Don't Quit The Race, Even When it Hurts

If you know me, you’ll agree that I am not superhuman. An overachiever? Maybe. Type A personality? Sure—I’m a fan of schedules, to-do lists and disciplined almost to a fault. But superhuman? No way. I lose my car keys, forget to text my mom back and get worked up over silly things just like anyone.

But perhaps those of you who have gone beyond 26.2* will agree that running long requires something beyond superhuman attributes: a blend of faith, courage, persistence, grit, mental fortitude and a love for being outside. But even then a finish is never guaranteed. Each ultra is an opportunity for new lessons, no matter how experienced you may be.

And I’m still learning, even after five years of ultra running with six 100-mile races under my belt. Last week’s Leadville 100 was no different. Here are five very human takeaways from what is known as a pretty inhuman feat: 100 miles at the Leadville 100.

You Gotta Risk It To Get The Biscuit

I knew I wasn’t going to be my best self toeing the line at my first real race since last year’s UTMB. I’d dealt with injuries for a a year, and experienced more than two years of inconsistent training due to minor health issues. But after lots of talking with my coach and a few weeks of solid training, I decided to set a goal so ambitious that the chances were high I’d fall short.

And I did fall short. But chasing an ambitious goal kept me motivated during the race and has left me inspired days after. A big goal can be as simple as finishing your first race or, like me, setting an unreasonably fast time goal. It’s unbelievably rewarding to push your limits and skirt on the edge of what you think is possible, even when you fail.

Setting big, audacious goals can be scary. It’s also important to make sure they’re not too big, depending on your physical and mental conditioning. But there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you set a goal and gave it everything you have toward achieving. Reach high, and you might fail, but you also might hit a benchmark you may have never seen otherwise.

Good God It’s Gonna Hurt

For most sane human beings, one year is not a long time separating the completion of two 100-mile races. But for someone who is trying to race at the highest level, or even just on the edge of their own physical limits, a year is a long time to forget just how badly an ultra-distance race can hurt.

You don’t have to race a full 100 miles to visit the pain cave. But with the lack of racing I’d done since the 2018 UTMB, anytime I toed the line it was chalked up as a training run, making sure to stay far from my limits and keep the training itself casual.

In short, I forgot what it felt like to hurt.

When mile 65 came around, I’d been vomiting for hours, my legs were screaming at me and frankly I was just sick and tired of running. For the first time in a race, I sat on a rock. I felt sorry for myself and contemplated quitting. Miles 65-77 took over three hours—75 minutes longer than I had budgeted for that section.

Then my pacer looked me dead in the eye and said, “Cat, this is ultra-running.”

Oh yeah, I’m supposed to feel that way.

No matter how you swing it, 100 miles is far. Your legs are going to hurt, you will probably vomit, your feet will get so raw you’ll sweat until your sock is blood-soaked. And you’ll get so sleepy that any rock on the side of the trail might as well be a goose feather pillow. But that’s just ultra-running. It’s gonna suck, and the only way to prepare for it is to know it’s coming.

Don’t quit, it’ll get better.

If miles 65-77 were spent in the depths of hell, then 77 to the 100-mile finish line was crawling my way out towards the light. No, I didn’t stop puking, and my throbbing feet were still throwing a tantrum. But embracing that discomfort made the final miles fly by.

Low points will pass even if the “hurt” doesn’t. Don’t quit when it gets hard. Instead, have faith that the moment, even if it feels crushingly hopelessness, will get better.

My proudest moment from the Leadville 100 is not quitting at mile 77. A lot of my competitors have quit races like UTMB and The Western States for similar issues I was having. But that kept me going forward. I knew I didn’t want to drop out of a race if I was in any way capable of finishing, even if that meant a slower time and sacrificing a win.

The Finish Line Will Come

At mile 98, the finish line will feel 100 miles away, and those final miles can sometimes be the hardest. Since we can’t speed up the clock, try to be present in those last miles of an ultra-distance race. Hear your feet rhythmically hit the ground and listen to the pattern of your breath. Those are the movements that carried you for 100 miles.

Rather than cursing those final miles and moments of your race, cherish them. Revel in the accomplishment. 100 miles is a long way.