monday, nov 25, 2019.
more than a week after it rose over the banks, my cup of gratitude is still overflowing. last saturday was everything i had dreamed of, and more. it was a complete race — a long day spent on a beautiful landscape i was fortunate to call home for the past few years, and with beautiful souls i was fortunate enough to have known and become friends with.
i hope the show my body put together was a small sampling of the act of love that my crew provided to me in those headlands hills — and the support my coach and friends provided from afar. leaving this season filled with so much gratitude and love, and ready for everything ahead. ❤️
on friday drey and i took the ferry to sausalito and stayed over in marin. minus the race part, it felt like a weekend-long mini retreat we two girls just spontaneously took to escape the city. fun fact: drey was my roommate when i went to my first ever yoga retreat in jamaica earlier this year. the experience of sleeping next to the ocean is one of the calm so healing that you pass out like a baby. unfortunately, we never got to experience that calm because there was too many stories to tell, too many scars to peel off, and too many laughs to share. we bonded instantly, and by the end of the trip we’d known each other’s entire life. she became my crew chief then, back when i didn’t even know if and when i’d be racing something tough enough to necessitate a crew of folks willing me to the end.
when we arrived at the start of the north face endurance challenge 50 miles at 4am saturday morning, i was nervous. i knew i’d put in the work. i knew i’d shown up every single day. i knew i was ready, and i was as trail fit as i had ever been.
and still, i wondered — was it enough?
i had no idea what would happen in the next ten plus hours.
and i warned my crew repeatedly that they could get any version of me — euphoric or miserable, optimistic or downright defeated, moving well or cramped, injured, bonked, body completely shut down. i could be drifting along like a feather, or i could feel like a fully loaded 18-wheeler lumbering up, jackknifing. or somewhere in between. i was nervous, for sure; but i was also curious and excited to find out.
the early miles were exceptionally slow; i intentionally chose a later wave and was stuck behind the traffic for the first climb. quite a scene of the trails lit by the white glow of 600 headlamp, snaked along like a highway during rush hour. while i took it extra easy, everyone passed me on the downhill. i let them go, totally relaxed, knowing that i had many hours of hard physical labour ahead of me.
be patient. save your legs. coach said the race doesn’t start until stinson beach.
the first highlight came when i raised above the miwok hill and the sun too rose above the clouds. i stopped to snap a picture, and to take a brief moment and soak it all in. running into sunrise is one of my favorite things to do, and there’s no better way to spend that morning than to stand on the hilltop right there, right then. i felt both strong and humbled.
as we rolled into tennessee valley (mile 13.3), i was right on schedule and feeling warmed up. quick in and out — drank my electrolytes, grabbed pb&j sandwich bites, hugged drey, and ditched my headlamp. i intended to get my headphones at this aid station and i had curated an entire playlist on spotify just for this race; but somehow at the moment i decided to let go of that playlist, along with my phone. for the rest of the race, i ran music-less and phone-less, and that gotta be the best decision i’d made on that day.
the next 15 miles or so was so staggeringly stunning — we ran with a sweeping view of the coast above the pacific ocean; we winded our way up the long switchbacks into the edge of muir woods and onto the peak at cardiac; and then we descended almost 2,000 feet into the hazy waves of stinson beach. i was in such an uplifted state that i chatted with almost everyone i ran along with — their hometowns, their stories, and their reasons for toeing the line. knowing that people from all over place and from all walks of life came to this gorgeous place that is my backyard brought me so much joy. if before i were excited to pull my body through hell and test my limits, now i was starting to appreciate that’s a cool thing we get to do as runners.
as i flew into stinson beach aid station at mile 27.4, i was ecstatic. i spotted david first, and then drey, and saw an eagerly-waiting-and-ready-to-roll pieris with a “pacer” bib on. i have a very official pacer, i thought, that’s so damn cool! at this point my senses were elevated, voice raised, my hidden identity as an extrovert disclosed, and my obnoxious level alarmingly climbed to a record high. i was on runner’s high and probably acting like a maniac.
i learned later that my crew was betting on what state i’d be in when they saw me at stinson. and nobody predicated this.
onward and upward, pieris and i had the most difficult miles ahead of us.
we’d run through the classic dipsea trail (read: steep, stair-steppy) through the moors and back to cardiac. the next segment to old inn has a winding difficult descent, followed by a challenging climb. from there we’d pass through the deep dappled sections of eucalyptus forests and enormous stands of redwoods — it was impossibly, ridiculously beautiful, and absolutely one of my favorite memories of the day.
despite having 30 miles on my legs already, i handled the technical section quite well and maneuvered my way through many rocks and roots. when i started trail running, i was horrifically terrible at running down technical trails — my frequently rolled and twisted ankles can attest to my clumsiness ever since puberty. heck, i was still atrocious at it. however, i think i was slightly less atrocious now — surprise, surprise — by having run more technical trails during this training block. i also added ladder exercise into my routine, and continued to work on strengthening my ankle, hip, and core, week in and week out. sure, they are boring, and sound waaaay less sexy than a big day in the mountains, but i do them every week, and hopefully i become a little more nimble each time i stand in the corner of the gym, grimace over a teeny-tiny, unnoticeable movement, while my friends over there were lifting two hundred pounds of plates off the ground.
boring and unsexy, but that’s how i get to the start line healthy. and i think it paid off on race day, too.
feeling engaged and confident, agile even, i kept my spirits high. i greeted everyone i ran into on the trail. quick on my feet and heavy on the banter, i was having loads and loads of fun.
what a banner day!
