By: Ultra Marathoner Cat Bradley
You’re going to be fine. You will finish.
I repeated these two phrases aloud to myself over and over again as I lay on the side of the trail under an emergency blanket, desperately trying to warm up.
Thoughts of the warm bed at my hotel and an intense feeling of isolation completely consumed me. I tried to push these thoughts to the back of my mind, but it seemed to be a loosing battle. Every couple of minutes I renegotiated how long I’d allow myself to lie there, but I was far too content huddled under what had become a literal and figurative safety blanket. My eyes were squeezed shut and muscles clenched with every ounce of energy I had, trying to combat the shivering.
Breaking the silence and intruding on my concealment, I heard what I assumed was the truck I had seen at the previous aid station rumbling behind me. I refused to look up and confirm my suspicions. Acknowledging the truck would make it all the easier to surrender to the temptation of a DNF.
So I lay there, shivering and scared at what I might to if the truck stopped. And then it did.
“F42, F42, is that you? We heard you were laying on the side of the trail”
I heard the door open and nervous chatter from runners who had already DNFed traveled my way. A warm hand touched my back, shattering the illusion of safety and replaced it with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. Just with the touch of his hand I lost my will to finish. Without saying a word, I let him usher me into the truck, dazed by the promises of warmth and the comforts of a bed.
“No offense young lady, but your race is over. No use fighting it.” He said, trying to comfort me. “Nothing wrong with a DNF.”
In the back seat, a friend who had also DNFed mumbled some combination of apologetic and encouraging words, but in that moment those words seemed empty. I had just DNFed Run Rabbit Run 100, my “A race,” and I was completely heartbroken.
The days following my DNF at Run Rabbit Run were devastating and confusing. How did I let go of my “finish at all costs” mentality? When I forced myself take a more logical stance, I knew I was being silly. A 100-mile finish did not define me. But when it was fresh and my emotions were raw, it sure felt like it did.
In the six weeks following Run Rabbit Run, I focused on separating self-worth from performance. I also started working with David Roche, an awesome human being who happens to do a little coaching on the side. He embraced a more lighthearted attitude towards training and racing. Leading up to Run Rabbit, I was victim to the meaningless data I let my watch define me as. But as David constantly reminds me, it’s just running and I do it because I love it. Just letting go and having fun helped me regain more confidence than any workout ever could.
I took that confidence with me to the start line of Rio Del Lago 100, along memories of New Zealand and David’s wise words from his encouraging pre-race email:
“When insanity makes itself known, think, "This is WHY I am doing this in the first place." Then yell "WOOHOO!" at the top of your lungs (seriously, I want you yelling out loud) and get your ass moving. Relentless forward progress, relentlessly positive outlook.”
The gun went off and so did 350 runners. We were all giddy with what the day would hold.
Our excitement reflected in an aggressive pace that seemed fast even for the first 20 miles, which happened to be flat road. I trotted alongside the lead pack of runners, all men, and told myself I could hang. Ignoring doubtful remarks from the runners beside me, I sipped on my Rocane GU drink and shoved Stoop waffles down my throat.
At the aid station at Beal’s Point, around mile 20, I had a HOTSHOT, while my chief crew member, Rebecca Murillo, filled my pack with more Stroop waffles and Salomon soft-flasks filled with Roctane drink.
Approaching Overlook (mile 44), my stomach felt great and my legs felt appropriate. I ran into Overlook, grabbed some HOTSHOT, Stroop waffles, Roctane, and quickly ran out with pacer extraordinaire, Rebecca who kept me moving with promises of Beyoncé dance parties when we got to Overlook (it was quite the reward). More importantly, she reminded me to look around and appreciate where we were and what we were doing. If it wasn’t for her enthusiasm, I may have forgotten to look up and enjoy the beauty of it.
Chris Fabian, my closing pacer, had just finished a 20 hour drive from Boulder to Southern California on Thursday, went to work on Friday, and got right back in his car and drove 6 hours to pace me through the night. As we descended from Overlook down Cardiac hill (the biggest climb and decent all day), he was silently accessing how hard he could push me in the last 25 miles while I unknowingly chatted away. He later told me that he interpreted my chatty demeanor in that first mile from Overlook as indicator to run harder and thus, I wasn’t chatty for long. We were running so hard that at one point, we added an unnecessary two miles, with an all-inclusive 500ft climb. In that moment, realizing I had pushed up that climb for nothing, I let myself be frustrated but I didn’t let it define my race. Chris and I didn’t waste time dwelling on the time we had lost, or the lost prospect of breaking 18:30, which had been my A goal for several hours. We readjusted goals (to a sub 19 hour finish) and kept moving.
The last mile or so of a 100-mile race is arguably better than the finish itself. It is a quiet opportunity to reflect on the enormity of the distance and appreciate the depth of the accomplishment. I always enjoy those fleeting moments the most, regardless of how I finish. However, approaching the finish line as the first female and 6th overall amplified that emotional high indescribably. I saw it as not only a reflection of a hard summer of training, but also a reflection of how I responded to my heartbreaking DNF and an otherwise disappointing 2016 season. Moving foreword after defeat is always hard, but there is opportunity to be inspired by failure. Breaking the tape at Rio Del Lago 100 was a product of a newfound drive sparked by disappointment.
Find the beauty in adversity, people. Lesson learned.
Official finishing time:
- 18:46:09 (100+ miles, 14,500+ gain)
- Gender Place: F1
- Overall Place: 6th
My journey to breaking the tape at Rio Del Lago 100 mile race wouldn’t be complete without the wonderful support from the companies and sponsors below:
- Salomon: Hugely honored to be a part of Salomon Running. They embody a playful and powerful approach to all outdoor sports, and in my opinion, have the most dynamic collection of trail shoes. From big lugs to no lugs, from light shoes to stable shoes, from to neutral colors to not-so neutral colors and every combination in-between. Pick your poison. Mine (for Rio Del Lago 100) was the Sonic Pro 2’s
- Gu: “Waffle, Roctane drink, Gu chews.” Can’t tell you how many times I uttered those words to my crew. I’ve had some history with stomach problems this last season, all of which resulted in vomiting and underperforming. Using the “Waffle, Rocane drink, Gu chew,” approach, my stomach was a non-issue for the first time in over a year.
- HOTSHOT: Taking HOTSHOT works so well, it almost feels like cheating. I took a HOTSHOT every time I saw my crew, and at the onset of cramping. There is always going to be a degree of muscular discomfort when running 100 miles, but without HOTSHOT I would have been a lot worse off.
- Boulder Accusport: Where do I begin! Gina Ellis is a miracle worker. I came to her in the height of the 2015 season broken and discouraged, fighting chronic injuries that had limited my running for the better part of a year. In just a few sessions, I was completely pain free and able to start building up my mileage. Throughout the 2016 running season, I’ve seen Gina for weekly maintenance work and at the onset of injury. In doing so, I’ve remained completely healthy for the longest stretch of time since high school. If you are in the Boulder area, check her out here.
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