were fast and “intense”…whatever that meant. I tried to run up Green Mountain on my own, which I’ve only hiked once before. There was no way I could run up the whole darn thing, so I ruled out Mondays. That left me with meeting them on a Wednesday morning due to my work schedule. I still was frantically stalking them, and debating if I should take the plunge and go for a run with them or not. Weeks went by which turned into months. Finally I mustered up the courage to go, and boy am I glad I did.
Listen, I was shaking in my shoes my first time. I was so nervous! My palms were clammy and I was super awkward introducing myself. I was intimidated because everyone knew each other for the most part and we ran Shadow Canyon, which I had never been on before. The other people were indeed quick, they moved effortlessly like gazelles! I was so impressed and mesmerized by them. I’ll be honest, I felt like I looked like I drank a bottle of brandy and smoked a carton of cigarettes before I came (which neither of them I do!). I was slow, huffing and puffing, and sweating…like gross sweating!! I probably looked like Phoebe in that episode of Friends, where she’s running in the park flailing her arms! AH! I wanted to Irish goodbye and cry in my car. But then I realized they stopped every so often or at trail junctions and would wait for ALL the people to catch up, including my slow behind! They’d ask me how I was doing, they’d make sure I was not getting lost, and everyone asked some sort of “get to know you question”. WOW! This is really cool. We finished the run and everyone made sure to say goodbye to me. I went home feeling included and bragged to my fiancé about how cool everyone was. I kind of had a school girl crush on everyone!
The next week came and I started to get nervous about going again. My insecurities about running and running with people, especially these people were still present. I decided to buck up and keep running with them. Each week I’d come back, I’d get my butt kicked, and I’d start to learn more. I had been feeling ashamed about signing up for the Leadville, since I had no idea what I was doing and felt like I had no business being involved. I started to come clean and share my story with some of the members. The amount of advice and support I got was astounding. They didn’t make me feel bad for it at all! They encouraged me to come for a Monday Green Mountain run, which I did (again gross sweating and huffing and puffing!) but it wasn’t as bad as my mind had made up or what I heard around town.
I had signed up for a 50 mile race early in the season, which I knew was a longshot for me to complete. Some of the members drove me to a preview of the course which would be a 25 mile day, which was super kind. I was too embarrassed to admit I had never ran 25 miles on a trail before so I just faked it till I made it. Which took me forever and a day. Obviously they couldn’t leave me behind since they drove me, but they were understanding and caring as I broke down feeling horrible for keeping everyone waiting. Race day came, only a few people knew this was my first ultra, as I was still new at this point. My race sucked!!! I was slowly melting down, my feet hurt and it was cold! I made it to the 25 mile turnaround with 5 minutes to spare. I didn’t have a crew or friends there. But the RMR members saw me and helped me gather food/water and send me back out. I was amazed! Even people who didn’t know me! They even assured me I wasn’t the last one out there (which I knew I was) to give me a mental boost. I started the climb back hysterically crying with self-deprecation and praying a mountain lion would eat me. I crawled to the next aid station at 33 miles and was cutoff due to time. I was SO embarrassed to go back to the race BBQ and see everyone. I shuffled down there anyway. Everyone was supportive and gave me a pat on the back. Even though I was beat down, I was glad I came. I learned valuable lessons that day, mainly to not wear road shoes for trail ultras 😉
I didn’t fully understand trail running until I joined RMR. I didn’t know about the whole green t-shirt thing either. I thought it was just a club to run and that’s it. Now being fully immersed (Thanks for having me RMR!) I can tell you I’ve made so many lifelong friendships. I feel like I fit in. I love how many people offer tips of the trade…I wish I carried pen and paper with me to write everything down! I’ll have people email me apps, maps or ideas when they hear I’m going off into the woods by myself. I’ll be out on a run and go throw my RMR jacket over me and the person behind me will recognize the club and talk to me! Even at races, a stranger will come give me a high five or give me a nod! I started seeing them post or give me a shoutout about things I was doing via Facebook! How crazy is that! I love joking about how I’m the caboose of RMR, I make everyone look better than they already do! And truthfully, it really doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest or the slowest of the club or the run of the day, everyone is treated the same! Everyone is happy to help you or just to grab a beer and not talk about running! I’ll also say that the ultra-community is hard to beat. Everyone is above and beyond friendly. Nothing makes my heart beat a little extra than seeing friends and family reunited at a race, even if for a brief moment. It’s truly inspiring.
I don’t think without the group I’d be able to go off and attempt the upcoming 100 miler. I’ve learned so much from them and going on these runs I’d never do by myself has so helped me. I’ve accomplished a lot in the last 8 months on my own too. I’m working on improving every day, some days are harder than others. Some days I really love running and others I just want to nap! I may never be fast or perfect and I’ve come to terms with that. Is it still crazy that a newbie is going to jump right on in and run this race…yeah obviously! Do I care? Not really. I knew from the beginning I’d get into the race. I have the “feelings” that I’ll finish. I know I’ll be chasing cutoffs the whole race and it’ll be a challenge. But whatever happens, the journey alone has been worth it. I’ve been the person running on that rocky ridge. I’ve purchased a car because of it. I’ve camped alone for the first time. I’ve been to places I’ve never been before. Colorado wildflowers…I didn’t even know that was a thing! And I’m a Colorado native!! I know when I was growing up we hiked and camped. But this is the first year as an adult I’ve seen so much of my home! That’s freaking cool!
Are you ever going to see my smiling face in those movies…probably not, unless it’s for endurance taco eating! I’m okay with that because I’m starring in my own life journey at the moment and it’s amazing!
P.S. I’d like to point out that all the people I’d stalked on Instagram are now my friends. Funny how that works, huh?!