Everything is Grand: Grand Mesa Ultras!

Well, it’s been a hot minute since I completed the Grand Mesas 50 mile endurance run. 15 days out and feeling pretty good over here, looking at the mountain peaks from my couch. 

I cannot say I have gone out for a long run or anything exciting, or even felt the slightest motivation to do so. However, the love and passion for the sport is still there. So, I’d rather write about a good long running day in the mountains rather than get back out there right now. 

As I have shared on social media, a 50 mile race was a big goal of mine for a long time. The previous time I completed 50 miles, it wasn’t a race or competitive in nature at all. It was a 24 hour running event where we ran loops. So, in June I toed the start line of Bears Ears 50 miler with pretty tight, aggressive, competitive in nature cut off times. I did not make the mile 29 cut off, which left me feeling good about my attempt, and proud of choosing to do hard things. I came home and started searching for a different 50 miler, somewhat close to home. When the Grand Mesa Ultras popped up on my social media news feed, it looked like the perfect opportunity. It was exactly a month after Bears Ears; enough time passed to recover and rejuvenate my body and give it another go. 

We headed out to Grand Mesa on a Friday morning so we could camp, have fun, and enjoy the area. My close friend Eli and her kiddos were joining us, so they found us the perfect camp spot at Grand Island Campground – highly recommend camping here. I spent Friday going over and over and over and over my drop bags, cut off times, needed items, what I should, and much more. AKA – falling into panic mode, which Eli verified with me she wasn’t going to give into. Thanks, yo! 

Thank goodness the campsite views were spectacular because I spent most of Friday lounging around in my camp chair. I went to my bed by 7pm that night, and slept by 8pm. My alarm was set and ready for 3:55AM! Here we go! 

3:55am alarm went off and I opened the camper door to frost outside. It was pretty chilly. But I proceed to get myself ready. Time to get started on my to-do list. In case other distance runners are curious, my morning to do list consists of (in this order) coffee, eat my waffles with peanut butter and honey (recipe in my cookbook), drink my energize, change into my running clothes/socks/shoes, put on anti chafe cream, sunscreen, bug spray, take ibuprofen. Get in the car, drive to the start line. 

4:35 arrives and I decide I am going to wake up Eli to see if she wants to ride with us to the start. Not a mandatory part of crewing me, but she said wanted to go. 

4:45am – we arrive at the start line. Right away we found Shannon, chatted, and had a typical race day morning. I had my pack, running poles, headphones, head lamp all ready to go. 

5:00am and we are off. 

Nothing really to report on for the first 5 hours of the race except that it was freaking stunning. In the first hour, the sunrise stole my heart and I knew it was going to be a beautiful day on the mesa. I didn’t take a single picture of the sunrise because at that moment, I told myself this run and this day was for ME. I told myself I didn’t need to capture the views or the scenery to share with anybody else. This day was for me. I spent alllllll summer training for an experience to fill my soul. 

I made it to mile 10 without touching my phone. But then, like the sunrise, Crags Crest and the views stole my heart. Despite the fact that I said I wasn’t going to take photos, I feel like I took a picture and video at every corner and every ridge. I just couldn’t go over the beauty of the alpine terrain and lakes in every direction. The sky was spectacular. 

Miles 10-15 were great. I cruised right down from Crags Crest into the mile 14-15ish aid station, filled my bottles, ate some food and kept on trucking. The highlight of miles 15-19 were seeing Eli and the kiddos hike into me. They were so adorable, cheering, and smiles, and everything I needed.  While I wish I had seen them longer than a minute, I was feeling full of energy so I kept on cruising right into mile 18.5ish aid station. 

Mile 18.5ish aid station, I quickly saw Shannon (who was volunteering) and Josh. Seeing Josh was kind of a surprise because we had agreed if I did this race he would be able to do a long bike ride up on the mesa. We agreed that I may  not see him until mile 42, as he’d be biking all day. He surprised me there by biking from camp, around the mesa, and to the aid station. Apparently the aid station was a dangerous place because he met me there in a helmet and all.  I ate some food, put on a dry shirt, and continued on my way. 

I cruised right through miles 18-27 with no problem. It felt very “flat” which is sometimes harder than a hike uphill or downhill run. But, I felt great. It was just an 8 mile stretch between the two aid stations, and I was able to see my crew at mile 27. 

