Life in between: lessons learned from training for my first 50k

You may only be able to see half of my face in the below picture, but the most important part is still visible: the faint outline of a sprawling smile. This photo was taken just over the halfway point into my first 50k, which I ran this past weekend in a Nor’easter storm. And while this may have been the most difficult course + conditions I have ever raced through, I have never ran so happy, light or free. Sure — it was 32 miles of trudging through ankle deep puddles, sliding down mud hills and hurdling over collapsed trees. But it was also 32 miles of cheering, laughter and pure joy.

Even though I have been running for more than 13 years, I will always remember this past year as my triumphant return to the sport. My new beginning and rebirth as a runner. For me, 2017 was the year I found a new reason to lace up my running shoes and get out into the world every day. It was the year I closed the door on comparison, doubt and fear. The year I stopped running for PRs or to prove something. The year I started saying “yes.”

Yes to epic experiences. Yes to embarking on the hardest training of my running career. Yes to creating the kind of stories I want to share when I’m old. Yes to living the life I want to lead. Yes to a year of adventures and charging ahead into the unknown.

Here are some things I learned / will take away from my year of running:

1.Leap. Over and over again, I am reminded of the power of taking that first step. It’s so easy to spend life on the sidelines — wishing for things to happen and waiting for that perfect time to jump in. I’ve been guilty of doing both these things more times than I would like to admit. But the thing is — whether or not you’re ready — time is passing. And there’s no way to reverse it.

It took me two months to finally work up the courage to press “submit” on my first ultra-marathon registration form. I kept telling myself I didn’t have the time, energy, strength or ability to run this sort of distance. And then, one day I decided I was tired of my excuses and waiting to start my dream. So, I took my first step and signed up for my first 50k. And then I took another step: getting out there and logging the miles. Committing to train day after day, week after week, even on the hard days. Each step I took was just one step closer to crossing the finish line of my 32-mile dream.

Life truly brings you to some pretty amazing places, people and opportunities when you stop making excuses and just show up for it. See where your first step takes you.

2. Surround yourself with great people. People who make you laugh hard and smile endlessly. People with great stories. People who inspire you. People who meet you at 5 a.m. to run / catch the train to the next November Project workout. People who give the BEST hugs and pep talks. People to laugh with at the aid stations about the absurdity of it all. People who support and help you achieve your goals without expecting anything in return.

3. Believe. If you don’t believe in yourself, no amount of support or encouragement from those around you will get you across the finish line. This applies to all areas of life.

Training for this 50k has been one of the most mentally and emotionally exhaustive experiences of my life. There were countless workouts and long runs that ended with me on the side of the road in tears — frustrated and doubtful that I could tackle the distance. Runs that I had to plead with myself just to make it one more street block. And then to the next one.

And yet, somewhere deep in my heart, I knew I was capable. I knew I was worthy. I knew I could do this. And in the middle of my race, when I was struggling and starting to think “I can’t” — I returned to that feeling of worthiness and found a way to take the next step forward.

4. There’s nothing to prove. Except for how much fun this entire process can be — especially when you’re in good company. When you run with your heart + joy, pace, time and distance are inconsequential.

5. Ride the wave. By signing up for long distance races, you are choosing to put yourself into the exhilarating unknown. This is equally terrifying, incredible and energizing. Whatever may come on race day — choose to embrace the experience with open arms. The new terrain. The new thoughts. The new feelings. The new lessons.

6. Never limit where running can take you. Running (and life) is far more beautiful and complex than hitting a PR or crossing a finishing line. Enjoy the privilege that is taking even one step and simply being.