Friday, April 26, 2019

Injury is Part of the Journey

“Sometimes in life, we have to see it to believe it, and I think that was us officially seeing it.” My coach David Roche said in an email to me this morning. I have been planning this massive 800 mile Fastest Known Attempt on the Arizona Trail for more than a year now and over the past 2 months I've been struggling to get better from a tear in my calf that started out as a feeling of persistent soreness a couple weeks after winning the Delirious WEST 200 miler (350km) endurance run in Australia.

I had started the email to my coach yesterday with, “I’m having trouble writing this” before I went into a full essay of what went down when I did my 18 mile test “long” run yesterday to see if I would be able to start the Arizona Trail next week. Yes, next week. Coming up so damn fast. This run was supposed to tell us if I could hold up to a long run since I'd have to do 51+ miles a day on the Arizona trail to beat the current overall record, my goal being 100k a day. 

I wrote 8 paragraphs of information in that email to my coach that could have been summarized in saying, “I’m not better. My heart and my head want this so bad but my body is not ready.” I didn’t want to say that though because I thought maybe somewhere in those 8 paragraphs was hope. I briefly considered lying. Lying to myself. Maybe it was ok. If I didn't write the email, if I didn't say anything maybe I wouldn't have to feel these emotions. It felt like not doing this 800 mile route would crush me and I wanted to avoid facing the truth: my body wasn't ready.


I needed the Arizona Trail more than ever. I wanted to leave the daily grind, my life challenges and I wanted to do something big that only required my attention to the present moment and moving forward. Life was hard for me. This winter and spring I struggled with heavy work load from my race organization business after an employee suddenly quit and on top of that a new relationship that had blossomed suddenly ended leaving me with deeper questions about what commitment is, whether I can trust others, and how it was possible someone could go from telling you they love you to texting you that they want to breakup in just a day. 


I had known there were issues and challenges in the relationship, yet I couldn't understand how he could be so "in love" with me as he told me over and over and then just leave my life like "love" meant nothing to him. All because he had "shit to figure out in his life." If I could just run, nothing else mattered. Running was the only love I could rely on and here it was, letting me down too. My body, telling me to stop. My life, telling me to stop. 


Two weeks ago I'd finally gotten an MRI. Turns out the pain in my calf was there for a reason. I'd taken days off, then a week, and before I knew it I still had pain and it had been over a month. The start day for the Arizona Trail FKT was quickly approaching and I had no clue what to do because what I needed to do was not something I was ready to do: completely reschedule the FKT for November or the next year. Before long, I had to announce delaying the FKT by a few weeks and in my heart I knew I might not be ready.


The MRI showed a tear in the fascia of my calf. I knew that I should admit defeat for the time being and reschedule the FKT but I couldn't. I wasn't ready to give up. I believed my body was capable of doing this. All this rescheduling was putting a lot of stress on my crew - 6 people who were meeting me in AZ to help me get from Mexico to Utah, across the entire state and of course, my sponsors who had so generously donated product. More than anything I didn't want to let those people and companies down. 

I'm back on the trail, doing my important test run for the AZT and I'm thinking the pain isn’t really that bad. On the first climb of the long run I could feel it, the first time since I'd taken weeks off of doing nothing. If I could feel it in the first 2 miles of a long run how would I conquer 60 miles a day for almost 2 weeks? 


As I ran I cried, tears turning into sobs of KNOWING the truth but being unable to accept it and my sweet little dog, my faithful running partner and friend, Hank came bounding over to me a concerned look in his eyes. He knew something was wrong. I couldn’t breath, my throat felt like it was closing as I swallowed my sadness, anger and frustration, wheezing through the climb saying to myself no, it will go away. Maybe it’s nothing. 
Hank giving some love
As I ran, I spun scenarios in my mind. I considered lying to my coach, to my crew and to the world. I’m ok, I can do this. My body can do incredible things. I just won a 220 mile race, I ran through 3 nights with virtually no sleep! I can run for days without rest. Maybe it will be fine. I decided I might as well do the entire run and see what happens so I finished the 18 miles, the pain sitting in my calf like a patient and bad memory, barking at me on all the climbs. But it wasn’t a memory, it was here, now. It was real.

