Winning Mind Games in 50k

This year’s Kettle 50k was held on June 12th, and it was a HOT ONE.  I should know that this is a possibility, considering it’s June and it’s Wisconsin, and I’ve completed this event 3 times previously, in typical “June in Wisconsin” weather.  But this year, it was a memorable one despite the fact I should have been prepared and expected it.

We hadn’t had many really hot days leading up to the run, but I did my best to run during the middle of the day, on lunch break, to get some ‘heat training’ in my system.  The Kettle 50k starts at 1 pm, and is held in the Southern Kettle Moraine State forest, running for 31 miles along the Ice Age Trail and a few wider ski trails.  The first half of the run goes through what is known as the “Meadows” and is infamous for mid-day heat and direct sun exposure.  I knew this, and did my best to slow my pace down to leave some energy for the last 15 miles, which are run on rocky, rooty, hilly trails.   Basically, you trade in flat and runnable but HOT HOT HOT terrain for Shady, but hilly and technical terrain. 

Anyway, I tend to start races way too fast, and I did my best to slow down through the Meadows this year…but looking back at my splits, I definitely didn’t slow down enough.  By the time I had reached the Half Way Aid Station, and was about to enter the woods for the last 15 miles of hills, I had run myself ragged.  Three little letters had started to make an appearance in my head:  D. N. F.

One of the many aspects of trail running that I enjoy is the mind games.  Our brains are always working for self-preservation, and having already spent about 2.5 hours in 90 degree heat, my mind was saying, “yep, good enough.  You can quit now.” 

The thing is, our minds will quit a LOT sooner than our bodies will.  I knew this.  I also knew that if I quit, I would regret quitting almost immediately.  So, I resorted to a lot of walking, several bouts of pity parties, and plenty of self talk about how I’m never doing this again.  This is the last time I sign up for one of these.  I even started to make arrangements to be picked up at the next road crossing.  I chose this particular road crossing, at Mile 22 of the run, because nobody would be there.  I also knew that at the next road crossing, at Mile 24, there was a group of great people and an aid station…and if I made to that aid station, there’s no way I would drop out.  Those friends wouldn’t let me.

Alas, I arrived at the road at Mile 22 and just walked right through, and back in to the woods.  I didn’t drop out at that point.  Not long after that, I walked in to the aid station at Mile 24, where I was treated like a rock star.  I had my short pockets stuffed with ice.  I had my water bottles filled.  I was given a Styrofoam cup of ice to take along with me…and I was also given 2 icy pops to eat along the way.  It was absolutely incredible, and I cant thank those volunteers enough!

Because I stuck with it, I managed to finish 2nd overall.  My finish time of 5 hours and 50 minutes was by far the slowest 50k I have ever done.  I gained a good dose of mental sharpening, I was reminded about how truly important connections with other people are, and I have a new found deep appreciation for icy pops. 

Also, my ‘never again’ mentality didn’t last long.  I’ve signed up for a 12 hour event in August!

As for that magical aid station full of friends that helped me out:  It was staffed by volunteers associated with a group called “Bigger Than The Trail,” of which I’m an ambassador.  BTTT’s focus is to enrich the lives of individuals struggling with mental health.  Bigger Than The Trail is a tax-exempt organization that uses trail running as a platform to advocate for mental health.

they work to provide educational support and treatment options and their focus is to bring light to the real struggles and challenges that are associated with mental health.  It is truly an amazing mission…and they do so much for so many, beyond something as simple as a couple icy pops on a hot day.  You can learn much more and maybe find help for yourself or someone you know at www.bttt.run 

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