Every athlete has a different journey through his or her injury. This is just a recap of what I learned through the last 7 weeks.
After an initial right quad tear diagnosis right after a DNF at mile 52 of Georgia Death Race on March 19th I was told the reason for the quad muscle shutting down and subsequently tearing was likely from something wrong in my right hip. I then scheduled a hip arthrogram (hip MRI with contrast). BUT they couldn’t fit me in for another 5 weeks. My symptoms were- spasming quad up to the hip/IT band and extreme pain on the outside of the hip to which I couldn’t even lie on at night. I had terrible glute pain, swelling, my right SI joint felt out of place and hamstrings were like ropes. This pain was pretty intense for about 2 weeks. I was on advil for about a solid week after the race. The pain wouldn’t allow me to sleep without it.
I saw my PT who said- most importantly to 1) REST my body, REST the muscle and 2) slowly work on mobility and stretching and only when both of those were accomplished could I then 3) Strength train and hopefully around 6 weeks if all went really well, 4) start light running again but only depending on what MRI could confirm.
In the interim, I saw my massage therapist every 10 days and a good chiropractor who immediately recognized my right SI joint was completely out. After he put my SI joint back into place- I finally started to feel some recovery happening. (Side note: I have struggled with SI joint issues since my pregnancy and some of the running I did so late in the pregnancy).
I took two weeks off with absolutely no running, no walking, nothing. Just light light yoga and stretching, icing, epsom salt baths and foam rolling. My mind was a mess- I felt super depressed and hopeless about what I was going through and I began googling hip labral tears and I was sure they would find that on my MRI.
After almost 3 weeks, I began hiking about 3 miles every other day or as the leg felt okay. PT twice a week, and my own series of hip strengthening and stretching 4-5 days a week. I worked on core, upper body and flexibility as much as it felt good.
Finally after 4 weeks, I could feel some progress. I began more intense hiking, returned to pilates classes and bumped up the whole stretching/strength routine. I still took 2 days a week of doing nothing to try to stay patient. Foam rolling provided a major major relief to the hip after the workouts.
Week 5: HIP MRI. Ouch!!! Getting a needle into your front hip all the way into the joint is the most odd feeling ever. My hip felt like it was going to explode. No issues from the MRI the next day other than a huge bruise from the contrast needle. I even went for a hike/run of 5 miles. There was still shooting pain but it was coming from glute/bursa of hip. Appointment with Orthopod revealed- hip bursitis and no labral tear! YAY!!!! Such good news considering I could likely work through bursitis and began training again.
The mental side of injury is tough. Rollercoaster of emotions the entire 6/7 weeks. But here’s what I learned from my inury:
1) Chronic sleep deprivation and chronic life stress are almost 90% of why I got injured. I have a 19 month old who has only slept through the night a handful of times. I have pushed and pushed and pushed through training on such little sleep, my body could never really recover. Meanwhile life stress for me was at an all time high for the last 7 months (really since the death of my brother) and therefore I had a bout of sinus infections, flu’s, and other illnesses that I too trained through. Those sorts of stressors can and will injure you. Acute stress might actually workout okay for racing, but chronic stress is another story altogether. I have retired my superwoman badge. That shit is an illusion and a dangerous one.
2) I raced a hard 100k 6 weeks before the injury. Now, for some people, this might work out okay. But what I realized made a difference for me was how hard I ran in the last 10 miles of that 100k race. I raced for broke trying to catch second place after a long bonk in the middle of the race that I couldn’t make up for. I ran downhill on trashed legs at 6:00 minute pace for 6 miles and probably caused so much damage to my quads, they were set up to fail at Georgia Death Race. I asked too much of myself given the degree of stress my life is. I couldn’t sleep enough to recover from this effort. Just because some elites can run races back to back, does not mean I can or should. In fact, I think racing less will make me a much better runner.
3) IF there is not complete joy for training and racing, don’t do it. Not every run is supposed to be rainbows and unicorns. BUT what I realized is, you should love being out there most of the time. Take the time to look at the wildflowers and the summit views. Take into consideration what else is going on in your life. I was in such a miserable mental space at Georgia Death Race not because of the race, but because my life was not in a good place going into the race. That is the key. Life caught up to me and shut me down. Hello universe, I am sorry I wasn’t listening to you.
4) I didn’t follow my own plan for the year. I got too greedy and too anxious to get a spot into WS100. If I had just listened to my gut I would have 1) taken more than 2 weeks off at the end of 2015 as my coach recommended. 2) Would have just picked one 100k in that 6 week span and 3) would have scrapped training on days that I was sick or tired.
5) Just race because you love it. Just run because you love it. Be kind to yourself. Push when its time, but don’t push all the freaking time.
The great thing is, some major major things have changed for my family and I. Due to some serious life stress and the overwhelming grief of losing a family member, I realize it’s time to follow the path that is being shown to me. So some plans in the works that I can talk about in the next month or so. But in the meantime, I am loving running again. I am enjoying no real specific workouts and most of all I am not thinking about running while running. I vow to take better care of my body as I realize this injury was a lucky one as they go. I have to still manage it and be smart but it should recover well. I plan on running Leadville 100 in August with maybe one other short prep race in July. That’s my entire year agenda. I will absolutely not make any plans until I assess my body and mind after that. It’s only taken me 10 years of ultrarunning to learn this lesson. Man I hope I learn a bit faster on the next one.
“There’s nothing better than being fit, running in the mountains.” David Horton, quote from “The Runner.”
And that’s what it felt like last Saturday. A group of fun, wonderfully funny, like minded women working together so beautifully to accomplish the goal of getting to the finish and claiming a few Golden Tickets. It was the first time meeting Bethany Patterson and Maggie Guterl, but somehow the 3 of us clicked in our pacing and in our efforts immediately. We left the start line within 10 seconds of one another and that continued on a tough, mountainous course for over 8 hours and 30 miles. In all the racing I have ever done, this was a first for me. Usually, even at the front of a race, there is some separation- maybe a minute, maybe 20. There is lots of back and forth until someone feels a bit better and pulls ahead and then usually that’s the race. But this was a day I will never forget.
