From Winning to DNF'ing in 2 Weeks Time...
The irony, of that title, eh?! Well, unfortunately, the Chuckanut 50K DID disappoint for me -as opposed to most of my friends and running comrades! The morning started much like any other race morning and gratefully, I even had a "leg up" and an extra hour or so to sleep in, as the race was in my "home court," of Bellingham, Washington!
I woke up with plenty of time for my daily readings, some breathing exercises, a leisurely breakfast, stretching, rolling out of the legs and pre-race checklist organization. However, this morning, I was going to try to skip one major gut wrenching (and caffeine removing agent) from my morning routine... my coffee! And by switching to green tea for the occasion. You see, my reasoning for signing up to pay to run a race in my backyard and training ground was FAR DIFFERENT and unlike anyone else's reason for racing that day. Being a Combat Veteran with fairly debilitating PTSD and anxiety around crowds and large groups, I wanted to try to face one of my HUGEST fears, head on. Coffee would NOT be helping my head nor my nerves this race day!
I headed out the door with plenty of time to spare to get myself into Fairhaven, parked and linked up with my "bests." We caught a ride with Jenny's boyfriend, John, who kindly dropped us off at Fairhaven Park and we headed to the start together. I was a bundle of nerves. I was stressed and overwhelmed as we weaved though the masses of people to get our drop bags checked and ourselves race ready. I fumbled with my bib and needed my girls to help me prepare. I was a huge wreck in my head though I honestly didn't forsee the race going the same way. My game plan was to get a quick start and away from the majority of the crowd and then slow to a reasonable 50K pace for myself. My legs felt good, I had enough sleep, I ate with plenty of time to spare. I was ready to race.
The countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. My start plan worked pretty well. I got a good lead for myself and slowed the pace behind "the elite" but ahead of the middle-crowd and I began breathing a little easier... I was terrified around all of the people that morning and was in a frantic panic from the start (in desperate need to sprint my fastest away from everyone) but I did my best to stay just where I was... Perfect for now, I thought. And I kept running, my mind finally happily wondering, my head slowed from a panic and my legs at an easy pace. And just as I reached the Lost Lake parking lot, roughly 6.7 miles from the start, I started to feel calf and knee/IT band pain.
You see, this season, I am working to heighten my running and endurance fitness levels -and for those of you not yet following me, my goal in doing so is to compete and complete the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run in from August 10-14 to raise funds for Veterans in need of medical/mental heath services they cannot get approved via Veterans Healthcare System, the Veterans Affairs. Each race I run this season, I aim to earn donations from the public for Veterans in need. Along with being a race to run this season, for me each race is also another "training run" for me, leading up to my final goal of the Bigfoot 200.
However, just two weeks back, I *temporarily* injured my knee (IT band, calf and hamstring bursa along the outside of my right leg) running in incredibly snowy/icy conditions at the Wallace Falls Inaugural Trail Race. I concluded that the extra use of both calf and hamstring muscles, when pushing my body a little harder/faster, set off this knee/IT issue. It is an injury I have not had before until recently and boy, was it nearly impossible to run on when "flared." After the win at Wallace Falls (1st female/2nd Overall), I spent 2 weeks strictly in the pool, deep water running and at the gym, strengthening doing total body workout circuits (TBC) and yoga. I rolled and massaged the area regularly and was seen by my chiropractors and physical therapists and hoped for the best in the upcoming weeks.
Back to the Chuckanut.. When the twinge of pain began in my right leg again, I started to panic but now instead of crowd anxiety, my mind switched back over to having race anxiety! I began my climb up "Fragrance," around the lake and finally over to "2 Dollar." My buddy, Emily, caught up with me and we ran together down "2 Dollar" while I voiced my race anxiety and she gave me immediate encouragement. Thankfully, for her being in the right place at the right time, I was renewed for a few more miles - though trudging more and more painfully as I climbed while getting more "crowd anxiety" as the pack began catching back up and closing in on me.
After reaching the top of Cleator Road, I needed help. I wasn't sure what I needed to do to help my pained leg, my lack of energy (from skipping my morning coffee and ridiculously leaving it's green tea replacement on the counter) or my increasing anxiety from the pack steadily catching up again. I was a hyperventilating mess. I grabbed some shot blocks and electrolytes and began toward the "Ridge Trail." After a few miles, I could barely run any further. I hobbled and walked intermittently, getting passed by, racer by racer. Another two of my buddies, Alicia and Gavin ran beside me. I was now crying/hyperventilating. My leg was beyond pained. Alicia continued on, leaving her trusty running buddy and boyfriend, Gavin, behind to help me. I felt terrible to take him from her but was so grateful for my "trail angel" this miserably, beautiful day in my normally, lovely little world and backyard playground.
We reached the intersection to the "Lower Ridge" and Gavin had finally convinced me to drop from the race, reminding me of my big season ahead and what I had planned. I then, reminded myself of the thousands of Veterans I would be helping to fund, when running these upcoming races this season and it was then I cried harder for choosing to hobble away from this ridge. Amidst my blubbering situation ... Debilitating race and crowd anxiety and excruciating leg pain, we walked back down to Cleator Road after calling another one of my "bests" (and gratefully, an RD) Kevin, for a ride back to the finish. I stopped my watch at 17.9 miles.
This would be my first ever race to DNF (do not finish) and boy did I hang my head (and pride) in shame over the next 24 hours to come. I grabbed my drop bag and walked away from my first unfinished race, just sobbing. I decided to head to the gym to stretch my muscles in the hot tub, get a shower and get my head back on straight. And then I forced myself (and my head) to return to that crazy finish to face my fears again. After all, there is no I in team, and my team had yet to run into that finish!
I stayed most of the afternoon, uncomfortably dodging friends I would normally talk to, in order to avoid any part of the DNF topic and while avoiding the rest of the crowd mayhem the best I could amidst the overwhelming craziness. My "bests" all made it back to the finish, placing from 6th Place to 2nd to Last Place and wow, I have never been so incredibly proud of each and every one of them!!
As the crowds dwindled, we packed up our things, headed to our cars and out to eat again (don't you know this is a mountain runners' favorite pass-time?)! The day was done. There would be an "after party" to attend at a local brewery and though feeling like I wanted to crawl under rock, again, I pushed myself to show up and face the crowds. Whether winning the race or DNF'ing, today was always about much more than running for me.
Entering this HUGE RACE, not only in my hometown, but with nearly 500 race entrants (along with their friends and family members) was about facing a fear much greater for me than the simple task of running... It was about exposing my PTSD and severe crowd anxiety and meeting it head on. And though retreating back into safety for something that normally comes easy to me (running), I was able to push forward, climbing a couple steps higher on my ladder toward healing. And just like that, my tears of of competitive heartbreak (as I have never quit anything before), turned to tears of strength, perseverance and gratitude for the day I just faced and conquered. It was time now to focus on healing the leg - and for me, the "easy stuff" in life.
A HUGE thank you to Race Directors, Krissy Moehl, Kevin Douglas and Tyler for another amazing Chuckanut 50K in the books... Absolutely flawless, race directing *to say the least* on an absolutely perfect, sunshiny day!! Lastly, a BIG thank you goes out to all of the volunteers and encouraging spectators on the course! We absolutely appreciate YOU!! #chuckanut50 #dnf #debilitating #anxiety #pain #persevere #nextup #twilight12hour