When Mountains Call

grandteton

I was sitting on the side of Grand Teton, with a heavy pack, hurt knee, and a generally tired body when a thin, wiry blonde woman ran by me at record speed. She had a tiny pack with only water and food and she made getting up that mountain look effortless. I had been a competitive runner in another life, but was then just another hiker, defeated by a mountain I would not climb. The girl bounced away and all I could think about was how I wanted that to be me… that one day, I would run the trails, up the mountains, with that same ease.

This was my first introduction to trail running, and distance running in general. I had always been a sprinter and had confined myself to the 400 & 800 m distances. After high school, I had stopped running and it would be years before I would return. In reality, I only made it back because climbing mountains is hard and you need to be in wildly good shape to do it.

I returned home from my failure on Grand Teton and read all that I could about trail running. I read Born to Run, and Eat and Run and was convinced. Eventually… one day… no matter how long it would take me… I vowed to run trails and ultras. For years, I followed the ultra running scene, never partaking, but just as an idle spectator. As I watched, I would run further and further. The evolution from sprinter to marathoner happens slowly and I took my time. I would sign up for trail runs here or there and usually do really well. My heart was in it and it was where I really felt free. As I ran my first trail half marathon, for the first time I felt like that girl, bouncing down the trails, light on her feet without a care in the world.

I ran my first marathon and walked away feeling great. I loved everything about it… the lifetime’s worth of emotions in less than four hours, the real ownership of the race, the fact that it was not easy and I had to work hard to get there. Road marathons are fun, exciting, exhausting, and so many other things… but really, they are not enough. There is something truly special about running through the woods, over hills, while pushing your body as far as you possibly can and maybe even a little further. Trail runs are so solitary, yet you feel so completely connected to nature. That is exactly where I should be.

Four years ago, sitting on the side of Grand Teton, I knew that I could run high and far… but I also knew that it would take time. I have been patient, slowly upping my mileage and base and pushing myself to my edge, never passing it. But I will be an idle watcher no more. I have finally decided to put that fire beneath my feet.

If the world could go exactly as I want it to, this post would be the beginning of an eventual quest towards the Western States 100, the granddaddy of ultramarathons. I can’t tell you that it will go that way, since they have a lottery process that is tough and I may never get picked. Also, it is 100 miles and I don’t know that I could train up to that. I will tell you that this post will be the beginning of a quest towards a 50K and maybe even a 50-miler. After Chicago, I will transition towards running on trail and on hills. I’ve finally grown tired of watching from the sidelines.

So, there it is. I have put it out into the universe. A goal. A dream. It’s a scary one to speak, but really, would it be worth doing if I weren’t scared?

Probably not.

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23 thoughts on “When Mountains Call

  1. Love this post and your writing! Good luck in your western states endeavor! Did you follow along last weekend? Those athletes are incredible, and no doubt you can be there one day. I signed up for my first ultra this summer but don’t feel prepared enough, so dropped down to the marathon distance. One day!! Good luck, and I will be following!

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    • Thank you! I think I’m a long way from every considering Western States, but maybe this path will lead me to Squaw. Yes, I did follow them! I do every year…I am like obsessed. I’ll follow Leadville in a few weeks as well. I was heartbroken for Sage Canaday and Jim Walmsley. It was such a stunning performance out there.

      I love runners… “so I dropped to the marathon distance”. Marathons are pretty awesome. Good luck and I’m sure you’ll be ready for your first Ultra soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Awesome Kerry! I had no idea this was your passion but it makes total sense after getting to know you better. I’m glad to hear that you are going to start following your true passion and I just know you will kick some trail and mountain butt! Do you have any particular 50K/milers in mind?

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    • I do. Two actually (50K). I just need to decide which one suits me best. Both are in mid-December. I am planning a month long hiatus from running over Christmas and New Years (I will be doing a long distance trek through Patagonia), so I’d like to fit it in before I go and let that sit for a while. It’ll be good inspiration for next year to look at some 50-milers in the late summer.

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  3. Love. All. Of. This.

    I too, love trails and everything about it. I’d like to do a 50k as well someday and like you, I want to work on it and it be my sole focus. That’s why I haven’t committed to one yet b/c I have other goals right now. I don’t want to do an ultra just to say I did one, you know? (I know you do 🙂 ) Love that you put it out there and *can’t wait* to follow your journey!

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    • I was listening to Ultrarunner Podcast and Ginger Runner and both of them said to bounce off of a marathon to run your first 50K. I thought for a moment and I was like…yeah… that makes sense. So, that’s what I plan on doing. I want to give myself enough time to recover and get two solid long runs in before the 50K, but I’m shooting for one in December.

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  4. I love everything about this post! Made me feel all the feels because I can totally relate! My ultimate goal is to run a 50 miler as well. I just can’t even imagine the feeling crossing that finish line. Best of luck on your endeavor- I know you can do it with that attitude!