I was feeling incredibly good. I decided to play the first 38 miles easy and then put the hammer down and do what I like to do which is run harder the second half. The course was set up to do this as well- hard, technical, climbing stuff up front, more fireroads and easier running on the back half. I was eating, drinking, laughing, talking, and all the things that are important to putting down a good race. The effort was consistent and conservative. At mile 21 we saw we were back about 18 minutes from lead woman, Sarah Woerner, but I just knew in my heart that she would come back to us.
Sometime after that, I began experiencing quad cramping in my right leg. The muscle would spasm and then lock up and this only happened on downhills. This was a first for me. I have never “blown my quads,” or so much have had even a quad cramp before. I took more salt thinking it was a humid day and I was just needed more electrolyte. I would stop, stretch it and continue. But as we found our way to our first crew spot at mile 28, I was getting more concerned about it as it kept happening over and over. I told JB in the aid station, but he got me out of there really quick. Onward and upward the 3 of us ladies went. The sky was clouding and cooling off more and the chatting and discussions about all things in life continued. It felt like I was having a phone conversation with my best girlfriends. Talking running, kids, marriage, work, everything.
But the quad was beginning to spasm and though I didn’t say too much at the time, I began to actually worry. The mobility in my whole right leg was changing. Pain up the IT band and into the hip flexor radiating at this point. Somewhere around mile 32/33/34, the skies opened up and I got cold. Maggie was feeling the same way and so she and I pulled over and put on jackets. I was hoping to stay even in body temperature and it felt like a good idea. At that point Bethany kept going and that was the last time I saw her. Maggie and I tried to stay even effort, but my leg was beginning to slow me down. There was a clicking or popping sensation from the medial quad over across to the IT band. I think I yelled out loud and pulled aside. I let Maggie go ahead of me.
I saw JB and Dominic Grossman around mile 44. I was hurting and I think I knew I was done, but I wasn’t ready to give in yet. I had taken around 5-6 advil at that point, stretched the quad and was praying to God that this wasn’t happening right now. I wanted the golden ticket. I was fit and running the race I wanted and thought about over and over again. But the tears were flowing and JB and Dom were trying to pep talk me to continue.
I limped my way up to mile 47 where I was met with Maggie just leaving the aid station, Bethany a reported 7 minutes up and my leg not letting go. I had such sweet help from the beautiful Ashley Walsh and from JB. We were ROC taping to no avail and then I just began wrapping plain old athletic tape around my quad hoping to give it support to bring it back to life.
There’s no doubt that this was the lowest mental place I have ever been in a race in my life. I simply had no emotional well to go to anymore. I got out of the aid station and was overcompensating with the left leg to move my body along. The problem was that it was 4 miles of downhill. I consider myself to have a pretty high pain tolerance, (think 32 hours of childbirth), but this was more than I knew what to do with.
We finally got onto some more level singletrack and due to my leftward lean, I fell hard. Hit my head and began bleeding from both nostrils. I stood up and dug around in my pack and found some cotton. I was now limping down the trail with blood pouring out of my nose. This was the icing on the cake. I think I was laughing and crying at the same time. A runner came up from behind me and was like hey- you don’t look so great, can I get you some wet wipes? He insisted and tried to help me. So much kindness from this sport.
But my day was over. At that point I also thought perhaps my running career was also over. I had nothing left to give. That’s when I realized the last 12 months of my life all caught up to me on that trail and in that moment. When life got tough, I thought I could gut it out- when my daughter was in the hosptial for 2 weeks, I rebounded by running American River 50 a week later. When my brother died, I ran Flagstaff Sky race the very next day. But I have never taken the proper the time to heal, to let my mental side get better. To really deal with how hard life has been. I have just kept the relentless forward motion.
I got in the car with JB at the next moment I saw him. We went to the finish and waited for Bethany and Maggie to claim their well earned top two spots and Golden Tickets. But, I have cried everyday since. It actually feels like that is the right thing to do. You have to feel the lows so you know how to get back to the highs. I will take the time to be in this space until I can heal my heart. My amazing Coach, Jason Koop said he would be really concerned if I wasn’t feeling this way. To be on the brink of your dreams and to have something go wrong is a tough pill to swallow. But Koop also told me- Jen, this is sports. And you know you just lost the race. But you also know you are capable.
So I ask myself- Now What? Now its about getting this leg rehabbed and healed. It’s still really painful and I have to stay patient. This is my first real injury. I also need to re-set mentally. Life has thrown some tough things my way. I need to process that, make peace with it and then I can move on. It’s impossible to ignore those things- it will catch up with you in the long run. That’s a huge lesson for me. Take the time to grieve, to find joy in simply being, in simply running without an agenda or maybe in not running at all.
I will wait for the epic comeback to find me. I will wait for Western States 100 as all good things worth having are worth waiting for. It will be there when the time is right.
Congratulations Bethany and Maggie- you girls are amazing and I will be cheering you on full force for your Western States runs. It was an honor to share such a magical time with you. And thanks to RD Sean Blanton. This man is a passionate RD who gave his all to us runners. I definitely recommend running one of his races. The course was marked beautifully and the volunteers so helpful.
Thank you Jason Koop for your wisdom and advice and for getting me in the best shape of my life. Thank you to my husband, who’s heart has been with me on this road. Thank you to my two sweet little kids, as you are everything to me.
Thank you Hoka One One and Drymax for the constant support.
Stay tuned… the summer plans will find a way to be wonderful!
