But How did this happen?
I woke myself up night after night with this question. I tormented myself, I beat myself up with this question; a simple five letter sentence that defeated me. I inhaled and exhaled those words. Five words shook weakly out of my mouth for three years.
But how did this happen?
But how, how could you Denali. It’s the one thing that keeps me from rescuing myself; I couldn’t let go of anger and embarrassment. I was a wilted flower screaming for light and water. But I had lost my voice.
I let it go.
Opened my eyes, life was pumping. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so awake.
I just got over it.
Took the first step forward and started walking.
You just get over it.
I could talk about the defining moment I knew I needed running again- 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Turlock, CA- How that weekend was the most depressing and inspiring moment of my life. I could talk myself up like some Twilight meet Queen. How every year for three years getting to Nationals meant running a Twilight meet; where by myself I ran my personal best. How my second Twilight run ended in tears, lots of ice cream, and Netflix. Or how I came back for my third try and for the first time in three years broke 11 minutes; with tremendous help from my teammates. I could go further down the road and pull out memories of hating track due to Alaska weather and how the 2009 CCAA Championships in Chico showed me I could run a sub 5 min 1500 as a freshman. There have been lots of defining moments in my running career; lots of good and lots of bad. It’s pretty equal all across the board.
But the one moment that sticks out….was days ago.
Follow Eric around and “try” this mountain thing out. My past training, besides my junior days, was a joke. My goal was just to be prepared enough to give it a good shot.
I used to be a trail runner and my cross country running strength came from playing in the mountains. But the past five years had been hard and my mountain running was thrown onto the back burner. My journey this winter was about running and not letting myself destroy myself. In the last couple of months, the one thing to hold me back was my mental game.
A little confidence boost that came a little too late
After my 8 min PR on Bird Ridge, I was ready for anything. I felt like for the first time since I started this training, I was a climber. I was confident. I was fighting for a top spot and not giving up. It was euphoric, dream-like really. I had a moment on Bird Ridge where I could have let myself fall into old habits, but I just looked up and ran. I ran up a cliff and kept running after it. I ran passed the two women and handful of men who had recently passed me. I ran until literally I smashed into a rock after the finish line. I had finally raced on a mountain, something I hadn’t been able to achieve since I was 18 years old.
So, Mount Marathon.
You walk up to that line wanting to win, but there are also fifteen other women who have the same thoughts. And you know what, I don’t care who the media hypes up before the race, literally there are fifteen women who could eventually win that race. So how the hell do you train for that? How do you train for a race that anything could happen? There could be rain, mudslides, snow, horrible wind, high temps, etc. The up could be slopping and the down could be incredible or vice versa. Someone could drop out and someone could surprise us all and take the crown for themselves. Maybe that’s why year after year we keep coming back; really, anything could happen and anything WILL happen. You just have to prepare for that “anything”.
For the last five years my mountain training had been built from post-track mileage and a couple trips up the mountain in June. I felt like my body could take the challenge of climbing all winter. But still, I half-assed it and worked on my road speed as well. I still couldn’t choose between mountain and track. I focused on the wrong things and let my mental game take over. By the time the race came… I was exhausted.
While racing, it was the little things that ended my chance.
The way I was climbing wasn’t like how I had trained; I carelessly made it up that mountain. Placing my feet in wrong spots (sprained my ankle on the roots, about 5 min into the race) and taking the wrong trails because my eyes were straight down. I didn’t realize I had hurt my ankle so bad until I started my descent. I had never in my entire life had such a heavy down; I tried to make my moves to get back to the top 10. If it wasn’t for an old teammate and friend, I don’t know if I would of finished. Sarah Glaser and I literally finished together and I must have hugged her for a good two minutes. I couldn’t let her go; she had just saved my life and got me to that finish line. It just didn’t happen that day and sometimes that’s how it plays out.
Racing a mountain is such a different sport. It takes a certain training strategy and pure guts.
Up the mountain I scream words of encouragement to myself, but nothing helps the hurt that comes with pushing your limits. Everyone in that race is pushing their bodies off the edge. The struggle is real on that mountain. The pain and triumph is real and understood amongst racers.
To see the passion of Mount Marathon, go to the finish corral. Watch as these mountain racers of all types lift their weary legs and sprint into the shoot. Nobody looks “pretty” while finishing with pain smacked hard across their face. Watch how the volunteers are trained to catch the limp bodies and drag them to water; racers get cooled and cleaned off by hoses. The more and more racers who fill the corral, the more the excitement grows. Others cling to one another and embrace hugs of relief. Groans and pain noises uncontrollably escape mouths; “Oh thank God, it’s over…We made it”.
Laughter and conversation breaks outs; talk of the cliffs, a certain tree in the way…the trail you saw a competitor take…the moments where you out climbed and got passed by a friend…the challenging road(always a hot topic)
My favorite part of the race is the finish. Not only because it is the actual end of the race, but the finish is where you realize you just had a party on the mountain with about 500 of your friends. My favorite part is experiencing this pain with each and every racer. From winners to last place finishers, we all climbed that darn mountain and we all realize what we just accomplished. This community of runners is made up of some of the most inspiring people, it’s something that is so special and I know that everyone I meet makes me feel like I can achieve anything. It’s such a different kind of person you find playing in the mountains.
I have always had Mount Marathon in my life. It is something that runs deep in my family and now my new family (Strabel). I’ve worked hard but I can work harder. With the help from Eric, I have decided to change my original plan. My plan was to come back to the mountains, to where I began as a runner. To find the flower child that had fun with racing. And then, when I found my confidence, take it back to the steeplechase and give my track career another chance; to do the ultimate redemption.
I’ve decided to keep training for the mountains
Track will still be there in two years. I feel like the biggest mistake would be switching gears. That climbing takes years to build up. This whole year I’ve had to transform myself into this “climber” and I feel like I am just getting started. That Fourth of July 2014 came too soon but Fourth of July 2015 is perfectly far enough away. It was such a hard struggle to get myself here and why turn around now? I was so angry I didn’t do anything good for my last Mount Marathon as a Foldager but as a Strabel…
My heart is still lost on the track but my passion is waiting for me at the top of a mountain.