Even through the last of the 18 miles I told myself maybe it was ok? Maybe it wasn't the calf tear. Maybe I was imagining things. Right after returning home I had to drive 15 mins to town. In town I hopped out of my truck and immediately buckled from putting weight on the right leg. The pain forced me to limp and hobble. It had become worse after sitting. Only at that moment did I know I was done, I would have to wait. There was no fake it until you make it. It hit me so hard I wasn't sure how to deal with it. 


I had learned from years of running that my body wasn’t always something to listen to. I learned that I could push it when it said no. That there’s was always something more to give. But in some cases if I didn’t listen to my body I would be sacrificing my love and my passion for further injury. I've been running for over 20 years. I know when I need to rest, even if it's hard to admit. Serious, debilitating injury is nothing to mess with. Injury that could cripple me for a year or longer. I couldn’t lie to myself or anyone else any longer. I am not a superhuman. I am not special. I have worked hard for many years and I am a human who can only handle so much. I am fallible. 


It's ok to admit defeat. This setback means that I will need to move the FKT to November. May is already risky in terms of the extreme heat on the Arizona Trail. May was my last chance to do the FKT this spring and now it's out. I work from August - October organizing my 200 mile Triple Crown so November would be the soonest I can do it. My crew team has already begun emailing me their support for November. I'm humbled and touched by their support and love. I can't wait to crush this record, not by hours but by days. This gives me more time to fundraise for Girls on the Run my chosen charity, get stronger and plan logistics. 


Watch out world 😉 💪 🏃‍♀️ 



Healing from laser eye surgery tonight as I write this. Another important step in my process of getting ready to run this 800 mile route 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How the HURT 100 Race Turned into a Love Story

HURT 100 Race Report
How a 100 mile Race Turned into a Love Story
Jan 19, 2019
Honolulu, Hawaii
He was standing near me and just his presence made me feel alive. His fingers clasped in his running vest,
board shorts hanging down to his knees looking more like a surfer than a runner. Because, well he IS a
surfer. I still wasn’t sure why he was at the race. He wasn’t a runner, I’d just met him days earlier but now
he was standing right next to me ready to pace me the final 8 miles to the finish of this 100 mile race in
the jungle and I knew I wanted him there but I was worried. I glanced at my legs, covered in mud and
sweat and sticky with dreams that slowly seeped from my head where they had been born 6 years earlier
settling slowly somewhere in the mud with my ego. I’d be getting my finish but not in the time or place
I hoped for.


“Wipes?” I asked my crew chief Catra Corbett. I may be covered in mud but I was going to at least try
to clean my armpits before I had my first run date with the Surfer. Ok it wasn’t a date, but a girl can
dream right? Pretty sure the baby wipes didn’t do anything for 100 miles of sweat, mud, and stench but
it was worth a try. I wasn’t worried about the race so much as I was that he’d think I was GROSS and
smelly. 92 miles into a 100 miler, this was sort of a nice thing to be worried about and I smiled just
thinking about how ridiculous it was that I even cared at this point. I still had one massive climb through
the jungle and descent to be finished.


Looking at my phone while driving a compact rental car up a winding road leading toward the
mountains, I glanced at the house numbers as I passed through a neighborhood. I was looking for
my AirBnB rental. I looked more closely at the map, noticing that I had another right turn then the
home would be on my left. There it was! I slowly turned into the driveway, parking in front of the
large 2 story home’s garage door as indicated by the AirBnB House Rules I’d read carefully. As I
was parking, I noticed a silver truck was right behind me. Damn, I thought, I’m in no shape to interact
with anyone, exhausted from flying for 6 hours.


It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy talking to others, I love chatting with people, however I was feeling dirty
and tired from the long, stuffy flight from Seattle. As always happens when leaving cold and wet Seattle,
I’d arrived in humid and warm Hawaii all layered with winter clothing and sweating. I had quickly
changed into shorts in the front seat of my rental car in a Whole Foods Parking Garage in Downtown
Honolulu, but left on my ¾ zip long sleeved top, flashing a few customers or at least leaving them
wondering what I was wrestling with in the front seat of my small car. But I digress.