Cresting the climb at mile 30, was a real defining moment. I had been out of water for about 2 miles and the sun was feeling a bit warm. I looked at my watch and realized, had I stuck to my plan of running the 50k, I would be done by now, maybe a cold beer in hand and my feet propped up. Instead, I was about 5;40ish into the day and only halfway there, and back of the prized spots 1 and 2 by 30 minutes. I had been in the sufferzone for the better part of the day. I was contemplating what the heck I was doing there.
I figured when I saw JB or Billy or anyone with a car, I would bail at the next aid station. “It wasn’t going to be my day” sort of thoughts circling in my head and let’s be honest, my training would agree with that sentiment. 55 miles a week, 10-12k climbing for 3-4 weeks before the race was minimal training after a month off in December. I had a ton of intensity built into those weeks and despite feeling quite good, they were intended to be the stepping off point for the year. Not 100k race shape. Koop and I talked about getting ready for a 50k as the training run for my “A” race, Georgia Death Race in mid March.
So here I was, a stubborn old goat, hiking my ass off to get to the 31 mile aid station where I ate orange slices like it was the youth league soccer sidelines from 1987. I must have spent 2 minutes eating oranges. I am pretty sure the guys were going to start pulling them away from me and telling me to save some for the other kids. I then filled up my UD soft flask with what would be the game changer for me: iced flat coca cola. Praise the universe for caffeine.
About 5 miles later, I was beginning to move better and luckily no ride was awaiting me at the next aid station, which meant I had to get to mile 41 where maybe, just maybe I could still find a ride out of this race. But then something happened. My legs began working. At first I thought it was a fluke. But low and behold, I was holding 9 minute miles. Dammit. I can still run and I have absolutely no excuses right now. I saw JB at the top of the climb and he was yelling, and whooping it up. Was I going to walk in and drop with my husband so excited. No, I couldn’t do that. I saw him and he was smiling and fast talking me like it was our first date. “Babe, you are like a minute back from ladies 3 and 4. No one is looking that great honestly.” Me to him, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… ok, well give me some more coke and let’s see what happens.”
They were sending me signals.
Onward I went- and by that, I mean downward, like 2500 feet to the bottom of this huge descent to then turnaround and climb out 2500 feet in another 5 miles. But this is the stuff I love. The race right in front of me. My body and more importantly, my mind willing to go the distance, to suffer, to see if maybe I could buy 30 seconds a mile from someone.
So I went. I quickly passed Kerrie Wlad, and after we exchanged some similar sentiments about the day, I put in my headphones and just ran. And wouldn’t you know it, Vance Joy’s “Georgia” was blaring on the other end.
Down at the bottom, I saw Devon on her way back. About 7 minutes later, Amelia appeared. I got to the turn around and just saw the 3rd place lady leaving. Well hot damn, it’s still a race. I had no idea if Amelia would fall apart on that climb or what would happen. But again, I had to stay in this.
After some steady hiking to the top of the climb, I realized the amount of coke I had consumed had 1) made me tachycardic and 2) was going to make me puke. After a quick sideline to clear my stomach, I was back to running into mile 55 aid station where I saw the 3rd place women right in front of me.
I didn’t feel like racing really. I mean- who cares- its not 1st or 2nd, which is what I wanted. So why go destroy my legs to chase down lady #3. And then it occurred to me, what if Devon or Amelia crashes and burns (though highly unlikely) in those last 6 miles or 2) what if one of them doesn’t take a the WS100 golden ticket spot? It could roll down to #3 as it just did in Bandera 100k.
To realize you are pretty cooked, yet you need to run a fast 10k was not an ideal scenario. But so was the entire race. The flip switched in my mind and it was time to look like I was fresh as a freaking daisy.
Within about 1/2 mile of leaving that last aid station, I made the pass. I told Meghan she was having quite a day- and I was genuinely impressed with her. She’s going to be one to watch for sure.
I put the gas on, despite the “E” reading on the tank. I took in a gel and then another one. I grunted, moaned and breathed my way to 6:00-6:30 minute pace for as long as I could hold it down the hill. I can only imagine what the other 50k and 50mile runners were thinking as I went by them. But I needed to leave it all out on the course today. In the final mile, I was just hoping it was enough and I took one look back and couldn’t see anyone.
I crossed the line, 3rd female, 6th overall, suprised to have bought myself about 5 or 6 minutes and yet it wasn’t enough. Devon and Amelia claimed their spots and had great races, both world class athletes for sure.
I didn’t get what I came for, but instead I got what I needed. Hugs, kisses and a “mommy, you did real good today.”
I also came away with a bit of a flavor for what I can do in the last bit of a race, which was so so exciting. I think that’s why I love running 100 miles… You just never know what will happen in the end.
“Between the idea and the reality, falls the shadow.” TS Elliot
A new breath. A new year. So happy to welcome in 2016. I’m just going to say it out loud- 2015 was the hardest year of my life. Watching my daughter fight for her life with pneumonia, and seeing my brother lose his life due to addiction has changed me as a person. I see things as temporary, not permanent nor ours to take for granted. My kids childhood is just a moment, sunsets on the top of a mountain peak, again just a moment. So I’m setting forth only very simple and sustainable goals for 2016. I learned more about myself this year than any year yet. So I am going to set my intentions and try to let go the painful moments of 2015. If you had a similar tough year it just means you have a new chance for a better one. I love the start of New Years. Here are a few intentions I am setting forth.
Intentions for 2016:
1. Gratitude is everything. Wake up everyday with a thought of gratitude and say prayers at night with the kids saying out loud what we are each thankful that happened that day.
2. Choose joy, choose smiles. I would like to make a clear choice to love and be happy. We are here to be joyful in our daily lives. Remembering the great words of friend, David Horton. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
3. Structure. The root of much of my stress is chaos. Find daily structure, routines and goals that feel good and productive and stick with them.
4. Run with confidence and freedom. If you put in the training, let your mind rest in your body’s ability to get the job done. No worries, no doubting. Just joyful running and racing with heart and passion.
