3, 2, 1 and I am off. What a great race and run that was, I thought as I was rehashing the progress I had made. Finishing the 50-mile Superior Fall Trail race was challenging, technical, but oh so good. It would be my 3rd Ultra for the year and one that I never imagined myself ever starting let alone finishing. It became clear that my forty’s was never better with race times, placing in a new age group bracket. The last two years had frankly proven to be my finest yet in the running world. I will shed a little bit more on my journey which started as a non-runner in my twenty’s.
It all began on the ole treadmill in a gym. I was not a “track” kid or on the cross-country team growing up. The more I thought about it, the last time I ran consistently was back in high school on various teams doing drills. Wait, there was also my experience living with a college roommate who bulldozed her way out the door every morning at 5am to run. Does that count for something? I digress. Admittedly, I was the one found hitting the snooze for the fifth time each morning. So, what made me pick running?
It was clear and evident that somehow after my high school years the world became sedentary, complacent, out of shape and full of poor health. I felt helpless. I was in search of something that I could focus on for my overall health and wellbeing. After evaluating various sports, running seemed to be the most basic activity to pick up. Bonus it was also the least expensive for a recent graduate. Que in the beginning of my running journey. I laced up a pair of sneakers and off to the gym I went. It was not long, and I recognized if running was something I was going to stick with I needed to find a way to stay motivated. This was an all-new and complete shift in lifestyle.
I soon went down a road, pun intended, of researching road racing. It seemed like the most favorable option to expand on my goals while providing just enough challenge to stay committed. I started training for the half marathon distance. It was challenging and required a training plan that seemed sufficient but not too time consuming and did not interfere with life. It was a reminder how undervalued fitness and health was in the world around me. A mantra came in handy whenever I questioned why I was running. It went something like this “you can’t control that, but you can keep showing up just put in the work and push through.” Eventually, running started to become therapeutic. It was time to be in my own head, quiet, collecting thoughts, decompressing, assessing, and reflecting on daily life while also balancing my own health. Over the next few years, I found a groove. I signed up and finished a dozen half marathons and other various race distances. It was fun but then I began dreaming bigger.
The marathon distance would soon become the next pursuit. That dream seemed almost fleeting, just as soon as I had decided to pursue training, I became a mother. Two kiddos later and a pause on training put running in perspective for me. Instead of battling the season of life I embraced it and gave myself permission to pause. It allowed for years of just purely enjoying running for running. My babies were growing less dependent on me as they got older. Training got easier with them in tow on a bike or in a stroller. I began releasing pressure from myself that there was an age limit to run a marathon. It made me realize that when the season was right it would present itself. Age was just a number anyway. I had the rest of my life to complete a marathon, right?
Up to this point I was an average, middle pack runner. It never bothered me. It was not about the times throughout the years. It was not about being “on top of a podium.” It was about being the “best version of me.” I wanted to prove with dedication, time, and consistency I could get to that marathon start line and finish. Inside of me, there was more though.
I guess you could say I grew wiser and older. After becoming a mother to two young kiddos, I needed to seek support and mentorship in areas I would find myself falling short. I needed to work and train smarter not harder. A plan tailored to fit with my life rather than me trying to fit my life into the plan. A plan that would focus on my goals, my paces, my abilities. On top of that, finding the time to compile a training plan was overwhelming and the last thing I wanted to do was spend time wondering if I put together the best plan for myself. Hiring a coach made the most sense and we began the journey working together just before I hit the prime age as a master runner. It was not long thereafter I was able to tackle my second marathon where I celebrated my Boston Qualifying time. Turning forty and accomplishing my goal felt surreal. I continued to dive into training for Boston. But the pandemic hit, and races were cancelled. Now what, I thought to myself.
Something shifted and I began considering trail running. Little did I consider but my running trajectory would change forever. As I toed the line for my first trail marathon, newly introduced to this community, I had zero expectations. Just finish in one piece and have fun is what I said to myself. Finishing that race landed me with a blazing time and third female podium finish. I had found a new love for not only running but pushing my limits and barriers in a whole new direction.
Exploring the trail world and ultra-distances was a new adventure. I found myself signing up for my first 50k ultra-trail race about a year and a half later (races started coming back). I had officially aged into the forty group. Feeling like a veteran, surrounded by so many twenty somethings at the starting line that day I reminded myself that age is just a number. My focus and attention shifted to trusting the training and focusing on my best. Throwing out the pace goals, the numbers, and que in the strength, the power, the ability to know that I had the best tool belt in my possession and could be my best that day. Placing fourth overall and second female with a 4:29 time was not only shocking but also gratifying that I trusted myself through the process and journey. I did it! I finished with one of the fastest times on the course. The year continued with me taking on other distances and challenges. I had tapped into something that seemed infinite. Weeks following the 50k I raced my first 50-miler trail race. Once again landing in the top five female spots and first in age group. It was a lot too process to reflect on those years of just being an average, middle pack runner. Here I was landing in top finishing spots in my forties and distances I never envisioned running to begin with.
After a recovery break it was not long, and I was back at training. This time to tackle one of the most technical trail races. The Superior Fall Trail 50-miler, held right in my home state of Minnesota. With all the grit and perseverance on a technical course I crossed the finish line seventh female and first in age group. It was icing on the cake as I celebrated my best year of running. The start of my forties has proven to be my best years of running. Why? I have continued to push through hurdles, barriers, and stayed committed not only during the good times but also through tough times. Adjusting, pivoting my training to flow with the season of life, but never giving up the goals I have set forth to accomplish. In a world of instant satisfaction, it can seem defeating to go after something and not live up to your own expectations immediately. Release yourself of those expectations and amazing things will happen. Do not let numbers, times, or age be your defining factor. Just go get started and settle into the journey as a lifelong process. It will take you far into your years as a master runner!