My training log entry the day before the 2018 Barkley Marathons read: “Once that cigarette is lit, I’m going to race my little brains out. Give it all my all, and give it hell.”
I’ve never been one to write race reports, but then again, I’ve never raced something like the Barkley Marathons. I’ve spent the past week trying to wrap my head around my experience, and hoping to find the words to convey its enormity. Just like so many things in life, I realize that I’m never going to be able to do it justice through my words, so this is the best you’re going to get.
So sit back, grab your MoonPie and RC Cola, and prepare for a novel (brevity has never been my strong suit, especially here). It’s broken up into chunks, so feel free to navigate to what interests you – there’s an account of my prep, of the race itself, along with my reflections, and then the very end contains gear/lessons and bullet points for those of you (wise ones!) who just want the bullet points nitty gritty.
It has been almost two months since I received the ok to cast the crutches to the curb.Two months since I re-entered the world of bipedalism after three long months with the sticks. And two months since the first person asked me “so, you’ll be racing [x] next weekend?”
I had gone from three months of no weight-bearing of any type, and I was constantly asked if I would be running [x] race the following weekend. I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly certain that’s not how rehab works.
Believe me – I wish it did. Life would be so much easier if the body and mind were in sync. Unfortunately, as any athlete who has ever gone through a major injury knows, that’s not how the game works.
I’ve had minor injuries in the past, but nothing like this that has knocked me out for such a long period of time, and certainly nothing that caused me to be non-weight bearing for this long. And what has become perfectly clear to me in all of this is that being laid up with injury is easy. It’s the rehab and the comeback that’s the hard part.
For anyone who has ever signed up for a race via Ultra Signup, you are probably familiar with the most dreaded of features – a listing that displays, in full glory for everyone to see, your DNFs and DNSs. The DNFs are in bold red, screaming at you – “hey you – you failed!” The DNS’s are a bit more subdued, just a nice yellow – a kind of warning. But I’ve heard of ultra runners going to great lengths to avoid those awful stigmas on their ultra record.
I’m no stranger to it myself – I’ve unregistered myself before several races I knew I couldn’t run, solely to avoid that scarlet (or yellow) letter of shame. And as Western States approached these past few weeks, I sat there, staring at my registration history, wondering if I should “unregister” to avoid a blemish on my still-quite-small ultra signup record.
I reached out to my friend (and F3 at States!) Devon Yanko for her take. Unregister? Hell no, she said – you EARNED that DNS.
Be proud of that DNS.
I’ve struggled a bit the past few months when a stranger asked “what’s your sport” or “what kind of athlete are you?” The obvious answer is “obstacle racer,” but I hesitate to describe myself as an “ultra runner.” I feel too unproven, too new, too brash to declare myself that given my limited racing history. Like running my way into States was a fluke, and something that I won’t be able to replicate, or ever fulfill.
Yesterday, I decided to clean out the trunk of my car. It’s long overdue. As I surveyed the contents, I took notes (and yes, I realize this is disgusting): 9 pairs of trail shoes. 3 pairs of road shoes. 3 headlamps. 4 pairs of Injinjis, and one random mateless sock. 4 long sleeve running tops. 2 tanks. 2 buffs. One running visor. 2 rolls of RockTape. A bag of emergency gels and bloks. Scattered packets of BeetElite. A crumbly pack of Maple Bacon Pop-Tarts. And 3 handheld water bottles.
I took a step (or, crutched a step) back. I stared at the contents.
There are times in life when you feel like everything is FINALLY coming together, like life is finally making sense. And you are happy. Really, truly happy and excited for what’s to come.
Unfortunately, it always seems like life has other plans for you. Maybe a reminder that “heeeey there, Amelia – you’re flying a bit too high – don’t be going all Icarus on me now. Remember that time you accidentally stepped on a newt while running? Well karma wants to come back and kick you in the nuts right now.”
In November, I made a really bonehead move. After securing a Western States lottery ball with my Georgia Death Race (and first ultra) finish last spring, I completely failed to submit my qualifying time in the window provided. I could give excuses – it was the week before World’s Toughest Mudder, I had just moved to California and started a new job, etc. But in reality, I just blew it. I was angry at myself for a hot minute (though, the chances of making it in the lottery to the prestigious Western States was like……zero). But I quickly got over it, and moved on. Besides, I wasn’t READY for Western States, I told myself. Plenty of time for that, Amelia.
But when OCR season wound down in November, I was looking for a late-winter, early spring ultra – something to fill my “offseason.” Lo and behold, Sean O’Brien 100k appeared on ultra sign-up. And lo and behold, it was a Golden Ticket race (top two male and female finishers get an automatic entry into Western States). So in a state of irrationality, I thought “hell, if I’m such an idiot that I can’t even properly get into the lottery for Western States, maybe, just MAYBE, I’ll just run my way in.”