5. Honor my intuition. This is really directed at the 2 big races I started last year (Cayuga 50 and TNF 50) really sick when my intuition and heart told me it was a mistake. This carries over into lots of life lessons, but for some reason really affected my running. Listen to your gut. It’s almost always right.
Race plans for 2016
2/6 Sean O’Brien 50k or 100k. Training for the 50k but if I am feeling extra fit, I might just show up for the 100k.
3/19 Georgia Death Race 100k. A brutal course with a Golden Ticket opportunity. I would love to run WS100.
May- Race to be determined or possibly R2R2R Grand Canyon
June- Either I was fortunate to nab a spot to run WS100 from Golden Ticket or I would love to run San Diego 100 as it’s been on my list for quite a while.
8/20- Leadville 100
Fall races TBD
Wishing you all happy intentions and a purposeful 2016.
On the late afternoon of Thursday October, 1st my children and I flew to Las Vegas to meet JB. He was saving us 8 hours of driving as he left that morning from Reno with our camper trailer to pick us up to begin our super epic camping trip. We planned on running in Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, camping with Roch Horton and friends near the Tetons and then finishing off in Yellowstone for a total of 2 weeks. We were pretty stoked to set off into a simple way of life, pursuing some of the finest running routes and family camping a trip could offer.
We arrived late around 1 am on Friday the 2nd and got to the Flagstaff KOA where they gave us campsite number 91. I immediately thought of my brother as that was his college football jersey number. I thought to myself- well that should be a good sign for the Flagstaff race on Saturday.
After about one hour of sleep, I was holding my baby boy by my side when I could hear JB talking on the phone at a frantic and half asleep voice. He kept repeating the phrases “No, No, No, No, What? What happened, Oh My God.” He was crying and as I sat up in bed, he could barely get the words out, “Bub is gone, Bub died.” I am not sure what happened at that point. I barely remember him handing me the phone and my mom screaming in my ear. Something about his heart stopped in his sleep. I could not even process what she was telling me. My stomach fell to the floor and everything I knew was changed forever.
That early morning in Flagstaff, I could and (even still now) can barely understand what happened. Our first reaction was to get home, to be with my parents and sister. Yes, I lost a brother, but even more so, my parents lost a son. For anyone that is a parent out there, that is just unthinkable. My heart hurt for myself, but it hurt more for them.
Bub holding Asher
JB and I began to make arrangements to get home, but JB was toast after 13 hours of driving and now not a minute of sleep. We had no choice to but to stay at least one more night. Later that day, I began thinking more and more. Bub (real name, Michael, but no one ever called him that) was 33 when he died. The Flagstaff Sky Race was 33 miles (which is odd in itself, as most races aren’t typically set to be that distance). I felt like I needed to run, to search, to find an answer and maybe even better, to find a place to speak to my brother. I didn’t eat much that day and I am not sure if I ate anything the morning before the race, but hell with it, I was going to try. I needed to try.
I set off that morning, my heart in my stomach, not really caring about the race itself. It was really cold and my hands went numb quickly and at times I wished my brain would go numb as well. But there was some comfort in running near other humans, breathing, talking, moving together. I decided to set forth that morning with the intention of running each mile and reflecting on my brother’s life for that mile. My brother had been one of my best buddies. In early life, we were pretty much a team of mud throwing, mischief seeking, covering each other’s back kind of sibling duo. My mom told me I dropped him on his head when he was only 1. I’m sure I tried to mother him his whole life. When the climb really began around mile 3, I thought of him, a sweet little boy running around with his Easter Egg basket and me helping him collect his eggs. Around mile 7 I realized that was the year he probably collected Garbage pail cards and the first year he played Pop Warner football. Since, the run was a US Skyrace and boasted over 10k of vertical in 33 miles, there wasn’t much to do but go up. I think around the top of Mt. Elden, where the light of Flagstaff was a glory of pink and pines and views of God’s great country, is where I realized my legs were already giving out. But at mile 12 or my brother’s 12th year of life, I was just getting to the good stuff. The times when he snuck in a huge snake into his room in a backpack thinking my mom wouldn’t notice. Or when he shot his own window with a BB gun and claimed someone else must have done it. I had too many memories to try to get through and I couldn’t stop running.
Eva’s godfather and Uncle Bub.
Even though we were on a downhill around mile 14, it took everything to keep a running pace. I just focused on each step and just let gravity carry me down. Another memory from his life just enveloped me on the trail and then I found myself laughing. I brought my brother with me to high school Senior parties when he was just a freshman so he couldn’t tattle on me to my parents and by the end of the year, he was best friends with my then boyfriend, my now hubby of 13 years, JB. JB gave him a bottle cap that year as a Senior and my brother kept it and gave it to JB when he toasted us during our Wedding.
I saw JB at mile 17 and I told him I wasn’t sure if I could continue. He hurried me out of the aid station and I realized these were the years of my brother’s best moments in life. He was such a great athlete. He led his high school (also my alma mater) to two State Championships in both football and basketball. As defensive end, he made the game winning sack for the Football AAA State title in 1999. In fact, it was the subject of JB’s first full documentary, “It’s All About Us.” He was recruited nationwide to Division 1 College schools and in the end he chose University of Nevada Reno because he was truly a home body and loved his hometown.
Bub’s football team reunited at his funeral.
Sometime around mile 20 I was just tired of all the walking I was doing. When Bub was 20, his college football career ended in injury. He hated that he couldn’t play anymore, but he still loved the game. I always took a huge piece of inspiration from him when I toed the line in a race. Why shouldn’t today be any different? I had walked and cried and walked some more. I finally took a gel and actually drank some gatorade and tried to run a little bit more that I had. I needed to find the fight in me.
