Quiet, calm, focused, relaxed. This is what I kept repeating. I glanced down at my watch. Dang, that’s a marathon PR. Is that a BQ or something? I laughed at myself. Am I the only runner left on the planet that doesn’t know what her BQ is? I keep running for a while. Then it hits me. Oh, shit. This can’t be good. That’s not the plan!
After last summer, I felt like I had a lot riding on this first race of the year and many people were waiting to see exactly how things were going to unfold. I now had something to prove – that I had come back fighting stronger and harder than ever before, that addiction will not own or define me, and that not only is recovery possible but that it can be used as a mental springboard in the pursuit of personal greatness in life. It was perfectly fitting that I was running Dawn to Dusk to Dawn as part of raising money for The Herren Project, and this made me feel like the ante was upped even further.
My husband, Glenn, and our special little boy, Quinn, would accompany me this time. This is always a tremendous effort on my husband’s part, but he wanted to be there to support me, knowing how pivotally important all of this was to me. We made the 5-hour drive to the host hotel, The Wyndham Garden Hotel, near Philadelphia. My Aunt Trish lived less than an hour away, and she was coming to stay with us for the weekend to handle most of the crewing. This was her first race to attend and crew.
We also met with my friend, Amy Mower, who was running the 24-hour as well, and we all went to packet pickup around 7pm. After sharing dinner and drinks and talking to Josh Irvan, Mike Melton, Bill Schultz, Gregg Ellis, and a few others, we all headed back to get some sleep for the night. I fell asleep easily but only netted 4 hours total which is about all I usually get before a race.
My eyes snapped open, and I searched around the bed sheets for my phone. 3:00 am. Too early. Sleep more. About the time I was assuming I wouldn’t fall back asleep, I was jerked awake by the alarm at 4am. My feet were on the floor before I even opened my eyes. This is it; it is time. I scrambled around in the dark trying to not wake my family. I began to prepare physically and mentally for the task ahead, and I don’t know that anyone other than my husband really knew just how much this moment truly meant to me.
Glenn brought me to the track around 6am, and we met with Amy, who I invited to share my tent, and we picked up our ankle chips. Temperatures were hovering just below 50 degrees. The cold rain and wind threatened to chill us to the bone while the three of us rushed to get the site set up. Water was already puddling in the grass, and at the time I was grateful for my waterproof socks, but my hands were getting numb already. Just before the start, I powdered my hands and gloves, and put latex gloves on underneath my water-resistant gloves.
Right before they announced we would be lining up soon, the moment hit me. My nerves skyrocketed and I felt the weight of the world on me. I got extremely emotional and teary eyed. The battles I’ve fought just so I could be here… I closed my eyes and I bent down to my knees. The rain was running down my cheeks and dripping off my chin. I ran two fingers upwards across the laces of my wet shoestrings feeling for tension, and said, “Just one day, one run, everything you’ve got, and rest will come.” I stood up, put my visor and hood back on, and headed to the start line with Amy.
At the start of the race, I was gunning it. Originally, this was only to warm myself up some. I planned to slow down after that, but that’s not what happened at all. My legs felt so amazing. I just kept hanging onto it thinking, A bit further. And I went further and further and further. My mind started dreaming… What if, just what if you hang on to this for as long as possible… What will happen?
My main goal was to break the women’s course record with 144 miles. My second goal was to hit 130-140. My third goal was to run all night no matter what I ended up with. These goals were all great under the realm of perfect conditions in the planning room, but in the cold monsoon weather we were faced with, the difficulty of reaching the lower limb of any of my goals was, well, difficult. But I honestly never entertained the possibility of not reaching any one of them. I just ran. Never thinking, just running.
I kept at it, lapping and lapping and lapping as fast as I could. Then I got close to the marathon mark, and I shattered my marathon PR of 3:53 with a time of 3:36. I admit, I was scared when I started seeing the PR’s coming in. I had no idea what was going to happen from here, and I knew I was putting my entire race at risk. Or was I?
Trish came onsite to crew, and she helped me change out of the waterproof socks, lube my feet, and get into dry shoes. She gave me Red Bull and Ensure, and I was back out in no time. The waterproof socks kept collecting water inside, and it was like I was running with 5-lb weights on each foot for many miles. It was insanely horrible, and they were ditched within the first 30 miles.
I was back out cruising. The day was rolling by so fast. Time seemed non-existent, and I was nearly wholly enveloped within myself for hours and hours, just moving forward in a trance-like state with very few thoughts outside of my internal world. With the persistent rain and no rising and setting sun, there was no benchmark of morning, afternoon, or evening, and the entire day flowed as one whole piece. It was just me, the lines on the track, and my micro climate. Once I get fully focused and block out the world, all I can remember is the physical aspect of what I am doing. I have no idea the world around me exists.