It was too late to avoid human contact now, the driver of the truck must be my AirBnB host and as he
drove up beside me I waved. The skies had recently dimmed, the sun setting and sinking into the horizon
just 30 minutes earlier, and I couldn’t see him very well, but as he hopped out of his truck I noticed that
he was—damn hot! Whoa, ok. He looked young and fit and his blonde hair was perfectly messy as
though he had just come back from surfing at the beach. At that moment I really regretted not cleaning
up a bit more. He greeted me cheerfully introducing himself, and I said, "Nice to meet you Surfer." I
asked if this was the right parking spot even though I knew it was. Before I could say any more he
offered to show me the apartment and walked toward the door without hesitation. We walked around
the house to the downstairs apartment.


I went into this year’s HURT 100 race in excellent shape, but not quite as fine-tuned as I would have
liked. Which is to say, I was working my ass off managing three businesses: My race organization
company Destination Trail, my new Humans of Ultrarunning Podcast, and a couple of new rental
properties. I closed on a house on Jan 11, just a week before HURT 100 race and was recording podcasts
and interviewing athletes right up until I left for Hawaii so that I could release episodes each week—and
I have released an episode each week since beginning the podcast in November. On top of that, my
two kids had been home for Winter break and it was difficult to work without feeling like I was being
a bad parent during that time, yet I had to work. All I wanted to do was take the kids skiing and ice
skating. For me, work never ends and as I mark one thing off a list, another 2-3 get added so fine tuning
for an event is often impossible.


Surfer was ahead of  me along a path to the apartment, asking me about my running because (I assumed)
I’d mentioned that I was running the HURT 100 in my intro when booking the apartment. Then he said
he’d looked me up after I booked his place. I felt a twinge of excitement at this, did he like me? Of course
not, I reminded myself that he was probably just checking out what crazy is and what crazy does. Like a
freak show. To some, I am a freak, but what I do seems no more weird to me than going to bed at
night or any other task we all do throughout the day. Running is one of the few things I have found that
brings me pure joy. And yet… I couldn’t help but wonder if our connection was deepening or if he was
just a very friendly host? 5 stars so far. My mind was swirling a bit, a mist around a mountain top, as I
talked about running and he showed me the place. It was perfect. Two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom. Catra
Corbett was coming to crew and pace me in two days and I’d rented this bigger place so that she could
have her own room.


Last year, Catra had come out much like she was doing for me this year, but last year I had dropped just
after mile 40 and I promised her that wouldn’t happen this year. At the very, very least I needed to get a
finish in order to have a proper long “run” before the Delirious WEST 200 miler in Australia on Feb 20
(just a month away) and the 800 mile Arizona Trail FKT (three months away) I had planned for April.
Everything was a piece of the training puzzle this year and had to fit together in order to make the next
race or route successful. It was as though each race was training for the next. I could not quit. It just
wasn’t an option, but I still worried that something out of my control would happen like a broken bone
or even worse, that I would break somehow mentally and not want ‘it’ anymore. To break mentally was
the ultimate failure and could kick start a deeper depression or downward spiral for me. But as my body
had hardened and become strong over the past year of focused training and healthy living, so had my
mind and my emotions.


In September 2017 I had suffered a traumatic assault and also quit drinking (for good). As part of that
process of recovery from the trauma and from alcoholism, I had vowed to stop sabotaging myself in a
myriad of ways, which included dropping from races just because I wasn’t going to podium or because
I would break mentally and lose my drive or let some excuse reign over me. As my body became
stronger from my sobriety and training, so did my mind and by August of 2018 I had a significant shift
in my mentality and my “why” I race ultramarathons. I wanted to start building a series of positive
experiences, not a series of stories of struggles and failures. As I gained control over the darker parts of
my life, I developed a deep and meaningful, even spiritual, relationship with the world, other humans and
nature. I could feel my emotions, my body and my compassion for others more deeply and fully. It was
an incredible awakening over the course of a year that I could not have anticipated and it opened me up
creatively, to a place I’d been as a child. A place where I was able to access a creative and energetic flow
and deeper knowledge in life and the ability to turn that creativity into a running performance or creative
writing and share it with the world. I wasn’t going to quit myself ever again.
Nutrition of choice for the HURT 100: Spring Energy
10% off code: Candice
Surfer was listening intently in the living room of the apartment as I talked about the races I organized—
200 milers and the HURT 100 Endurance Run I was about to race in 4 days. It struck me that he was
much more interested in ultras than most people. Generally, the reaction is, “Wow amazing! You’re
crazy,” But Surfer was like, “Do you think I could do this?” He seemed genuinely interested in ultras and I concluded that his interest in me was probably just an interest in ultras. I was trying to be real
with myself and this thought was disappointing.


