Monday, June 10, 2013

Behind the Run: Cayuga Trails 50

8:48:37,  2nd Place

For most people, that’s the only thing they will know about my race at Cayuga Trails 50 miler this past Saturday.

As I ran I thought about what my situation was going into the race and as I saw other runners I started thinking about what their past week(s) were like.

Did someone lose their job? Was someone running while sick? Did someone have a 60 hour work week? Was someone’s personal life a wreck?

The possibilities were endless.

I realized some people came into the race under much worse circumstances than I and so on I ran, far past the 25 miles I planned on stopping at.

Three weeks ago I secretly contemplated not starting the race. My recent blood tests came back showing my iron was lower than ever even after taking an iron pill 3 times a day while doing other recommended things to get my iron up. As I talked to my doctor she explained to me that in order to be at my best, my iron should be 3x higher than what it was. There was also a high chance I was deficient in other main minerals and vitamins. Since I had unsuccessfully been trying to get my iron back up for well over a year and I was tired with being tired, my doctor sent to a hematologist and gastroenterologist.

All of this led me to having an upper and lower endoscopy a few days before the race. The day before I couldn’t eat and had to take some not so wonderful medicine. I went to the hospital hungry, thirsty, and worrying about the race. As I waited to be given anesthesia I watched my pulse go from the low 40s to mid-80s as I thought about running.

The procedure was done quickly and I was still too drugged up to listen to the doctor as he talked to me. Sage later told me that nothing was serious but the doctor did say my stomach was red and irritated and some abnormal mucus was found, and so he did a biopsy to see what was causing it (results not yet in).
Still happily in La La Land.
Soon after this I asked Sage the same question 3 times.
After the procedure was over all I wanted to do was sleep, but I thought the worst was over. Then I started puking in a random person’s bushes right before I had to get a shot in my butt. I thought it was funny for a moment, and then I puked again.

The next morning I woke up at 4am and boarded a plane to Cleveland with what felt like the worst hangover ever. I said a small prayer not to puke on the plane.

Race morning I woke up and wanted to go right back to bed. I couldn’t shake off my “foggy brain”, similar to many days this past year, and knew it was going to be a rough day. Thankfully, I had Rachel and Sage, the loves of my life, with me at the starting line.

Asking how Rach and Sage were doing.
The race began with Sage leading everyone the wrong way but was otherwise uneventful. As the runners ran up a beautiful gorge I slipped into third place and remained that way for most of the first 25 miles. Around mile 20 I felt a slight burning inside my throat and chest. Apparently the part of my insides that had a camera shoved down it didn’t appreciate me racing. I was already exhausted and knew my situation wasn’t about to get better so I decided I would call it a day at 25 for a decent long run.


I entered the 25 mile aid station and my plan was ruined thanks to the volunteers, supporters, and my sister’s boyfriend, Steve Hawthorne (who amazing crewed for Rach, Sage, and I all day). They didn’t even let me get the words out that I wanted to stop. They just cheered, got me what I needed, and then sent me on my way. Pretty rude, right?

As I ran out of the turnaround I saw how close the rest of the women were to me. First place, Kristina Marie Folcik, was already way ahead. I was actually pretty stoked from Kristina as I knew she was an extremely underrated runner (unless you’ve raced her or talked to people who have) and it was about time more runners who race mainly on the east side of the U.S. get some respect. The rest of the women behind me were alarmingly close. I still wasn’t sure if it was smart for me to keep going, but a big climb was ahead along a stunning waterfall and I knew I had to at least get up that. I know climbing is one of my strengths so I ran just about every step, stairs and all.

One layer of the waterfall. 

From there everything is a blur of fatigue, discomfort, and mud until about mile 38. It was around that time I ran the scariest couple of miles of my life. Out of nowhere I had a sharp pain right above my heart. I’ve never had a pain there before and I wasn’t sure if it was my heart or a muscle causing the shooting pain. I quickly thought of the runner’s I’ve heard of who have passed away during a race and immediately thought of Rachel and Sage. It seems completely ridiculous now, but at that moment I was terrified. I didn’t want to stop so far away from an aid station, so I slowed my pace and focused on my breathing. Finally, about a mile away from the next aid station the pain dulled and I knew I’d be okay to finish.

(After doing some research it looks like I had a bad chest cramp or pulled the muscle over my heart. The spot is still a little sore and a light bruise on my chest reminds me this wasn’t just in my head)

Almost every step of the second 25 miles I had to talk myself through. My mantras changed as I needed them from “light and strong” to words to help me on climbs. Towards the end of the race, when I could no longer muster my usual smile for aid station volunteers, a man told me to just “keep it together” and those words followed me to the finish.