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    • I’m hoping to run a 50K before the end of the year and a 50-miler some time late next year. I’m pretty excited at the prospect of it, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy road. Haha! I hope you run one soon too!

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  5. That is so awesome! I can’t wait to hear which race you choose for your ultra debut!

    I have followed the ultra scene super closely as well and there is nothing I want more than to join in. I had wanted to do a 50-miler before I turn 30, but the further I ran the more unrealistic I realized this was for me… time wise. I need to become a stronger, faster runner before I take on an ultra. It gives me hope that people see to run ultras well into their 50s and beyond! I hope to get one under my belt before 50 though, haha.

    The craziest thing ever — Ann Trason offered to train me whenever I am ready to run my first ultra. THE Ann Trason. I helped her with a marketing project one time and she is just the nicest person ever. It’s terrible that there is a perception among some people in the community that she’s abrasive. I think, perhaps, some people didn’t like that they got “beat by a girl.”

    I will never, ever run a 100-miler but if you ever run WS I will SO be there. What a race!

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    • OMG…..are you serious? I would LOVE to be trained by Ann Trason. Oh man….I wonder if there is anything I can do that she would want. Like I’ll do anything. Unfortunately, I assume her services for training would be out of my price range. You NEED to run an ultra….you’ll kick serious butt, especially with Ann as your coach.

      The crazy thing about Ultras is that people WIN well into their 40’s. It’s very different from marathons. It’s not speed that counts (Jim Walmsley showed us that this past weekend). It’s experience. Maybe I can still win Western States one day. haha! jk jk

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    • Oh and BTW…you can totally be on my crew if I run Western. I’m completely serious, because I think Frank would just be the worst at it. I need a runner there.

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      • YES! PLEASE! This is my new #1 running related goal – to crew you at WS!

        Her personal coaching is pretty expensive ($160/mo) but she will do a consultation and then write a custom training plan for about $200. She LOVES talking about running. When we would talk running she always asked a million questions about me and was so humble and shy when it came to talking about her own accomplishments. The only story she ever told me was about a recent race she did where she came in last and how insightful the experience was.

        The one time we talked about her career the only thing she said was that she hated the way Born to Run and other books portrayed her.

        Gah, SUCH A LEGEND!

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  6. Totally nerding out on this post. The whole time I’m reading I’m saying to myself “me too me too” lol. Thanks for sharing this super secret goal of yours, as you can see trail running has a HUGE following now. Everything you said about solitude and connection with nature is why i love it so much. I may copy all this and just repost because it was perfectly described lol. Can’t wait to see what trail running has in store for you and i think squaw valley is there for you if you want it 🙂

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    • Thanks! Feel free to repost! I would actually find that to be an honor. 🙂 I am excited to see how far I can go… and I think I have a lot of potential at the long distances (I recover quick and am good at long and far). But the mental game for it won’t be easy and I find it to be the most scary part of the whole thing. You should sign up for some trail races!! They are wildly fun!

      Maybe one day I’ll toe that line in Squaw. 🙂

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  7. I think this is wonderful. Trails are so intimidating but absolutely gorgeous, and obviously the experience of racing on them, especially an ultra, would be worlds different than a road race. I imagine it would be very fulfilling and a totally new, challenging, formidable experience.

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    • Trails are very intimidating and the ups and downs of a trail race are much greater than that of a road race. I remember at Free State, I had moments where I just felt so so terrible and other moments, like when I passed the 3rd place girl, that I was feeling fantastic. Trails are hard… but I love them!!

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  8. GO GIRL!!! I am glad you decided to do something that you have had a yearning for!! I was an ultra/trail runner in a past life. It is so different from marathons. In a way, it is easier. Less worry about pace, more stop and smell the roses and soak it all in. Now I have never run 100 miles just the shorter ultra distances and running 100 does NOT sound easy! But I know a lot of people who have done it and since it is something you really want to do I KNOW you will do it too!

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    • This has really been a secret goal of mine for as long as I’ve been running. I started running 3 miles at a time while visualizing finishing my first 50 or 100 miler. I’m finally in a place in my running where I think that this is actually a possibility and not some strange faraway dream that I’ll never actually do. Did you ever run a 50-miler? I should totally pick your brain about ultras… I feel like I have a lot to learn and they seem pretty tough mentally (although physically, I think they will feel much better than a marathon).

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      • I did, I ran one 50 miler- the Bull Run in VA. It was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better race. I ran it with a friend of mine and we talked and laughed the whole time. Our plan was to walk up all the hills, and it was the perfect amount of walking/running. I was a little nervous because due to a sore achilles, I missed our longest training run which was supposed to be around 30 miles. But I had a lot of back to back long runs in (20-26 miles Saturdays, 12 miles Sundays), so I think I had a really good base. And of course we were running slow and walking up hills. We were not competing at all! I am not an expert in ultras at all, so you are welcome to pick my brain but I can’t guarantee I will be of much help! Here is a blog post I wrote about it: http://meggorun.blogspot.com/2014/02/once-upon-time-i-ran-50-miles.html

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