I saw JB at mile 27 where the 4000 ft climb stood in front of me. I had no idea where I was in the field. I could have cared less. But JB and my sweet Eva and Asher were there waiting for me. Smiling at me, encouraging me on. Eva said, “But mommy you are in 3rd place and JB chimed in with, and she’s only a few minutes ahead.” There it was again- the number 3. I gave my family kisses and found some strength in seeing them there. I knew I had to keep going. I thought about how my brother came to my first 100 mile finish when I was 28 and he was about 25. He saw me suffer and he was there to make sure I was okay. I always wanted him to come to a race where he could watch me have a great day. I realized that would never happen.
But then I felt my brother. I saw his huge smile and I heard him tell me, “J, I am okay.” In the same breath, I could hear him say as he often did, “You are nuts, sister. You don’t have to run this far you know.” And then I put whatever I had left into my heart and into my legs and I tried to go.
Up and up we went. Straight up a ski mountain. It was a hands on knees effort and I had caught 2nd place. But as we ran down to what looked to be the finish line in a speed of reckless abandon, the aid station workers pointed us back up the hill for yet another 1500 foot climb. My physical body was pretty done at this point and I just hung on and took lots of breaks to turn around and look over the valley. I thought of Bub in those miles. His years of struggle during his life of his late twenties. He fought so hard to find his identity and his purpose. I wished I had been there for him more. I kept climbing and finally crested the summit at 11,500 feet. I took some water and began to cry. When I found myself alone with gravity pulling me down the mountain, is when it hit me. Only 1.8 more miles left to run. Only 1.8 years of my brother’s life left. The tears, the screaming to the heaven was something I couldn’t help. This just couldn’t be happening.
As I neared the finish, I thought last year’s Christmas together. My dad dressed up as Santa Claus to surprise my kids and in the end, it was my brother who was in tears. He was overwhelmed by the moment, the family, the closeness we all had. I never thought it would be his last Christmas.
Our last Christmas
And in some strange way, I felt this huge overwhelming release as I saw JB’s face, my kids smiles as I crossed the finish. And my brother was smiling in his own way at me. My 3rd place finish, a wink from him from afar.
There is a huge hole in my heart. I don’t quite know what and how life is supposed to look like except that each day is such a gift. Hug your brother, your sister, your kids, your spouse. Go look at that sunset, be grateful for your friends.
They say pain is God’s megaphone. Well I am certainly listening. I hope to respond in grace. Love you brother, rest in God’s light.
Michael Edward Yenick 2/1/82-10/2/15
Please visit www.bubhugs.org as we begin a foundation dedicated to helping Athletes find Purpose in Life without turning to drugs or alcohol.
A few of his many accomplishments
Thanks to JB Benna, Eva Benna, Asher Benna, Jason Koop, my Hoka One One family, my amazing friends near and far. You all give me hope.
Thank you to Victor Ballesteros for the very kind interview following the race- you can see that here.
It’s never what you think it will be. Life, I mean. The first three months of 2015 I could have never predicted in my wildest dreams. To think that I would sit by my daughter’s side in an ICU while she fought to recover from a pneumonia that some people just don’t recover from, is almost too much to process. But thankfully, she did get better and was able to leave the hospital after 10 long days. JB and I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t run. We just focused everything on getting Eva better and at times, what our next minute or hour would look like. The present was all we had. There was no worrying about tomorrow. A lesson in family, health, priorities and love. All the love Eva received from friends, family, even strangers praying for her to get better. It reignited my belief in people and in a greater good. Thank you to all of you who sent us messages, prayers and good thoughts. It meant more than you know.
One day before Eva is hospitalized
To leave that experience and still find running extremely important in my life said a lot. I knew I couldn’t race Gorge 100k and would have to let my Western States 100 dreams go for one more year. But I wanted to return to training, to racing, to setting forth my best example to my kids. We are fighters, we do what matters and we do things with fire in our hearts. And that’s how I found my way to this year’s American River 50.
Eva the day after leaving the ICU.
There was a lunar blood eclipse the morning of the race. Apparently that wouldn’t happen again for 20 or more years. It was beautiful. It was also the day before Easter. And so it seemed appropriate that some suffering was about to happen. There was a lot of passion to run that morning despite everything. I was tired, sure. I hadn’t really trained in weeks and felt depleted after our experience. But this was running. It was 50 miles of me being Jen, the runner. It was a hat I could wear with a smile. I kept Eva in my mind and heart, but I ran because I could do it freely.
My dad decided to make the trip down with me as JB took the kids to begin our trip to Palm Desert for Easter. I would meet up with them the evening of the race. This meant I absolutely had to run a sub 8 hour 50 miler to catch my flight in time. I love those sorts of hard lines. I looked at the new course and it seemed about 10-20 minutes slower than the original AR50 course of the past 32 years. So I plotted that with my fitness, a 7:20 finish time would be about the right target. I also just planned on running my style- conservative in the first half and pushing hard on the second half. That was the extent of my planning.
My dad and I enjoyed a fun father daughter evening of chinese food and trips to REI to look at kayaks and found ourselves in bed by 9:30pm. 4:00am came fast and I awoke with a headache, but just ignored it as best I could. A cup of black coffee, and 2 small gluten free maple donuts spread over about an hour of eating seemed to be just enough to get me going. The morning was quite cool and breezy as about 850 runners gathered at the start. Two waves would go off that morning and I made my way to the first wave. I realized I forgot a headlamp and so I just stuck next to a guy with one for the first 25 minutes, hoping I wouldn’t trip on the new singletrack section. The first miles went by quite calmly. I noticed a few ponytails ahead of me but was quite content sticking to my plan of cruising a comfortable pace. I wanted to hit the marathon mark no faster than 3:20. I am not a fast marathoner and so I wanted to avoid the feeling of running past my pay grade early on. I really don’t love pavement running, especially post partum. It really is so taxing for me to run and so I just put my head down and tried to chat with the other runners and get to the singletrack after mile 26. My stomach felt out of sorts around mile 15 and I hung on until mile 20 where I found a porta potty and spent about 3-4 minutes getting things sorted. Right after that, a runner in front of me was about to get mauled by a dog on the bike path and so he and I chased the dog off and kept on running past course markings, finding ourselves lost for a few minutes.