I arrived at mile 27 aid station dryer than my crew! Turns out, they had run into terrible weather before I did. I didn’t feel hungry or tired, but knew that I needed to eat. Ask me what I ate – I have no idea. Whatever food the aid station was giving me? I think I ate bacon and avocado at that aid station. I am not a picky runner. I know that aid station food is a luxury, not a promise. I think that since I started off as a road runner and ran road marathons for so many years before ultras, anything beyond candies and electrolytes feel gourmet to me in a race. Besides food, the other highlight of that aid station was Eli giving me a mini back rub with Deep Blue muscle rub. My back was incredibly sore. Plus, the kids were amazing cheerleaders. And I told myself I couldn’t cry, whine, complain, or be a pansy in front of the kids. I was committed to being the strong, empowered Heather they know. 🤣 Mile 27 aid station was definitely a “half way-ish” highlight of the day. 

So, turns out, I had made it past the marathon distance and had zero problems thus far. The day was beautiful and I felt energetic and ready to go. Every aid station felt like a new start line, like I was just going out for another run. 

Well, in the mountains, that can all shift very fast. Within the next mile, I may have experienced every change in temperatures and weather patterns possible. From miles 28-30, I went through sun, rain, hail, thunder, lightning, mud, sleet, snow, feeling freezing, to feeling sweaty, to feeling nervous, to feeling motivated to push forward. Yup, just two miles doesn’t feel like a long distance until they are taking 30 minutes a mile and it’s actually a full hour of your race. 

This was the only point of the race where I thought/feared it might be another DNF. This was my first “near crying moment.” It was at mile  28.75 when I hunkered down under trees, trying to check my phone for service. I wanted to see if the hail would pass; it was so absurdly cold, probably because I had sweat so much in the first half of the race that my body was freezing while the rain/sleet was just coming down. I honestly thought race officials would clear the course – which made me so sad. I wasn’t ready to be done. I wasn’t ready to give in or give up on my goals.  I nearly cried thinking it was over. In thinking that, I kept thinking “I am not trying for a 50 a third time. It’s today, or never. 

I know I said it on social media, but I say it again – From that moment I was sitting under the trees, I looked out at the storm and decided the weather was not a storm. I AM THE STORM.  I am stronger than any weather thrown my way (within life safety) and back to my 2022 mantra, I can do anything for a day.

Fast forward then to miles 27-42. This was the longest stretch of the event without any aid station or crew. But it wasn’t bad. I mean, the weather was terrible. But the time on my feet, in my own mind, enjoying the scenery wasn’t bad at all. It was a very desolate area of the mesa with spectacular views for miles and miles beyond the mesa. Considering the horrific weather, I still made pretty good timing on this section. This section took me about 4 hours.

While the weather made me question my abilities, my body still felt great. My legs were working, I was eating, feeling strong physically and mentlaly, and I had the stamina. I didn’t really start to feel uncomfortable in my body until mile 40. At mile 40, I gave myself a pretty good pep talk about how it was just a nice little 10 mile run left and I could do it in 3 hours. I know, 3 hours to move 10 miles sounds slow to some – but when you’re already 40miles in…. 20 minutes/mile on trail is about as do-able as I could get. 

Miles 40-42 went by super fast because I was extremely motivated to get to the aid station, use a real bathroom, and eat solid food. Again, I had no idea what I ate. I know that the very kind gentleman at the aid station filled my flasks with electrolytes, gave me some food, and I went on my way. It was a fast stop….because… 

Well, remember earlier in the blog I said Josh was going to meet me at mile 42. Turns out, I covered the distance pretty well in that previous section of the race. I came into mile 42 aid station 35 minutes faster than I had anticipated. I had told Josh I’d be there around 5pm. I came into the aid station by 4:25, left by 4:30pm. Thus, Josh wasn’t there yet. He felt really bad, but honestly, it was better that I missed him. I know myself. Had he been there, I had wanted to change into dry clothes and dry socks. I also wanted more muscle rub. But, since it was me and the aid station, I cruised on through. 