“Absolutely, you could do an ultra. You’re in good physical condition and you just need to begin a
running routine and then you will be able to even do a 200 miler,” I responded to his inquiries about
running. To be fair, he wasn’t really asking an unbiased individual, but hey, I’ve seen some damn
miracles happen during 200 milers and he certainly wouldn’t need a miracle to finish one. Who am
I to tell someone NOT to do something when they are so enthusiastic? It’s incredible what the human
body can do when the mind wants to finish...and what it’s capable of with training. If he started training
soon, he’d still have 6+ months to prepare for a 200 miler. See what I did there?


After a period of time that I felt to me like I was red lining a level of “Oh shit I might be talking
his ear off about ultrarunning,” he left. Side note: pretty much how I mess up all dates with
non-runners. We’d briefly discussed internet speeds while he was showing me around as I have
beenstruggling as of late at my remote mountain home with super slow speed internet, so I texted
him to let him know his internet speed after checking my speedtest app (3x the speed of mine at home).
It was pretty much just an excuse to keep the conversation going. He texted me a little
while later asking about the three 200 milers I organize, which one did I recommend?
Happily surprised, I sent him to the website and my business Instagram page. He responded a
short while later saying he’d checked out the website for the 200s and he wanted to do Moab 240.
I was impressed. Apparently Surfer didn’t do anything halfway. I felt like he was a kindred spirit.
A really cute one at that. I was intrigued.

I often imagine what it would be like to be just a professional runner, rather than trying to juggle
running on elite teams while managing a family and my three businesses. Despite daydreaming
about a simpler life with training at the focal point, I chose my path and this workaholic lifestyle
for a reason, mindfully even. I enjoy overachieving because I have many goals and without
pursuing a handful at any given time, I will not get a chance to do many of the things I want to do in
this life. With all this in mind, I went into this year’s HURT 100 race not just as a competitor, but
also as a mom, a business owner, and as a runner whose big goal for the year is to break the overall
FKT in April on the 800 mile Arizona Trail. When the race conditions became tough during this
year’s HURT 100, I came back to my Arizona FKT goal. In April I’d be undertaking my biggest
and most complicated run ever: 800 miles on the Arizona Trail to break the overall FKT of 15 days
22 hours and 39 minutes.
Sometimes in life you have to remind yourself of the big picture. The big picture for me was a healthy
finish at the HURT 100 this year. Finishing the HURT 100, regardless of podium or winning, was
imperative for my upcoming 200 mile race and FKT. Finishing this race was a big piece of a puzzle
that I needed. I reminded myself of this when after chasing the first place girl and running in second
for much of the first 30 miles I suddenly got shaky and weak feeling. My legs felt like jelly. I was
close to the top of the climb and I willed myself to keep moving. I told myself when I hit the descent
I’d feel better. I’d never felt this shakiness in a race but occasionally in training I’d get it. I tried to eat,
downing a few Spring Energy Gels and focusing my mind back on positive thoughts. These natural food
gels were helping. It was raining again and the trails were becoming rivers.


I like adversity so when it began raining I counted my blessings. It was cooling off and my body liked
that. The descent gave me a bit more power in my legs and the shakiness began to dissipate but I was
left feeling worried and unsure why it had happened. I am pretty sure my blood sugar had dipped too
low, but why? I’d been eating really well as far as I could tell. I made a note to be sure to eat some solid
food at the next aid station. It was during these miles from 30-40 when the shakiness hit me and I faltered
and began to get passed. I settled into 3rd place. I began a slow process of giving up time and place, but
continuing to do what I needed to do to finish. Sure I could squeak out an honorable finish, but where was
the FIGHT in me? Had it washed away with the jungle storm?