Over and over again, Trish helped me change shoes, socks, lube feet, change devices, feed me Ensure, Red Bull, and anything else I asked for. I felt bad for her first time crewing, stuck out all day in the cold, soaking rain and wind, waiting around just for me to need something. But she was on top of everything as if she had done it many times before. Later in the day she made motivational signs for me! It was very cool, wondering what she might have next time I’d lap back around! It’s funny how primal you get when you are bored for so many hours. It’s honestly just a wonderful thing to see that familiar face again each lap! My mom was sending me motivational pictures she’d made, and my husband and friends were sending me all sorts of words of encouragement. I needed and appreciated everything from every one of them!
Glenn came out to crew for a bit in the evening while my aunt went to the hotel to get warmed and rested for long night shift ahead. It was during this point that I made my first clothing change. I was so chafed in every inhuman place possible from the rain that I had to finally stop and do something now that the rain had slacked off a bit. Then he informed me of the status of everything and gave me some mathematical scenarios, and then he sent me out on the track again. Glenn stayed until just after dark, and I knew that would be the last I’d see him until 7am. Trish resumed her long, daunting shift of all-night crewing.
During this whole process, I not only set a new record for my marathon time, but also my 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile! As I got closer to hitting 100, my husband brought my attention to how close I was to breaking 16 hours. Then, Ray Krolewicz, proceeded advise me and crunched the numbers I needed to hit just under 16 hours. I had to speed up a little more, and so I did. I bared my head to the track, watched my feet, watched the white line, watched the white line, watched my feet… smooth pace, smooth stride, smooth form... this is easy, this is perfect, nothing hurts, keep cruising. It was truly starting to hurt like hell at this point. My shoes felt like bricks, my hamstrings were really tight and sore, and every step took a little more mental energy to make. Then it happened. I barely slid in under 16 hours. My 100-mile time was broken by nearly 3 hours with 15:59:48!
I spent the next lap around the track trying to get my heart rate back down and reigned in my heightened emotions. I returned to my tent to work on my feet and my chafing, and then I got set into my normal pace again. I started eating some solid foods at the aid station and kept looking for the tables to have sodas out. I was really starting to hurt, not in my quads, but in my hamstrings. The muscular pain was nothing compared to the pain of chafing at this point though. But I just continued pushing. I finally broke through my 24-hour PR of 126 miles, and there was a sense of sudden relief, almost as if I had sighed.
I then began the woeful ritual of looking at the clock. Time came to a screaming halt. A mile seemed to take hours. It felt as if I had stumbled upon a giant mental roadblock after passing 126. I suddenly began to feel sleepy and exhausted and was unable to figure out when I ate or drank last. I started turning my focus more to any pain I was feeling, having more trouble sending my thoughts elsewhere. My legs felt like they didn’t want to fire anymore. It became more and more difficult and took much more effort to run. I was so frustrated and couldn’t reason with what I needed to do. You gotta be kidding me. I fought this for hours and eventually began a run/walk combo. I then knew that I would not be able to pull off the 140’ish miles.
I continued on with a run/walk for several hours and changed clothes again because of the severe chafing. I just kept slowing down gradually until my run/walk became dominated by the walking part. Eventually, I was reduced to limping the track. I joined up with other fellow “limpees” unwilling to surrender! It was actually fun, because I hadn’t been able to really talk much to anyone all day, and now I could socialize during my death march! I didn’t feel defeated though, because I knew that I had truly given this race 100%. But, I’m not done yet 😉
All said and done, I came in first place overall in the 24-hour race with a nice new PR of 132.7 miles and also set the following personal records along the way:
Marathon: 3:36 (watch time)
50 miles: 7:15:58
100 miles: 15:59:48
This was an amazingly emotional race, maybe not the perfect race, but it was a perfect comeback in every way imaginable. It was even more meaningful to run for a purpose greater than myself. In about a month, we were able to raise over $700 for The Herren Project leading up to Dawn to Dusk to Dawn. How freaking amazing is that?! I look forward to running Northcoast 24 in September for The Herren Project again along with the huge network of help and support of my family and friends with love and compassion for those suffering from addiction in one way or another.
I cannot finish this race report without showing my appreciation and gratitude. First, thanks to everyone for contributing to my “24 Hours for Recovery” to raise money for The Herren Project. Most of you know this is something very near and close to my heart, and there will always be a person to save, a battle to fight, a hand to reach out for, and I want to be a part of saving a life, a family, a future, a mom, a dad, a child. And now, we are doing this TOGETHER!
Recovery is never easy, and the road back is fraught with demons and wars that must be won. Since last summer, this has been a trying season for me to get to where I am now, to be ready to do what I needed to do on this very day, and I feel blessed in so many ways. I may have physically gotten myself to this point, but many, many of you played a vital role in psychologically bringing me back. There are so many people to thank and, unfortunately, I will miss somebody, but you know I appreciate and love all of you!
Thank you to Glenn Langdon and Trish Mervine for making this possible for me! Thanks for the words of encouragement, support, advice (which many of you stayed up with me all night long!): Donna Westbrook-Cook (I love you momma!), Kathleen O’Connor (I know we’re related), Bob Mohr (#THPUltra!), Wendy O’Connor (always believing in me), Roberta Horn (always make me smile), David Christy “Coach,” and Ray Krolewicz “Einstein.”