Luckily, we retraced our steps quite quickly and only cost ourselves maybe 3-4 minutes of figuring out the misstep. After that, I came into mile 25 aid station at 3:20 and saw my dad. He had fresh bottles of Tailwind and some salted caramel GU’s for me. He told me the two ladies ahead of me were about 3-4 minutes up. I thought that was just fine with me especially given the eventful few miles before.
I saw my dad again at mile 29 and that would be the last aid station until mile 38. The plan was for me to take 2 bottles from him, but my stomach was feeling super nauseous and I wasn’t taking in as much fluid as I wanted to. So I just took 1 bottle and figured that would be enough. He told me F1 and F2 were 3 minutes up. It was time to start putting the pedal down a little bit.
We got into some super fun rolling singletrack that overlooked the beautiful American River. The temps started to climb some and the water looked so inviting. Then I started craving coke slushees. That’s when I knew my stomach was back! So stoked to be climbing out of that hole, yet I realized I was easily going to run out of water. At mile 33, I passed F2 who was walking up a climb. I gave her some encouragement and kept on going. At mile 36, I saw F1 up ahead, Amy Phillips (she’s an awesome and dominating NorCal runner. You rock girl) and just slowly made my way up the trail and realized I was out of water. We both entered mile 38 aid station at about the same time. I was craving the orange slices and coke and had plenty to get things back together. I took off down the trail and just felt a little flat there. I made my way to mile 40 at Rattlesnake Bar where my dad was waiting for me. I was F1 at that point but not by much. Amy entered the aid station where she was picking up her pacer. I took a minute getting coke and more oranges and went back up the climb. Always at this point in an ultra, your legs hurt. They really don’t hurt much more to run faster, so I did . This was the perfect time to enjoy the rolling trail and finally get to some climbing at the end. I found myself at mile 47 before I knew it and the nice aid station volunteers gave me the best dang icy coke in my water bottle that I’ve ever had. It was exactly what I needed to keep up a good pace up the nearly 1000 foot climb to the finish. I loved every step of that climb. It was the part of the course that I felt was more my strength. I had no idea if F2 was hot on my heels, but I ran with purpose and thoughts of my daughter were leading me forward. I crossed the line in 7:23 (5 minutes off the course record) and Scott Warr announced I was the ladies winner, running EvaStrong! So very very true. That sweet girl and her suffering in the hospital was so great, it makes running an ultra seem so easy.
Photo by Helen Martin
What a sweet day with my Dad and with my family on my mind. I stuck to my plan and stayed patient which is what I have lacked so many times in races. On a good day and with specific training for that course, I am sure low 7’s is possible for me, but I was super happy to have a decent run this year. My garmin also clocked about 5400 feet of climbing- more than I expected, but not really hilly to say the least.
Many thanks to my dad for his fun loving crewing, my coach Jason Koop for his constant support and guidance, my Physical Therapist Todd Eekhoff, my sponsors, Hoka One One, Lululemon, Drymax and Vespa for not only the best in class products, but the kindest and most supportive people running great companies.
Kit: Hoka One One Cliftons, Drymax trail Lite sock, Ultimate Direction Tony pack with one bottle, Vespa x 2, Tailwind 2 scoops in 20 oz bottle x 6, 1 Salted Caramel gel every hour, 1 S Cap every hour after hour 3. (For those mama’s that asked me- no I didn’t pump on this race- it was right at the borderline time frame I felt I could make it. Dehydration does take a toll on supply- and even for a day afterwards I had to really hydrate for a normal supply to return).
Now what? I feel like my schedule is evolving all the time. I’m deciding on a May race now, but will certainly focus on solid training for AC100 on August 1st. But as a family, we are on the road to recovery- Asher is turning 7 months soon and Eva is going back to school. I still don’t think I have fully processed our health crisis, but I only know how to move forward and so that’s what I will do.
Pure elation. My heart was beating so fast. I had the bib pinned on, the Hoka One One kit assembled and Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal blaring from the headphones. The countdown began and I kissed my husband and found a place in the pack set to go for Way Too Cool 50k. A training run, a fitness check, my first ultra since the fall of 2013, and a date with my guy on the trail. This run had a lot for me to love. It had been a bit of a road to just get to the starting line, but finally I had made it there and even before I finished, I fell back in love with ultrarunning just like I knew I would.
6 weeks prior, our family kicked off a string of illnesses like I had never experienced before. Tally up 12 visits to the E.R., urgent care and our pediatrician for both of our kids! 5 month old Asher had 3 ear infections and 3 rounds of antibiotics and Eva had bronchitis 4 times and even worse, was on the road to being diagnosed with pediatric asthma. Besides working full time and juggling work travel and no sleep, JB and I had been tested to the core. I was not even supposed to run Way Too Cool as my race calendar had Salmon Falls 50k the weekend prior as my first race of the year. But alas, the Friday night before the run, JB and I rushed a grey, not breathing very well little girl to the emergency room. No race or run or job mattered at that point. Our daughter was struggling. But thankfully she improved over the next week as her pediatrician got really aggressive with medications. I have hope that we can improve her health, but the future will hold many more visits to the doctor’s office as we get her asthma controlled.
As we got her through the tough weekend, I found myself looking for a replacement race and after some back and forth with my coach, Jason Koop, it was decided that Way Too Cool would be a great training run. Jason and I have known each other for years. But we reconnected at the NFEC 50 in San Francisco in December and I knew his tough and strategic coaching plan would be exactly what I needed to make quick work of getting back to competition and achieving my goals.
I have been working only about 3 months with him at this point and I can honestly say it has been the hardest running and most rewarding results I have had in such a short amount of time. I love going for a run with a purpose each and every time. I skid into my day off each week, but find the workload really balanced and just what my body needs. It’s reignited a fire and belief system that with hard work comes good results. Also I believe in working smarter and I think this type of running is a lot of that as well. He also has been huge in my race selection and timing with what I deem to be my “A” races/major goals of the year.