…or i thought.
somewhere between the two wooden bridges on redwood creek trail, i ran into a tree branch that knocked me out for a couple of seconds.
soon after, i fell.
i didn’t fall on a technical trail; it happened on a smooth road, when i was least expecting it. we were just out of the most technical part of the course, and had to run on the highway for a little bit before connecting to another trail. i was passing so many runners at that point and la-de-da everything was going great until, splat! i hit the ground and fell flat on my face. and everyone i just passed saw that.
a mile later, i tripped over an unstable rock and rolled my left ankle.
like in life, a little humility goes a long way.
at the time i had been running for almost seven hours; even though my legs held up reasonably well, my mind started to drift away.
i swallowed a couple of ibuprofen and knew i needed to eat. i had been consuming calories every 30–45 minutes and my stomach hadn’t rebelled throughout the day except for occasional burping; nevertheless the thought of stuffing down yet another energy gel was just… not pleasant. pieris kept saying — eat this, eat that, i hadn’t seen you eat in the last 20 minutes, should you eat now? he was such a persistent calorie-enforcer that i forced myself to shovel a gel and a bar just to shut him up.
and ten minutes later i felt better and was able to rally my inner force and regain focus. i kept moving.
like in life, a little numbness doesn’t hurt.
like in life, a little sugar saves the day.
like in life, sometimes tough love is exactly what you need.
it was strange to feel physically strong and mentally weak at the same time. by the time we were back at tennesse valley (mile 41.8), i had come to recognize that i was fully capable of finishing the race, as every time i willed myself to move, i was moving fairly decently. i had also come to realize that it was not going to be easy — as the miles dragged on, i was having increasingly more trouble talking myself into running.
seeing my crew at the aid station was a huge boost to my morale. i got to see soph for the first time that day, since her shuttle was stuck behind cyclists and she barely missed me at stinson. rather worried about the potential weariness of shuffling between aid stations, i asked my crew how their day went. by all accounts they were well-entertained and happy to be out there supporting me. i grinned like a cheshire cat and gave everyone a monstrous hug; swapped pieris for david, and quickly set off.
on the 2-mile climb out of the valley, someone had taken my legs and replaced them with concrete blocks, and the 700-feet ascend had never felt this heartlessly brutal.
“are we there yet?” i whined more than once in a voice that suggested the only correct answer was yes. i wanted this to be done. pleeeeeeease.
“why am i doing this?” i asked more than once, starting to question the idiocy of it all.
in his typical, earnest manner, david replied: “i don’t know.”
perhaps a bit too earnest, david.
but he also reminded me that i was the one who decided to do this. i wanted to do this, and i trained hard for this, and i will do this. i will get it done.
i kept moving.
from tennesse valley to alta and to sca ridge trail and to golden gate bridge, it was all too familiar a route i’d trained on over and over again. granted, the very same trails felt ten times more difficult at mile 45 than mile 15; but they still helped me remember why i chose to pursue this goal in the first place.
i love it. period. i love training, that monotonous, daily grind. i love turning my morning runs into a lifestyle. i love having an anchor that i can depend upon. i love venturing out into the sunlight, fog, wind, rain, sleet, hail (ok, maybe not hail) and exploring the land surrounding me while working up a sweat.
this reminder gave me tailwind — the journey leading up to this moment had already been immensely enriching and fulfilling, and now i was about to dig deeper and bring it home. and so i put my head down and got to work; everyone i passed was walking, and i was running, and running hard.
it was a struggle in the last couple of miles, and i ran with will and in silence, ready to get this shit done. i drowned myself in the voluntary pain that we all unrelentingly gulp, and so few understand.
the white north face tents at crissy field were the most beautiful sight i’d ever seen. “you got this!” david ran alongside with me and cheered me on. “half a mile left!” course marshalls yelled at us. everyone on the street gave us thumbs-up.
i crossed the line.
oh my lovely crew! soph and drey were waiting there to greet me and pieris went back home to get his car and bring me lemonade — something i told him i was craving for.
and guess who else i found? frank, frankie, and scott trekked all the way across the city just to see an exhausted wreck of soul. luckily for them, either i was riding on whatever amount of endorphins still remaining, or the amnesia set in quickly, i was utterly exhilarated.
it was an extraordinary day to be alive, and i was surrounded by people who loved me and supported me and believed in me, and i’d survived. hell, i’d more than survived — i’d done something that was totally unthinkable just a short while ago.
i can’t think of a better farewell to san francisco and the human beings i have shared memories with here in this city.
how lucky i am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
thank you, race staff and volunteers — for staying up all night and all day to enable our lunacy.
thank you, runners — for pouring your sweat and soul on the trails. nothing beats the collective comfort knowing that we all feel terrible but also terrifically alive.
thank you, coach — for taking me under your wing when i needed it the most, and for always believing in me. here’s to another year unabashedly chasing after our boldest dreams.
thank you, my friends. thank you for caring, for engaging in my goals, and for allowing me to share this journey with you.
and thank you, my crew. the best parts of the day were the minutes i saw your beams and the miles i shared with you. even in such a singular pursuit, i couldn’t have been half of who i was that day without you.