Friday, August 3, 2018

From Stroke to 50 Miles; My Journey Into Ultra Running

Somewhere in the
middle of the race
It was just over two years ago that I suffered a stroke by tearing my right vertebral artery.  Such a shock for me, my family and friends; we didn’t know what to expect. It was a month later I started doing some slow walking and jogging.  Then I was picked to be an ambassador for Orange Mud. A company I love, I wasn’t sure how I would represent them without knowing when I could really run again.  After a year of recovery, with slow running here and there, and physical therapy with NW Rehab, I began trail running last summer with some of our friends weekly and decided I would run a 50k.  So I signed up for Autumn Leaves 50/50 and set out for my first ultra. Autumn Leaves 50/50 was a great first ultra. Though I know I did not train enough, I met my goal to finish and completed a 50k.

My coach and race director
I took a little break and ran shorter distances for the following two months. Then in late December 2017 my husband and I decided to set out on this running adventure and on a whim, we signed up for a 12 hour race with the goal of completing 50 miles at the Angry Owl Ultra Marathons (a 6, 12, or 24 hour run). To make the training schedule more motivating, I hired Crusty Cap coaching to design my training program.  Josh, Crusty Cap director and race director for Angry Owl, did an amazing job and definitely kept me motivated on those days I really didn’t want to run. We also joined our running group on many long runs on the weekends to make the miles pass by and become a bit more enjoyable.

Throughout our training, we completed two ultra distances of 30 miles.  We ran the Eugene Marathon at the end of April, plus some more miles before and after.  Eugene was fun and many runners from our group ran and did awesome! For Chris and I, we ran really well for not competing and using it as a training run.  Our last 30 mile training run in June was way harder than Eugene. It was just Chris and I running all around Minto Brown park a couple of times. While I have always known running to be more a mental effort than physical (to an extent) running these distances has really tested my mental game.  I know I am physically fit enough to achieve these distances, my post stroke symptoms no longer hold me back, but man, that mental toughness is hard to keep going. But I still kept asking myself, “Can I really keep going for 12 hours? Am I capable of completing 50 miles? Why am I doing this again?” Our minds are the biggest obstacle sometimes.  

The week of the race, I continued to have my doubts.  The weather was hot during the week and my heel had been bothering me for a little while.  When race day came, all of that doubt seemed to disappear. I had a good night sleep, a good breakfast and early lunch, and set out to Bush Park to settle in for the next 12 hours.  The logistics of the course were simple; a one (ish) mile loop around Bush Park, with nearly all trail terrain. Our race started at noon and the temperature was about 80 degrees.  I knew it was going to get hotter into the mid 90’s as the afternoon went on, so I mentally prepared and made sure to take in enough water and calories. I mostly used my Orange Mud gear vest, and switched to the handheld a couple times to give my shoulders a break.  I didn’t have to use a pack for this kind of race, since we passed by our aid station every mile, but I liked being able to have my fuel with me whenever I wanted. I stayed hydrated with mostly Tailwind and had some sips of Pepsi throughout the day. I used Honey Stinger gels to get in some more calories and ate the usual aid station food; gummy bears (my favorite) potato chips, oreos, etc. and kept cool with my buff and kool tie.  

There were many times when I was just like, “ah, I just want to be done” but I reminded myself that I was at one time unable to walk, and here I was running for 12 hours, I couldn't just stop! Towards the beginning of the race I saw a life flight helicopter land and take off from the hospital. That was the ultimate reminder for me as that was me being life flighted not that long ago. This gave me a bit more of a push and reminder of why I was doing this. I'm doing this for those who can't run, to inspire those who think they can't, and for ME!

As the sun went down, I started to feel a bit more energized and motivated. Chris and I had SO many supporters come to cheer us on throughout the day and that definitely helped. We were so thankful to see everyone. As the night continued on, my watch died at mile 44, so I didn’t track my walking breaks from then on, but I think that was a good thing as I stayed focused on my goal and taking one step at a time.  

the best cheerleader out there
I continued to count down my laps as I passed by and as I rounded the last corner on the trail on lap 50, I literally said “oh sh** I’m done!” I ran in with my good friend Melissa who was the ultimate cheerleader throughout the whole day, so she deserved the last lap with me! And that was it! We did it! A year ago I never thought this would be possible, but it happened! So many lessons learned along the way, but I think the biggest is that no one or nothing can keep you from reaching your goals.  We are capable of so much more than we think and with the right mindset you can get there!

My biggest cheerleader and motivator <3
All finished!  50 laps for me, 51 for Chris
Tonya and me.
She completed her fist 50k!!

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