The week of Way Too Cool, JB and I succumbed to the upper respiratory sickness that was floating in our house and even got ear infections as well. (Seriously our luck is awesome…) By Way Too Cool, I had been on antibiotics for 3 days and was feeling a bit better. But it didn’t matter to me, I was going to give it a push and just enjoy every minute of the run. The amazing energy of the 1200 runners on race morning was palpable and I shivered in the cool and breezy air. Yep, those were nerves. I had no idea what would happen that day. How exciting. The goal was to keep the gas pedal down but comfortably, and just work on getting the kinks out. So I kept it mellow for the first 11 miles and didn’t push too hard, savoring the sweet and easy singletrack and the fun conversations with the other runners. I was well aware it was a super fast race right up front, but my leg speed compared to those of 2:30 marathoners is totally laughable in a fast 50K. I only worried about how I was doing and used this time to work on pacing, on smooth biomechanics and fueling. Basically, all the things I had forgotten on my time away from racing. But it came back right away and my body found it’s rhythm.
By mile 13, I found myself step for step with Tim Twietmeyer. JB and I chatted away with him and our paces seemed about right. He’s built like a solid granite rock, runs smart and is a real inspiration. A slight crush, perhaps? Well maybe. Anyway, I digress. Those miles flew by and soon enough we were nearing mile 20. I started loving the small climbs and the distance felt really good. I would pass Tim and then he would pass me and we did this a few times. It made for a fun last hour and half. As I crossed Highway 49, I headed up the singletrack and knew there was only about a mile and half left. I did the obligatory Goeff Roes look over my shoulder and saw no one imminently behind me. It’s no fun to get passed in the last mile. Regardless, I felt the barn calling and a cold beer with my name on it was surely awaiting me. I tried to give one more push and in all honesty really wanted to come in sub 4:20 but alas, the finish line read 4:25. I really enjoyed such a fun day. It was good to be back out there. I headed straight to the car where I found the breastpump and was immediately reminded of my kiddos who were at home with the grandparents. After some refueling with great post race food, JB and I headed home. The trucker hat went from forwards to backwards. Kids make me work harder than any run, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks Julie Fingar and all the volunteers for the great race.
To see some resemblance of fitness after a few hard months of training was so satisfying. There’s plenty of work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I will take the little rewards like a good race when they are there. Many times in the run, I was thanking Koop for the hard V02 max repeats or the tempo runs. Intensity not quantity, might be my theme for the year.
It’s as if one could tell a runner’s life story with a quick glance at their Ultrasignup results. We forecast how a runner will do, we decide what makes someone “elite,” we compare, we judge, we examine. I am okay with all of these things on a surface level, but as a runner who did not decide to actually be competitive until a few years ago, I feel that there is so much more to the story than a simple finish time, a placing, a ranking or a DNF. There’s a journey. So it then occurred to me- Ultrasignup should offer a comment line next to each race. Not as a source of excuses or finding ways to creatively type out sandbag stories, but as a way to add color to moments in a runner’s life in a summary of a few sentences. Not everyone has a blog! I’ve spent over 10 years running- I would love to comment on what each day felt like to me. Plus how fun would it be to read someone else’s summary of their day? It would be pure gold.
I thought I would take a few of my races and do exactly that. It was like I walked down memory lane for each race, reliving it as I thought about the highs, lows, the pain, the freedom, the perfect race, the worst race. It was me, a runner, over a decade of growing, learning, living, loving and my ultrasignup results became more than a number- they told a story about me:
Comment: 70 miles of pure highs and lows with crazy thunderstorms, chasing the leaders, working hard in the middle of the night. Vomiting for a long time at mile 70, a long nap in the car, followed by my crew- Roch Horton telling me- “You can’t quit, you can’t run, but you can walk.” And walk for 30 miles, I did. I lived a whole year it felt in those 8 hours. One of my top 3 most memorable and proud runs. I draw on this run over and over again.
Comment: The most beautiful red mountains, crazy slickrock, totally hard course. Being passed by Larisa Dannis, then passing her back and running my best race ever. I felt strong at mile 85, which is always my goal. To push, to run with fire in my heart and to have so much fun with my crew. This stands out as a my best race yet, and I would love to come back here to live this day one more time.
Comment: If you haven’t raced against Jenn Shelton, I highly recommend it. What a day. What a course. Hal puts on a hell of a race and this was so much fun. My dad crewed, I flew, than I bonked hard, then I got lost several times. I got to see what I was made of with a beast of climb at mile 85. Then I cried for the last 10 miles and swore off 100 milers. (Yeah right). I will definitely be back to try this race again.
This is where I learned how to use my breastpump on the uphills in a race. This is also where I lost that same pump on the Bolinas Ridge. What happened after that is hilarious. Eva was 7 months old. I got to see her in the carseat as JB tried to crew me. I felt stronger than I had prior and had a glimpse of a better runner in me. A gorgeous day in the hills of the Headlands and I was so stoked to be there.
Comment: My 30th birthday was on this day. I celebrated with having JB as my pacer, my parents and I saluting my day with Red Bull at 3am. Dancing on the trail, laughing, loving the day. I also learned Ensure is a bad thing for me and I also solidified my love for 100 milers here.
Comment: My very first 100 miler. David Horton’s race! Not sure I knew what I was doing, but man it was fun and hurt all at the same time. The course was quite long- “Horton miles,” I quickly learned. Oh yeah, and I beat my hubby here by a few minutes:)
Comment: The only 100 mile DNF I’ve ever had. I learned what hyponatremia is, what peeing blood looks like and what your mental status does when you know you are done. I learned what it’s like to be F11 at Cal 1, just to be derailed by the river. A race that taught me so much and a course I hope to make proud in the future.
