“Where are you headed?” The JetBlue agent asked me as he picked up one of my four bags that I dropped in JFK airport.
“Tahoe.” I responded quickly. My mom standing next to me started to tear up, she wanted me to stay in Jersey for the summer but something was telling me to go.
It’s been almost 2 weeks since I made the Journey and not once have I regretted the decision. As soon as I landed I knew. The air smelled like an air freshener, no more NYC pollution, just miles and miles of pine trees.
It took a few days for the California mountain lifestyle to really sink in. The first day I arrived I took it easily and did a 1000+ elevation climb over a 6 mile hike. The hike, up Mount Judah, was breathtaking in more ways than one. Elevation was not my friend and I was left feeling super out of shape.
Over the next few days I would explore over 20 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail before taking a much needed break from trail running to hit a paved path out of Squaw Vally and a track in Truckee.
My legs burned from downhill and ached from uphill. But still I kept at it. On July 4 a group of Northstar employees guided me to a 2000+ elevation hike up Rubicon Peak. This elevation gain was over 2 miles and was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That night I didn’t believe that I was at all in shape. I had to stop so many times going up the mountain just to catch my breath. It took almost an hour to go one mile, I was feeling defeated as I planned to race an 18 miler the following Saturday.
The night before The Lovers Leap of Faith 18 mile race, I almost threw the towel in. It was an early morning following a late night, there was no way anything positive could come out of this. I ate my dinner consisting of BBQ chicken and went to bed nervous.
The next morning I was up earlier than planned… that BBQ did not agree with my stomach. I went to pick up my bib, really only to use the bathroom which would be one of many stops. By the time an hour before the race rolled around I had nothing left in me. I couldn’t even stomach to eat my normal pre race meal of a bagel and peanut butter. But after things are this bad, how much worse could they get.
The 50 miler and 50k started a few hours before us, and right before our race was set to start an ambulance followed by a medical helicopter landed just behind the building we were starting at. I was thinking the worst, Casey started the 50k but woke up with the same symptoms of me and kept saying he was really screwed up before the race started. Hopefully this wasn’t for him. I wasn’t able to find out who it was for as the race was about to start, but it was comforting knowing the race directors weren’t too concerned. I texted Casey a quick message, “hey I know your phones in the car but when you get this let me know you’re alive.” At 8am we were off.
I felt great starting, I even started In the lead but after walking up a hill (mountain), I fell to second. At the six mile mark I was alone in the woods, or so I thought. This guy came from just behind me screaming asking if he was on the 18 miler course. Apparently he got lost. I assured him he was as he ran past me. Just like that I was in 3rd.
The mile 10 aid station was a shared stop between the 18 miler and the 50m/k. There was a few distance guys standing talking, but none of them were Casey. I asked if Casey came through, the a volunteer said no as he filled my water bottle and handed me a cheese-it box. I continued on my way, the next few miles were all up hill. I got passed by two 50k-ers. I started to scan the dirt to see if I could see Casey’s shoe footprint. He was wearing Saucony Peregrines which have a very distinct pattern, but I never saw them.
On the downhill section I caught up and passed the guy that passed me in the beginning. He wasn’t doing so hot. Shortly after I was passed by another girl who was blazing which dropped my moral a bit. After heading into an unmarked section I lost sight of the girl. There was a couple of unmarked stretches of trail, but if you read the directions online or listened during the pre run meeting it was clearly spelled out where to go. Me being directionally challenged, wrote these directions on my arm and knew what to expect when.
Mile 15 was the last of 8 creek crossings. I took full advantage of it. I sat down. It felt great. I splashed water on my face and arms and cooled down. It was warm, low 80’s but not unbearable. The last few miles were downhill on a dirt road, everything I said about it feeling nice out went out the window, it was a full blown dessert. With only three miles left I pushed it out. I dropped my pace and just grinded.
Finally a half hour later I reached the finish and tapped the table. I asked if I was last, “No actually, your first overall.” I must have looked like I was going to fall over because she asked me if I wanted a sandwich. Apparently a lot of people were getting lost. I asked her if any 50k runners finished yet, only 3 and none of them were Casey.
I went back to the car and dropped my stuff. I looked at Strava and did not understand how I was the first to finish. I took off my socks and shoes and sat in the shade for a bit before getting out my other shoes and putting shorter socks on, I had to go see if Casey was on course. As soon as I rounded the back side of the truck I saw this goofy guy with the biggest smile come around the corner. Thank god he was not dead.
I ran with him to finish, cause clearly why not. He did fine, it was just a lot of elevation gain and he was tired. I overheard someone say that the 50k had over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. No thanks. I sat at the finish for almost 2 hours. Everyone who passed me came in almost an hour later saying they were lost. It looks like I was the only one who survived without adding additional miles.
Anything can happen on any given day, “Just show up” Des Linden would say. I learned today to not doubt myself. I thought I was lost several times but I trusted my gut and kept going. I almost didn’t race, but I won. Stop doubting your self.
As Shalane Flanagan would say, “Fuck yeah!!!”