I left mile 42 by 4:30pm, so I felt pretty confident that I could make it the 8 miles to the finish by 6:30pm – giving me a 13.5 hour finish. My goal was to finish in 14 hours. I thought I could run-hike 15 minute/miles no problem.  But at mile 45 I felt a significant amount of uncomfort in my hips. My run was a shuffle and my hike was a walk!  Plus, it poured down again in this section. I got soaked and chilled to the bone, for the second time of the day. 

I couldn’t tell you a lot about miles 45-50 except that I looked at my phone/watch a lot. I tried to run as much as possible. Once I knew I couldn’t make it by the 6:30pm hour, I made it my goal to come in before 7pm – under my 14 hour goal.  

6:55pm – I told myself I could do anything for a minute, 5 times through. I wanted to be done by 7pm so bad. I could hear the high way and finish line, just couldn’t see it. I knew if I kept “running” I’d get there eventually, hopefully before that 7pm mark.  I came into that finish line at 6:59pm. 13 hours, 59 minutes, and 4 seconds. 

Finish line!! I felt so happy the minute I saw my crew, heard Eli, saw Josh and Shannon. And,I got to run in with Sammy, which was very sweet. I love this child! She’s going to run a race with me someday. ❤️🏃‍♀️🤣  Eli, Shannon, and Josh were at the finish filming, cheering, taking pics, ready to feed me. And the only thing I could mutter out of my mouth was, “fuck.”  I knew I was going to cry – emotional tears – but I am too shy to cry in front of people and in front of the kids. So, instead of crying – I could only say “fuck.” I couldn’t get a sentence out because I felt so emotional and teary. 

The accomplishment of running 50 miles was not just a 14 hour accomplishment. I actually started marathon training on January 1st. I ran a marathon on April 2nd. From April 2nd until July, I was so focused on the 50k and 50 mile distance. There isn’t a single day that I didn’t SOMETHING to prepare. Whether running, biking, cross training, meal prep, laundry, meditating, visualizing – there isn’t a day that goes by that I didn’t at least think about this huge goal. It’s not just a 14 hour accomplishment. This was 7 months in the making. This was dedication, commitment, prioritizing priorities, and consistently working towards being the athlete I want to be. 

There were only nine of us women that finished the event that day. I am not sure how many started, but only nine of us finished. I was the final female to cross the finish line that day. And for a second, that stung a little. But over time, I have learned and accepted that it is okay. Somebody has to be last. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t put my all into every minute of that 14 hour adventure. First, last, or anywhere in between, we all covered the same distance with extreme efforts. And that, my friends, is something to be proud of and still makes me a little emotional. 

The recovery process has been long and emotionally painful. I don’t know and cannot even fathom how other athletes complete a race so incredibly fast and then don’t feel the soreness and fatigue. I cannot even explain the mental fatigue of this event. I feel like for 7 months straight my body has been “on” for training, preparing, food prep, laundry and just go go go for seven months straight. Now that the dust has settled, my brain is taxed and the fatigue and possibly burn out is there. I cannot deny that, won’t deny, and won’t hide that. 

I have no regrets; I am glad I did it. The experience was phenomenal and I learned so much about myself in the seven month process. But, giving your body the grace and patience after such an event is difficult. 

And, if you follow my social media, you’ve already seen my re-cap post about how I have reflected and what’s up next. But, in case you haven’t – 

A 50 miler is a great experience, but it’s most likely that I would not do it again. Just the top 5 reasons of why these day long distances are not on my radar right now: 

1. Training for anything over a 50k distance is very time consuming, and this goal took over my life. It was very taxing on my marriage – not in a terrible way. But absolutely it was a struggle for Josh and I to train for huge events simultaneously.  It took a toll on our communication,our household tasks,our weekends. Yes, we both come out of this summer stronger, but it’s not something I wish to repeat.

2. It took too much time away from my business goals. I’m serious about building my business and clientele.  I need the brain power, body strength, and time to do so.

3. My business depends on my body. Training, racing,and recovering makes it hard to teach fitness efficiently.  If my body breaks, I lose my business.

4. I’d like to focus on cycling events Josh and I can do together. (Send any suggestions.)

5. I like the 50k (not 50miler) distance. I can train for a 50k event without it consuming my life. And I can run a 50k race without needing a full crew or taking up an entire weekend.

Again, glad I did it. Proud it’s done. But to answer the question of what’s next – cycling events, marathons, 50k distance,trail running.