And with that, comes so many smiles, some tears, some laughs but most of all, it tells more of who I was, who I am and what running is to me. That’s a little of what some races looked like for me… What are your memories of your race days if you only had a few sentences?
I never thought I could be this busy. Ever. I am back to work, back to training, back to everything times two! So sorry I haven’t gotten to this blog. I am finally able to put the past 4 months in perspective and take a breath. The obvious- my little man arrived. Asher is 16 weeks old and yes, I’m smitten with him. I mean to write up a separate post on his birth story at some point. Mostly because I learned so much this time around and if helps anyone, then awesome. The biggest takeaway for me was learning when it’s best to stop fighting (both physically and mentally) and to let nature take its course. In summary, I had a 13 hour labor (quick by my standards), 45 minutes of it was scary as his heart decelerated and a team ready to take me for a C-section hovered around. I gave in, stopped fighting and got an epidural so that he could turn to face the right way (anterior). My running mind only knows that feeling when shit is going wrong, to start fighting for the finish. But in this case, I had to relax into the pain and lean into something I didn’t want. That lesson is one for the books for me- being stubborn is a virtue, but learning to adapt is what makes you live. I was happy my doctor, an avid runner, and a patient man, gave me the encouragement to get my son out safely. And all resulted in a crying, sweet little boy being laid upon my chest as I cried those tears you never forget when you meet your child for the first time. I quickly got over my plan to go 100% natural and instead was thrilled my son was okay and I left my ego right then and there.
My initial recovery was a little complex- easier than last time, but harder because now I know I can handle more, push harder and my fitness was better throughout my pregnancy. So when the doctor tells you not to run for 6 weeks, you nod and cross your fingers behind your back. I began hiking 3 miles a day starting on day 3 after birth. I ran 7 miles a few days after that and I still had stitches, and my pelvic floor felt like moving rubble. So I backed off the running and kept up the hard hiking. Around day 14, I began running with regularity. 3-5 miles most days, some on trail, some on treadmill with Asher in a baby swing next to me. I kept this up but had continued pelvic floor/low back and hip soreness and just tried to work through it. By the time Asher was 6 weeks, I was logging a few 50 mile weeks and on week 10, I ran the CIM marathon where the wheels fell off completely. I had this inkling that maybe it was too much, too soon, but being the stubborn and much too eager runner, I wanted to run. I started that marathon with a ton of will and determination to maintain 7:15-7:20 pace, but by mile 13, I had to walk, stretch, hit the porta-potty and repeat every couple of miles. These were all issues with hip and postpartum pelvic floor issues that I realized the hard way. Needless to say it was a terribly slow (3:54) painful run that really did cause me a setback. Thanks for embarassing shout out at the finish, Eric Schranz:) I painfully walked my broken body to the car, cried for 10 minutes, slammed a burger while nursing my son and then finally saw the light I needed to take a different path and so I made a list- .1) getting a coach to guide me or actually micro manage the crap out of what I was attempting 2) moving my ultra plans back a few months and 3)getting back on strength training.
So here I sit, 6 weeks post CIM of which 3 weeks were spent completely healing and the last 3 weeks into serious training. My hips are responding really well to the workload. I have long time friend and excellent coach, Jason Koop from Carmichael Training Systems guiding me constantly throughout the weeks. I mean checking in after intense workouts to see if things feel right. We both know that taking the proper time to heal is a priority. But so far, I am feeling really great. I am in physical therapy and pilates every week. I put my first A race ultra on the books for end of March at Gorges Waterfalls 100k. I think I can be ready for that race, and if not, I will know soon and can adjust.
I really want to race Western States and finish and do well. I think it will be on my mind until I do just that. I realize this plan may take a few years and I am okay with that. Having my little boy is worth the time it may take to comeback. But I really hope to make my way to Squaw sometime soon. If not, there are plenty of races to keep me excited and going until then! One is AC100 which I am lucky to be in this August. So now, its just going as hard as I can with juggling my work and my priorities as a mom. More blogs, more regularly I hope!
Yes, I’m still pregnant (39 weeks) and yes, I am still running. It’s just taking me a lot longer to cover the distance. So of course, this means I have lots of time to think and reflect on those trails. I ran 6 miles on Sunday to my favorite meadow and baby seems pretty content in there for a while longer, but as I tend to be impatient, I found some reflection points that I hope to come back to even when I am not pregnant:
“God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”
― John Muir
If you’ve ever been 10 miles away from a 100 mile finish, you know what I’m talking about. You hurt, you breathe a bit harder, you almost wish away those miles because you feel the finish line and therefore, the end of the suffering. It’s hard to stay in the moment. But you also know, those last 10 miles are where the work is done- not so much the physical work, cause let’s face it, your body is cooked, but this is where the mental work, the soul revealing, this is-who-I- am moments lie in your race. These are the moments you think about forever. What do you have left?
As I sit here, likely still a few days (or even longer) away from giving birth, it seems so easy to wish away these last days- to want to hold my baby, to want to run for hours and hours on the trail, to get rid of the constant heartburn, achy hips, large belly and all the other ailments I could sit and focus on. But instead, I find myself having acknowledged all these things, wanting to let myself be okay savoring the uncomfortable feeling for a bit longer. I have talked about this before, but running a 100 miles is akin in some ways to being pregnant. But more than ever, I have found this pregnancy a real lesson in ultra running patience that I hope to think about when I am hurting in my next race.
Things I will think about over the next few days and in my next 100 miler:
1. Find a spiritual focus and tap into it throughout.
2. You will suffer and you will get to the end of it.
3. Flow, don’t fight.
4. Go inward when you need to and likewise, use the energy around you to help give you power.
5. Smile, even when you hurt
6. Make your plan and then get ready to ditch it
7. Have a mantra and repeat it
8. The things that hurt are the things that make memories
9. Be grateful, always.
10. They don’t call it labor for nuthin… nor is ultrarunning supposed to be easy.