The rain continued, storms blowing in from the ocean. As I crested each seemingly endless climb, the
bamboo clanking, spears in a battle about to be won, I knew I was close to Manoa Flats. Manoa Flats is
the root strewn the race is so well known for, a super technical section that we pass through so many times
on our “loops” and out and backs through the jungle. The trails were rivers, running into mud pits that
would suck and grab at your feet or pull them out from under you as suddenly as though hit by a bolt of
lightning. Slip, slide, step, step, step, dash, dash, slip, slide, squish, suck. I took the opportunity to throw
my arms up as though I could hug the sky for giving me this playground, albeit a dangerous, dirty one.
Surfer holds my running pack while I try to eat some real food at Manoa Aid
As I came into mile 40, I saw Surfer. I’d given him the race tracking link but only half expected him to
show up. He was standing to the side of the runner chute. And just like that I could’ve been walking
down the street, casual and cool like the mist that hugged the mountain tops. I was transported into the
moment and out of the race in an instant. “Hi, how are you? You made it,” I said casually, mud caked to
my legs, clothing soaked by the storms as though I’d taken a dip in a muddy lake. Braids matted to my
pack, trucker hat backwards, a wild look in my eyes...looking anything like I was just walking down the
street. Smiling at him and still multi-tasking as I fished around in my breast pocket for used gel wrappers
like a homeless woman taking the day’s throw aways out of a garbage can. Casual as the mountain mist.
He looked clean. Really clean. He said something, I can’t remember what it was, but I awkwardly
thanked him for showing up. Why? I don’t know. Attraction does weird things to my speech patterns and
this was no exception. Spying my crew, the colorful and tattooed Catra Corbett, looking all business, I
moved her way unsure of what else to say but happy to see him there. I imagined saying, “C’mon over
and watch me get wiped down, fueled up, soup dripping from my chin, mud from a hand smeared across
my brow.” I was back in the race and it was business time. I had runners to chase down and 60 more
miles to knock out.


Miles ticked away, the sun tucked into the ocean in a fiery yellow and orange display. At the next aid
Catra let me know Surfer had left for home for the night and I was both relieved and disappointed.
Relieved, because no junkie wants the man they are crushing on to see them shooting dirt up their
veins and sad because I looked forward to seeing him at each aid for the last 20 mile loop. The night was
slow and tedious as the rain had made the entire course a big muddy, wet, slippery and treacherous
mess and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was painfully slow. I just wanted to
open up and let my legs go, but every turn had a rocky outcropping to lower myself down from, a clay
shelf to slip n’ slide down and then it was time to climb back to the sky again.


I picked up Catra as a pacer on the 4th loop, 60 miles into the race, and it was a nice break from the solo,
tedious running but I had withdrawn like the sun and at dusk and my energy was flat. I worried that I was
bad company as I quietly made my way through the tangle of roots and mud. We slipped and fell through
that loop, Catra falling on her butt leaving a brown muddy imprint up her whole backside contrasting
with her colorful pink, purple and yellow clothing. I hoped she was ok, she had landed hard. Not even a
few minutes later I found myself on my back, head on the ground, arm cranked behind me. It had
happened so suddenly I was confused at first, but then I realized that I, too, had gone down completely in
the clay-slick mud. I picked up my body, laughed it off and rubbed my head. Ouch.


“Ready to go?” I said looking at Surfer, his blond hair perfectly messy and clean. I was at mile 92,
Surfer had showed up at the race this morning, after what I imagined was a comfortable night in a
comfortable bed in a comfortable house, with a comfortable few meals. My arm pits still smelled, after
baby wipes and all, applied as discreetly as possible. This wasn’t the kind of thing I typically liked to do
in front of potential dates buuut, there’s some room for exceptions. It was time to go and I had the cutest
pacer on the island. As we exited the aid station I tried to warn him that I’d just run 92 miles and there
might be parts of the last 8 miles that I’d struggle with. I don’t think he really understood or needed my
warning but I didn’t want to seem weak in front of him, possibility an inevitability considering my past
29 hours running in the jungle.


