Epic Redemption - First Marathon Fiyah!

Sunrise on the trail at Mile 5

Sometimes you just feel something in your gut and you know you have to do it. That's how I felt when I signed up for the Rock-N-River 50 Miler and Marathon. And even at the exact moment when I was registering I had serious doubts about a lot of things. Mostly whether my body could hang for the marathon portion (27.7) miles, but also about my nutrition, my training, my abilities and my limits. I had a lot of questions and a deep layer of doubt and hesitation. I messaged Seth, my coach, to explain my concerns. Here's an excerpt from his original reply...

June 4, 2011
"As far as you doing it here is my answer. If you have doubt and don't think you can, then I don't think you can either. Now if you think you can, I am 100% confident you can...Ya its going to be hard, ya its going to hurt, but who cares. If you don't even sign up and try it you will never know and you will never have even given yourself the chance...
For example... you may be thinking this is an extremely rough and hard course, but you need to be saying to yourself who cares what the course is. Its another run and I will finish it. You keep telling yourself these things and soon you will believe it and once you believe it that's game over. You will go out there and dominate. Plus, if for some reason you don't finish you won't care because you know you went out there and gave it everything and never doubted yourself. "

Yeah. I needed a serious talking to at that point. He tells me I think too much, which I do. Essentially, he was trying to tell me the same thing my old X-country coach told me on every long run in high school - "Get your head out of your ass and just run!!!" 

I decided that if I was going to do this I had better commit myself 100% and just do it. It was just a trail marathon. People do marathons all the time. But, honestly, the hardest part about preparing myself for an event like this wasn't the physical training. It was reprogramming my brain for a goal that I had been telling myself for years that I would never be able to achieve.

I spent the next couple months feeling in my heart that I was going to totally DO THIS. I just knew I could do it. I felt strong. I felt completely capable. I felt totally badass. I was supersonic. You couldn't stop me.

And then about three weeks prior to this marathon my confidence started to fail. I hadn't ran one race this year where I didn't have IT Band issues. Why would this marathon be any different? I will be lucky if I can get to mile six before I can't bend my left leg.

Funny thing is these negative thoughts kind of took me by surprise. I had been trying out some mental tools that my neighbor, Kirsten Lewis, from Awesomeness of You had been giving me to work through my doubts (she works with professional athletes giving them mental "tools" and strategies to find their edge, up their game and change their negative thinking) but for some reason I was having a hard time finding the time to listen to her mantras and follow her advice. I wasn't doing my homework.

But something happened after New York. The energy from all those people was amazing! It was hard not to be inspired by so many incredible athletes, mentors, and fellow BFRs. It was meant to be that I be there. It may have saved my confidence. After New York I decided I was going to Run Smiley this marathon 100%. My only goal was to get my ass to the first aid station and see how I felt from there. I could totally do that.

So on race day I woke up at 3:30am. I didn't intend on waking up that early, but for some reason my body woke up about a half hour before my alarm went off. There was no way I would get myself back to sleep so I dragged my ass out of bed.

The good thing about waking up extra early is that it gave me a little more extra time to roll my knees, quads and glutes. I grabbed my coffee first (hoping to get "things" moving along) and had a couple paleo pancakes with bananas and some granola.

My husband and I arrived at race start around 5:45am. There was already a bus load of runners who had been dropped off by the shuttle. There were maybe a couple hundred runners with 45 of us running the marathon portion. At first look the race seemed a little disorganized. The race website had no detail trail map or elevation profile, but I had ran a few of the trails up here and around the lake near Granite Bay so I wasn't too worried about the trails. I had no idea, however, where the start line was and which direction we would be running. Nothing was marked out from the the beginning of the race, but it was dark so I figured I just hadn't seen all the markings. I debated on whether to wear my headlamp. I pulled it on over my waist and decided I would hand it off to my husband once I saw him at Rattlesnake Bar about 9 miles in. It was still pretty dark.

I expected to run this race solo. I didn't know of anyone else who had signed up, but I was surprised to see some familiar faces from my old trail running group. A few of them were running the marathon with me. It felt good to know people.

