By Lauren Steinheimer
My day started out as usual. Woke up at 6, ate my typical pre-long run breakfast of toast, almond butter, honey and banana and washed it down with some strong espresso.
I was really pleased to look out the window and see that my prayers had been answered. The hazy smoke from nearby wildfires that was building up in the sky all week had miraculously blown out of Shasta. It was an exceptionally beautiful day for a trail race.
Before I left my house for the starting line at Lake Siskiyou, I gave myself a middle school-style temporary sharpie tattoo on my upper arm. Because I neglected to snap a photo of it before the race, credit goes to my friend Jason, one of many wonderful volunteers who made the race so much easier for us runners. This was taken at Aid Station 3/4, right after I shoveled some PB&J and watermelon into my sweaty, salt-encrusted face. Since I was certain not all of it got into my mouth, Jason was so kind as to keep my head out of the photo.
Leif is the owner of the mountain shop that I work at, and has been in critical condition for the past few weeks. It’s been a really difficult and intensely emotional time for those of us who work at The Fifth Season as well as many members of this beautiful community. Leif is a very strong and driven man who many of us look up to as a father-figure rather than simply just a boss. Although it’s been a tough time for all of us, the love and support that this community has provided is thoroughly heart-warming and makes me feel so grateful to be here. I figured dedicating my first 50K to Leif was the very least I could do. In fact, it helped me to finish.
I started off strong. Maybe too strong. For all the long runs I’ve done, I honestly have never pushed my body so hard that I found its breaking point. I decided that Saturday was my opportunity to really see what I could do. I didn’t want to bring my GPS watch because I didn’t want to know how fast I was going, I just wanted to listen to my body and focus 100% of my energy on finishing the race as fast as I possibly could. At the starting line, I ran into our Smartwool rep, who I had met at the shop the day before. We had joked that I was going to pack a sleeping bag so that I could nap comfortably at the finish line while I waited for him. So, of course, my nickname for the day became “sleeping bag.” Hated it/couldn’t do anything about it/learned to love it. I pushed really hard for the first few miles just to establish a spot for myself. That spot happened to be among a pack of alpha males that included Smartwool. After running together for the first several miles, it became clear that they were all pretty well seasoned ultrarunners, one of whom was chatting casually about trying to win a silver in a very famous 100 mile race. That’s where I found myself. Little newbie blonde girl’s gonna try to keep up with the big boys. When they slowed down to walk up a hill that I knew was nothin compared to the hills to come, I decided to push past and jog up it with the short stride, high cadence approach. Clearly, being expert ultrarunners, two of the big dudes immediately began critiquing my technique, referring to it as the “granny shuffle.”
“Hey,” I yelled back at them, “this feels so easy, I might as well be reclining in a La-Z Boy!”
Not only did that shut em up right quick, I also heard one say, “Shit, I can’t believe I got chick’d so early in a race.” He got chick’d. I LOVE IT! But they were right. I was pushing at an unsustainable pace. They flew ahead of me at the first aid station, and I didn’t hear their hoots and hollers again until I hobbled across the finish line, greeted by giant smiles and hugs.
Why was I hobbling instead of running? Somewhere around mile 22ish, I busted my right foot. I just had it x-rayed yesterday, and definitely have a stress fracture in my second metatarsal, which is evidently a common injury for ultrarunners.
I blame myself and my shoes for this injury. I’d been training on the race course, and knew that my old, beat-up barefoot Merrells weren’t nearly enough to protect my footsies from all the rocks on the course.
I tried to order myself a new pair of trail shoes with some cushioning and a rock plate, but the delivery failed, twice, and I had no choice but to use what I had. I suspected it might be a problem, and I only made that worse by bounding down a rocky slope at full-speed before I reached the halfway point of the race. It was straight-up masochistic and egomaniacal, and I paid the price.
I love my feet. Every time I set my right foot down, I felt searing pain. After 9 or 10 miles of this, including a second trip down the rocky slope I had totally killed the first time, my pride hurt just as much as the foot. I worked so hard to stay ahead for the first 2/3 of the race, and now suddenly people were passing me.
As they ran past and saw that I was limping, other runners would try to cheer me up, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I was angry at myself and on the verge of tears, but I kept going. There was no effin way I was going to drop out of that race. I kept fuming silently, and occasionally crying out loud, until about half a mile before the finish line.
Somewhere around this point, I realized that I was about to finish my first ultra. The notion brought a smile to my face that stayed with me until I dragged my gimpy ass across the finish.
My time was 7:05 and change, which I’m pretty pleased with, considering the circumstances. I set out to challenge myself and find out what my body can do. It was the first time I ever finished a race feeling like I couldn’t go on any further, and that feeling is intensely satisfying.
Mother nature beat my swollen ego back into place and taught me that I am NOT, in fact, a superhuman. My body is breakable, although my spirit sure as hell ain’t.
The best part of all, is that while I was relaxing with some beer and pasta after the race, apologizing to all the passing sweethearts that I had growled at in my painful, self-loathing misery during the last leg, the dude I made the La-Z Boy comment to called me a STUD. This, to me, made it all worth it. I will break a foot any day to have a gorgeous, tall, broad-shouldered, athletic male ultrarunner call ME a stud. Instant ego re-inflation, my friends. I will be back on the trail in about 6 weeks, or whenever my bone is healed up.