I crossed the finished line with a kiss from Sage and extremely grateful to have finished at all, let alone in second. I lay on the ground, finally letting my soar insides relax. The weeks before the race I said a lot of prayers, attempted some meditation, and even asked others to send me some positive vibes to get me through. I have never believed in the power of those things so much, as I know they carried me across the finish line.

Soon after, my world seemed complete as I had both Rachel and Sage by my side.
       (Rach finished 7th after taking it “easy” so she’d be set for her 100 miler in a couple weeks)

Happy to be back on the trail with Rachel again.

                This week I’m happy to rest in Ohio with my family before Sage and I head to New Hampshire so he can race up Mt. Washington. This is the currently the bright side of not being able to find a job in Colorado. As far as my health goes, it can take more than three months from now to get my iron back up where it should be, but it only takes 3 weeks to make new red blood cells which can help me get some energy back. I’ve been trying to get back to optimal health for so long now it’s challenging to believe it will be different this time. Yet, as I again think about the runners who had more challenging days before the race than I, the will to believe and run on fill my heart.

Run Wild & Believe,


P.S. When I was a kid a teacher told me that if I always gave a small portion of the money I made to someone who needs it I would never be completely broke. Though I've come close to broke, this has always held true for me. Since I did win a little money from the race I was planning on giving a little bit to a women's cause (human trafficking, abuse, equality, etc) charity BUT if you have a great cause that needs a little money let me know!


  1. Great post, I enjoyed reading. Congrats on a 2nd place finish after much recent adversity. Just an fyi, your desire to donate to a women's cause really is admirable, but women's suffrage just refers to the right to vote, not all women's causes.

    1. That's what I get for writing when I should be sleeping. :)

  2. Awesome job! It's so inspiring to hear about these rough spots that other runners go through racing and how they power through. And you're so right about Kristina and East Coast ultrarunners! I'm glad the tide is finally turning on this! Good luck and positive vibes for your health situation. I hope it will be easily fixable.

    1. Thank you Liz! I'm glad the tides are turning too!

  3. Wow, interesting back story. Thanks for sharing. I've been following Sage's career for the past year and found you along the way. I'm rooting for both of you kids, (yea, I'm an old guy from Sage's home state of Oregon). Congratulations on such a strong finish and persevering through the adversity . Very inspiring!
    Praying for your recovery to full health.

  4. I love your awareness of the fact that others are facing many challenges- Sometimes we get lost in our own world.. I love reading about how others overcame struggles at it not only makes me aware of them, but makes me aware I am not the only one. good stuff.

  5. I really love this post and your honesty about how you struggled and fought through to the end. You might want to check out The Girl Effect as your charity choice.

    1. Thanks Heather! I read into the charity and thought it was wonderful. It will be a great way to help another girl. :)

  6. Sandi, I love reading yours and Sage's race journals. They are one of the things that keeps me inspired for my own training. I'd like to share my fundraiser with you, I'm running for an orphanage in Central Asia (in a country called Kyrgyzstan). These 200 orphans are in need of a new furnace, you can read more here:

    Also, once I reach $1000 (and every $1000 thereafter), I'll add an extra marathon to my race schedule! This could be anywhere between 7 to 10 additional marathons! EEP!

  7. Hi!

    Your story's very inspiring and I can relate to it very much. I am also an ultra runner and was blessed to place in some of those. I became very competitive last year and would train and race like crazy without me knowing how it was affecting my health and body. I've been a pescatarian for almost 2 years now and has subscribed to a "healthy" lifestyle by avoiding too much carbohydrates and sweets and oily and greasy food. Been very strict about that. I was ok and winning until late last year after I finished a 200Km multistage race in November. It's been difficult to recover and it affected my succeeding races to a point of DNFing in one of my supposed to be "A" races, 100 miler. I had acid reflux then. I was rushed to the hospital and there we discovered that I was already suffering from severe Iron Deficiency Anemia which was also affecting my digestive system, etc. It's all cause and effect- one condition causing or affecting the other. In short, my body slowly detoriated. I lost so much weight and suffered the Female Athlete Triad. My period stopped for almost six months and I'd turn yellow once in a while. I could no longer run in the same pace as I used to and would gasp for air especially on uphills which was one of strengths. It's a humble journey and a lot of lessons learned.

    I'm still at the recovery stage. My iron level is still bad but I'm trying to slowly be in shape. More than anything I realized that I should go back to the very reason why I got into running which is to become healthy and to enjoy and celebrate life. I lost track of it and became so engrossed with myself and with all the stuff that go along with running but unconsciouly missing the whole point and running itself.

    Thank you for sharing your story. By the way, what's causing your iron deficiency? Diet also?

    I may need to see a gastro also because I feel like something's wrong with it too.

    Good luck on all your races and may you recover well the soonest :)


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