The one person I did not expect to see on race day was my coach and mentor, Seth. He's been struggling with some serious back pain lately. An injury he got while in the marines has drastically affected his mobility and he's on copious amounts of pain meds and waiting for surgery as I write this. He messaged me the day before telling me I was going to do great and wished me luck, but, when I turned around and saw him standing a few feet away I almost got teary. ALMOST. I'm not a weepy, teary type, but it moved me to see him and totally made my day. I can honestly say I would have never even been at that start line if it weren't for him. It made me feel really special that he was there to see me off, especially knowing how much pain he was in.

So I'm getting ready and I hear the race directors yelling out something about the first aid station not having any fuel and to make sure we load up here or grab something to go since the next aid won't be until nine miles in. That was fine. I was set with my race iskiate (my homemade power gel) and nuun and I was shoving a banana in my face as they were yelling at me. I also heard something inaudible about the first part of the trail. Apparently, they were giving directions and I couldn't hear a word. That's OK, I was thinking, cuz I'll just follow the front of the pack 50 milers who were probably hanging on every word. Um. Yeah. Good plan.

The race starts and the runners are sprinting at a good clip which was totally weird to me. I'm thinking, isn't this a 50 miler and marathon? Shouldn't people be conserving their energy and chilling in the beginning? I forgot that the first couple miles was all downhill and the 50 miler was a qualifier for the Western States 100 so most of the front pack runners were probably taking advantage of the steep downhill to ensure they reached their cut-off time to qualify.

The trail
I turn on my headlamp when we get to the first dirt trail and follow the pack. We eventually turn left onto a fire road and go almost a mile down into the canyon when I hear someone yell back up "WE'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!!" Then I see some of the front pack start climbing back up the hill past us. What the fuck??!! Are you serious? Does anybody know where they're fucking going? Someone needs to text the race director and figure this shit out!

One group takes an unmarked gravel road off to the right. Some of the runners continue down the canyon ignoring everyone else. I decide to follow the third group back up the hill to find where we fucked up and missed the turn-off since I've never raced this particular race and I don't know where the hell I'm going. So I ruck it back up to the top of the road with about twenty other runners. Yeah. No biggie. I just added another mile and a half to an already 27.7 mile MARATHON. And its a nice steep mile and a half. Yeah. No biggie. Let's just make it an even 30 shall we? Cuz, really, what's another 2.3 miles after you've ran 27.7 miles of hard trail, right?

Sunrise on the American River
Once on the right trail I finally settled in and made my way down into the canyon. It wasn't long before I had to pee though. Typical. Yeah. I specifically try not to drink much right before a race because I'm like a nervous Chihuahua on race day. You know? The little dog that runs around really fast when it gets excited and pees all over the place? That's me. So even though there was no fuel at the first aid station there was at least a decent enough porta potty. So I used it. Then I proceeded to pee about four more times off trail before mile five which was a tricky situation since a lot of the trail was flanked by a steep uphill slope on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other. Seriously? Did my bladder really have to let go of a week's worth of hydration all on race day? Sheesh. 
Getting close to Rattlesnake Bar

The trail was absolutely gorgeous once daylight started breaking. I stopped and took pictures. I facebooked. Yeah. I did that cuz I was Running Smiley. Even after the trail fail start I was amazingly calm and by around mile five I still hadn't felt any knee pain. Actually, I had no clue what time it was or how far I'd gone or what my pace was. Except for my ipod in my pocket and my phone, I had no technology whatsoever. Even when I was on my phone facebooking and never looked at the time. It felt good not to know anything. The only thing I cared about was enjoying every single step of trail running fiyah!
Coming into Rattlesnake Bar around mile 9

And HOLY SHIT did I have FIYAH! By around mile 12 or 13 the carbs started kicking in (I have no idea why it took so long for me to feel it.) The clouds parted. Sunbeams rained down. Angels sang. There were rainbows and unicorns everywhere. I swear I felt like I was high on something. It was as if my body went from driving a Pinto to driving a Corvette. I was supersonic. I was flying! 

This is me on carbs around mile 16
When I saw my husband on his bike mid-trail around mile 16 he was surprised at how happy and full of energy I was. In fact I think I ran towards him screaming something like "CARBS ARE BETTER THAN CRACK!!!" Yeah. I was that high. I told him I would meet him at the next aid station but when I got there he wasn't there. He was carrying my Nuun so I hung out for a couple minutes, ate a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then finally decided to used the Heed supplied by the aid station instead so I could keep moving. Apparently, I ran too fast for my husband to catch up. On his bike.