The climb out of Nu'uanu, the last aid station, is steep but relatively short. The most challenging parts
are the rock cliffs you have to climb up, hands on the top, pulling your body up and over. It’s 4x4ing
extreme for runners. On 92 mile legs it can seem downright impossible. I was surprised that I felt less
tired as I climbed, but having Surfer’s company was a good distraction and I forgot I was racing,
enjoying the sun as it lit up the big green leaves in the jungle and I enjoyed the magic of morning.
It was heating up!


As the miles flowed, so did our conversation and we settled into talking about relationships after
some good discussion about running. I was surprised at how easy it was to talk with Surfer, run,
hands on knees, breath in and out, flowing, moving. I was actually enjoying myself and we were cruising!
Normally I’d be painstakingly counting down the miles until the finish, envisioning each turn, each hill...
no matter how small. Instead I was immersed in the conversation, enjoying showing Surfer the trail I’d
traversed SO MANY TIMES, six years now of doing this god forsaken race. You might even say I wasn’t
all too eager to finish anymore. And yet, I knew there was chair… restful wonderful chair at the finish.
As Surfer and I rounded the last turn, finish line in sight, I felt a wave of excitement. I was almost done.
But not finished. Not even close. I was just getting started. I was hop, jump, skipping, flying and
floating through that grass to kiss the HURT 100 sign and my heart was alive.


My flight was just a couple short days later, and in that time Surfer made me a smoothie and two
beautiful silver bracelets welded with shells within their bands. And still I wondered why he was
so nice, blind to what was happening right in front of me. A melancholy feeling, heavy and sad hit me
like a tsunami as I walked through the airport, leaving the island just 2 days after finishing the race.
On a whim, almost out of my control I thought, I’ll send Surfer a message, maybe just to see if
he feels the same way.
“Maybe sounds weird but I feel like somehow I’ve known you for a long time! Thanks for everything,
and restoring my belief that there’s at least one cool guy out there,” I texted, wondering if I was being
too obvious and doubting my intuition.


“I don’t think you could’ve said it any better. Doesn’t sound weird at all, and honestly I’m tripping
because I feel the same!” He responded.


So I invited him to come to Australia and crew and pace me a month later in a 200 mile race, an
obvious first date for a crazy woman and a just as crazy man. He said yes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rare Find


Your smile is like the arc of the trail
As I run up the mountains in Hawaii
Sweat on my bare skin
and a breeze fluttering
through the tropical leaves
My heart is beating hard
As the trail climbs upward
Leading to a place I want to explore.

You told me about this trail
that it would be a good place to run
as you showed me around the apartment
I'd be living in for the next week
while I was on the Island
for the HURT 100 mile race.

I couldn't help but notice
how your blond hair
Rolled over your surf tanned forehead
Like a wave on the shore.
"Did you say there was a way to track your race?"

You showed up at the aid stations with that smile,
Holding my wet pack, and all I could think
Was how bad I must look:
40 miles ... 47 ... 80 ... 87 miles on my tired legs
Legs that felt like they were made of glass
Slowly shattering
My long braids matted and framing my face.

Mud like armor covering my arms and legs
Telling of a internal battle in the jungle
My mind compelling my body further.
Just to see what was possible.
Morning turned to night,
Night into morning
My legs becoming roots
that cover the trail.

I'm sitting on the plane flying home
Thinking of you standing next to me at mile 92,
A hydration pack on your back
Your fingers clasped around the straps of your pack
You looked like you were ready to hit the surf,
not pace an impossibly dirty runner 8 miles
to a 100 mile finish.
Somehow with you there
it didn't even feel like I'd run 92 miles.

"This shell reminds me of sunshine
It's a pretty rare find"
You told me as you handed me two handmade silver bracelets
you made for me on the day I left the island,
Each bracelet with a beautiful smooth shell
contained within the silver band.
Waves had brought the shells from the depths
of the ocean to where you were diving.

As I sit here on the airplane looking at the shells
I think about how you welded the silver together
after threading it through the shells
No clasp or closure,
Just one continuous silver band
Going through the spiraling shells

These endless bands around my wrist
makes me hope
that maybe we can run together again
This time from the start of a race,
not just the last 8 miles

1/23/19