Reflections on a race

If you’re looking for a review of a race, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you ask, I will tell you all about the 2021 Midstate Massive Ultra Trail 100-Miler: the course, the aid stations, and how to plan for the unique challenges of the race. But I find running very personal; a work of art you create as you take each step. So that’s how I’ll share my experience.

One way or another, I’ve never in my life had a calm pre-race. The night before Midstate, I couldn’t find a bag with some of my crucial safety gear and anti-chaffing balm and completely spiraled out. Turned out it was in my backpack, but I got a good hour of panic in. They all said everything was fine, but the nerves don’t really go away until you’re out there…

Except when I started the race the next morning, they didn’t.

I felt it for the first 18 miles: slightly elevated heart rate, jitters. I felt foreign to myself, despite passing that time with a lovely runner. Everything felt off; the effortless pizzazz I usually run with was missing. I wondered what wrong, but there was nothing I could do to fix it, so I kept going. Maybe it was the dreary New England sky.

Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. I was myself. I bounced. My heart smiled. By the time I got to the first crew aid station, no one would have suspected my first 22 miles wasn’t smooth sailing.

Back at it, I ran alone for a bit before settling in for a few miles with another runner. We climbed up granite steps, passed a few college-aged hikers, and scrambled down boulders.

Non-runners are always amazed at the concept of just running, no music. “What do you think about?” they ask.

Well, when I passed those kids, I got stuck on how different the outdoor space is these days. I didn’t know anyone who hiked just because when I was younger. The REI effect has been crazy. Not that they’ve taught the people they got outside how to be outside, but…I disappeared into that conversation in my head for a while until I was jolted out of it by something that shot into my arm. An acorn falling from one of the tall, tall trees, perhaps. My knees had started hurting on the granite so it redirected my pain for a beat. Funny to be grateful for a bruise.

Suddenly, I was alone again. It happened a few times throughout the race. I ran with people and then I’d look around and it was just me. Sometimes running feels like time travel. You fall into flow and when you finally snap out of it, an hour and a few miles have passed.

I floated in and out of groups throughout the race. I had moments with people. I heard life stories. I heard running stories. I laughed like a maniac. For a while, I proudly took over navigation duties as we scurried our way through the woods, around the swamps, and over rocks and roots and rocks and roots.

That’s one of the things I love deeply about races. The people. I feel such a deep and immediate bond with others when we’re out there. Doesn’t matter if it’s running one or forty miles together or 1-3 minute stops at aid stations with my famcrew – we become a team in late-season form. Trust, support, camaraderie.

My knees never stopped hurting. 75 miles. For a while, I wondered if it would go away (please). And then ten miles would go by and I’d wonder again. At a point, I answered my own question. No. I had a little chat with the pain. We concluded that since neither of us was going to stop (there was not even half a breath in which I considered not finishing), we were gonna have to work together and deal with each other’s stubbornness. It all felt straight from one of the countless Thich Nhat Hanh books I’ve read. This was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful experiences of my entire life, those miles and miles of pain. Mind, meet body. Body, meet mind.

Onward I went until a fire was lit under me at the Mile 75 aid station. I ran an entirely different race from that point on. It was a blur. Flow in full effect. This is probably my favorite story from the race to tell in person. But it’s more of a tell and less of a write.

Before I knew it, I turned the corner and hit the last sprint through the finish.

The finish line is both my favorite and least favorite place during a long race like this. On the one hand, holy hell that’s a lot of running and I am very happy to be done. On the other hand, it signifies the end of something that was my entire world for a very long time. I knew I was going to run the Massive the day the 2020 race ended. I signed up December 31st at 10:25pm PT. I started training unofficially in March and officially in June.

And just like that…it was over.

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