It was at this point that I suddenly realized how far I had gotten without any inkling of IT Band issues at all. I was starting to feel some tightening in my hips and the backs of my heels were feeling just a tad sore, but I could totally deal with these minor issues. These little aches and pains were nothing compared to the crippling knee pain that I've typically felt around mile six in the past.

I was ecstatic. I had about ten more miles to go. I promised myself that if I still felt good at mile 23 that I would up my pace and push with everything I had to make up for all the messing around I did on the trail prior to that point. And that's just what I did.

My husband picked up the trail on his mountain bike to meet me around mile 20 (which was totally against race rules) and rode along side of me until the next aid station. It was nice to talk to him and have some company.

The last ten miles the trail evened out into a wide fire road

It was at that point we did the "Happy-Hour-Hand-Off." I had mixed up a small batch of happy hour iskiate to be consumed within the last couple miles of the race if I made it that far. It was going to be my way of celebrating my personal achievement (or coping with a failed attempt if for some reason I had to quit mid-race.) This particular recipe excluded the normal chia seeds and instead had about one measure of gin mixed with 4oz. of water, some sugar, lime and my tropical flavored Nuun. It was tastily potent, slightly naughty and I spilled half of it all over myself at mile 26 trying to open it. I was rocking the running (or at least it felt like I was) and had passed about eight or so runners near the end of the race reeking of gin. But, I didn't give a shit if I smelled like a sweaty bum cuz I was on top of the world at that point!
Granite Bay

No more dirt trail... I decided to run the shoulder

By this time all the dirt had disappeared under my feet and in its place I found myself running on asphalt bike trail. If there ever was any low point in my race (and honestly, I really didn't have one) this would have been it. I was a little disappointed to see asphalt. Gone were the rocks and grasses, trees and rutted, sandy trails. I could hear traffic. It bummed me out a little, so I plugged myself into my music, got out my happy hour and decided to focus on running as hard as I could to the finish.
Trail Marathon Happy Hour

My husband met me at about a mile away from the finish line and joked with me how I only had 23 more miles to go, which was NOT the thing to say to me at that point. If I wasn't using every ounce of what was left in me to run the shit out of the last bit of that race I would have slapped him. Instead, I waved him off from my pain cave and mumbled something inaudible about not talking to me. But it was nice to have him beside me to run with me into the finish line.

I won the Blue Ribbon!!! Well, the Pabst Blue Ribbon anyway. But I did it! I totally did it!! And PAIN FREE!!! Well, relatively pain free cuz my hip was hurting a bit more at the end. I was so proud of what I accomplished. Words can't even begin to describe the feeling I had finishing that race. I had such an incredible time and really did enjoy every moment.
I earned a Blue Ribbon!

Not only did I complete my first trail marathon, but I finished almost 29 fucking miles of it! And not only did I do almost 29 miles, but I did almost 29 fucking miles in my minimal shoes (my Merrell Pace Gloves). And not only did I complete almost 29 miles in minimal shoes, but I did it with NO long slow distance runs under my belt. And not only did I complete almost 29 fucking miles in minimal shoes with no LSD runs, but I did it pain free with no IT Band crap holding me back!!!!

Funny. I was only expecting to complete a marathon. Now THAT'S what I call RUNNING FUCKING FIYAH!!!

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This post is part of the  Run:) collective.


  1. Great job K!
    Fuckin' A!
    Ain't havin' fun fun?

  2. So freaking proud of you! Although at 29 miles, should have just done two more and gotten that first ultra marathon out of the way.

    Either way, the first marathon is a huge accomplishment.

  3. Awesome foot work! Ditto about the first marathon being a huge accomplishment. That's hilarious that you were FB'ing on the run. Glad to hear everything went well.

  4. Thanks so much guys!! I had such an incredible time. I plan on signing up for a 51k sometime soon. I might as well. I was almost there with this one. :)

  5. That was frikkin awesome! Great report and delighted that you did the lot and pain free and minimalist, well done you!

  6. Happy hour! Now that's a race strategy that might actually get me to run a marathon!

    Way to ..Set the night on FIYAH!

  7. So glad you had a great race experience! I love those races that are like that. Way to make your first marathon a badass event!

  8. Great job!!! Sounds like you had one awesome run. Congrats.

    I almost teared up reading that Seth was at the start! :)

  9. You are awesome!! That was a GREAT read. :)


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