This won’t be a typical race report; for reasons about to be outlined I wasn’t aware of really anything that happened, I couldn’t tell you what the course looked like, or how much gain and descent I covered. I was part of the small percentage of runners to not run through 26.2 miles, and hitched a ride to the finish only to congratulate the illustrious Helen Pelster, and to get my drop bag and free Kind bar.
Like many runners signed up for CIM, I thought a certifiably quick marathon time sounded like a great running accolade, and had pipe dreams of qualifying for Boston. A little less common to the running masses, I wanted to do it while dodging my friend, shadow, and ever-present running companion: Ulcerative Colitis. As ugly as its name, this autoimmune disease has my gut constantly attacking itself (nutrition was ALREADY hard, man!). In short, and without too much gory detail, if I don’t eat the right things or don’t rest enough or am under too much stress, I am subject to painful bowel movements of all varieties, intense stomach pain and cramping that radiates to my lower back, muscle spasms, fevers, and prolonged blood and fluid loss leading to severe anemia of different types.
After moving to Truckee to escape the grind of Bay Area living, and enter a more balanced lifestyle while I trained for the Bear 100, I was still suffering from the worst my disease had ever been. After a few wonderful months of carefree mountain running, my health took a turn for the worse, and I spent most of August in and out of the hospital, barely able to walk on account of malnutrition, anemia, and just plain pain.
I was lucky enough to be a good candidate for an infusion treatment, which I receive over 5 hours every 8 weeks, and my strength SLOWLY began to return. The illness left my left leg completely decimated, as much of the muscle is newly rehabbed from a 2010 knee surgery, and I signed up for CIM as a motivator through dark times to work on being able to walk without a limp, jog, and finally run for real.
I worked back up to 70 mile weeks with decent speed workouts, and my marathon prospects looked good! The night before the race was spent out at a restaurant with family, and despite my cruel demands of the waitress on the ingredients in all of the food I ate, I got very sick. This carried on through the night, through my 3:45 wake up time, and through the entire CIM slog down lovely, scenic Fair Oaks Blvd.
I hopped out of the car at the water treatment plant near Folsom Lake at 6:30AM that morning not feeling well, but hopeful that some awesome sunrise running, and kind words and support from my wonderful (and speedy!!) boyfriend, Lucas, would turn things around. Seeing a DPMR sticker on another car in line was so cool, and helped to raise my spirits. However, from the time I crossed the start line, every step was increasingly painful. Knowing the power the mind can have over physiology, I tried to boost my own morale by thinking about the pain I endured in the hospital, all of the treatments I had to tolerate, and about how far I had come to even toe the line. This, and some pocket fuel, helped me out from miles 9-10, but darkness prevailed and I had to stop to walk by mile 12. Crossing the half marathon mark at sub-2 hours came as a surprise, and would normally have been enough to rally my spirits, but my stomach would not cooperate; the intense pain began to have a dizzying effect. At mile 17, I called it quits and a wonderful CIM volunteer medic let me use his phone so I could arrange a pick up from my awesome family who came to cheer me out of the wall at the elusive 20 mile mark.
While it was sad not to cross the finish line and get burrito-wrapped in festive aluminum, I always race knowing that my body might not cooperate. Even runners without disease or disability encounter that reality all the time! It was incredible to be surrounded by family, including my mother who drove down from Truckee to surprise me at the finish!
Nobody was disappointed in me, and despite the initial cathartic release of tears at the medical aid station, I was not disappointed in myself. Although I have only run a few ultras and trail races, I now call that community my home, and everyone I’ve encountered speaks to the soul searching and emotional transcendence of hard efforts in beautiful places on rough terrain. In that medium, pain endured feels meaningful and beautiful, and running is nothing more than movement with purpose. The prevailing wisdom, even among many elites, is that if your heart isn’t in the race, or your body isn’t working for you, there will be more mountains to run if you take care of yourself. This isn’t necessarily the best athletic mindset, just the one I choose for myself. I didn’t feel that during CIM, and it feels easy and righteous enough to say that I had a bad day because road running isn’t my thing. The truth is, had I felt better I might have found beauty and purpose on that course, too. My body was simply saying, “no” to the effort, and there is no glory in silencing that. I run to feel strong and empowered, and I strive to train my body to be able to do the things I love. Working against it will accomplish nothing. If I had killed myself to finish, and had more complications with my disease, that would have been the true disappointment.
I have found a treatment that has me feeling pretty great, pretty much every day. Here’s to a lifetime of adventure overrun with the unrelenting warm embraces of soul, purpose, camaraderie, and aluminium blankets, covering us on frozen wild peaks and marathon finish lines.